Children in care Legislation, policy and guidance

These pages outline the legislation, policy and guidance that specifically relates to children in care in the UK. National policies which aim to improve the life chances for all children, including looked after children, are covered in the England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland legislation, policy and guidance sections.

Legislation

Key pieces of legislation providing for children in care in each of the four nations.

Children Act 1989

Sets out many of the duties, powers and responsibilities local authorities hold in respect of their looked after children and care leavers.

In 2015 new regulations relating to the Children Act came in to force. Among other things, these regulations set out arrangements for local authorities considering ceasing to look after a child.

View the Children Act 1989

Children (Leaving Care) 2000

Sets out duties local authorities have to support young people leaving care from 16 to 21 years of age.

View the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000

Adoption and Children Act 2002

Updated the legal framework for domestic and inter-country adoption, and places a duty on local authorities to maintain an adoption service and provide adoption support services.

View the Adoption and Children Act 2002

Children and Adoption Act 2006

Gives courts more flexible powers to facilitate child contact and enforce contact orders when separated parents are in dispute.

View the Children and Adoption Act 2006

Children and Young Persons Act 2008

Legislates for the recommendations in the Department for Education and Skill’s 2007 Care Matters white paper to provide high quality care and services for children in care.

View the Children and Young Persons Act 2008

Download the Care Matters white paper (PDF)

Children and Families Act 2014

Encourages 'fostering for adoption' which allows approved adopters to foster children while they wait for court approval to adopt. Introduces a 26 week time limit for the courts to decide whether or not a child should be taken into care. In some cases, this limit may be extended by eight weeks. Introduces 'staying put' arrangements which allow children in care to stay with their foster families until the age of 21 years. This is provided that both the young person and the foster family are happy to do so.

View the Children and Families Act 2014

The Children's Homes (England) Regulations 2015

Sets out duties for those providing residential children's homes for children.

View The Children's Homes (England) Regulations 2015

Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987

Sets out the law relating to adoption. New adoption legislation is intended to be introduced in the Northern Ireland Assembly in 2014.

View the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987

Adoption Agencies Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1989

Makes provision for implementation of the 1987 Adoption Order.

View the Adoption Agencies Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1989

Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

Sets out many of the duties, powers and responsibilities local authorities hold in respect of their looked after children and care leavers.

View the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

Children (Leaving Care) Act (Northern Ireland) 2002

Sets out duties local authorities have to care leavers up to the age of 21.

View the Children (Leaving Care) Act (Northern Ireland) 2002

Children (Leaving Care) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005

Supports the provisions of the Children (Leaving Care) Act (Northern Ireland) 2002.  Sets out in more detail the matters to be taken into account when assessing and meeting the needs of those preparing to leave care and care leavers.

View the Children (Leaving Care) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2005

Foster Children (Scotland) Act 1984

Introduces provisions for foster care in Scotland.

View the Foster Children (Scotland) Act 1984

Children (Scotland) Act 1995

Sets out many of the duties, powers and responsibilities local authorities hold in respect of their looked after children and care leavers.

View the Children (Scotland) Act 1995

Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001

Enhances the provision of services to children and young people who cease to be looked after or accommodated.

View the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001

Support and Assistance of Young People Leaving Care (Scotland) Regulations 2003

Sets out the aftercare services for young people who have been in care. Also provide for throughcare preparation for young people leaving care.

View the Support and Assistance of Young People Leaving Care (Scotland) Regulations 2003

Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007

Sets out the law relating to adoption.

View the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007

Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009

Sets out what should be included in a child’s plan. Also includes legislation around foster and kinship care.

View the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009

Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011

Governs the children’s hearing system. The Act updates the old system and strengthens the place of children, ensures better support for families, and ensures consistency across Scotland.

View the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011

Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014

Updates the law on creating a child’s plan, corporate parenting, aftercare, continuing care, kinship care and the adoption register.

View the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014

Children Act 1989

Sets out many of the duties, powers and responsibilities local authorities hold in respect of their looked after children and care leavers.

View the Children Act 1989

Children (Leaving Care) 2000

Sets out duties local authorities have to support young people leaving care from 16 to 21 years of age.

View the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000

Adoption and Children Act 2002

Updated the legal framework for domestic and inter-country adoption, and places a duty on local authorities to maintain an adoption service and provide adoption support services.

View the Adoption and Children Act 2002

Children and Adoption Act 2006

Gives courts more flexible powers to facilitate child contact and enforce contact orders when separated parents are in dispute.

View the Children and Adoption Act 2006

Children and Young Persons Act 2008

Legislates for the recommendations in the Department for Education and Skill’s 2007 Care Matters white paper to provide high quality care and services for children in care.

