Local authorities have a statutory obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of vulnerable children and can provide a wide range of services to children and their parents or carers, usually within the own home environment and co-ordinated by a social worker.
Social services provided by local authorities in Wales support families and safeguard children who may be at risk of harm. The level and type of support offered can vary, depending on the circumstances of the case. The list below contains examples of the types of circumstances in which a local authority may become involved with a child or a family in order to provide support and assistance:
- following a request for assistance from a person (or person on their behalf) at a time of stress or to seek assistance or support of a type that is unavailable from schools, GPs, other health services, or other community-based services;
- by the provision of assistance and support to a child who is disabled or to a disabled adult who cares for a child, or a relatives or carer of such a person, including the provision of “short break” services;
- following becoming aware of child protection issues in respect of any child, including cases where violence between adults could result in harm to a child;
- following a request for temporary placement of a child in foster care or residential care, whether as a result of an emergency or to provide a planned break or series of short breaks;
- where a child is taken into care following intervention by a local authority or the police;
- where a child is placed for adoption, sometimes at the request of a parent, but more often following a court order when the child is already in the care of a local authority.
Looked after children
“Looked after” children are provided with accommodation by a local authority away from their families, either at the request of their parent or in accordance with a “care order” made under section 31 of the Children Act 1989 (the 1989 Act).
In some cases a child may need the local authority to provide them with accommodation because there is no one who has parental responsibility for them, or in cases where they are lost or abandoned, or circumstances prevent them from receiving care and accommodation from a parent or person with parental responsibility. The local authority has a duty under section 76 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (the 2014 Act) to provide such a child with accommodation. Accommodation can be secured by way of a placement with a foster parent, in a residential setting, such as a children’s home or by placement with a relative (a “kinship placement”).
A child accommodated by a local authority under section 76 is a “looked after” child, but the local authority does not acquire parental responsibility for the child.
Section 81(10) to (13) of the 2014 Act makes provision for certain specific circumstances where a local authority is a satisfied that a looked after child ought to be placed for adoption, and proposes to place the child for adoption with a particular prospective adopter. It specifies that the local authority must place the child with that prospective adopter, unless it considers it more appropriate to place the child elsewhere until the placement order is made. These arrangements are sometimes known as ‘foster to adopt’.
A court can grant a care order under section 31(1)(a) of the 1989 Act which places a child in the care of a designated local authority. Parental responsibility will be shared between the parents of the child and the local authority.
Section 31(2) of the 1989 Act provides that a care order will only be granted if a court is satisfied that
the harm, or likelihood of harm a child is suffering or likely to suffer, is attributable to…the care given, or likely to be given to the child …if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give…or the child being beyond parental control.
A care order cannot be made with respect to a child who has reached the age of 17 (or 16 in the case of a child who is married).
Services for looked after children
The local authority responsible for looking after a child is required to ensure that the child has a care plan in accordance with the requirements of section 83 of the 2014 Act and regulations made under section 84 of that Act -
Contributions towards the maintenance of looked after children
Schedule 1 to the 2014 Act requires a local authority that is looking after a child to consider whether it should recover contributions towards the cost of the child’s maintenance from an adult with parental responsibility for a child.
A local authority may only recover contributions from a contributor if it considers it is reasonable to do so and is not entitled to seek towards the costs of maintain the child in any of the following cases:
- during any period when the parent is in receipt of a benefit specified in regulations under paragraph 1(4) of the Schedule;
- where the child is looked after but is placed with his or her parents in accordance with arrangements made by the authority in accordance with section 81 of the 2014 Act;
- where the child is looked after by a local authority under section 76 of the 2014 Act;
- where the child is looked after by a local authority under an interim care order;
- where a child is looked after by a local authority under section 92 of the Powers of Criminal Courts (Sentencing) Act 2000.
Leaving care and services for care leavers
Sections 105 to 115 of the 2014 Act place duties on a local authority to provide support for children and young persons who it has looked after when they cease to be looked after (care leavers). The support provided is intended to be equivalent to that which a child who has not been looked after might reasonably expect from his or her parents.
