Looked after children
Children come into care for many different reasons.
Sometimes it is because of a parent’s short-term illness or a temporary problem within the family that requires the children to have alternative care. Some children have experienced domestic violence or witnessed drug and alcohol misuse, others have been abused or neglected.
The trauma of experiencing any of these things has a significant impact not only on a child’s physical and mental wellbeing but also on their long-term social and emotional development, personal and social behaviours and attachments to others.
Nationally, the number of looked after children has increased steadily over the past seven years. There were 69,540 looked after children at 31 March 2015, an increase of 1% compared to 31 March 2014 and an increase of 6% compared to 31 March 2011.
Key inequalities and risk factors
The Department for Education Looked After Children report 2014/15 states:
- the majority of looked after children are looked after due to abuse or neglect (56% nationally, 63% in Bracknell Forest)
- family dysfunction has increased slightly (17% of children in 2015 compared with 14% in 2011 and 28% in Bracknell Forest)
- children of mixed ethnicity continue to be slightly over-represented, and children of Asian ethnicity slightly underrepresented in the looked after children population. The ethnic breakdown for children looked after has varied little since 2011. At 31 March 2015 the majority (73%) are from a White British background: similar to the general population of all children
- a larger percentage of boys than girls are looked after
- for older children aged 10 years and older, there has been a rise in the numbers starting to be looked after, with 12,120 starting in 2013, increasing to 13,870 in 2015 and staying looked after for longer
The Chief Medical Examiner’s report (2012) reports:
- poor mental health, self-esteem and attachment issues place looked after children at greater risk of participation in risk-taking behaviours, particularly early sexual activity, sexual exploitation, smoking, and alcohol and drug use
- looked-after teenage girls are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant than other teenagers
- a five-fold increased risk of all childhood mental, emotional and behavioural problems, and six to seven times more likely to have conduct disorders
- looked-after children and care leavers are between four and five times more likely to self-harm in adulthood
Evidence in the 2007 Care Matters: Time for Change concluded looked after children are nearly 5 times more likely to have a mental health disorder than all children. The 2011 cross-government mental health strategy, No Health without Mental Health re-iterated that looked after children remain at risk of developing mental health problems.
Facts, figures and trends
When families have difficulties managing or when social workers have concerns about a child’s welfare or safety, local authorities may have to make arrangements for the child to become ‘looked after’. A child may become looked after following:
- a care order made by the court subject to a request from the local authority
- voluntary agreement between the local authority and those with parental responsibility where a child is under 16 or with the child themselves where the child is over 16
- a placement order made by a court order permitting a child to be placed for adoption
The Bracknell Forest Council fostering and adoption team is responsible for ensuring children are accommodated according to their assessed needs and more information about fostering in Bracknell Forest can be found on the council website.
Although the numbers appear to show a more dramatic change between 2011 and 2015, the rate per 10,000 children under 18 who become looked after in the Borough has been consistently below the national and regional figures. Rates per 10,000 children have remained stable locally, regionally and nationally and fluctuations appear greater because of the small numbers of children affected.
During the 2014/2015 period, 45 children started to be looked after and 60 children ceased to be looked after.
In terms of age, the proportions of children by different age group generally reflects the south east and England figures, although the percentage of children in the 10-15 age group coming into care is higher at 45% compared to 38% nationally and regionally:
Children and Young People’s quarterly performance data can be found on the council’s website.
The majority of children looked after are placed with foster carers. In 2015, of the 69,540 children looked after at 31 March, 52,050 (75%) were cared for in a foster placement. This is an increase of 8% since 2011 - a larger increase than the rise in overall numbers of looked after children (6%).
Local authority data published by the Department for Education indicates that in Bracknell Forest, the number of children in foster care placements was 80 (77% and 2% above the national figure). Ten (10) children were in secure units, children's homes and hostels (12% and 3% above the England figure) and 5 children were placed for adoption (6% and 1% above the national figure).
In terms of longer-term stability, the proportion of Bracknell Forest care leavers that live independently at age 20 is 53%, higher than the England figure (40%) and one of the best figures in the south east region as a whole.
The Council’s fostering service writes an annual report on performance of the various components of the service and how the needs of young people are being met.
Unaccompanied asylum seeking children
War, oppression, civil unrest and persecution are amongst the reasons why children feel they are no longer safer at home. According to Fostering Network data (accessed 20 May 2015), children who arrive in the UK without their parents or carers usually go into the care of their nearest local authority and will often live with approved foster carers when there is no suitable family member or guardian to care for them. The largest number of unaccompanied children come from Albania, followed by Eritrea and Afghanistan. Syria is in fourth place, with numbers increasing fast. In 2014, 90 per cent of unaccompanied children were over 14, and 88 per cent were boys.
