Decision to Look After


The chapter summarises the key steps that must be taken in deciding that a child should become Looked After.

When families are unable to provide care for their children, or the children are suffering or likely to suffer Significant Harm, Children Social Care will consider looking after the children.

It is the policy of Children's Social Care:

  • Not to accommodate children whose parents can provide sufficient care, either with or without the support of Children's Social Care;
  • To thoroughly explore all alternatives before deciding to look after a child which should include the use of Family Group Conferences (Family Group Conferences should be considered throughout Social Care involvement as a means of supporting children and their families). There should be a comprehensive examination of options including parental arrangements with friends and family members;
  • To look after a child only if there are no other ways to meet the child's assessed needs.

See also:


In January 2019, additional information was added in to Section 2.3, Section 20 Accommodation, in line with recent case-law which considered the use of Section 20 Accommodation by local authorities These cases were clear that:

  • A local authority failing to permit a parent to remove a child in circumstances within section 20(8) acts unlawfully; and
  • The relevant information that a parent would need to be able to understand, retain and weigh up in order to have competency to consent to the accommodation of a child is as follows:
    • That the child will be staying with someone chosen by the local authority, probably a foster carer;
    • That the parent can change their mind about the arrangements, and request the child back from accommodation at any time;
    • That the parent will be able to see the child.

1. Principles

The local authority is unlikely to accommodate young people on the basis of parent /adolescent conflict, or on the basis of any single issue, without a Child and Family Single Assessment which analyses the possible reasons for the problem and fully assesses the risks in order for Intervention to be effective.

All moves should be planned moves, which include any new accommodation. An emergency admission will only occur when:

  • There has been a Section 47 Enquiry and the child is clearly suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and parents/carers are unable to make arrangements which sufficiently safeguard the child;
  • Use of Police Protection Powers (72 hours);
  • Abandonment of a child;
  • Remand to local authority by the Court;
  • There are no other suitable family or friends to offer care or respite.

Agreement to accommodate in an emergency should only be given until the date of the next Gateway Panel.

2. Decision to Look After a Child

2.1 The Decision

A child may not come into care without the express permission of the Designated Manager / Gateway Panel.

Outside office hours, the Emergency Duty Team should to seek permission from the Duty Service Manager.

Any decision to look after a child made outside office hours will be communicated to the relevant team/Service Manager by the beginning of the next working day.

2.2 Considerations before a Decision to Look After is made

The decision to look after a child will only be made where those making the decision are satisfied that:

  • Suitable appropriate alternatives have been fully considered;
  • Appropriate consideration has been given to the necessity of Accommodation, the purpose and nature of the proposed placement;
  • Whether the Accommodation provided should be via a Court Order or undertaken with Parental Consent using Section 20 (1989 Act). In considering this the local authority should:
    • Identify whether, under the particular circumstances, it needs to share Parental Responsibility with the parent/carer;
    • Whether the parent is able to provide fully informed consent to an agreement for the child to be accommodated (see Section 2.3.1, Obtaining Parental Consent).
  • Appropriate consultation has taken place;
  • However, where the circumstances constitute an emergency, opportunities for consultation may be limited e.g. where a parent/carer is not available.

Before a decision is made to look after a child, consideration must be given to making arrangements with other extended family members or friends who might be prepared to care for the child without the need for the child to come into care. In these circumstances, care must be taken where the local authority has been involved in the arrangements for the child to be cared for by relatives; the child may be viewed as within the definition of Looked After and a legal view may be helpful to clarify the status of the child and the placement. In these circumstances, if the child is regarded as looked after and placed with a relative or friend, the Placements with Connected Persons Procedure.

Alternatively, the child may come within the definition of Privately Fostered after 28 days or if the placement is expected to continue after 28 days, in which case the Private Fostering Procedure will apply.

N.B. Any arrangements whereby the child is not regarded as Looked After would have to be agreed with the parent or a person with Parental Responsibility, and the social worker must be satisfied that such an arrangement is sufficiently secure to meet the child's needs and is supported by the relevant assessment.

If no such arrangement can be identified or such an arrangement would not meet the child's needs, the child's social worker, with their Team Manager, should consider:

  • The child's immediate placement needs - including the child's views, the views of the parents, those with Parental Responsibility and any other person whose wishes and feelings the authority consider to be relevant - and whether a placement with a Connected Person may be possible;
  • The timescales for the child's placement;
  • A date for the child to return home or when the decision will be reviewed;
  • The actions of support and work to be included in the Care Plan to enable the necessary change for the child to return home wherever possible - see Section 2.3.1, Obtaining Parental Consent;
  • The obtaining of parental consent to look after the child and consent to medical care;
  • Any impact on educational arrangements;
  • The contact arrangements with birth parents, siblings, extended family and friends.

