5.13 Children Living Away from Home (including Children and Families living in Temporary Accommodation)

1. Introduction

Revelations of the widespread abuse and neglect of children living away from home have done much to raise awareness of the particular vulnerability of such children. Many of these revelations have focused on sexual abuse, but physical and emotional abuse and neglect – including peer abuse, bullying and substance misuse – are equally a threat in institutional and other settings.

Concerns for the safety of children living away from home have to be put in the context of attention to the overall developmental needs of such children and a concern for the best possible outcomes for their health and development.

Every setting in which they live should provide the same basic safeguards against abuse, founded on an approach that promotes their general welfare, protects them from harm and treats them with dignity and respect.

These values are reflected in regulations and in the National Minimum Standards, which contain specific requirements on safeguarding and child protection for each particular regulated setting where children live away from home – see also Safer Working Practice, Supervision and Culture Procedure and Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure.

2. Essential Safeguards

The following essential safeguards should be observed in all settings such as foster care, residential care, private fostering, armed forces bases, healthcare, boarding schools (including residential special schools), Prisons, Young Offenders’ Institutions, Secure Training Centres and secure units. Where services are not directly provided, these safeguards should be explicitly addressed in any contract with a service provider.

All settings must ensure that:

  • Children feel valued and respected and their self-esteem is promoted;
  • There is an openness on the part of the institution to the external world and to external scrutiny; including contact with families and the wider community;
  • Staff and foster carers are trained in all aspects of safeguarding children, are alert to children’s vulnerabilities and risks of harm, and knowledgeable about how to implement safeguarding children procedures;
  • Children are listened to, and their views and concerns responded to;
  • Children have ready access to a trusted adult outside the institution, e.g. a family member, social worker, independent visitor or children’s advocate. Children should be made aware of independent advocacy services, external mentors and Child Line;
  • Staff/carers recognise the importance of ascertaining the wishes and feelings of children and understand how individual children communicate by verbal or non-verbal means;
  • Complaints procedures are clear, effective, and user–friendly and are readily accessible to children and young people including those with disabilities and those for whom English is not their preferred language;
  • Bullying is effectively countered – see Bullying Procedure;
  • Recruitment and selection procedures are rigorous and create a high threshold of entry to deter abusers and there is effective supervision and support that extends to temporary staff and volunteers – see Safer Working Practice, Supervision and Culture Procedure;
  • Contractor staff are effectively checked and supervised when on site or in contact with children;
  • Clear procedures and support systems are in place for dealing with expressions of concern by staff and carers about other staff or carers (a Whistle-blowing Policy);
  • There is respect for diversity, and sensitivity to race, culture, religion, gender, sexuality and disability;
  • Staff and carers are alert to the risks of harm to children in the external environment from people prepared to exploit the additional vulnerability of children living away from home.

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered, is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, the Local Authority for the area in which the child is living has the responsibility to convene a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, which should include representatives from the responsible Local Authority that placed the child, if different.

At the Strategy Discussion/Meeting it should be decided which Local Authority should take responsibility for the next steps, which may include a Section 47 Enquiry.

3. Foster Care

The Local Authority‘s duty to undertake a Section 47 Enquiry, when there are concerns about Significant Harm to a child, applies on the same basis to children in foster care as it does to children who live with their own families.

When the concerns relate to a child placed in a foster home outside the area of the responsible local authority – see Children and Families Moving Across Boundaries Procedure.

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child in foster care has suffered or is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm in the foster placement, the LADO process will apply and a Strategy Meeting will be held.

In these circumstances, enquiries will consider the safety of any other children living in the household, including the foster carers’ own children, grand-children or any children cared for by the foster carers in their home as well as any children whom the foster carers may be caring for or working with outside their home in a voluntary or paid capacity e.g. teaching, faith or youth work, scouts or many other groups.

As foster care is undertaken in the privacy of the carers’ own home, it is important that children have a voice outside the family. Social Workers are required to see children in foster care on their own and evidence of this should be recorded on the child’s records.

Foster carers must follow the recognised agency procedure whenever a foster child is missing from their home.

