If you’re in the care of a Local Authority, you will be considered a ‘Looked After Child’. As a Looked After Child, there are several things that the law says Children’s Services must do for you to ensure you are safe and well cared for:
Moving homes is a big event that can have a major impact on your life. If you’ve been told you have to move and you don’t want to, you should know your rights:
The local authority must help you have contact with your family if it is safe and in your best interests. When you are in care, you have a Care Plan (see I want to know my rights in care). Your Care Plan should include agreed contact arrangements with your family, as well as your views.
If you would like to have more contact with your family, there are things you can do:
If you’re in care, you should have an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). You IRO is responsible for making sure that the Local Authority is doing their best to take care of you. An IRO will chair your LAC Reviews and should work with you to ensure that these meetings are productive and include your views, wishes and feelings. They’ll make sure decisions are made in your best interests and will try to resolve any disagreements you have about the care you receive.
A Children in Care Council is a group of children in care in a local area. They work together to make sure children in care have a collective voice, representing your views to the local authority and helping the local authority make decisions on issues that impact young people. Joining your local Children in Care Council is a great way to share your views, influence important people in your local authority and meet other young people with experience of being in care.
If you would like to join, you can ask your social worker for more information about your local children in care council.
If you are on a Child in Need Plan, your social worker should visit you at least every 6 weeks, unless other agreements have been made and are written on your Child in Need Plan.
If you are on a Child Protection Plan, your social worker should visit you at least every 4 weeks or according to what is agreed on your Child Protection Plan. Often it will be every 10 or 15 working days.
If you are in care, you should be visited within one week of the start of your placement. After that, you should be seen every 6 weeks for the first year. If it is the plan for you to stay in your placement until you are 18, after a year it could be decided that visits can be less frequent, but they should not be less than every 3 months or every 6 months if you are in long-term foster care.
If you are leaving care, your PA needs to ‘keep in touch’ with you and they should review your Pathway Plan at least every 6 months.
Social workers should make sure they meet with you in a place where you feel comfortable, and somewhere they can speak to you alone so you can be open about how you are feeling.
If you would like to see your social worker more often, do get in touch with them and let them know. If this doesn’t work, you might want to make a formal complaint.
The law says you have a right to see information about you (written and electronic). Your Local Authority should have information for you about the rules as to how long it will take to get your files ready and discuss if you need any support while looking at your files.
Before your social worker or Local Authority makes any decisions about you, they should seek your views, wishes and feelings and make sure that they are taken seriously.
If you do not feel that professionals working with you are listening to your views, you can:
If you’re in care or want to make a complaint, you’re entitled to an advocate. If you’re on a Child in Need or Child Protection you might still be able to have an advocate, just check with your social worker.
Advocates often work for independent organisations, separate from the local authority. An advocate works with children and young people to make sure that their rights are respected and their views are heard. An advocate will talk with you, assist you in meetings and stand up for your views. They can also help you make a formal complaint about your local authority, social worker or care.
If you ask your social worker, IRO or any other professional working with you, they should be able to help you contact your Local Authority’s formal complaint department. Contact details for children’s services complaints should also be on the Local Authority website.
Remember that you have the right to an independent advocate who can help you make a formal complaint. Advocates have a very important role to play in resolving issues and helping young people through the complaints process.
Most complaints are dealt with in three stages. If you are not happy with the result at the end of each stage, you can ask to progress to the next stage:
You may be considered legally homeless if the place you live is unsafe, unsuitable or you have no legal right to be there. You can be legally homeless if you’re staying with friends or another family for a while. You don’t have to be sleeping rough to be homeless.
If you’re under 16
If you’re under 16 and having serious problems at home, contact Children’s Services at your local council. They’ll try and help you sort things out so you can stay at home. If living at home is too dangerous or is not possible, they can:
If you’re 16 or 17
If you’re 16 or 17 and homeless, you should contact Children’s Services. Children’s Services will consider if there’s any way you can return home or go and live with another relative. They can’t force you to go back somewhere you don’t feel safe. If it’s not safe or possible for you to go home, they must offer you support. They can:
Asylum seekers are people who flee their home country, often due to major conflicts or because of human rights abuses, and who seek refuge in another country by making an application for asylum. If you are a child who has been separated from your parents or carers and have applied for asylum, you may be described as ‘unaccompanied asylum-seeking child’. The Home Office is responsible for making the initial decisions on your asylum application but Children’s Services are responsible for your care.
When you come to the attention of Children’s Services they must assess your needs and listen to your views. They should make sure you have an interpreter if you need one. The assessment will decide whether your needs fall under section 17 or section 20 of the Children Act 1989. It will also consider whether it is necessary to start care proceedings in court. The section of the Children Act under which you are supported is very important, as it will affect the level of support you are entitled to.
The majority of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are given support under section 20 of the Children Act 1989 and become Looked After Children. Normally, if you are under the age of 16 you will be able to live in a foster home. If you are older you might be offered semi-independent accommodation. Any decisions about where you live should be discussed with you and suit your needs.
Children’s Services and your foster carers should support you through the immigration process, and make sure you can access education, health services, finances and any emotional support you may need.
As a Looked After Child you will have a number of other rights, so do look at our ‘I am in care and want to know my rights’ section.
If you don’t know where to turn, you can always call us free on 0800 528 0731 and we’ll listen and try to point you in the right direction.
You can also call Childline on 0800 1111. They’re available 24 hours a day if you need to speak to someone about how you are feeling, if something’s bothering you or if you need help.