Where it is considered that Care Proceedings should be initiated to secure the child's placement, see also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline.

N.B. Any decision that a child should be the subject of Care Proceedings should have regard to the requirements of the Public Law Outline, and in particular the Pre-Proceedings Checklist which is set out in the Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline.

All decisions made should be recorded on the child's electronic record, including the reasons for reaching the decision (see also Section 2.3.2, Recording Parental Consent)

2.3 Section 20 Accommodation

There are many scenarios in which Section 20 is used positively and these include situations of family support (e.g. Short Breaks: Assessment, Planning and Review Procedure) and where parents are unable to care for children, for whatever reason, and there are no agreed alternative family or friends to undertake this.

In accommodating a child under Section 20, it must always be borne in mind that the local authority does not have Parental Responsibility; only the parents/ those carers with Parental Responsibility can make decisions for the child. The parent/carer with Parental Responsibility can remove the child from Accommodation at any time (Section 20(8)) and any such request must be responded to promptly by the local authority, or it must otherwise take action through the court. A number of court cases have confirmed that a local authority failing to permit a parent to remove a child in circumstances within Section 20(8) acts unlawfully (see Herefordshire Council v AB [2018] EWFC 10 rtf). (See also Ceasing to Look After Procedure)

The parents/carers should be advised of any changes in the child's circumstances whilst the child is in local authority care.

It is therefore important to ensure that the parents/carers have full information about their continuing responsibilities as well as those of the local authority and that this is recorded in the Care Plan

2.3.1 Obtaining Parental Consent

Obtaining Parental Consent is a crucial part of Accommodating a child under this part of the 1989 Act. A number of court decisions have been particularly critical of local authorities' actions with regard to consent and great care needs to be undertaken to ensure parents have the appropriate capacity to do this.

Section 20 agreements are not valid unless the parent giving consent has capacity to do so (in cases where the father also has Parental Responsibility, the consent of both parents should be sought). The consent needs to be properly informed and fairly obtained.

The social worker must first be satisfied that the parent giving consent does not lack the mental Capacity to do so. Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a person is unable to make a decision if they are unable:

  • To understand the information relevant to the decision;
  • To retain that information;
  • To use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision; or
  • To communicate their decision.
    The High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent) [2017] EWHC 2729 (Fam) set out the relevant information that a parent would need to be able to understand, retain and weigh up in order to have competency to consent to the accommodation of a child:
    1. That the child will be staying with someone chosen by the local authority, probably a foster carer;
    2. That the parent can change their mind about the arrangements, and request the child back from accommodation at any time;
    3. That the parent will be able to see the child.
  • If there is doubt about Capacity, no further attempts to obtain consent should be made at that time, and advice should be sought from a manager.

If satisfied that the parent has Capacity, the social worker must be satisfied that the consent is fully informed:

  • Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?
  • Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
  • Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues to the giving of consent?
  • If not satisfied that the consent is fully informed, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought from a manager and legal advice sought if thought necessary;

If satisfied that the consent is fully informed, then it is necessary to be satisfied that the giving of such consent and the subsequent removal of the child from the parent is both fair and proportionate:

  • What is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
  • If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?
  • Is it necessary for the safety of the child  to be removed at this time?
  • Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?

Whether a person has capacity can sometimes be difficult to determine, as some individuals have a learning disability or mental health problem but can present as being more 'able' than in fact they are. Equally, within the context of 'assessing capacity', social workers should  approach with great care relying on section 20 agreements from mothers after giving  birth, (especially where there is no immediate danger to the child and where probably no order would be made).

Where there is any concern about a parent / carer's capacity, the social worker should ensure they discuss this issue with their Team Manager, and have informed  the parent/carer to seek legal advice [1]. Note: In Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH (2012) EWHC2190 (Fam) it was identified that, 'every social worker obtaining consent is under a personal duty (the outcome of which may not be dictated to by others) to be satisfied that the person giving consent does not lack the capacity to do so'.

Note that the High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent) made clear that parental Capacity to consent to a child being accommodated under s.20 Children Act 1989, does not equate to their capacity to consent to an adoption order in respect of the child - the capacity to consent is decision-specific.

[1] Note: Unless a parent is subject to Proceedings, or Letter Before Proceedings, they will be unable to qualify for Legal Aid, However they should be able to obtain free initial legal advice.

