Children and Young People in Public Care - The Silent Army?

Categories: Society

At any one time there are around 64,000 children who are in public care or ‘looked after’, with just over 24,000 (40%) under the age of ten. According to Igen Leeds Careers, a non-profit making partnership company the national figures show there are 54 per 1,000 children in care under the age of eighteen. This figure is half as much again in Leeds where a staggering 83 per 1,000 children are ‘looked after’.

A child is classified as’ looked after’ by an LA (local authority) when either:

* they are accommodated by the LA at the request of a person with parental responsibility, or because they are lost or abandoned, or because there is no person with responsibility for them (S.

20 Children Act 1989)

* they are placed in the care of the LA by a court (part IV Children Act 1989) Interim Care Order or Full Care Order

* they are subject to emergency orders to secure their immediate protection, (Part V Children Act 1989) Emergency Protection Orders or Police Orders

* they are remanded by a court to the care of the LA (S.

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23 Children & Young Persons Act 1969)

* in very rare cases children and young people may also become ‘looked after’ via Wardship proceedings (High Court’s exercise of its inherent jurisdiction independent of stature)

For most children, care is intended to be time-limited with the aim that the child will return home as soon as possible. The Children Act aims to achieve a balance between the need to protect children from harm and the need to protect children and families from unwarranted intervention.

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It encourages arrangements for services to children to be agreed between the parents and the service providers whenever possible. The Act embodies the belief that children are best looked after within the family unit without legal intervention unless this is inconsistent with their welfare and safety.

‘Looked after’ children are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. In many cases, some 80%, have suffered sexual and physical abuse before they are removed from their family home and going into care means more upheaval and potential trauma. They all have distinct backgrounds, identities, aspirations and particular needs and only a very small percentage, less than ten, enter care because of their own behaviour. Read about approaches to challenge discrimination in health and social care

Historically the state has all too often, fallen short in its role as the ‘corporate parent’, providing inadequate funding and failing to accept the full responsibility it has for these children in its care.

The Centre for Social Justice suggests that this results in care-leavers being far more likely to end up in jail, on drugs, on the streets, or to be teenage parents than their peers. Thus becoming excluded from society. Igen have summarised recent research, which shows that unless problems experienced by these young people are dealt with early and effectively they will present even greater problems to society when they reach adulthood. These youngsters are the labour force of the future and society needs to address this fact and ensure that all children reach their full potential. Unfortunately the social and economic costs of achieving this are high. Igen suggests that improving the education and training of care leavers (children leaving care and entering the workforce) could save an estimated �300 million over three years, and that savings from reduced crime and homelessness would be even greater.

Although outcomes for children in care have improved in recent years, there remains a significant and widening gap between these and the outcomes for all children. These young people are at risk in a number of social and economic ways, which contribute directly to their exclusion from society:

* they are 2.5 times more likely to become teenage parents

* around one quarter of rough sleepers will have been in care

* less than 10% of children in care will leave school with 5 A-C’s compared to a national figure of 46%; only 11% leave school with 5 ‘good’ GCSEs compared with 56% nationally and a nominal 1% will move on into higher education

* 22% of care leavers will be unemployed by the September of the year they leave school – three times more than that for all school leavers

* approximately 25% of the adult prison population and half of all prisoners under 25 will have come from a care background

* 80% of all Big Issue sellers were in care

* half of all prostitutes have been looked after

Multi- Agency Intervention and their effectiveness

Section 17 of the Education Act 1989 sets out the duty of every LA to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are ‘in need’ and so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range of services appropriate o those children’s needs…

…”under the terms of section 17 of the Act, every child under the age of 18 is entitled to a full assessment of his/her needs and, if approached, social services have a legal duty to carry out this assessment and can be challenged if they fail to respond to any request for a section 17 child-in-need assessment.”

(Education Act 1989)

The Human Rights Act (1998) states the LA has a general duty to promote the welfare of ‘children in need’ in their area, and to enable children to be brought up by their families by means of providing a range of support services to the child and their family. The most basic services available are classified as universal services and include advice, counselling, placement in family centres, day care provision, respite, health, housing, connexions, police, leisure, community resources and education. However, where a child is ‘in need’ and following appropriate assessment tools such as the Common Assessment Framework (CAF), service specific assessment or a Child Protection Investigation, there are more intensive specialist services available. These are provided in three levels according to the complexity of the child’s/families needs, the level of intervention and support required and include:

Level 2 – Need for Support

* Health – Specialist/additional services

* Education – Specialist/additional services

* Leisure – Specialist/additional services

* Behaviour Educational Support Team (BEST)

