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Caring for Children Looked After

A child who is being looked after by their local council is known as a child in care (CIC) or a Looked After Child (LAC). 

They might be living:

  • With foster parents
  • At home with their parents under the supervision of social services
  • In residential children's homes
  • Other residential settings like schools or secure units.
  • Some may be living with family and friends as ‘connected people’

They might have been placed in care voluntarily by parents who are struggling to cope and need support. Or, children's services may have intervened because a child was at significant risk of harm and they needed to be placed in a place of safety.

Looked after children

In UK law children in care are referred to as ‘looked after children’. 

A child is ‘looked after’ if they are in the care of the local authority for more than 24 hours. Legally, this could be when they are:

  • Living in accommodation provided by the local authority with the parents’ agreement
  • The subject of an interim or full care order or, in Scotland, a permanence order
  • The subject of an emergency legal order to remove them from immediate danger
  • In a secure children’s home, secure training centre or young offender institution
  • Unaccompanied asylum seeking children

The exact definition of a ‘looked after’ child is different in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. For example, Scotland’s definition includes children under a supervision requirement order. This means that many of the ‘looked after’ children in Scotland are still living at home, but with regular contact from social services.

A child will stop being ‘looked after’ when they are either adopted, returned home or turn 18. The local authority will continue to support children leaving care at 18 until they reach 21.

There is a number of legislation, policies and procedures around caring for and supporting children who are in care for more information this can be found on the Legal Services Board (LSB) website.


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