What does ‘Looked After’ Mean?

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Many children have experiences which result in the need for extra care, support or protection from public agencies. And in very serious cases, some children then become ‘looked after’.

The term ‘Looked After’ means a local authority takes on some legal responsibility for the care and wellbeing of the child.

This process most often happens through Scotland’s unique Children’s Hearings System, but the law courts also have relevant powers, and in many cases the arrangement is made on a voluntary basis between the child’s family and their local authority.

There are lots of different reasons why a young person might be referred (asked to go to a hearing) – these are called the ‘grounds of referral’. These are:

  • if someone is worried that they are not being cared for properly by their parents or carers
  • if an adult has hurt them or someone in their family in some way
  • if they have not been going to school
  • if they have been in trouble with the police
  • if they have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs
  • if their behaviour has been causing concern at home, school or in the community

Where a child is considered to be ‘at risk’, and it is not possible for public services to address that risk in cooperation with the child and/or their parents/carers, a Children’s Hearing can make a ‘compulsory supervision order’ or CSO.

This means the child becomes a ‘looked after child’, with their local authority responsible for ensuring the conditions of the order are implemented, and for providing (and coordinating) the services and support necessary to address the child’s needs.

A CSO may contain conditions about who the child should have contact with, and where they must live.

Where a CSO requires a child to live away from their usual home (for example away from their parents), the local authority must provide appropriate accommodation to meet the needs of the child, such as with foster carers, kinship carers, or in a group setting (e.g. residential home or school).

Where no condition of residence is attached to a CSO, children become ‘looked after’ by their local authority but remain living with their parents/carers. This group are often referred to as ‘looked after at home’. intandem mentoring aims to support these children and young people.

A CSO has no set time limit but should last only as long as is necessary. It must be reviewed by a children’s hearing at least once a year when it can be continued, varied or stopped.

The local authority is responsible for making sure that what is stated in the CSO is happening, and that the child is getting the help that they need.