In Re N (Children) (Adoption: Jurisdiction) [2015] EWCA Civ 1112 good practice the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby sets out his view in respect of good practice in the recording of parental consent to a Section 20 agreement:

  • Wherever possible the agreement of a parent to the accommodation of their child under section.20 should be properly recorded in writing and evidenced by the parent's signature;
  • The written document should be clear and precise as to it terms, drafted in simple and straight-forward language that the particular parent can readily understand;
  • The written document should spell out, following the language of section 20(8), that the parent can 'remove the child' from the LA accommodation 'at any time';
  • The written document should not seek to impose any fetters on the exercise of the parent's right under s.20(8). Where the parent is not fluent in English, the written document should be translated into the parent's own language and the parent should sign the foreign language text, adding, in the parent's language, words to the effect that 'I have read this document and I agree to its terms'.

2.3.3 The use of Section 20 prior to Court Proceedings

High Court Judgements have considered that in circumstances where the threshold criteria (for Care/ Supervision Orders) under Section 31 Children Act 1989 are met, (i.e. where a child is at risk of significant harm, or the likelihood of significant harm), then care proceedings should be issued without delay.

Nevertheless, Section 20 may, in an appropriate case, have a proper role to play as a short-term measure pending the commencement of care proceedings, but the Courts have strongly advised that this should not lead to an unnecessary delay in the issuing of proceedings and cases must not be allowed to drift, (including those cases when children are placed with relatives under a Section 20 agreement). Proceedings still need to be issued in a timely fashion.

Even where a parent/carer's legal advisor has established an agreement regarding the use of Section 20 prior to either issuing Proceedings or progressing a timely plan and timetable of work for further assessment, these should be carefully adhered to by all parties. Any plan should be based on the child's welfare needs and avoid delay.

All such agreements should be undertaken in conjunction with the local authority's Legal Services and include a clear (written) agreement and Care Plan with the outcome considered at a Child Looked After Review to which the parents have been invited.

Where it is highly likely that proceedings will be required to determine a factual issue, or where complex medical evidence may become involved it is better for proceedings to be issued promptly allowing the court to manage the timetable of the case and the parents to be able to access effective legal advice.

2.4 Care Plans and Court Proceedings

For Procedures relating to Care Plans and Court Proceedings, see Care Plans in Court Proceedings Procedure.

2.5 Planned Placements

If it has been established that a child requires a Looked After Placement, it will be necessary to seek the approval of the Gateway Panel, see Gateway Panel Procedures - for information on which forms/documentation are required and the process for taking cases to the Gateway Panel.

2.6 Unplanned Emergency Placements

Outside office hours, the Emergency Duty Team can request the on-call Service Manager to make the decision for a child to become Looked After (see Emergency Duty Team Procedures). If approval is given a Placement Plan should be completed as fully as possible and communicated to the relevant team by the beginning of the next working day. In the case of any emergency admission, including those out of hours, agreement to accommodate will only be given until the date of the next Gateway Panel.

Where the child is not an open case, the Children's Assessment Team (CAT) will undertake a Child and Family Single Assessment which will inform next steps. Where the case is open to a Locality/Disabled Children's Team, the Team Manager should agree the nature of the assessment to be completed which will inform next steps.

Relevant fields in the child's Electronic Record should be completed in order that automatic notifications are sent to the Independent Review Unit for an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) to be allocated, to the CLA Health Team so that an Initial Health Assessment can be triggered and the Virtual School Team so that a Personal Education Plan can be commenced.

Should the child cease to be Looked After, these arrangements can be cancelled.

If the child is placed in Residential Care, in Foster Care or with Parents, Relatives or Friends, a Placement Meeting must be convened within 72 hours - any ongoing placement must be agreed by the Gateway Panel. See the following procedures:

3. The Care Plan

3.1 The Care Plan - Contents

In all circumstances where a decision is made to look after a child, the child must have a Care Plan completed by the social worker and signed by the relevant Team Manager, the contents of which include:

  • The child's Placement Plan (setting out why the placement was chosen and how the placement will contribute to meeting the child's needs);
  • The child's Permanence Plan (setting out the long term plans for the child's upbringing including timescales);
  • The Pathway Plan (where appropriate, for young people leaving care);
  • The child's Health Recommendation Plan;
  • The child's Personal Education Plan;
  • The contingency plan;
  • The date of the child's first Looked After Review (within 20 working days);
  • The name of the Independent Reviewing Officer.

Note: The Care Plan must identify if there is reason to believe that the child is a victim of trafficking, or is an unaccompanied asylum seeker and has applied for, or intends to apply for, asylum.

