This information page sets out the functions and responsibilities of local authorities under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989, which concerns the provision of local authority support for children and families. Specifically, this page will detail Local Authorities’ duties in relation to care planning and placement decisions.
What is a ‘looked after’ child?
There are 2 two primary routes into the ‘looked after’ system:
- being accommodated under section 20 Children Act 1989; or
- being made the subject of a Care Order under section 31 Children Act 1989.
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.
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.
Local Authorities’ duties in relation to a Looked After Child
The functions of local authorities in relation to children who are ‘looked after’ by them are set out in the Children Act 1989 and associated regulations and guidance. Specifically in relation to this information page, the principle regulations is the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010. The guidance which underpins these regulations can be found here.
Section 22(3) of the Children Act 1989 sets out the general duty of the local authority looking after a child to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. This duty underpins all activity by the local authority in relation to looked after children. This duty has become known as ‘corporate parenting’. In simple terms, ‘corporate parenting’ means the collective responsibility of the council, elected members, employees, and partner agencies, for providing the best possible care and safeguarding for the children who are looked after by the council.
Looked after children are amongst the most vulnerable in society. The guidance document, linked to above, provides an introduction which encapsulates the importance of providing a high level of support children and young people who are have the status of being looked after:
”Looked after children deserve the best experiences in life, from excellent parenting which promotes good health and educational attainment, to a wide range of opportunities to develop their talents and skills in order to have an enjoyable childhood and successful adult life. Stable placements, good health and support during transition are all essential elements, but children will only achieve their potential through the ambition and high expectation of all those involved in their lives.”
Care planning revolves around facilitating discussion between looked after children, their families, the child’s carers (where applicable), and professionals, in order to collectively plan and review the care being provided to the child whilst they are looked after. As with all aspects of children’s social care, it is paramount that children’s needs are assessed and decisions are made regarding how best to meet those needs. The purpose of care planning and review is threefold:
- to ensure that children and their families and the child’s carers are treated with openness and honesty and understand the decisions that are made;
- to provide clarity about the allocation of responsibilities and tasks, in the context of shared parenting between parents, the child’s carers and the corporate parents and ensure that actions lead to improved outcomes; and
- to demonstrate accountability in the way in which the functions of local authorities under the 1989 Act are exercised.
Creation of a Care Plan
A central aspect to the care planning process is the making of a care plan (Part 2, section 5, The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010)
The responsible 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. 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 include a record of the following information:
- the long term plan for C’s upbringing (see the section on permanence (under placement) below)
- the arrangements made by the responsible authority to meet C’s needs in relation to –
- health, (see the section on health below)
- education and training, (see our page on Education for Looked After Children)
- emotional and behavioural development,
- identity, with particular regard to C’s religious persuasion and culture,
- family and social relationships, (see our page on Contact with a Child in Care)
- social presentation, and
- self-care skills.
- except in a case where C is in the care of the responsible authority but is not provided with accommodation by them by any of the means specified in section 22C, the placement plan, (see the section on the placement plan below)
- the name of the IRO, and
- details of the wishes and feelings of the child, his parents, any person who is not a parent of his but who has parental responsibility for him, and any other person whose wishes and feelings the authority consider to be relevant. (see the section on the duty to consider wishes and feelings below)
Responsible authorities are required to provide good health care for the child and the arrangements to monitor the child’s health care, in accordance with the health plan (regulation 7). In order to inform the actions in the health plan, the health assessment should include:
- an assessment of the child’s state of health including his/her physical, emotional
and mental health;
- the child’s health history including, as far as practicable, the child’s family’s
- the effect of health and health history on the child’s development;
existing arrangements for medical and dental care, appropriate to the child’s
- routine checks of the child’s general state of health, including dental health;
- treatment and monitoring for identified health or dental care needs;
- preventive measures such as inoculation;
- screening for defects of vision or hearing;
- advice and guidance on promoting health and effective personal care
The responsible authority is required to make arrangements for a registered medical practitioner to carry out an assessment of the child’s state of health and provide a written report of the assessment. The first assessment should take place and the written report be completed before the child is first placed by the local authority. If this is not reasonably practicable, then the assessment and a written report should certainly be complete before the first review of the child’s case.
Health assessments should take place:
- at least once every six months in the case of children aged under five; and
- at least once every 12 months in the case of children aged five and over.