View the Children and Young Persons Act 2008

Download the Care Matters white paper (PDF)

Children and Families Act 2014

Encourages 'fostering for adoption' which allows approved adopters to foster children while they wait for court approval to adopt. Introduces a 26 week time limit for the courts to decide whether or not a child should be taken into care. In some cases, this limit may be extended by eight weeks. Introduces 'staying put' arrangements which allow children in care to stay with their foster families until the age of 21 years. This is provided that both the young person and the foster family are happy to do so.

View the Children and Families Act 2014

Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014

Implemented in April 2016, Part 6 covers Welsh local authorities' duties to children in their care.

View the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014

Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016

Makes provision for the registration and regulation of providers of social care services including adoption and fostering services and advocacy services.

View Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016

Policy

Policies for supporting and improving the outcomes of children in care in each of the four nations.

An action plan for adoption

(Department for Education, 2011)

Sets out government proposals to change the system for prospective adopters and strengthen the performance regime for local authorities. Proposals include: scorecards to rate local authority performance on adoption targets; approval process for new adopters cut to six months; and a national gateway for adoption to provide a first point of contact.

Download An action plan for adoption: tackling delay (PDF)

Further action on adoption

(Department for Education, 2013)

Sets out plans for reforming the adoption system in England, with the main objective of speeding up adoption recruitment. Proposals include: new legislative action requiring local authorities to outsource adoption services if their recruitment process is taking too long; financial support for local authorities for greater investment in adoption in the form of a one-off £150 million Adoption Reform Grant; and a two-stage approval process, reducing the period from a formal application to approval being granted or refused to six months.

Download Furthur action on adoption: finding more loving homes

Care matters in Northern Ireland

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Northern Ireland, 2007)

Northern Ireland’s approach to children in care is outlined in their Care Matters policy. It seeks to increase support for vulnerable children and improve outcomes for care-experienced young people, by:

  • increasing preventative services and support to help vulnerable families stay together;
  • improving the range, quality and stability of placement options for children who cannot live at home;
  • ensuring that Health and Social Care Trusts have the necessary arrangements in place to act as effective corporate parents for children in care;
  • improving educational opportunities for children in care;
  • providing children in care with opportunities to take part in activities outside school and care; and
  • strengthening support to young people leaving care as they make the transition to adulthood

Download Care matters in Northern Ireland: a bridge to a better future (PDF)

Looked After Children Strategic Implementation Group

Brings together experts on children in care to develop policy around specific issues, such as care planning, foster care, throughcare and aftercare.

View Looked After Children Strategic Implementation Group

Getting it right for looked after children and young people

(Scottish Government, 2015)

Scottish Government's strategy for looked after children setting out what they are doing and what they expect from other corporate parents.

View Getting it right for looked after children and young people: early engagement, early permanence and improving the quality of care

Looked after children

(Scottish Government, 2015)

Sets out the strategic direction for developing data on looked after children over five years. Seeks to ensure data quality and provide the evidence to realise policy ambitions set out in Getting it right for looked after children and young people: early engagement, early permanence and improving the quality of care.

Download Looked after children: data strategy 2015 (PDF)

Raising the ambitions and educational attainment of children who are looked after in Wales: strategy

(Welsh Government, January 2016)

The Welsh Government's programme for tackling the educational underachievement of looked after children, to be read in conjunction with the accompanying action plan.

Download Raising the ambitions and educational attainment of children who are looked after in Wales: strategy (PDF)

Download Raising the ambitions and educational attainment of children who are looked after in Wales: Action Plan 2015-16 (PDF)

Guidance

Includes key messages for practice for professionals working to safeguard children in care.

Practice guidance for the use of s.20 provision in the Children Act 1989 in England and the equivalent s.76 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 in Wales

(ADCS, 2016)

Guidelines for social workers on the use of Section 20 (regarding looking after children on behalf of parents in stretched circumstances).

Download Practice guidance for the use of s.20 provision in the Children Act 1989 in England and the equivalent s.76 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 in Wales (PDF)

Special guardianship guidance

(Department for Education, 2016)

Statutory guidance on the special guardianship services local authorities need to provide in accordance with the Children Act 1989.

View Special guardianship guidance

Children's homes regulations, including quality standards

(Department for Education, 2015)

Guidance for providers of residential homes for vulnerable children.

View Children's homes regulations, including quality standards: guide

Framework and evaluation schedule for the inspection of services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers

(OFSTED, 2015)

Sets out the framework for the inspection of services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers under section 136 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006. Areas covered include the experiences and progress of children in care, including adoption, fostering, the use of residential care, and children who return home. The framework also focuses on the arrangements for permanence for children who are looked after and the experiences and progress of care leavers.

