Children Living Away from Home (Including those who are Privately Fostered and those Placed in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Grounds)

1. Introduction

To safeguard and promote the welfare of children living away from home, practitioners should pay close attention to the overall developmental needs of such children and ensure that any assessments and plans in place continue to be reviewed and updated at the required intervals.

Every setting in which children live away from home should provide the same basic safeguards against abuse, be founded on an approach that promotes the welfare and well being of children and young people, takes into account their wishes and feelings and which protects them from harm and treats them with dignity and respect.

The National Minimum Standards and Children's Homes Regulations and Quality Standards place specific requirements on Fostering Services, Adoption Services, Residential Children's Homes and other settings in relation to the standards of care they must provide - see also Guidance for Safe Recruitment, Selection and Retention for Staff and Volunteers Procedure and Responding to Allegations Against Staff, Carers or Volunteers Procedure.

2. Essential Safeguards

The following essential safeguards should be observed in all settings where children live away from home including foster care, residential care, private fostering, Armed Forces Bases, Health Care Units, Boarding Schools (including residential special schools), Prisons, Young Offenders' Institutions, Secure Training Centres and Secure Children's Homes. Where services are not directly provided, these safeguards should be explicitly addressed in any contract with a service provider.

All settings must ensure that:

  • Children feel valued and respected and their self-esteem is promoted;
  • The institution ensures there is transparency to the external world for the purpose of scrutiny; including contact with families and the wider community;
  • Staff and 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;
  • Staff / carers recognise the importance of ascertaining the wishes and feelings of children an understand how individual children communicate by verbal or non verbal means and are listened to ensure their views and concerns are responded to;
  • Children have access to a trusted adult outside the institution, e.g. a family member, social worker, Independent Visitor or children's advocate;
  • Children are aware of independent advocacy services, external mentors and Childline / The Children's Commissioner Help at Hand Service;
  • Complaints procedures are clear, effective, user-friendly and are readily accessible to children and young people including those with disabilities and those for whom English is not their first language;
  • Bullying is effectively countered;
  • Recruitment and selection procedures are rigorous to ensure there is effective supervision and support that extends to temporary staff and volunteers - see Guidance for Safe Recruitment, Selection and Retention for Staff and Volunteers Procedure;
  • Contractor 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 (see Whistleblowing or Raising Concerns at Work Procedure and the Responding to Allegations Against Staff, Carers and Volunteers Procedure);
  • There is respect for diversity, and sensitivity to race, culture, religion, gender (including transgender), sexuality and disability;
  • Staff and carers are alert to the specific risks and additional vulnerability which young people can experience as a result of living away from home.

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered Significant Harm, the local authority / Children's Services Trust for the area in which the child is living has the responsibility to convene a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, which should include representatives from the local authority that placed the child if the child has been placed out of their home area.

At the Strategy Discussion/Meeting it should be decided which local authority / Children's Services Trust should take responsibility for the next steps, which may include a Section 47 Enquiry.

3. Foster Care

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child in foster care has suffered or harm in the foster placement, the Responding to Allegations Against Staff, Carers or Volunteers Procedure will apply and a LADO Allegations Meeting will be convened.

In these circumstances, the LADO Allegations Meeting should 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 other groups.

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 details of these meetings on the child's records.

Foster carers should monitor the whereabouts of their foster children and who they are having contact with and following the South Yorkshire Children Missing from Home and Care Protocol (2021) whenever a foster child is missing from their home.

4. Private Fostering

Private fostering is the term used when someone other than a parent or close relative is looking after a child under 16 (or 18 if disabled) for 28 days or more in their own home.

Close relative is defined as "a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether of the full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) or step-parent. A child who is Looked After by a local authority / Children's Services Trust or placed in a children's home, hospital or school is excluded from the definition. In a private fostering arrangement, only the parent(s) holds Parental Responsibility and agrees the arrangement with the private foster carer.

Privately fostered children are a diverse and sometimes vulnerable group which includes:

Under the Children Act 1989, private foster carers and those with Parental Responsibility are required to notify the local authority / Children's Services Trust of their intention to privately foster or to have a child privately fostered, or where a child is privately fostered in an emergency.

Teachers, health and other professionals should notify the local authority / Children's Services Trust of a private fostering arrangement that comes to their attention, where they are not satisfied that the arrangement has been or will be notified.

Once notified, it is the duty of every local authority / Children's Services Trust to ensure that the welfare of children, who are privately fostered within their area, is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted. This includes an initial visit to the child and private foster carers within 1 week of receiving notification that the placement has started.

When there are concerns about harm in relation to a child who is privately fostered, the local authority/ Children's Services Trust and all the other agencies have the same duties to make enquiries as they do to any other child. Any concerns must be reported to the local authority / Children's Services Trust where the private foster placement is located in accordance with the Contacts and Referrals Procedure.

See also Doncaster Children's Services Trust, A Guide to Private Fostering for Young People.

5. Children in Residential Settings

All residential settings where children and young people are placed, including children's homes and residential schools in England, whether provided by a private, charitable or faith based organisation, or a local authority, must adhere to the Children's Homes (England) Regulations 2015. Children's Homes regulations in Wales have their own regulations as do Scotland.