What does the Local Authority’s duty to consider wishes and feelings involve?
Section 22(4) of the Children Act 1989, consistent with Article 12 of the UNCRC, provides that, before making any decision with respect to a child whom the local authority are looking after or proposing to look after, the authority must, so far as reasonably practicable, ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child. It is important that children are actively engaged in the care planning process because the decisions that adults take will ultimately be effecting them. Close involvement will make it more likely that the child feels some ownership of what is happening and it may help them to understand the purpose of services or other support being provided. Looked after children are entitled to an advocate who will assist them in conveying their wishes and feelings to professionals. Please see our page on Advocacy for further information.
The Local Authority must 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 more mature the child, the more fully s/he will be able to enter into discussion about the plans and proposals and participate in the decision-making process;
- 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.
Sections 22A to 22D of the Children Act 1989 make provision for the accommodation and maintenance of a looked after child. They provide a framework within which decisions about the most appropriate way to accommodate and maintain the child must be considered:
Section 22A imposes a duty on the responsible authority when a child is in their care to provide the child with accommodation.
Section 22B sets out the duty of the responsible authority to maintain a looked after child in other respects apart from providing accommodation.
Section 22C sets out the ways in which the looked after child is to be accommodated.
Section 22D imposes a duty on the responsible authority to formally review the child’s case before making alternative arrangements for accommodation.
Where is a looked after child placed?
A key principle of the Children Act 1989 is that that children are best looked after within their families, with their parents playing a full part in their lives, unless compulsory intervention in family life is necessary. As such, Section 22C(2) imposes a duty on the responsible authority to make arrangements for the child to live with a parent, a person who is not a parent but who has parental responsibility for the child, or a person who held a residence order in respect of the child prior to the making of the care order, unless this is not consistent with the child’s welfare or would not be
reasonably practicable – section 22C(4).
Where a placement with the child’s parent is not possible, the responsible authority should place the child in ‘the most appropriate placement available’, that is, the one that they consider will best promote and safeguard the child’s welfare (section 22C(5)). The ‘placement’ means:
- placement with a relative, friend or other person connected with the child and who is also a local authority foster carer;
- placement with a local authority foster carer (who is not a relative, friend or other person connected with the child);
- long-term foster placement;
- placement in a children’s home; and
- placement ‘in accordance with other arrangements made by the local authority’ – this may include, for example, supporting young people to live independently in rented accommodation, residential employment, or in supported lodgings/hostels.
In accordance with section 22C(7), in determining which is the most appropriate placement the local authority must ‘give preference to’ a placement with a connected person i.e. a relative, friend or other person connected with the child, reflecting the principle that children should, wherever possible be brought up in their families and communities, if they cannot remain with their parents.
In accordance with section 22C(7) to (9), the responsible authority must ensure that, as far as reasonably practicable, the placement:
- allows the child to live near his/her home;
- does not disrupt his/her education (particularly at Key Stage 4);
- enables the child and his/her sibling to live together, if the child has a sibling who is also looked after by the local authority;
- provides accommodation which is suitable to the child’s needs if the child is disabled; and
- is within the local authority’s area
In ideal circumstances, the proposed placement should meet all of the above criteria. However, this is not always possible and difficult decisions and compromises may have to be made.
Although unavoidable in some circumstances, it is not in the best interests of a looked after child to be moving between short-term placements. The objective of planning for permanence is to ensure that children have a secure, stable and loving family to support them through childhood and beyond and to give them a sense of security, continuity, commitment, identity and belonging.
There are a number of ways that an individual child can be placed in a permanent placement. These include:
- Family and Friends Foster Care
- Child Arrangement Orders
- Special Guardianship Orders (SGO)
- Long Term Foster Care
- Return to birth family
NOTE: It is only through Family and Friends Foster Care or Long Term Foster Care that the child’s status remains looked after.
Termination of placement
When the responsible authority proposes to terminate a placement (Regulation 14) they must carry out a review of the child’s case and ensure that the views of all the people concerned have been heard, including the child (sufficient to his/her age and understanding) as well as parents (where appropriate), the child’s carer and other people who were notified when the placement was made. The review will provide the opportunity to consider what, if any, support and services could be provided which would avoid the need to terminate the placement. If that is not possible the review will provide a forum for considering what would be the most appropriate new placement for the child, taking account of any concerns which have led to the decision to terminate the current placement.