Looked After Children
Looked after children refers to those children who are 'looked after' by a local authority. Each local authority has a statutory duty to safeguard the welfare of children they are looking after and provide them with care, support and accommodation. Although there are a number of reasons why a child may be looked after by a local authority, most often it is because the child's parents are unable to either care for them, have been neglecting them and/or harming them. Another reason may be when a child has committed a serious offence.
Depending on the child's circumstances, they may be looked after under a voluntary agreement, where the child's parents agree to the child being accommodated in this way or under compulsory measures decided by a children's hearing or a court. For more information on the Children's Hearings System and powers of the courts visit these pages of the website. There are a range of options open to the Children's Hearings System and courts, including placing the child in foster care, a children's home or a residential school. In some instances, the child may remain at home with their parents, but be subject to supervision by the local authority.
Once a child is being looked after by a local authority, they have a right to be consulted about what happens to them, including involvement in the production of a care plan. The care plan should include detailed information about the child's care, education and health needs, as well as the responsibilities of the local authority, the parents and the child. Other aspects will include details of the child's living arrangements and the involvement (if any) of the child¿s parents in decisions that may affect the child. The plan should also indicate how long the arrangement is expected to last, how it will come to an end and what will happen at the end.
There are special arrangements in place for young people leaving care. The local authority should plan from the beginning of the placement what will happen when the young person stops being looked after. If a child is over 16 and is not going to return to live with their parents, the local authority will draw up a pathway plan that outlines the type of support and guidance available to the young person. This may include advice on living independently, financial help and assistance in finding supported accommodation.
The Scottish Government publishes annual statistics on Looked After Children. The most recent figures, for 2007-08, are available here. A recent Scottish Government publication, highlighting good practice across Scotland, can be found here.
The Scottish Government is currently seeking responses to a second consultation on the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2008. For more information on the consultation visit the Scottish Government website. The Social Work Inspection Agency (SWIA) has recently published two useful reports: Celebrating Success: What Helps Looked After Children Succeed and Children Looked After by Local Authorities: The Legal Framework. These and other reports are available on the SWIA website.
The Who Cares? website provides some useful information for children in care or leaving care in Scotland. The UK branch of the organisation is also involved in research and policy work, examples of which can be found here