The Children in Custody section was updated in March 2021.
This chapter deals with the issues that arise when a child lives away from home - whether in a local authority foster placement, a private fostering setting, a children's home, hospital, residential school or custodial setting.
Everywhere children live should provide the same basic safeguards against abuse, founded on an approach that promotes their general welfare, takes into account their wishes and feelings, protects them from harm and treats them with dignity and respect.
The National Minimum Standards and Quality Standards contain specific requirements on safeguarding and child protection for each particular regulated setting where children live away from home.
Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to being abused by adults and peers. Limited and sometimes controlled contact with family and carers may affect a child's ability to disclose what is happening to them. Given that young people may live away from home because of concerns about their home conditions or the ability of their parents or carers to safeguard their welfare, it is particularly important that their welfare is protected when they are being cared for by another agency or institution.
All settings must ensure that:
- Children feel valued and respected and their self-esteem is promoted;
- There is an openness on the part of the institution to the external world and to external scrutiny, including contact with families and the wider community;
- Staff and foster carers are trained in all aspects of safeguarding children, can recognise children's vulnerabilities and risks of harm, and know when and how to implement safeguarding children procedures, including the procedures for referring safeguarding concerns about a child to the relevant Local Authority Children's Social Care Service;
- Children are listened to, and their views and concerns responded to;
- Children have ready access to a trusted adult outside the institution, e.g. a family member, social worker, independent visitor or children's advocate. Children should be made aware of independent advocacy services, external mentors and Childline;
- Staff/carers recognise the importance of ascertaining the wishes and feelings of children and understand how individual children communicate by verbal or non-verbal means;
- Complaints procedures are clear, effective, and user-friendly and are readily accessible to children and young people including those with disabilities and those for whom English is not their preferred language;
- Records of complaints should be kept by providers of children's services (e.g. there should be a complaints register in every boarding school which records all representations including complaints, the action taken to address them, and the outcomes);
- Children should be genuinely able to raise concerns and make suggestions for changes and improvements, which are taken seriously;
- Bullying is effectively countered;
- Recruitment and selection procedures are rigorous and create a high threshold of entry to deter abusers and there is effective supervision and support that extends to temporary staff and volunteers;
- Contracted staff are effectively checked and supervised when on site or in contact with children;
- Clear procedures and support systems are in place for dealing with expressions of concern by staff and carers about other staff or carers (a Whistleblowing Policy plus see Allegations Against Staff or Volunteers who Work with Children Procedure);
- There is respect for diversity, and sensitivity to race, culture, religion, gender, sexuality and disability;
- Staff and carers are alert to the risks of harm to children in the external environment from people prepared to exploit the additional vulnerability of children living away from home.
3. Protection and Action to be Taken
The most important aspect is the need to listen to children to ensure that they are able to share concerns with people who they trust and who will act on the child's concerns.
Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, a referral must be made, in accordance with the Referrals Procedure to Children's Social Care. The Local Authority for the area in which the child is living has the responsibility to convene a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, which should include representatives from the responsible Local Authority that placed the child, where this is different.
At the Strategy Discussion/Meeting it should be decided which Local Authority will take responsibility for the next steps, which may include an Assessment and a Section 47 Enquiry.
Whether a child is in foster care, privately fostered, in a residential setting, hospital, custody or living in temporary accommodation with their family, the duty to protect is the same. The local authority has a duty to undertake an Assessment which may lead to a Section 47 Enquiry where there are concerns about significant harm.
Specific issues to consider in different settings are as follows:
Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child in foster care has suffered harm in the foster placement, a Strategy Meeting will be held.
In these circumstances, enquiries should also consider the safety of any other children living in the household, including the foster carers' own children, grand-children or any children cared for by the foster carers in their home as well as any children whom the foster carers may be caring for or working with outside their home in a voluntary or paid capacity e.g. teaching, faith or youth work, scouts or many other groups.
In these cases, a referral should also be made to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO).
As foster care is undertaken in the privacy of the carers' own home, it is important that children have a voice outside the family. Social Workers are required to see children in foster care on their own and evidence of this should be recorded on the child's records.
A private fostering arrangement is essentially one that is made without the involvement of a Local Authority for the care of a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled) by someone other than a parent or close relative for 28 days or more. Privately fostered children are a diverse and sometimes vulnerable group which includes:
- Children sent from abroad to stay with another family, usually to improve their educational opportunities;
- Asylum-seeking and refugee children;
- Teenagers who, having broken ties with their parents, are staying in short-term arrangements with friends or other non-relatives;
- Children who stay with another family whilst their parents are in hospital, prison or serving overseas in the armed forces;
- Language students living with host families;
- Trafficked children (see also Children from Abroad, including Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation).
Under the Children Act 1989, private foster carers and those with Parental Responsibility are required to notify the local authority of their intention to privately foster or to have a child privately fostered, or where a child is privately fostered in an emergency.
