A child who has been in the care of their local authority for more than 24 hours in known as a looked after child. Looked after children are also often referred to as ‘children in care’.
Children can looked after by agreement with parents or by order of a court. Most children in care are safe from harm and do well, however for some there are particular risks.
Children who are looked after may be living:
Therefore, even though the child is looked after, they may not be living in what may be traditionally seen as a “care” environment.
A child stops being looked after when they are adopted, return home or turn 18. However local authorities are required to support children leaving care at 18 until they are at least 21. This may involve them continuing to live with their foster family.
The main reason for children being in care remains as a result of abuse and neglect. Other reasons for being looked after include:
Children in care have many different experiences prior to becoming looked after, and this increases their vulnerability.
Children who are looked after often face more vulnerabilities and a number of additional risks, which can include:
Research shows that many of these risks are reduced when there is stability in placement with good professional support from a range of agencies.
Schools play a key role in protecting children in care. Although every school should have a designated teacher for looked after children, it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure that children who are looked after are safeguarded.
Health providers need to be aware that looked after children are over four times more likely to have an emotional or mental health need than their non-looked after peers. Local authorities and commissioners and providers of healthcare have statutory duties to co-operate to ensure that looked after children have their health needs fully assessed.
It’s important for professionals to support the child’s birth family, to address the problems which resulted in the child entering care. In time, many children can return home to their family but even if this is not possible their birth family are still likely to be a central part of their lives.
The quality of contact a child has with their birth family can have an impact on their wellbeing, so it’s important to support children to have safe, positive contact with their birth families if the child wants to. Strengthening family relationships is an essential part of planning for children to rebuild their relationships with their family for future.
Children in Care Council – a group of young people dedicated to improving the services in Portsmouth provided for looked after children, as well as care leavers.
The Really Useful Book of Learning and Earning (RUBLE) for Care Leavers – provides information, advice and activities to help care leavers get used to living independently and make decisions about education and work.