Download Framework and evaluation schedule for the inspection of services for children in need of help and protection, children looked after and care leavers: reviews of Local Safeguarding Children Boards (PDF)

Inspection of children’s homes

(OFSTED, 2015)

Updates the 2013 framework for the inspection of children's homes. Takes into account the overall experiences and progress of children and young people living in the home, with particular focus upon how well children and young people are helped and protected and the impact and effectiveness of leaders and managers

Download Inspection of children’s homes: framework for inspection from 1 April 2015 (PDF)

Looked after children: knowledge, skills and competences of healthcare staff

(Royal College of General Practitioners, Royal College of Nursing, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, 2015)

Framework for healthcare staff to understand their role and responsibilities for meeting the needs of looked after children.

Download Looked after children: knowledge, skills and competences of healthcare staff: intercollegiate framework (PDF)

Promoting the educational achievement of looked after children

(Department for Education, 2015)

Updates the 2010 statutory guidance. Details the duty local authorities and Virtual School Heads have to promote the educational achievement of the children they look after, including those placed out-of-authority.

Download Promoting the educational achievement of looked after children: statutory guidance for local authorities (PDF)

Promoting the health and well-being of looked-after children

(Department for Education and Department of Health, 2015)

Updates the 2009 guidance. Looks at the profile of looked after children using evidence from research and practice. Considers the health needs of this particular group of people and how well their needs are met. Also discusses the roles and responsibilities of Local Authorities and the NHS.

Download Statutory guidance on promoting the health and well-being of looked after children (PDF)

The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations

(Department for Education, 2015)

Updates the 2010 edition of the guidance. Describes the key principles underpinning the 1989 Children Act. Also consolidates information previously contained in a series of updates and supplements, including: contact with siblings, contact with youth justice services, out of authority placements, long-term foster placements, ceasing to look after a child, fostering for adoption and the delegation of decision making about looked after children to their carers. Aimed at local authority workers with responsibilities for looked after children. 

Download The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations volume 2: care planning, placement and case review (PDF)

Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children

(Department for Education, 2014)

Sets out steps local authorities should take to plan for the provision of support for looked after children who are unaccompanied asylum seeking children and child victims of trafficking.

View Care of unaccompanied and trafficked children

Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care.

(Department for Education, 2014)

Outlines action that local authorities and their partners should take to stop children going missing from home or care and to protect those who do. Covers: agency roles and responsibilities; multi-agency working; access to support; risk assessment; safe and well checks; independent return interviews; emergency accommodation; children who repeatedly run away and go missing; and additional actions to protect looked after children.

Download Statutory guidance on children who run away or go missing from home or care

The NICE quality standard on the health and wellbeing of looked after children and young people.

(National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, 2013)

This NICE quality standard, which is endorsed by NSPCC, sets out best practice in meeting the health and wellbeing needs of looked-after children and young people. NICE guidelines cover health and care in England. Decisions on how they apply in other UK countries are made by ministers in the Welsh Government, Scottish Government, and Northern Ireland Executive.

Download NICE quality standard on the health and wellbeing of looked after children and young people

Protecting looked after children

(Department of Health, 2016)

Guidance for Health and Social Care professionals which deals with the issue of children who become looked after and are on the child protection Register.

Download Protecting looked after children (PDF)

Minimum kinship care standards Northern Ireland

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2014)

Standards for kinship care developed to deliver on the Care Matters strategy.

View Minimum kinship care standards Northern Ireland

Minimum standards for children's homes

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2014)

Aims to improve quality and consistency of care for children and young people living in children's homes or having short breaks.

View Minimum standards for children's homes

Standards

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2012)

Sets out minimum standards for leaving care and aftercare services.

View Standards: leaving care services in Northern Ireland

Standards for young adults supported accommodation projects in Northern Ireland

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2012)

Minimum standards for young adults supported accommodation projects providing housing support, care and accommodation.

View Standards for young adults supported accommodation projects in Northern Ireland

Children living with carers in private fostering arrangements

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2011)

Sets out the responsibilities of health and social care trusts in relation to privately fostered children, including children from overseas who are not living with close relatives.

View Children living with carers in private fostering arrangements

The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995

(Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, 2000)

Volume 1 covers court orders and other legal issues, volume 3 covers family placements and private fostering, volume 4 covers residential care and volume 8 covers leaving and after care.

View volume 3

View volume 4

View volume 8

Helping me make choices about how best to take part in my Children's Hearing

(Children's Hearings Improvement Partnership, 2015)

Based on the views of children and young people, this guidance note is for adults working with and caring for children and young people involved in the Children's Hearings system.

Download Helping me make choices about how best to take part in my Children's Hearing (PDF)

National guidance for the external management of residential child care establishments

(Scottish Government, 2013)

Covers children's homes, secure care and some residential schools. Describes current positive practices, provides principles and outlines the essential tasks and key responsibilities of the external manager.