There will be circumstances in which a privately fostered child experiences physical, sexual or emotional abuse and / or neglect.
Teachers, health and other staff working with children should make a referral to LA children's social care and the police if:
- They become aware of a private fostering arrangement which is not likely to be notified to the local authority; or
- They have doubts about whether a child's carers are actually their parents, and there is any evidence to support these doubts (including concerns about the child's welfare (see also Children from Abroad, including Victims of Modern Slavery, Trafficking and Exploitation).
It is likely that Local Authority Children's Social Care will not have been notified of most private fostering arrangements.
When Local Authority Children's Social Care become aware of a privately fostered child, they must assess the suitability of the arrangement. They must make regular visits to the child and the private foster carer. Children living in such arrangements should be allocated as Children in Need under section 17 The Children Act 1989 for the duration of the private fostering arrangement.
Local Authority Children's Social Care should visit and see the child alone unless this is inappropriate; they must visit the parent of the child when reasonably requested to do so. The child should be given contact details of the social worker who will be visiting them while they are being privately fostered.
The Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005 and the amended s67 of the Children Act 1989 strengthens the duties upon local authorities in relation to private fostering by requiring them to:
- Satisfy themselves that the welfare of children who are privately fostered within their area is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted;
- Ensure that such advice as appears to be required is given to private foster carers;
- Visit privately fostered children at regular six weekly intervals in the first year and 12 weekly in subsequent years;
- Satisfy themselves as to the suitability of the private foster carer, and the private foster carer's household and accommodation.
Private fostering can place a child in a vulnerable position. The carer may not provide the child with the protection that an ordinary parent might provide. In many cases, the child is also looked after away from a familiar environment in terms of region or country.
Foreign Exchange Visits
Children on foreign exchange visits and in some language schools stay with families selected by the school (or hosting organisation) in the host country and are vulnerable for reasons comparable to others living away from home. Children may be at additional risk as the assessment and supervision that would apply if the child was privately fostered are not applicable because most exchanges last less than 28 days. It is unlikely the school (or hosting organisation) selecting the host family will have been able to conduct a thorough assessment of the suitability of the host family.
Advice and assistance can be given by the LA children's social care to schools wishing to conduct more thorough assessments, for example the host family could be asked to give consent for checks of the local children and family social care service database, and also for checks with other local agencies (for example with GPs).
In the event that a pupil's host family has been the subject of s47 enquiries, unless or until there is a satisfactory resolution of concerns, the family should be regarded by the UK school as unsuitable to receive or continue hosting a pupil from an overseas school. See Allegations Against Staff or Volunteers who Work with Children Procedure and Organised and Complex Abuse Procedure.
UK schools and agencies should take reasonable steps to ensure that a comparable approach is taken by relevant schools abroad.
Children in Residential Settings
All residential settings where children and young people are placed, including children's homes and residential schools, whether provided by a private, charitable or faith based organisation, or a Local Authority, must adhere to the Children's Homes Regulations 2001 (as amended by the Children's Homes (Amendment) Regulations 2015, associated guidance) and all other relevant Regulations and to the relevant Quality Standards.Clear records must be kept and reviews and inspections must take place in accordance with Quality Standards and the Regulations.
Children in such settings are particularly vulnerable and must be listened to.
All such establishments must have in place complaints procedures for children and young people, visiting and contact arrangements with social workers and Independent Visitors (for Looked After children), as well as parents, and advocacy services.
Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child in a residential setting has been harmed, a referral must be made to Children's social care in accordance with the Referrals Procedure. The concerns may be related to bullying, children who display harmful behaviour towards other children or allegations about the behaviour of practitioners or volunteers.
All commissioners and providers of residential care services for children are responsible for ensuring that children are safeguarded. Commissioner contracts and provider procedures should be comprehensive and unambiguous in setting out the responsibilities and processes for safeguarding and promoting children's welfare. Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships should monitor the welfare of children living in residential care.
It is important that children have a voice outside the residential unit. Social workers are required to see children in residential units on their own (taking appropriate account of the child's wishes and feelings) at regular intervals and evidence of this should be recorded.
Residential carers should be provided with full information about the child and their family, including details of abuse or possible abuse and whether the child has harmed others, both in the interests of the child and of the staff and other children in the residential unit.
Residential carers should monitor the whereabouts of the children, including their patterns of absence and contacts. Residential carers should follow the recognised procedure of their agency on sharing general concerns about a child, and whenever a child is missing from the unit. This will involve notifying the placing authority and, where necessary, the police of any unauthorised absence by a child. See Children Missing from Care, Home and Education Procedure.
Residential carers should have guidance on sharing more general concerns (e.g. alerting other professionals, considering child behaviour around contact, absences, school, moods etc.).
