Information

Local Authority duties towards children

This page explains the duties of the Local Authority to identify children in need in their local area and provide support and accommodation. It also explains care orders and the duties owed to looked after children.

The Local Authority is under a duty to identify children in need in the area.

When will the Local Authority intervene to protect a child?

The Local Authority in the area where the child lives is responsible for making provision for the child, so long as it is necessary. The Children Act 1989 places a duty on Local Authorities to take reasonable steps to identify a child in need. Once a referral has been made to the Local Authority, they will decide within one working day whether or not to take action. Where the concerns are sufficiently serious, the Local Authority must carry out an initial assessment within seven working days.

A Local Authority should undertake an assessment as set out in the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families. The Local Authority should then use the findings of this assessment to determine whether the child should be provided with accommodation under section 20 Children Act 1989 or be provided with other types of services provided under section 17 of the same Act.

The Local Authority can provide services under section 17 of the Children Act 1989 or can accommodate a child under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 under this section may include providing accommodation.

Am I looked after if I am given support or services under section 17?

Section 17 Children Act 1989 is not intended to be a route into the ‘looked after’ system – if a Local Authority is providing accommodation under this section, the child will not be a ‘looked after’ child under the meaning of section 22 of that Act (General duty of local authority in relation to children looked after by them). 

The power to provide accommodation under section 17 is usually used for children needing to be accommodated with their families.

When is a child ‘in need’?

A child will be considered as a child in need when:

  • they are unlikely to achieve a reasonable standard of health or development, without the provision of appropriate services;
  • their health or development are likely to be significantly impaired or further impaired without the provision of appropriate services;
  • they are disabled.

What are the duties of the Local Authority to provide services to children in need under section 17?

It shall be the general duty of every Local Authority:

  • to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and
  • so far as is reasonably consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs.

The services provided by a Local Authority under this section may include providing accommodation, giving assistance in kind, or in exceptional circumstances cash.

What types of services are provided by the Local Authority under section 17 to children in need?

The following services can be provided by the Local Authority, upon request by children in need or their families:

  • advice, guidance and counselling;
  • care or supervised activities;
  • home help;
  • holiday (respite care);
  • occupational, social, cultural and recreational activities;
  • provision of family accommodation;
  • financial help; and
  • maintenance of the family home.

When does the Local Authority have a duty to provide accommodation under section 20?

Section 20 requires the Local Authority to provide accommodation for a child who requires accommodation where:

  • there is no person who has Parental Responsibility for the child;
  • the child is lost or abandoned;
  • the person who has been caring for the child is prevented (whether or not permanently and for whatever reason) from providing them with suitable accommodation or care;
  • the child is over 16 and the Local Authority considers their welfare is likely to be seriously prejudiced without accommodation.

Can the Local Authority provide accommodation in an emergency?

The Local Authority has the power to make:

  • an emergency placement for up to 24 hours; or
  • a temporary placement with a relative or friend.

How will the Local Authority decide whether to accommodate a child under section 20?

The House of Lords has held that the following 9 factors should be considered by the Local Authority when deciding whether to accommodate a child or young person under section 20. These are:

  1. Is the applicant a child?
  2. Is the applicant a child in need?
  3. Is the child within the Local Authority’s area? If a child is physically present within an area, this test will be satisfied.
  4. Does the child appear to require accommodation?
  5. Is that need a result of one of the factors listed in the box above?
  6. What are the child’s or young person’s wishes and feelings regarding provision?
  7. What consideration should be given to those wishes (having regard to their age and understanding)?
  8. Does any person with Parental Responsibility, who is willing to provide accommodation for the child, object to the Local Authority’s intervention?
  9. If there is an objection, does the person named in a Child Arrangements Order or Residence Order with whom the child is to live agree to the child being looked after?

What is a ‘looked after’ child?

There are 2 two main routes into the ‘looked after’ system:

Under section 20, children and young people can be ‘accommodated’ with the consent of those with Parental responsibility. If the young person is 16 or 17 years old, they do not need the consent of those with Parental responsibility in order to be accommodated by the Local Authority. A Local Authority may also provide accommodation to anyone between 16 and 21 years old in a community home, if they consider it necessary to safeguard or promote that young person’s welfare.

Any person who has Parental Responsibility can remove the child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the Local Authority at any time, without giving notice (section 20). If the young person is 16 or 17 years old, they can leave the accommodation without parental consent. Section 20 is based on co-operative working between the Local Authority, the young person and their parents; the court is not forcing the child or young person to be looked after.

The only way to prevent a child from being removed from the secured accommodation is for the Local Authority to obtain a Care Order, or invoke emergency provisions. 

If a child or young person is being accommodated by the Local Authority, the Local Authority must have regard to their views. Before making any decision with respect to a child whom they are either looking after, or proposing to look after, a Local Authority shall, so far as is reasonably practicable, ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child.

What are the other routes into the looked after system?

