Why does a child enter the care system?
Contrary to popular belief, children in care are rarely delinquents and few have been involved with the police and judicial system. Children are placed in care through no fault of their own and enter care for a number of reasons. This could be because their parent(s) have agree to this – for example they may be unwell and unable to care for their child.
Children also enter care when Children’s Services intervenes because a child is at significant risk of harm – often this involves a court order. Most commonly there are concerns for their safety because of abandonment, abuse and/or neglect (neglect is the reason in 65% of cases).
In some instances, children are placed in care following the deaths of their legal guardians when there is no extended family to care for them. Similarly, a child could be an unaccompanied asylum seeker with no-one to care for them.
Who looks after our children and young people in care?
There are slightly different definitions of a looked after child in each of the four home countries – England: Scotland: Wales and Northern Ireland. Each country also has their own legislation, regulations and guidelines. Most looked after children are:
- living with a foster carer
- living in a residential children’s home
- living in residential settings such as (boarding) schools
- some young people are also accommodated in secure units
Approximately 9% of children are accommodated in residential homes, schools and secure units, the rest are in foster care. Local Authorities manage about 66% of foster care placements themselves and the other 1/3 is commissioned from independent foster agencies. While some young people stay on with their foster carers until aged 21, many others are moved to other accommodation; sometimes at the age of 16.
For all children in care the local authority becomes their corporate parent and is responsible for their placement, education and welfare until the age of 18. After the age of 18, young care leavers are still entitled to support from their local authority until at least 21 years of age. In England the age of corporate responsibility has been extended to 25. Local authorities across the UK have a duty to assess and meet care leavers’ individual needs and to develop a pathway plan, setting out the support that will be provided to the care leaver once they have left care. Local authorities are also required to publish a care leaver offer detailing how they support care leavers aged 18-25 years. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland care leavers are also legally entitled to a personal adviser to help with the transition into adulthood.