Change of Name of a Child Looked After
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies to all changes of a child looked after's forename or surname, formal or informal.
Allowing a child to adopt a new forename and/or surname amounts to a change of name and is therefore covered by this procedure.
Under no circumstances should practitioners and carers agree, condone or act in any way to change a child's name without following this procedure.
1. Necessary Consents
Children aged 16 years or over (with mental capacity) are generally free to apply in their own right to change their name via deed poll.
However where a child is subject to a Care Order, Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangements Order, the relevant age is 18. Changing the name of any child under 18 who is subject to any of these orders requires the written consent of everyone with Parental Responsibility. This applies whether the person wishing to change the name is the parent or the child. Where consent is not forthcoming, or all those with Parental Responsibility cannot be found, a court order is required before the child's name can be changed (see Section 3, Changing a Name without the Agreement of those with Parental Responsibility).
A child who is accommodated under s.20 Children Act 1989 can apply to change their name at 16 if there are no private law orders (e.g. no Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangements Order).Any child who wishes to change their name should be encouraged to discuss the matter carefully with their Social Worker, parents and/or carers, the Independent Reviewing Officer and any available advocacy service, this can be considered through the Looked After Review meeting.
If the Review considers that the child is of sufficient age and maturity to understand the significance of such a step and it is consistent with the Care Plan and the change would lead to an improvement from the point of view of the child's welfare, the review may recommend that the child's wishes should be supported.
The Social Worker should obtain legal advice as to the appropriate steps to be followed.
2. Changing a Name with the Agreement of those with Parental Responsibility
The social worker should contact child's parents/carers to seek their written consent to the child's change of name. Even where the father does not have Parental Responsibility and his consent is not strictly required, it may still be appropriate that he should be consulted and his views obtained. The local authority legal adviser should be asked to clarify this, particularly if there are any unusual circumstances and it is considered undesirable to seek parental consent on this issue.
If those with Parental Responsibility consent, the child's social worker should discuss the matter with the Designated Manager (Change of Name) to also seek their agreement to the change of name. The social worker should prepare a written report setting out the reason for the request to change the name and attach a copy of the parents' written consents. This report should be retained on the child's case record.
When all the necessary consents have been obtained, the social worker (or the child/young person depending on their age and level of understanding) should download and complete the forms required for changing a child's name (Minor Deed Poll Pack, HM Courts & Tribunals Service). There is a small fee to pay.
The completed forms and accompanying documents (e.g. written consent from parents/carers) should be sent to:
Queen's Bench Division
The Royal Courts of Justice
3. Changing a Name without the Agreement of those with Parental Responsibility
Before seeking a court order it is important to first try and seek the agreement of those with Parental Responsibility.
If the child is subject to a Care Order and consent from all those with Parental Responsibility is not forthcoming, an application to change the child's name would have to be made to the court under section 33(7) Children Act 1989.
If the child is subject to a Child Arrangements Order/Residence Order or Special Guardianship Order, then an application would have to be made under s.13(1) or s.14C3 CA 1989.
Applying for a court order should be a last resort, and the court will expect parties to have tried to reach an agreement first.
In deciding whether to agree to a change of name, the court's paramount consideration will be the welfare of the child.
Changes of surname
Courts tend to resist consenting to changes of surname, because:
- The initial registration of the child's name is considered to be a profound matter, and - other things being equal - it is in the long-term interests of a child for them to be known by their birth name;
- The child's surname is seen as an important link to their birth father or mother and as such is an important part of the child's identity.
The application to the court must set out clear reasons why it is in the best interests of a child, to justify a change of surname.
The court will take the child's views into account, and if the child him/herself wants to change surname, the court is more likely to agree.
Changes of first name
If a child is subject to a Care Order/Interim Care Order, and wants to be known by another first name, then no court order is needed, as the local authority can make the decision to change a child's first name by exercising their power to determine the extent to which the parents/guardians may meet their Parental Responsibility under s33(3)b) Children Act 1989, provided they are satisfied it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard or promote the child's welfare.