2.3 ‘Looked-after’ children
There are 70,000 ‘looked-after’ children in the UK (National Statistics, 2005). Children are ‘looked after’ when they are:
in care (this term refers to children who are the subject of a care order made by a body with legislative powers) and are accommodated
provided with accommodation, by voluntary agreement with those having parental responsibility for the child.
The term ‘looked after’ applies to any child who is placed away from their parents on a voluntary basis or is the subject of an order that has been made by a court in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, or at a children's hearing in Scotland because of concerns about the child's welfare. Some of these children while legally in care will continue to live with their birth parents and some will live in the types of setting considered earlier.
Those who work with and care for ‘looked-after’ children have responsibility for their safety and welfare. Many ‘looked-after’ children have had a range of negative experiences, including family disruption, educational difficulties, behavioural difficulties or abuse. Farmer and Pollock (1998) estimate that some form of sexual maltreatment or abusive behaviour was a factor in the lives of about 12,000 (30 per cent) of the 30,000 children who are newly ‘looked after’ each year. In a study of children ‘looked after’ in Northern Ireland, by Horgan and Sinclair (1997), abuse and neglect were cited as a reason for entry to care in more than 75 per cent of the cases studied.
The seriousness of these problems for children should not be underestimated. Practitioners also need to ensure such problems are not perpetuated by the care system itself. Developments such as the Quality Protects programme (1998), which emanated from the Utting Report on children in public care (Department of Health, 1997), and the recommendations of the Waterhouse Report on the abuse of children in residential care in Wales (Department of Health and Welsh Office, 2000), aim to ensure that the state takes seriously the role of ‘corporate parent’ (the local authority acting in place of the parent). This notion was further developed in the Labour Government's policy strategies, ‘Every Child Matters’ (England) ‘Children First’ (Wales) and ‘Getting it Right for Every Child’ (Scotland). Unless there are better outcomes for children and families with state intervention, it might be argued that the state should not intervene at all.
The Children Act 1989 (England and Wales), the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 and the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995 all contain the overarching principles that the welfare of the child is a paramount consideration and that no order should be made unless considered beneficial to the child. These Acts also impose duties, for example, that those responsible for the well-being of children must consider religion, ethnic origin and cultural and linguistic background when making any decision about a child whom they are looking after or proposing to look after, where separations occur. Legislative principles and duties underpin the practice of professionals involved with any child, no matter where and with whom they are living. Furthermore, it is essential that those involved with children who live away from their parental homes should have knowledge of the backgrounds, wishes and feelings of the children they work with and care for, and should understand and respond to the importance of attachments and separations to them.