Looked after children

This section considers the needs of children who have become looked after as a result of a legal order or who have been accommodated on a voluntary basis in agreement with their parents/carers.

The needs of children who are looked after by the council by virtue of using ‘short breaks provision’ are considered elsewhere.

What do we know?

Looked After Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. Children enter care for a range of reasons including physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, or family breakdown. Many younger children are found alternative permanent families and the outcomes for these are usually good. The majority of children who remain in care are there because they have suffered abuse or neglect and are not able to be found alternative care arrangements outside of the looked after system.

Children in care generally have significantly higher levels of health needs than children and young people from comparable socio-economic backgrounds who have not been looked after. Their life opportunities and long term outcomes are also often much poorer and poor health is a factor in this. Past experiences, including a poor start in life, removal from family, placement location and transitions mean that these children are often at risk of having inequitable access to health services, both universal and specialist.

The NHS is required to make arrangements to secure appropriate health services for each child, in accordance with the health assessment and the child’s health plan and need to understand the current flows of looked after children both in and out of the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area and ensure that services are commissioned to meet the needs of all Looked After Children.

Facts, Figures, Trends

At March 2015, Slough Council was responsible for 196 looked after children. This was a rate of 50.2 looked after children per 10,000 population under 18 – a rate lower than the England average (60 per 10,000). By April 2015, this had increased to 208 children.

The number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children looked after by Slough Council is has remained steady over the last 12 months, with 9 children at March 2015 – the number of unaccompanied asylum seeking children looked after by Slough was 9 by April 2015.

For indigenous looked after children, there is a broad spread of ages from newborn infants to 17 year olds, with the highest numbers falling in the 10 to 15 age groups. In comparison, the unaccompanied asylum seeking children population is almost wholly aged 10 and over, with the majority in the 16 and 17 age groups.

There are approximately the same number of girls and boys in care in Slough, though unaccompanied asylum seeking children are generally boys only.

In Slough, the largest ethnic group amongst looked after children is White (approximately 56%) followed by children of mixed heritage (18%), Asian or Asian British (16%), then Black or Black British (7%). Approximately 44% of unaccompanied asylum seeking children currently in Slough’s care are of Asian or Middle Eastern origin.

The majority of children who become looked after by Slough do so through voluntary arrangements between the local authority and their parents under section 20, Children Act 1989. This will often be whilst assessments are taking place to enter into care proceedings. In the year to April 2015, approximately 13% of children are taken into care for their protection as a result of the local authority gaining court orders. A small number (6.6% in the year to April 2015) of older young people are looked after whilst on remand for offences they have themselves committed.

The majority of looked after children are placed in family settings with foster carers or adoptive carers (approximately 84%), with the rest placed in other settings according to their individual needs (children’s homes, specialist homes or nursing establishments or independent living).

As at 31st March 2015, over two thirds (70.4%) of looked after children are placed outside of the Slough borough. These are due to different factors but include;

  • a shortage of local foster carers;
  • the small geographical size of Slough;
  • the need for specialist provision;
  • and the need to protect children either by placing with extended family or purposefully moving them away from Slough.

Of those placed outside of Slough, the majority (63%) are within 20 miles of the town. Slough’s location adjacent to London and surrounded to north, south and west by generally rural population centers’ means we face stiff competition for placement providers.

A variable, but small number of looked after children who are the responsibility of other authorities are also placed or receive education within Slough.

All children in care are subject to a health plan. Health assessments must be undertaken twice a year for children under 5 years, and annually for children and young people aged 5 years and over. The proportion of looked after children who receive an annual health assessment and regular dental checks is high (88% April 2015).

All looked after children of school age have a Personal Education Plan through which their individualised learning targets and achievements are monitored and recognised. Schools and the Council provide additional teaching support to ensure children maximise their own potentials.

Slough is generally very successful at securing alternative permanent families for children with good rates of adoptions, residence orders and special guardianship orders. In the year to April 2015 Slough secured 32 Adoptions / SGO’s. The number of children who experience multiple placement moves (3 or more placements in the year) is low at 8.7%. Over the last 12 months we have significantly improved on our record of securing and maintaining long-term stability of placements for children.

Some children do remain in care until they reach 18 and are supported to remain in their placements beyond this age. The Borough provides ongoing financial, housing, educational and other support to this group as they make the transition into adulthood.

Slough has a good supply of housing options for looked after children and care leavers aged 16-25 and who are not living in a foster family or in a residential home.

National & Local Strategies (Current best practices)

National

The local authority’s duty to meet the needs of looked after children are set out in the 1989 Children Act and subsequent amendments. The local authority has specific duties:

  • to receive a child who is the subject of a care order into care and to continue to look after them while the care order is in force
  • to safeguard and promote the welfare of looked after children - finding out the wishes and feelings of child/parents before making any decision, and giving due consideration to those wishes and feelings and to the child's background
  • to promote the educational attainment of children in its care
  • to regularly review the needs and circumstances of a child in care and to appoint independent reviewing officers to do this
  • to provide appropriate advocates for children in its care
  • to continue to support young people after they have left care.

The duty to meet the health needs of Looked After Children for both the NHS and local authorities are clearly laid out in 'Statutory Guidance on Promoting the Health and Wellbeing of Looked After Children'.

Local

Slough’s Five Year Plan includes outcome 5 “Children and young people in Slough will be healthy, resilient and have positive life chance”.

What is this telling us?

There are rising numbers of children looked after by the council in Slough, however, the rate of children in care is still lower than the national average.

Despite a relatively low rate of children in care, over two thirds of looked after children are placed outside of the Slough borough due to a number of factors including lack of local foster carers and need for more specialist input.

Increasing support is being given to children leaving care as they transition to adulthood, including help with finances, training and education, and finding accommodation.

What are the key inequalities?

Looked After Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in society. The majority of children who remain in care are there because they have suffered abuse or neglect and are not able to be found alternative care arrangements outside of the looked after system. Children in care generally have significantly higher levels of health needs than children and young people from comparable socio-economic backgrounds who have not been looked after. Their life opportunities and long term outcomes are also often much poorer and poor health is a factor in this. Past experiences, including a poor start in life, removal from family, placement location and transitions mean that these children are often at risk of having inequitable access to health services, both universal and specialist.
Looked after children sometimes lose support networks on reaching 18. For this reason, Care Leavers receive additional support to assist with the transition to adult life and receive structured and planned support in all areas of their lives.

What are the unmet needs/ service gaps?

  • An adequate supply of local foster carers remains a difficulty. If children are placed out of Slough it can be difficult to access local health services (including mental health and therapeutic services).
  • Initial Health Assessments are sometimes delayed because of poor communication and because children are placed a distance away and the health services local to the placement do not prioritise looked after children from another authority

Recommendations for consideration by other key organisations:

  • Need to develop better systems for when children enter the care system to ensure their health assessments are completed in a timely way.
  • A placement strategy is being developed to commission and secure good quality local placements.

See also