Definition of a looked after child:
A child who has been in the care of their Local Authority (LA) for more than 24 hours is known as a looked after child (LAC). Looked after children are also often referred to as children in care or care experienced, terms which many children and young people prefer.
In England, the legal definition of a LAC is derived from the Children Act 1989, whereby a child is legally defined as ‘looked after’ by a LA if he or she:
There are a variety of reasons why children and young people enter care:
A child stops being looked after when they are adopted, when the care order ceases, or the child becomes subject to a special guardianship order. However, LAs are required to support children leaving care at 18 until they are at least 21. This may involve them continuing to live with their foster family or in semi-independent or independent living.
Care experienced children and young people are at greater risk of not achieving their full potential and having poorer outcomes in terms of their holistic health and well being and educational attainment.
It is important to ensure the voice of the child and the lived experience of the child are heard when planning care for this particularly vulnerable cohort of children.
Trauma informed practice should underpin any work with care experienced people, utilising a strengths based approach whilst considering contextual safeguarding and think family for any risks and vulnerabilities outside of the home/care environment and the impact on parents/carers and siblings when planning care.
The Statutory Guidance on Promoting the Health and Wellbeing of Looked after Children 2015 sets out the responsibilities for Local Authorities, Clinical Commissioning Groups and the NHS England and NHS Improvement.
NICE guidance and Intercollegiate Framework for Looked After Children provides best practice guidance and standards.