Young People's Zone

I am a looked after child


Many children and young people in care want to return to live with their family. It is true that Children’s Services should try and help all children live with their family but this can ONLY happen if Children’s Services feel that your family can offer you a safe and loving home. Some parents can’t manage this, even though they want to, and others need to make a lot of changes at home before it would be ok for you to return.

Deciding whether you can return home or not will depend on exactly why you came in to care. It’s a bit complicated but we’ll try to make it as simple as possible.

Children on a Care Order
If you are on a care order, this means that Children’s Services went to court and a judge decided that you should be in care. It also means that Children’s Services are legally allowed to make decisions about your care (this is sometimes called Children’s Services “having parental responsibility”).

If Children’s Services have a care order, it usually means that there were lots of problems at home and Children’s Services were really worried about how you were being looked after. If things have changed a lot and your parents can show they can look after you now and keep you safe, your social worker could still agree for you to return home but this doesn’t happen very often.

If you are on a care order and are missing your family, you can discuss spending more time with your family and this might be easier than getting Children’s Services to agree for you to go home.

Children who are Accommodated
If you’re “accommodated” (sometimes known as being on “section 20”), it means that your parents have agreed for you to be in care. This means that your parents still have “parental responsibility” and if you are under 16 they have the right to ask for you to return home.   

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. If you are under 16 and in care, even if you are accommodated, the law still requires your social worker to make sure that it is safe for you to return home. They have to check out how well your parents can look after you (sometimes called doing an assessment) and this will need to happen even if your Mum or Dad asks for you to come home.  If you are 16 or 17 the decision about you no longer being accommodated must be made by the Director of Children's Services and they must make sure that you are happy with this plan (the part of the law that says this is Regulation 39ZA Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010).

If your parents can show that they have changed and will do a much better job of looking after you in the future, there is a chance that Children’s Services may agree for you to go home. This doesn’t mean it will happen immediately. Normally, it will happen slowly with the first step being that you start to see or stay with your family more often so that they can really show they are able to look after you. If this goes well, you might be able to return home full time.

What can I do?

Be Prepared
Thinking about returning home can be very difficult. Even if it is possible, it might not happen quickly and in many cases, it can never happen. It is important to be patient and to be realistic.

It is also important to remember that you are not responsible for being in care. You are in care because of things that have happened in your family and it’s the adults that need to make changes in order for you to return home. If you can’t return home, it’s not your fault.

Talk to People
Whatever happens, the first step is to speak to your social worker. Make sure you inform your social worker that you want to live with your family and find out as much as you can about whether this might be possible. There are lots of questions you might want to ask:

  • Why am I in care? Not all children know why they can’t live with their families and it is important to ask this question because this will help you understand any decisions that are taken about whether you can return home or not.
  • Am I on a care order or am I accommodated? This is really important because if a judge has decided that you need to be in care it can be much harder for you to return home.
  • Are you willing to do an assessment on my family? If your social worker is really worried about how you would be looked after at home, they may not even be willing to do an assessment. It is important that you know this so that you don’t get your hopes up. If they are not willing to do an assessment, it is important that they explain why they won’t do this.

You can also discuss wanting to go home at your next LAC Review. In every LAC Review, your Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) (see The Name GameBecome) and social worker should talk about where you are living and the plans for the future. If you think you should go home, you have every right to say so. You can talk to your IRO about it in the LAC Review meeting or you can speak to your IRO in private before the meeting.

Making a Complaint
Whenever a child or young person is unhappy about decisions about where they are living (or any other decisions), they have the right to make a complaint. The problem is that complaints aren’t always the best way to sort things out.

When deciding whether you might want to make a complaint, you will need to think about how you came in to care.

  • If you are on a Care Order it means that a judge decided that you needed to be in care. Normally it would need to go back to court for a judge to decide whether things had changed enough for you to return home. A complaint can’t change a decision made by a judge.
  • If you are accommodated, you might want to make a complaint but if things haven’t changed at home and your family can’t show they are able to care for you properly, the complaint won’t be able to force Children’s Services to let you go home.

You can complain about more general things, for example, if you feel that you are not being listened to when you ask about going home or that Children’s Services are not doing what they said they would to see whether this can happen.

Get Some Help
If you still feel that no-one is listening, you can contact your local advocacy service, or you may even want to consult a solicitor as you may be able to go back to court yourself to challenge being in care. So many things have to be considered before deciding if a child can return home that it can get very complicated and confusing. It can help for someone to explain the law to you and exactly what everything means. If you want to speak to a solicitor you can call Coram Children’s Legal Centre on 0207 713 0089 for advice. To find your local advocacy service, please click here.

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