Other routes that could lead a child into the looked after system include: 

  • where a child has been removed from the parents or carers under an Emergency Protection Order and is then potentially subject to an Interim Care Order and care proceedings;
  • where a child has been removed from their home under a Child Assessment Order;
  • where a child has been removed to suitable accommodation under police protection (section 46 Children Act 1989);
  • where a juvenile has been remanded in care and refused bail; and
  • where a juvenile is subject to a Supervision Order which includes a provision that they reside in Local Authority accommodation.

When is the Local Authority under a duty to provide a Care Plan?

The Local Authority has an obligation to create a Care Plan for each child it is looking after. This Care Plan must, so far as is reasonably practicable, be agreed with any parent with Parental Responsibility, or any person the child was living with before they were accommodated and the child himself. The Care Plan must be created before the child is placed in accommodation, or at the very latest 10 days after the placement has started.

The Care Plan must be reviewed regularly and can include arrangements for contact with the child’s family. You should look to speak to your child’s Independent Reviewing Officer, if you want a review of the Care Plan.

The Care Plan must be reviewed regularly and can include arrangements for contact with the child’s family.

What does the Local Authority’s duty to consider wishes and feelings involve?

The Local Authority must also ascertain the wishes and feelings of any other important people in the young person’s life, including:

  • the parents;
  • any person who is not a parent but has Parental Responsibility;
  • any other person whose wishes and feelings the Authority consider to be relevant.

In making such a decision, the Local Authority shall give due consideration to:

  • the child or young person’s wishes and feelings, having regard to his or her age and understanding;
  • the wishes and feelings of any person mentioned above and to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background;
  • whether to place children with their siblings; and
  • whether to place the child near the family home.

When a ‘looked after’ child is placed with you by Children’s Services, the Local Authority must ensure that their representative (usually a Social Worker) visits the child where they are living.

The Local Authority shall give due consideration to the child or young person’s wishes and feelings, having regard to their age and understanding.

How often should a looked after child be visited by a social worker?

The child should be visited by a social worker within one week of the start of any placement. Thereafter, the social worker should visit the child at intervals of no longer than 3 months. Where there are complex issues or extra concerns for the child’s welfare, intervals between visits should be no longer than 6 weeks.

If the child is placed with you prior to an assessment of your suitability as a carer for the child, the representative must visit at least once a week until the review regarding the assessment is carried out and thereafter at intervals of no more than six weeks.

Can I have contact with my ‘looked after’ child?

The Local Authority must try to promote contact between a ‘looked after’ child and any parent with Parental Responsibility, family member, or anyone else connected with the child. The Local Authority will not make arrangements for contact if it is not reasonably practicable or not in the best interests of the child. The Local Authority also has a duty to promote contact between siblings and should look to enforce these arrangements. 

The Local Authority can cover the cost of any travel expenses that you incur, when visiting your child. However, it will only cover these expenses if you cannot afford to see your child and it would cause you undue hardship if you were required to pay for your travel.

Who can apply for a care order?

Under section 31 Children Act 1989, the Local Authority or any authorised person can apply to the court for a child or young person to become the subject of a Care Order.

Authorised person means:

  • the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and any of its officers;
  • any person authorised by order of the Secretary of State to bring proceedings under this section and any officer of a body which is so authorised.

Care Orders can only be made by the court.

What do the courts consider before making a Care Order?

To make a Care Order, the court must be satisfied that certain ‘threshold criteria‘ have been met:

  • that the child concerned is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, AND
  • the harm, or likelihood of harm is attributable to:
    • the care given to the child, or likely to be given to him, if the Order were not made, not being what it is reasonable to expect a parent to give; or
    • the child being beyond parental control.

Once a Care Order is made, the Local Authority obtains Parental Responsibility, in addition to the other Parental Responsibility holders. A Care Order can only be discharged by the court on the application of:

  • any person who has Parental Responsibility for the child;
  • the child; or
  • the Local Authority designated by the Order.

What are the duties of the Local Authority when a child is under a Care Order?

The Local Authority must provide information to the parents or anyone with Parental Responsibility for the child about where they are being accommodated. This duty only extends to what is reasonably practicable in regard to the child’s circumstances. 

The Local Authority also have a duty to promote contact between the child and their family, when they are being looked after under a care order. However, this duty must be weighed against the Local Authority responsibility to safeguard the child’s welfare. The Local Authority must also allocate an independent person to visit the child on a regular basis to ensure they are progressing well.

What action can I take against the Local Authority for failing to fulfil its duties?

Section 26 Children Act 1989 allows you to insist on your child’s case being reviewed if they are being looked after by the Local Authority. You may ask to consult with your social worker’s supervisor, if you have concerns about your child. Alternatively, if you would like your child’s Care Plan to be reviewed, you should speak to your child’s Independent Reviewing Officer and request a review meeting. 

If you are unsatisfied with the Local Authority’s response to your complaint, you can raise your issue further with the Children’s Commissioner or the Local Government Ombudsman.