* Sure Start

* Home Start

* Parent Partnership

* Youth Offending Team

* Mentoring Schemes

* Domestic Violence Support

* Children’s Centres

* Connexions

* Child Development Centres

Level 3 – Child Welfare Concerns

* Child Adolescent Mental Health Services

* Learning Disability Team

* Social Services

* Community Drugs Team

* Alcohol Services

* Special Health or nursing provision

Level 4 – Need for Protection

* Specialist multi-agency funded placements

* Adoption and Fostering teams

* Residential Services

* Probation

Policies and procedures in place for ‘looked after’ children are drawn up in accordance with the Government’s Quality Protects objectives. These objectives were laid out for the Social Services in November 1998 as follows:

* Ensuring Stable, Secure, Safe and Effective Care For All Children.

* Protecting Children From Abuse and Neglect

* Better Life Chances for Children In Need: good education, health care and social care for all children

* Good Life Chances for Children In Care: good education, health care and social care

* Enabling Young People Leaving Care To Live Successful Adult

* Better Assessment Leading to Better Services

* Actively Involving Users and Carers

* Using Regulation To Protect Children

* Making Sure That Child Care Workers Are Fit For the Job

* Making Best Use of Resources: choice, effectiveness and value for money

LA’s have a statutory duty to do everything necessary to safeguard a child’s welfare and promote the educational achievement of the children in their care under section 52 of the Children Act 2004, and this has lead to the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) promoting the Integrated Children’s System (ICS), who’s vision is to improve outcomes for children in need under the Children Act 1989, The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000, Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the previously cited Children Act 2004. Implementation of the ICS intends to support achieving the five outcomes (being healthy; saying safe; enjoying and achieving; making a positive contribution; and economic well-being) for children and young people with the highest level of need. The aim of the ICS is to provide a coherent conceptual framework for the core processes of:

* Assessing the needs of children and their families

* Planning how best to meet those needs

* Intervening to provide appropriate services to meet the needs

* Reviewing the assessment, plan and intervention

It will also assist in the transfer of information between agencies and support multi-agency working. The Children’s National Service Framework also enhances the above systems by setting standards for children’s health and social services and the interface of those services with education. The key to its success is that it places the child at the centre of their care, building services around their needs and wishes. The Assessment Framework for these children comprises of three domains and their individual dimensions and provide the potential for an holistic, specialist assessment for need to which all agencies and carers can contribute (Appendix ).

In schools governing bodies are provided with a practical guide highlighting each phase or area of a child’s life where being looked after may require the governing body to consider what action is required. The guide sets out the key problems and challenges ‘looked after’ children may face and offers practical advice in order to support the governing body when developing and implementing policies and procedures that will be inclusive of ‘looked after’ children and ensure they achieve their potential. Appendix is an example of the policy used within my setting.

Governing bodies have an important role to play in championing the needs of ‘looked after’ children; they must ensure designated teachers for this vulnerable group understand how they can actively support LA’s to discharge their duty under the Children Act 2204; ensure that the needs of ‘looked after’ children are reflected in the schools development plan and self-evaluation. Raising the educational achievement of ‘looked after’ children is a central responsibility of LA’s, to sustain this the Government introduced Personal Education Allowances, launched 28th May 2008, for all ‘looked after’ children at risk of not reaching expected standards of attainment to provide additional support for their education.

During a meeting of the Scottish Parliament, 20th November 2008, the members agreed that it was unacceptable that the outcomes for ‘looked after’ children and care leavers across a range of indicators fall so far behind those of their peers and so have agreed to do everything possible to end discrimination and stigmatisation of those who experience the care system and to challenge all services involved to offer the best childhoods possible to those in this system. This is a proactive step in the ‘war’ against exclusion and supports the children Act 2004 which requires LA’s to lead on integrated delivery through multi-agency children’s trusts, to develop a children and young people’s plan and to set up a shared data base of children, containing information relevant to their welfare.

Undoubtedly the most influential document for ‘looked after’ children is the care plan. The Children Act 1989 defines the purpose of the care plan in care proceedings:

* It influences the decision of whether to make a Care Order or not

* It should set the framework for the case management following the Care Order being made, specifying the goals to be achieved and the desired outcomes for the child.

These purposes are also applicable to the care plans for children accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act, and for them the plan should:

* Determine why it is in the child’s best interests to become looked after or whether other support services would be able to meet their needs

* Identifies the child’s assessed needs and the services which will be provided to meet those needs

* Sets the framework for the services provided to the child and family to enable the desired goals and outcomes to be achieved for the child

Care planning is the driver for achieving good outcomes and contains the long-term plan for the child, how permanence is going to be achieved and, for young people over 16, their Pathway Plan which indicates how they will be helped towards increasing their independence. The Care Plan is built upon a holistic specialist assessment, which identifies development need, capacity to meet need (parental capacity and family and environmental factors) and an evaluation of what has happened to the child, historically and chronologically.