Of the 69,540 children looked after at 31 March 2015, 2,630 (4%) were unaccompanied asylum seeking children. The number of looked after unaccompanied asylum seeking children has been falling since 2009, but increased by 5% between 2013 and 2014 and has increased by 29% between 2014 and 2015.
In Bracknell Forest, the small numbers have been suppressed to protect confidentiality.
Emotional wellbeing of looked after children
The emotional and behavioural health of looked after children who have been in care continuously for 12 months at 31 March is measured through a Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ).
Foster carers frequently report that there are problems associated with the emotional wellbeing and mental health of the young people in their care. Evidence suggests that looked after children are nearly 5 times more likely to have a mental health disorder than all children.
These figures from the Public Health Outcomes Framework include children looked after in placements of 12 months of longer and therefore exclude short term placements and children in respite care.
Innovative application of the Social Value Act 2012 in commissioning and procurement may also lead to additional opportunities in employment and training for looked after children to build self-esteem, confidence and resilience in young people in this group.
Physical wellbeing of looked after children
The Fostering Network website (accessed 20 May 2016) states that the health and wellbeing needs of looked after children can be difficult to ascertain, particularly if they have moved placement frequently or have been placed far from their existing community and professional support networks. Information relating to children is also often held with a wide range of people making it more challenging to identify and collate. A number of key measures are reported in the Department of Education local authority data tables including:
- Dental checks
- Annual health assessments
- Development assessments for children aged 5
With the exception of dental checks, of the 75 children looked after, 100% received their immunisations and assessments.
Want to know more?
After Care and Life Chances Team - a ‘virtual’ team set up in Bracknell Forest in 2011 which consists of representatives from all the professional teams and services who work with Bracknell Forest’s Looked After Children. The team meet once a month to discuss concerns relating to individual looked after children and make specific plans to address them; champion the needs of looked after children in their respective services and are developing training opportunities for the wider children’s workforce.
Care Matters: Time for Change (Department for Education and Skills, 2007) – Addresses the gap in outcomes for children and young people in care and those of all children so that they may live normal lives, succeed in education and make a successful transition into adult life.
Emotional and behavioural difficulties of children and young people at entry into care (Joe Sempik, Harriet Ward and Iain Darker, 2008) - Emotional and behavioural difficulties of a sample of children and young people at the point of entry to local authority care indicating high levels of need, including that in children aged under five.
Improving Children and Young People’s Mental Health Outcomes (Department of Health, 2012) - proposals that build on and integrate with approaches taken in the Healthy Child Programme, the Children and Young People’s Increasing Access to Psychological Therapies (CYP IAPT) project and the new strategy Preventing suicide in England: a cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives to improve the mental health and wellbeing of all children and young people and keep them well.
Keep on caring: supporting young people from care to independence (Department of Health, 2016) – government strategy to improve services, support and advice for care leavers with recommendations for local and national government, and wider sectors of society.
Local Action on Health Inequalities: Increasing employment opportunities and improving workplace health (Public Health England, 2014) - a summary of evidence about the role of local authotities and how working with employers can lever opportunities to counter the risks and negative long-term health and wellbeing outcomes for the most disadvantaged.
Local Action on Health Inequalities: Reducing the number of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) (Public Health England, 2014) - a summary of evidence about the relationship between being NEET and health; inequalities in prevalence of being NEET; and the scale of the problem and actions that can be taken at a local level in order to reduce the proportion of young people who are NEET.
Looked-after children and young people (NICE, 2010 (updated 2015)) - guidance for looked-after children and young people, their families, prospective adopters and other members of the public on how organisations, professionals and carers can work together to help looked-after children and young people reach their full potential and enjoy the same opportunities in life as their peers.
Our Children Deserve Better: Prevention Pays (Chief medical Examiner, 2012) – The 2012 annual report sets out challenges to the health and wellbeing of our children and young people based on a multi-agency and multi-sector research promoting a life course approach to achieve good health and wellbeing outcomes for children and young people for mortality, morbidity, wellbeing, social determinants and key indicators of health service provision.
Staying Put – an initiative introduced in 2014 to allow young people to remain living with their foster carers up to the age of 21 years. Foster carers who support this will become ‘Staying Put’ carers and work with the young person and their personal advisor (from the Leaving Care Team) to ensure young people remain living with them and they develop the appropriate life skills before moving to independence. The policy and procedure now provides clear guidance as to how this should be implemented and there is a leaflet for young people.
This page was created on 21 June 2016.
Cite this page:
Bracknell Forest Council. (2016). JSNA – Looked after children. Available at: jsna.bracknell-forest.gov.uk/people-places/vulnerable-groups/looked-after-children (Accessed: dd Mmmm yyyy)
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