4. Private Fostering

Private Fostering is when a child under the age of 16 (or 18 if the child has a disability) lives with someone who is not a close relative (i.e. not their grandparents, aunt, uncle, brother, sister, cousin or step-parents) for 28 days or more unless that person has parental responsibility for them or is a local authority or agency foster carer.  Examples include:

  • Children sent from abroad to stay with another family, usually to improve their educational opportunities;
  • Asylum-seeking and refugee children;
  • A child living with a friend’s family due to family breakdown, arranged by the parents;
  • Language students living with host families;
  • A child whose parents work away from home (Military);
  • A child from the UK or overseas who is staying with a host family while attending sport’s coaching.

Under the Children Act 1989, private foster carers and those with Parental Responsibility are required to notify the local authority of their intention to privately foster or to have a child privately fostered, or where a child is privately fostered in an emergency.

Teachers, health and other professionals should notify the local authority of a private fostering arrangement that comes to their attention.

It is the duty of every local authority to satisfy itself that the welfare of the children, who are privately fostered within their area, is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted. This includes an initial visit to the child and private foster carers within 7 working days of receiving the notification and subsequent assessment under the Assessment Framework. The local authority must also arrange to visit privately fostered children at 6 weekly intervals. Children should be given the contact details of the social worker who will be visiting them while they are being privately fostered.

All arrangements and regulations in relation to private fostering are set out in the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005, which can be found at: Legislation website.

When there are concerns about Significant Harm to a child who is privately fostered the local authority and all the other agencies have the same duties to make enquiries as they do to any other child. The concerns must be reported to the local authority where the private foster placement is located in accordance with the Referrals Procedure and the Safeguarding Children Procedures will be applied.

5. Children in Residential Settings

All residential settings where children and young people are placed, including children’s homes and residential schools, whether provided by a private, charitable or faith based organisation, or a local authority, must adhere to the Children’s Homes Regulations and all other relevant regulations and to the relevant National Minimum Standards.

Clear records must be kept and reviews and inspections must take place in accordance with National Minimum Standards and regulations.

Children in such settings are particularly vulnerable and must be listened to.

All such establishments must have in place complaints procedures for children and young people, visiting and contact arrangements with social workers and Independent Visitors (for Looked After children), as well as parents, advocacy services.

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child in a residential setting has suffered or is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, a referral must be made in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.

The concerns may range from bullying or abuse by other children to allegations against staff – see Bullying ProcedureAbuse by Children and Young People who Display Sexually Harmful Behaviour Procedure and, where the concerns relate to a member or members of staff and/or the care the child is receiving in the residential setting, the Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure will apply and a Strategy Meeting will be held.

When the concerns relate to a looked after child placed in residential care outside the area of the responsible local authority – see Children and Families Moving Across Boundaries Procedure.

6. Children in Hospital

Hospitals should be child-friendly, safe and healthy places for children. Wherever possible, children should be consulted about where they would prefer to stay in hospital, and their views should be taken into account and be respected. Care should be provided in an appropriate location and in an environment that is safe and well suited to the age and stage of development of the child or young person.

Children under 16 should not be cared for on an adult ward. Hospital admission data should include the age of children, so that hospitals can monitor whether children are being given appropriate care in appropriate wards.

Hospitals must have policies in place to ensure that their facilities are secure and regularly reviewed.

Any concerns about Significant Harm to a child within a hospital or health based setting must be referred to the Children’s Social Care Services in whose area the hospital is located in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.

When the child has been in hospital for three months or more, the appropriate health/hospital trust must notify the Responsible Authority i.e. the local authority for the area where the child is normally resident or, if this is unclear, where the child is Accommodated. This is so that the local authority can assess the child’s needs under the Assessment Framework and decide whether services are required under the Children Act 1989.

Discharge from Hospital:

Where professionals have concerns about a possible child protection issue, a strategy meeting and a multi-agency action plan to safeguard the child must be agreed and recorded before the child leaves hospital. – [The Inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbié (Lord Laming, 2003)]

As part of the plan:

  • Local authority children’s social care must assess and establish that the child’s home environment is safe;
  • The health professionals must ensure their concerns have been fully addressed and any plan for discharge of the child must be authorised by the child’s consultant;
  • The plan must provide for the ongoing promotion and safeguarding of that child’s welfare;
  • There must be follow-up arrangements to monitor compliance with the plan.

Particular attention is required in the discharge planning of newborns from neonatal intensive care units, since these babies are at high risk of re-admission to hospital. They need a properly co-ordinated programme of follow-up, with special attention to vision, hearing and developmental progress, as well as the co-ordinated input of services such as genetics.