This is very much a needs-based approach, which puts the child at the centre of the process. The child’s engagement in the process of assessment and planning and their understanding of plans are key principles of both best practice and legislation. Their understanding and participation will help to achieve the desired outcomes and their commitment to using the services and resources on offer. It is the responsibility of the adults to understand children’s way of communicating and ensure that they identify all the child’s needs, “Sometimes it’s not the child that can’t talk, it’s adults that don’t understand” (Quote from child in care; Lanyon 2005).

Adults also have a responsibility to explain to children the reasons for identifying some needs as priorities or requirements:

“I had to be present to express my opinions and feelings. I had to tell the independent reviewing officer (IRO) about the decisions that needed to be made or changed. I also had to tell her about how I was being looked after and if I was satisfied with the care I was being given”

(Quote from child in care; Lanyon, 2005)

The National Children’s Bureau has produced two booklets called ‘My Turn to Talk’ that are designed to help children engage and remain engaged in their care planning. Thomas (2000) identified six aspects of importance to the effectiveness of a child’s genuine participation in the process. These are:

1. ‘the choice which the child has over his/her participation

2. the information which/he has about the situation and her/his rights

3. the control which s/he has over the decision-making process

4. the voice which s/he has in discussion

5. the support which s/he has in speaking up

6. the degree of autonomy which s/he has to make decisions independently’

(Thomas, 2000 pp. 175-6)

Practitioners and carers carry a responsibility to:

* listen to a child’s views and wishes

* consider these in the light of balancing their long-term best interests and needs

* assess their competence to influence decisions and whether there are good reasons to override their wishes

* explain and record decisions made and the reasons for them

“Sometimes they listen but they don’t put it into action. They might, listen to you and say, ‘oh we’ll do this or we’ll do that’, but sometimes they don’t put it in action and that makes you think they don’t listen.”

(Quote from child in care; Lanyon, 2005)

Three months prior to a child reaching the age of 16 a Pathway Plan is drawn up. This supports the young person through leaving care up until the age of 21, as in the Care Plan the young person is central to its development. This plan must incorporate all the other plans, which have taken effect and pay particular attention to transition times. Some young people will have a transition plan (those with a statement of educational need) and some will have a continuing need for adult services. An example of good practice is where many LA’s are assisting young people in chairing their own review meetings, thus taking greater responsibility and control over their lives, “I used to find my social worker always used to say I was the Chairperson” (Quote from child in care; Lanyon, 2005)

Gilligan (2000) suggests that promoting and developing the resilience of ‘looked after’ children are key components to achieving positive outcomes and there are three key qualities, which should be promoted:

* Secure base

* Self -esteem – research has shown that succeeding in education helps children to survive the care system. The importance therefore, of schools being actively involved in the Personal Education Plan (PEP) and the Care Plan must be emphasised

* Self-Efficacy – gaining and taking control of their lives to a greater and lesser extent can help children to develop greater resilience. Their participation in and contribution to developing the care plan, should be seen as part of helping that child to achieve and develop into a responsible adult with increased emotional resources and coping mechanisms.

These ideas support Maslow’s Hierarchy of Humanistic Needs theory (1964). He believed everyone had the potential to achieve self-actualisation but acknowledged that various factors made the journey to this state very challenging. It is these factors that need removing to enable ‘looked after’ children to achieve good outcomes and improve their life chances.

Services such as Connexions, established in 2001, support children with a comprehensive range of high quality services to empower them and help remove barriers to learning and ensure they make a smooth transition to adulthood and working life. Ed Balls (2006), Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families (DCFS) said, is determined to change the injustice that exists for ‘looked after’ children and work to improve the life chances of children in care:

“…if we are to achieve our vision of helping every child to get a world class education and succeed in life, we need to focus our efforts where they are needed most- on the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in our society”.

The importance of listening to this excluded and disadvantaged group is an initiative shared by Alan Johnson, Health Secretary (2007):

“…Children in Care must be a priority for Government and society; we should have the same aspirations for them as we have for our own children. Through Care Matters: Time to Deliver (2007), we are not only recognising our responsibilities but acting on it”.

These children are part of our future – let us stand up and fight for our ‘Silent Army!’

These children need to be cared about – not simply cared for!

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Children and Young People in Public Care - The Silent Army?. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

Children and Young People in Public Care - The Silent Army?

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