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I'm in care and I want to know my rights.

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:

  • Make sure that you have an up to date Care Plan. A Care Plan is a document that says how your needs will be met, who will be responsible for supporting you and what the long term plans are for your care. Your Care Plan must include your views and you should be given a copy. Someone should sit down with you to make sure you understand what it says.
  • Make sure you have a Placement Plan, which forms part of your Care Plan. The Placement Plan explains why your placement was chosen and how the placement will care for you on a day to day basis.
  • Make sure you have a Personal Education Plan (PEP), which can be part of your Care Plan. Your PEP considers your educational needs and how you will be supported to achieve your educational goals.
  • Make sure you have a Health Action Plan which considers your health care needs and how those needs will be met.
  • Provide you with an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). An IRO is a person who 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 useful and include your wishes and feelings.  You should be given the chance to chair your own LAC Reviews, if you wish. The Care Plan must be regularly reviewed at LAC Reviews.
  • Take into account your religion, ethnic and racial background, culture and language when making decisions about you. You have the right to maintain ties to the things that are important to you and your identity.
  • Help you have contact with important people in your life, including parents, siblings, extended family members and close friends.
  • Make sure a social worker visits you in your placement regularly and offers to speak with you alone if you would like.
  • Provide you with an independent advocate if you would like one, as well as information on how to make a formal complaint.

My social worker says I have to move, but I don’t want to.

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:

  • Unless there is a risk to your safety and a move needs to be made in an emergency, no placement move should take place without involving you in discussions first.
  • Your views, wishes and feelings regarding a move must be heard and taken seriously.
  • You can visit the new placement before any move, unless the move is done in an emergency.
  • You can call an emergency LAC Review to discuss the proposed placement move. This review should be attended by your IRO, social worker, yourself, and anyone else you would like to have present.
  • You have the right to make a formal complaint. You can ask that the proposed move is put on hold until your complaint has been properly responded to. You can ask for an independent advocate to help you voice your opinions and make your complaint.

I want to have more contact with my family.

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:

  • You should tell your social worker. If you have an advocate, they can help you and may be able to talk to the social worker for you (see I want to know about advocacy and what an advocate can do for me).
  • You can also speak to your Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). Their job is to make sure you are well cared for and to try and resolve any issues with the local authority, so they would be very helpful.
  • If you are still not happy with contact arrangements, you could make a formal complaint (see I want to make a complaint about my social worker or local authority).
  • You could also speak to a solicitor. Your solicitor could explain how you get an order from the court and would make an application on your behalf. If the court makes an order about your contact with family, the local must do as the court says.

I want to know what an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) is meant to do for me.

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.

I want to know more about 'Children in Care Councils'.

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.

I want to know how often my social worker should get in touch with me.

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’ (see I want to make a complaint against my social worker or Local Authority).

I want to see the files and information Children’s Services have about me.

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.

I don't feel like I'm being heard or listened to.

Before 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:

  • Make a formal complaint
  • Ask for an independent advocate. An advocate is a professional who 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.
  • Talk to your IRO. You can also ask your IRO for a LAC review to discuss your views with your social worker and any other people you want to be there.
  • Call Help at Hand at the Children’s Commissioner’s Office. We can talk through your concerns, provide advice and talk to professionals on your behalf if needed.

I want to know about advocacy and what an advocate can do for me.

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.

I want to make a complaint about my social worker or Local Authority.

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:

  • stage 1 – A manager will look into your complaint and write a response, outlining how they would like to move forwards to support you.
  • stage 2 – If the manager’s response was not enough, an independent person can be brought in to investigate.
  • stage 3 – If the independent investigator did not address all your concerns or their decision worries you, a review panel of at least three people will need to reconsider your case.
  • If you remain unhappy after stage 3, you can ask for the local government ombudsman to look into your complaint further.

I’m homeless and under 18.

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:

  • arrange for you to live with another family member or adult
  • look at other options including living with a foster family

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:

  • Provide emergency accommodation while they look into your case to see if it is safe for you to go home
  • Decide whether you should be provided accommodation and come into care as a Looked After Child under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. This will depend on your situation and your wishes.
  • Assess whether you should be provided accommodation as a Child in Need under section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This will also depend on your situation and wishes.
  • 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 until you are 18 and may affect whether you would be entitled to leaving-care support after you turn 18.

I’m separated from my family, am making an asylum application and want to know my rights.

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.

I need someone to talk to about my problems.

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 (http://www.childline.org.uk).  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.