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Cared for children and care leavers
Cared for Children (sometimes called Looked after Children) are the children that are subject to care orders and those who are voluntarily accommodated (they may be fostered or in residential homes or still living with their family).
‘Corporate parenting’ emphasises the collective responsibility of Local Authorities to achieve good parenting for children and young people in their care. In broad terms, a corporate parent should do at least what a good parent would do. Once a Local Authority has taken the profound and difficult decision to remove a child, short-term or long-term, from his or her family, it is the duty of the whole Local Authority to ‘safeguard and promote his welfare’ (1989 Children Act). The ‘whole authority’ includes the education department as well as social services, and school also have a key role to play. The responsibility of the corporate parent continues at least until the age of 21 and up to the age of 24 if the young person is still being supported in higher education or training.
What is a cared for child or young person?
Children and young people become cared for (also known as looked after) when their birth parents are unable to provide ongoing care in either a temporary or permanent capacity and so the local authority takes care of them. Children can either be cared for as a result of a voluntary agreement by their parents or as the result of a care order. Children may be placed with kinship carers (family), network carers (extended family / friends), in residential care (a children’s home) or with foster carers depending on individual circumstances.
The terms unaccompanied minors, unaccompanied children, child migrants, child immigrants, unaccompanied migrant children, and juvenile immigrants are often used interchangeably and generally refer to immigrants who are under the age of 18 years and are not under the care of a parent or legal guardian. This includes children fleeing violence or unrest, seeking work, or who are victims of trafficking.
Why does the local authority care for children?
Children may come into the care of the local authority for all sorts of reasons, eg:
- a parent may be unable to continue caring for them
- they may be at risk of harm and need to move to a safer place
- a parent may be ill or may need to go into hospital and there is no other family members or friends available to look after them.
Who is involved?
Wherever possible, the local authority will work in partnership with parents and many children and young people in care retain strong links with their families and many eventually return home. An Independent Reviewing Officer is provided for every cared for child and young person aged 0-18 years. All Independent Reviewing Officers are separate and independent of social workers and so can question if children and young people are receiving the best care and support services possible.
What is a care leaver?
A care leaver is a young person between the ages of 16-18 who is leaving the care system having spent at least three months (continuously or in aggregate since the age of 14) being cared for by the local authority. Local authorities must plan for cared for children so that they have the support they need as they make their transition to the responsibilities of adulthood. The local authority's responsibility to Care Leavers extends until they reach the age of 21 or 24, where the Local Authority is involved in supporting them in higher education or training.
Advice and support for cared for children and care leavers
For child friendly information for anyone who is coming into care: www.comingintocare.co.uk
The Children’s Society provide a Rights and Advocacy Service for children and young people. This service empowers children and young people to make their views heard and make sure they are involved in decisions that affect them. This includes Advocacy Services and Independent Visiting.
The advocacy service covers several important areas:
- listening carefully to children who need to get their views and feelings across
- giving children a voice in decisions that affect their lives
- ensuring young people’s rights are respected and that they are treated fairly
- helping them solve problems in ways that feel comfortable to them
- advocacy for children with complex communication needs, severe learning difficulties and children without speech
- non-instructed advocacy for children with severe communication impairments (where the advocate gains information from those who know the child well and gauges what the child’s views are by observing their behaviour).
Independent visitor service
Children and young people can choose to have an independent visitor to befriend them. This is a volunteer who will get to know the child or young person by taking them out and doing activities together. The independent visitor is someone who is committed to developing a relationship with the child or young person based on trust and friendship.
The child or young person and the independent visitor will usually meet up for at least two hours a fortnight. Activities that children and young people take part in with their independent visitors include:
- sharing hobbies
- things that the child or young person might like to do.
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