‘Looked-after’ children are those that are given accommodation away from their families at the request of their parent and those in care as the result of a Care Order. The Looked-after Children service is responsible for children who cannot – for whatever reason – live with their families. The service aims to support children living with relatives, family, friends and foster families, or sometimes – especially for older young people – in children’s homes and units.
Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 – Voluntary Care
Under Section 20 of the Act, the local authority has a duty to provide accommodation for ‘children in need’. This accommodation– either in foster care, residential care or a kinship placement – can be long- or short-term, and does not involve the courts. The parent retains full parental responsibility.
Section 31 of the Children Act 1989 – Care Order
The court can create a care order under Section 31(1) (a) of the Children Act, placing a child in the care of a designated local authority, with parental responsibility being shared between the parents and the local authority. It can only be made if the court is satisfied that ‘the harm, or likelihood of harm, is attributable to … the care given to the child, or likely to be given … if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give … or the child being beyond parental control’. The court may make an interim care order (for up to eight weeks in the first instance) to investigate a child’s home circumstances.
When a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled) is cared for by someone other than their parent or ‘close relative’, it is private fostering. This is a private arrangement made between a parent and a carer, for 28 days or more. Close relatives are defined as step-parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, uncles or aunts (whether of full-blood, half-blood or marriage/affinity).
It is an offence not to notify the local council of a private fostering arrangement. If you hear about such an arrangement you should discuss it with your manager. The local authority should also be told because all councils are legally required to make sure that all children that are privately fostered are cared for by a suitable carer in an appropriate environment. This is important to make sure the child is safe and that their needs are being met.
Leaving care services
Under the Children Act 1989, as amended by the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and Children and Young Persons Act 2008, eligible care leavers are entitled to leaving care support until at least 21. To be eligible they should have been in care for 13 weeks after the age of 14, with at least one day in care after 16. Most looked-after children will begin to receive a service from leaving care and after care services around the age of 16, including the development of a Pathway Plan. Young people who wish to pursue education and training have the right to return and request assistance from their local authority until age 25.
Independent reviewing officers (IRO)
IROs are responsible for chairing the statutory review process of children who are looked after by the local authority. They must ensure the child is given appropriate care. Although local authorities directly employ some IROs, they have a responsibility to challenge local authority decisionmaking, in the interests of the child. They are also responsible for making sure the child’s voice is heard.