Download National guidance for the external management of residential child care establishments (PDF)

Staying put Scotland

(Scottish Government, 2013)

Guidance for local authorities and other corporate parents which outlines an explicit philosophy of care and emphasises the importance of relationship based practice and extended and graduated transitions.

Download Staying put Scotland: providing care leavers with connectedness and belonging (PDF)

Guidance on the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007

(Scottish Government, 2011)

Guidance from the Scottish Government for local authorities in Scotland regarding looked after children and their duties under the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007.

Download Guidance on the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007 (PDF)

Guidance to local authorities on the assessment and support for kinship carers of looked after children

(Scottish Government, 2008)

Interim guidance on kinship carers of looked after children.

Download Guidance to local authorities on the assessment and support for kinship carers of looked after children (PDF)

Supporting young people leaving care in Scotland

(Scottish Executive, 2004)

Guidance on local authorities’ statutory duties to prepare young people for ceasing to be looked after (throughcare) and provide advice, guidance and assistance for young people who have ceased to be looked after (aftercare).

Download Supporting young people leaving care in Scotland: regulations and guidance on services for young people ceasing to be looked after by local authorities (PDF)

The Children (Scotland) Act 1995 regulations and guidance (volume 2)

(The Scottish Office, 1997)

Sets out the local authorities responsibilities for children in care. Covers home supervision, fostering service, residential care, registration and inspection of residential schools, secure accommodation, throughcare and aftercare.

Download The children (Scotland) act 1995: regulations and guidance (volume 2): children looked after by local authorities (PDF)

When I am ready

Good practice guide

(Welsh Government, March 2016)

Guide for practitioners involved in making and supporting arrangements for young people leaving care. Supplements the Statutory Code of Practice relating to Part 6 of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 which out a local authority's legal responsibilities in respect of post-18 living arrangements for young people in care.

View When I am ready – good practice guide

 

Social Services and Well-being (Wales) 2014

(Welsh Government, 2015)

Statutory guidance which covers care and support planning, placements, keeping in touch, the role and functions of the Independent Reviewing Officer, leaving care, post-18 living arrangements, secure accommodation, children in other types of establishments and responding to the death of a looked after child.

Download Social Services and Well-being (Wales) 2014: Part 6 Code of Practice (looked after and accommodated children) (PDF)

Social Services and Well-being (Wales) 2014

(Welsh Government, 2015)

Covers access to and provision of advocacy services for looked after children.

Download Social Services and Well-being (Wales) 2014: Part 10 Code of Practice (Advocacy) (PDF)

Sustainable social services for Wales

(Welsh Assembly Government, 2011)

The Welsh Government’s strategy for social services. In relation to families with complex needs the strategy highlights four key priorities:

  • Supporting families to care for their children.
  • Where children need to be looked after, to have greater stability in their placements, friendships, school lives and those who provide support.
  • To ensure that children living in Wales who need to be looked after are accommodated and rehabilitated in Wales, close to their home or neighbouring community, unless there is a good reason not to do so.
  • To act sooner to find permanency or replacement families for those children for whom a return is not in their best interest.

Download Sustainable social services for Wales: a framework for action

The Care Standards Act 2000 (notification) (Wales)

(Welsh Assembly Government, 2011)

This guidance outlines new enforcement options open to the Care and Social Service Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) since amendments were added to the Care Standards Act 2000. Also discusses CSSIW's new obligation to inform local authorities when action against providers of children's homes, residential family centres, fostering agencies, voluntary adoption agencies and adoption support agencies takes place. Guidance and regulations came into force on 1 April 2011.

Download The Care Standards Act 2000 (notification) (Wales) regulations 2011 and guidance

Provision of accommodation for 16 & 17 year old young people who may be homeless

(Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2010)

Guidance to children’s social services authorities and local housing authorities about their duties under Part 3 of the Children Act 1989 and Part 7 of the Housing Act 1996 to secure or provide accommodation for homeless 16 and 17 year old young people.

Download Provision of accommodation for 16 & 17 year old young people who may be homeless.

If this were my child

(Welsh Assembly Government and Welsh Local Government Association, 2009)

This guidance is intended to remind elected members of their responsibility to act as good corporate parents to looked after children and care leavers. A good corporate parent seeks the same outcomes for children in their care and care leavers that every good parent would want for their own children by ensuring they do everything possible to give them the best possible start in life.

Download If this were my child: A councillor’s guide to being a good corporate parent to children in care and care leavers

Guidance on the implementation of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000

(Welsh Assembly Government, 2001)

This guidance sets out the duties for local authorities in supporting their care leavers as outlined in the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

Download Guidance on the implementation of the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000

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