7. Children in Custody

The local authority has the same responsibilities towards children in custody as it does to other children in the local authority area.

Young Offenders Institutions which accommodate Juveniles (15-18) must have policies and procedures in place which set out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children and young people in their care.

For guidance in relation to Norfolk young people placed in custody see Safeguarding Welfare of Norfolk Children and Young People in Police Custody and the Secure Estate Policy.

Specific institutions in an area must ensure that there are links in place with the Local Safeguarding Children Board and local authorities.

The Local Authorities responsibilities are set out in Local Authority Circular (LAC) 2004(26), which is available from the government web archive.

The circular sets out two sets of requirements. For those local authorities of areas where there is a YOI, prison or STC, the following action is required:

  • Ensure that they have agreed local protocols with custodial establishments in their area for referral, assessment and the provision of services to children in custody in line with legislation, guidance and local procedures, including the LSCP child protection procedures. This must include procedures for addressing third party abuse (i.e. where a child discloses information about the abuse of another child);
  • Ensure that the governor of the custodial establishment is invited to be a member of the LSCP;
  • Ensure that the LSCP considers what arrangements they need to put in place in order to ensure that the welfare of children in custody is safeguarded. This might include, for example, agreeing local child protection procedures with the local custodial establishments, liaison arrangements for undertaking Section 47 inquiries under the Children Act 1989 where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, and holding strategy and other meetings;
  • There should be agreed arrangements for representation on the YOl’s safeguarding committee. Further it should be agreed that LSCP child protection procedures including those relating to serious case reviews, cover the involvement of custodial establishments, where appropriate;
  • Ensure that local protocols are in place in the event of the death of a child in custody, taking into account any national guidelines from the Youth Justice Board, DfES and Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.

All other local authorities with social services responsibilities are asked to take the following action:

  • Ensure that they fulfil their statutory responsibilities for contact with any children for whom they have parental responsibility who are placed in custody; NB The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 S104 makes all young people aged 12-17 who remanded to ‘youth detention accommodation’ or ‘remanded to local authority accommodation’ looked after children for the duration of their remand. This may lead to the young person becoming eligible for leaving care services;
  • Where they were previously responsible for accommodating a child who is now in custody, or where a child who is now in custody, who was previously looked after by another local authority under section 20, plans to live in their area on release, establish arrangements to promote and safeguard his or her welfare on release;
  • Where their area contains a prison with a Mother and Baby Unit, agree with the establishment, local child protection procedures for safeguarding children living in the Unit, which are consistent with the LSCB’s procedures, to ensure that there are mutual arrangements in place for responding to all concerns raised about a child in such a Unit;
  • Where their area contains a prison, ensure that mutually agreed arrangements are in place for safeguarding children visiting the prison.

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 provides that “each Secure Estate centre holding those aged under 18 should have in place an annually reviewed safeguarding children policy. The policy is designed to promote and safeguard the welfare of children and should cover issues such as child protection, risk of harm, restraint, recruitment and information sharing. A safeguarding children manager should be appointed and will be responsible for implementation of this policy.

Detailed guidance on the safeguarding children policy, the roles of the safeguarding children manager and the safeguarding children committee, and the role of the establishment in relation to the LSCB can be found in Prison Service Instruction (PSI) 08/2012 ‘Care and Management of Young People’. (Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018: Chapter 2 para 35).

8. Children of Families Living in Temporary Accommodation

Placement in temporary accommodation, often a distance from previous support networks or involving frequent moves, can lead to individuals and families falling through the net.

It is important that effective systems are in place to ensure that children from homeless families receive services from health and education, social care and welfare support services as well as any other specific services, because with frequent moves they may become disengaged from services.  For example a child who is not registered with a school or a GP will miss out on basic services such as health screening, eye tests, immunisations and learning to read and write. Where a child who needs specific treatment misses appointments due to moves the problem may become an issue of Significant Harm.

Temporary accommodation, for example bed and breakfast accommodation or women’s refuges, may be a location which is not secure and safe and where other adults are also resident who may pose a risk to the child.

All concerns of Significant Harm to a child should be referred to Children’s Social Care Services in accordance with the Referrals Procedure.

The local authorities’ responsibilities for homeless families are set out in Appendix B Statutory Framework (Working Together 2018).