Looked after children

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

  • Being accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 or
  • Being made the subject of a care order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989

Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (Accommodation)

Under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, 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 persons welfare.

Any person who has parental responsibility for a child may at any time remove the child from accommodation provided by or on behalf of the local authority. 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 his or her parents because the court is not forcing the child or young person to be looked after.

If a child or young person is being accommodated by the local authority, then the local authority MUST have regard to his or her views.

Before making any decision with respect to a child whom they are 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.

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 persons wishes and feeling, 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.

Section 31 of the Children Act 1989 (Care Order)

Under section 31 of the 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:

(a) the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and any of its officers and

(b) 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.

When an application for a care order is made the local authority must prepare a care plan for the future of the child, unless the local authority is applying for an interim care order. (See section 38 of the Children Act 1989 for interim care orders)

The court will only make a care order if it believes that it is better for the child or young person than not making an order.

A care order can only be made on young people below the age of 17 and cannot be made on a young person who is 16 years old and married.

To make a care order, the court must be satisfied:

  • That the child concerned is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm.
  • And that 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, or
  • The care not being reasonable or if
  • The child is 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.

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

Follow this link to download your free leaflet on local authority support for children and families

Alternatively, follow this link for our more detailed FAQs on services for children leaving care, or download our free leaflet

Return to free factsheets and FAQs, browse our free legal terms glossary or check out our simple guide for young people on www.lawstuff.org.uk - the legal website for young people

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