The local authority's duty to undertake s47 enquiries, when there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, applies on the same basis to children in residential care as it does to children who live with their own families.
Such enquiries will consider the safety of any other children living in the residential unit. If child protection concerns are raised about the care in a residential unit, the local authority in which the child is living has the responsibility to convene a strategy meeting / discussion, which should include representatives from the responsible local authority which placed the child; a representative from Ofsted should also be invited. At the strategy meeting / discussion, it should be decided which local authority should take responsibility for the next steps, which may include a s47 investigation. If the case appears to be a complex one, see Organised and Complex Abuse Procedure.
Alongside the strategy meeting/discussion, a referral should also be made to the LADO.
An adopted child may divulge when they are in placement, that they have been abused at some time in their previous history. An adopted child can also be vulnerable to physical, sexual or emotional abuse and / or neglect whilst they are placed for adoption. See Responding to Abuse and Neglect.Where an allegation of past or current abuse or neglect is made in respect of a child placed for adoption or in respect of a prospective or approved adopter, the following actions must be taken:
- Where a child is placed with prospective adopters and any allegation of past or current abuse or neglect is received, a referral must be made, in line with the Referral and Assessment, to the LA children's social care where the child is placed (the host authority);
- Where child protection enquiries are made in respect of a child by the host authority, full co-operation must be given by any other local authority with information about that child;
- The registration authority must be notified of the instigation and outcome of any child protection enquiry;
- Consideration must be given as to the implications of the outcome of any allegation, and any necessary measures taken in order to protect children placed with prospective adopters;
- Adoption agencies must ensure that appropriate individuals working for the purposes of the agency, prospective adopters and children placed by the agency all have access to information to enable them to contact the host LA children's social care, plus the registration authority in respect of any concern about child welfare or safety relating to an adoptive placement.
A child in boarding school is vulnerable to physical, sexual or emotional abuse and / or neglect. See Responding to Abuse and Neglect Procedure.Boarding school staff must be alert to the risks of harm to children in the external environment from people prepared to exploit the additional vulnerability of children living in boarding school.
Children in Hospital
Children under 16 should not be cared for on an adult ward. Hospital admission data should include the age of children, so that hospitals can monitor whether children are being given appropriate care in appropriate wards.
Hospitals must have policies in place to ensure that their facilities are secure and regularly reviewed.
Any concerns about harm to a child within a hospital or health-based setting must be referred to the Children's Social Care in whose area the hospital is located.
When the child has been or is planned to be in hospital or accommodated by a Clinical Commissioning Group for three months or more, the appropriate health/hospital trust or CCG must notify the Responsible Authority i.e. the local authority for the area where the child is normally resident or, if this is unclear, where the child is Accommodated. This is so that the local authority can assess the child's needs and decide whether services are required under the Children Act 1989.
No child known to Children's Social Care who is an inpatient in a hospital and about whom there are Child Protection concerns should be discharged home without a Discharge Planning meeting and referral to assess and establish that the home environment is safe, the concerns by medical staff are fully addressed and there is a plan in place for the ongoing promotion and safeguarding of the child's welfare. Particular attention is required in the discharge planning of newborns from neonatal intensive care units, since these babies are at high risk of re-admission to hospital.Children with long term conditions need preparation for the move from children's to adult services. All children with on-going health needs should have a plan developed with them for the transition of their care to adult services, which is coordinated by a named person. If there are child protection concerns for such a child, the LA vulnerable adults service should be informed as part of the transition planning.
Children in Custody
In all cases, the local authority in which a secure youth establishment is located is responsible for the overall safety and welfare of the children in that establishment. Specific institutions in an area must ensure that there are links in place with the Safeguarding Children Partnership and local authorities.
Under the Legal Aid Sentencing & Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, whenever children under 18 are remanded they become 'looked after' for the period of their remand. Their home local authority must visit them at specified intervals and prepare a Detention Placement Plan (DPP). The DPP is reviewed in the same way as a Care Plan for a Looked After Child and will have an Independent Reviewing Officer providing scrutiny and oversight.
Each centre holding those aged under 18 should have in place an annually-reviewed safeguarding children policy which promotes and safeguards the welfare of children, and covers all relevant operational areas as well as key supporting processes, which would include issues such as child protection, risk of harm, restraint, separation, staff recruitment and information sharing.
Children of Families Living in Temporary Accommodation
It is important that effective systems are in place to ensure that children from homeless families receive services from health and education, social care and welfare support services as well as any other specific services, because with frequent moves they may become disengaged from services. Where a child who needs specific treatment misses appointments due to moves, the problem may become an issue of Significant Harm.
Temporary accommodation, for example bed and breakfast accommodation or women's refuges, may be in a location which is not secure and safe and where other adults are also resident who may pose a risk to the child.
All concerns about the welfare of a child or of Significant Harm to a child should be referred to Children's Social Care in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.