This is intended to assist care leavers to move from being looked after to living independently. The advice and support that they receive depends upon their age and care leaving status.
In order to receive support from a local authority as a care leaver, the young person must have been looked after by a local authority for the prescribed period of time within the prescribed age range (Regulation 47 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (Wales) Regulations 2015 currently sets the criteria at a requirement to be looked after by a local authority for a period of 13 weeks between the ages of 14 and 16 years).
Section 104 of the 2014 Act sets out the different categories of young people who are or who were being looked after by a local authority for the purposes of the Act. Each category is entitled to differing types or levels of support. Section 104(2) contains a description of the six different categories.
A category 1 young person is a child aged 16 or 17 who is being looked after by a local authority and who has been looked after by a local authority (in Wales or England) for a period (specified in regulations), which began after he or she reached an age specified in regulations and ended after the child had reached the age of 16. This definition restates the definition of an eligible child in paragraph 19B(2) of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989 .
A category 2 young person is a child aged 16 or 17, who is no longer looked after by a local authority (in Wales or England) but who immediately before ceasing to be looked after was a category 1 young person. The definition of a category 2 young person replicates that of a relevant child in section 23A of the 1989 Act.
A category 3 young person is a young person who is aged 18 or over, and who used to be a category 2 young person and would continue to be so if he or she were under the age of 18; or who was being looked after by a local authority when he or she reached the age of 18, and, immediately before ceasing to be looked after, was a category 1 young person. The definition of a category 3 young person restates that of a former relevant child in section 23C of the 1989 Act.
A category 4 young person is a category 3 young person who is under 25 (or a lower age specified in regulations) and for whom the duties under sections 105, 106, 107(3) and (10) and 110 have ceased to apply, and who has also informed the local authority that he or she is pursuing, or wishes to pursue, education or training. The definition of a category 4 young person captures those young persons for whom provision is made within section 23CA of the 1989 Act (persons who qualify for further assistance to pursue education or training). Such young persons will be able to obtain advice and assistance by virtue of “reconnecting” with a local authority for the purposes of seeking to pursue education or training.
A category 5 young person is a young person who is 16 but not yet 21 in respect of whom a special guardianship order is in force (or if the person is 18 or over, an order was in force when he or she reached 18). A category 5 young person will be entitled to the same support from a local authority as that provided for a person qualifying for advice and assistance under section 24A of the 1989 Act (on the basis that he or she is a person who qualifies for advice and assistance by virtue of section 24(1A) of the 1989 Act).
A category 6 young person is a young person who has not yet attained the age of 21; is residing in Wales; and who, whilst not currently being looked after, accommodated or fostered, has been looked after, accommodated or fostered for a period when they were between the ages of 16 and 18. This category does not include anyone capable of being captured by the definition of a category 5 young person. A category 6 young person will be entitled to the same support from a local authority as that provided to persons qualifying for advice and assistance under section 24A by virtue of section 24(1B) of the 1989 Act.
“When I am ready” – post-18 living arrangements
“When I am Ready” is the scheme through which local authorities will fulfil their statutory duty to facilitate post-18 living arrangements.
Under section 108 of the 2014 Act, local authorities have duties towards young people in foster care who wish to continue living with their foster parents beyond the age of 18.
Local authorities are required to:
- ascertain, when carrying out pathway assessments and drawing up pathway plans for young people aged 16 and 17, whether the young person and his or her foster carers wish to make a post-18 living arrangement
- provide advice and other support to facilitate post-18 living arrangements, where the young person and foster carers wish to enter into them and provided the local authority is satisfied that this is not inconsistent with the young person’s well-being.
Regulation 50 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (Wales) Regulations 2015 specify the persons to whom the local authority must provide advice and information about post-18 arrangements, and the kind of advice and information to be provided.
Charges for support for care leavers
In accordance with section 117 of the 2014 Act, a local authority is able to impose a charge for support (other than advice) under sections 109 to 115 of that Act (support for care leavers). Charges under section 117 can only be imposed on persons over the age of 18 and can only cover the cost that the local authority incurs in meeting the needs to which the charge applies.