Clear records must be kept and reviews and inspections must take place in accordance with Quality Standards and 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 / carers, friends 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 in accordance with the Contacts and Referrals Procedure. Where the concern the actions of a member of staff, the Responding to Allegations Against Staff, Carers or Volunteers Procedure will apply and a LADO Allegations Meeting will be held.

When the concerns relate to a looked after child placed in residential care outside the area of the responsible local authority.

Looked After Children placed in settings out of area (i.e. in a different local authority to their home address) can be particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

6. Children Placed in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Grounds

A decision to place a child or young person in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Founds should only be considered in extreme circumstances, when they are at grave risk of Significant Harm. Before secure accommodation is considered, the appropriateness of all other available options must have been assessed including residential care, fostering and specialist IFA/therapeutic placements.

Section 25 of the Children Act 1989 sets out the 'welfare' criteria which must be met before a Child in Care / Looked After Child may be placed in secure accommodation:

  • The child has a history of absconding and is likely to abscond from any other description of accommodation;
  • If the child absconds, (s)he is likely to suffer Significant Harm;
  • If the child is kept in any other description of accommodation (s)he is likely to injure her/himself or others.

N.B. "History of absconding" should refer only to behaviour which is relevant to the current situation and not to previous absconding which may have little or nothing to do with the current situation.

When considering the possibility of a secure placement, there should be a clear view of the aims and objectives of such a placement and the Children's Services Trust should ensure that those providing the accommodation can meet these aims and objectives fully.

Wherever possible, a meeting should be arranged by the child's Social Worker to plan the admission to secure accommodation, draft an initial Placement Plan and consider its links with the Care Plan. The manager of the Secure Unit should be included in this meeting, as well as the child, their parents and other relevant professionals. The purpose of the meeting is to share information about the child, plan the timing of the placement and ensure that a Placement Plan is drawn up.

Secure placements, once made, should only continue for so long as is necessary. Should the criteria for secure accommodation cease, the young person must be moved to other accommodation.

Every young person in secure accommodation should have access to an Independent Representative/Advocate, and be provided with information on how to make a complaint or who to contact if they have any concerns.

The child's Social Worker should arrange to visit the child in the placement within the first week, and then at least every 6 weeks (Note - these are the minimum visiting requirements and the frequency of visits should always be determined by the circumstance of the case/needs of the young person).

A Looked After Children review should be arranged to take place within 20 working days of the placement (or sooner if the Independent Reviewing Officer feels it is necessary to ensure the placement is meeting the needs of the child.) The purpose of the Looked After Review is to ensure that appropriate plans are in place to safeguard and promote the overall welfare of the Child in Care in the most effective way and to monitor progress in achieving the aims set out in the Care Plan and other relevant plans while the child is placed in secure accommodation (e.g. Personal Education Plan, Education, Health and Care Plan, Health Care plan and Performance Plan).

It is important that the placement is carefully monitored with regard to the child's progress, this will include ensuring that any additional specialist assessments that may be required are commissioned, and that a multi-agency 'exit plan' is developed for when the criteria for secure accommodation are no longer met.

There must also be a Secure Accommodation Criteria Review within 20 working days which will consider whether the criterion for secure accommodation continues to be met. The following people should be invited to the secure accommodation criteria review:

  • The social worker;
  • The young person;
  • Parent or carers;
  • A key worker from the unit;
  • A manager from the unit;
  • A teacher from the education unit;
  • Young person's advocate.

If the Secure Accommodation Criteria Review establishes that the child no longer meets the criteria for Section 25 Secure Accommodation, the exit plan should be followed. Development of the exit plan should begin well in advance and should identify the most likely follow on placement so as to ensure all information and plans can be shared before the child moves, and appropriate support put in place. Contingency planning is vital to ensure that the child's needs will continue to be met if the decision is made that the secure accommodation criteria are no longer met.

7. Children in Hospital

Hospitals should be child-friendly, safe and healthy places for children. Wherever possible, children should be consulted about where they would prefer to stay in hospital, and their views should be taken into account and be respected. Care should be provided in an appropriate location and in an environment that is safe and well suited to the age and stage of development of the child or young person.

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 adequate 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 local authority / Children's Services Trust in whose area the hospital is located in accordance with the Contacts and Referrals Procedure.

If a child has been in hospital for 3 months or more, the appropriate CCG/hospital trust 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 / Children's Services Trust can assess the child's needs under Working Together to Safeguard Children and decide whether services are required under the Children Act 1989.

No child known to Doncaster Children's Services Trust who is an inpatient in a hospital and about whom there are child protection concerns should be discharged home without a referral to the Children's Services Trust to 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 - see the Referrals Procedure.

8. 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.

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.

9. Children of Families Living in Temporary Accommodation

Placement in temporary accommodation, often a distance from previous support networks or involving frequent moves, can lead to individuals and families falling through the net.

It is important that effective systems are in place to ensure that children from homeless families receive services from health and education, the Children's Services Trust and welfare support services as well as any other specific services, because with frequent moves they may become disengaged from services. For example a child who is not registered with a school or a GP will miss out on basic services such as health screening, eye tests, immunisations and learning to read and write. 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 of Significant Harm to a child should be referred to Doncaster Children's Services Trust in accordance with the Contacts and Referrals Procedure.