3.1.1 The Care Plan Where the Matter is Before the Court

In addition to the above, a Care Plan should reflect that the court is required under s.8 Children and Social Work Act 2017 amends section 31(3B) Children Act 1989 to consider the 'permanence provisions' of the Care Plan for the child: 

  1. The provisions setting out the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child - to live with a parent/family member/family friend; adoption; or other long-term care; and
  2. The plan's provisions in relation to any of the following:
    1. The impact on the child concerned of any harm that he or she suffered or was likely to suffer;
    2. The current and future needs of the child (including needs arising out of that impact);
    3. The way in which the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child would meet those current and future needs.

3.2 The Care Plan - Process

The child's social worker is responsible for drawing up and updating the Care Plan in consultation with:

  1. The child;
  2. The child's parents and those with Parental Responsibility;
  3. Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for or looking after the child;
  4. Other members of the child's family network who are significant to the child;
  5. The child's school or the education service;
  6. The relevant health trust;
  7. The Youth Offending Service, if the child is known to them;
  8. Any other agency involved with the child's care.

The social worker should ensure that the child, those with Parental Responsibility and the carer understand the Care Plan and their role in contributing to its implementation.

One of the key functions of the Care Plan is to ensure that each child has a Permanence Plan by the time of the second Looked After Review. The Care Plan is subject to scrutiny at each Looked After Review - see Child Looked After Reviews Procedure.

The Care Plan should include the arrangements made to meet the child's needs in relation to their:

  • Emotional and behavioural development;
  • The child's identity in relation to religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background;
  • Family and social relationships; arrangements for contact with sibling(s) accommodated by the authority or another local authority; details of any Section 8 Order, in relation to a Child Looked After; details of any order in relation to contact with a child in care; arrangements for contact with parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility / any other Connected Person; arrangements for the appointment of an Independent Visitor for a Child Looked After;
  • Social presentation;
  • Self-care skills.

3.3 Timescales for Completion

A Care Plan must be prepared prior to a child's first placement, or, if it is not practicable to do so, within 10 working days of the child's first placement.

3.4 Approval of the Care Plan

Any final Care Plan taken before the Court within Care Proceedings must be endorsed and signed by a Service Manager

All other Care Plans must be endorsed by CLA review.

3.5 Circulation of Care Plan

The Care Plan must be circulated to the following people:

  • The child;
  • The parent(s)/carer(s);
  • Providers/Carers - if no Care Plan has been drawn up prior to the child's placement, the social worker must ensure that the providers/carers understand the key objectives of the plan, and how the placement will help achieve these objectives;
  • The Fostering Service, where the child is in foster care. N.B. The Care Plan should be filed in the confidential section of the foster carer's file and returned to the child's social worker when the placement ends;
  • The child's Independent Reviewing Officer.

4. The Placement Plan and Other Required Plans, Documentation and Actions

4.1 Placement Plan

The child must have a Placement Plan at the time of the placement (this includes the parent's consent to the placement (if applicable) and the child's medical treatment). It should be completed as far as possible before the child is placed or, if not reasonably practicable, within 5 working days of the start of the placement.

The information to be included in the Placement Plan will include:

  • How on a day-to-day basis the child will be cared for and the child's welfare will be safeguarded and promoted by the appropriate person;
  • Any arrangements for contact between the child and parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility/any other connected person, including, if appropriate, reasons why contact is not reasonably practicable or not consistent with the child's welfare; details of any Contact Order (under Section 8 or 34 of the Children Act 1989); the arrangements for notifying any changes in contact arrangements;
  • Arrangements for the child's health (physical, emotional and mental) and dental care, including the name and address of registered medical and dental practitioners; arrangements for giving/withholding consent to medical/dental examination/treatment;
  • Arrangements for the child's education and training, including the name and address of the child's school/other educational institution/provider and designated teacher; the local authority maintaining any Education, Health or Care Plan;
  • Where the authority has, or is notified of, Child Protection concerns relating to the child, or the child has gone missing from the placement or from any previous placement, the day to day arrangements put in place by the appropriate person (placement provider) to keep the child safe (see also Children Missing from Home or Care Procedure);
  • The arrangements for and frequency of visits by the child's social worker; and for advice, support and assistance between visits;
  • If an Independent Visitor is appointed, the arrangements for them to visit the child;
  • The circumstances in which the placement may be terminated;
  • The name and contact details of the Independent Reviewing Officer, the Independent Visitor if one is appointed, the social worker who will be visiting the child, and the Personal Adviser for an Eligible Young Person.

Copies of the Placement Plan must be provided to the child (if of sufficient age and understanding), the parents/carers and must be handed to the residential staff/carers before the child is placed. Where a child is placed in an in-house foster placement, one copy should also be sent to the Fostering Team - to be kept in the confidential section of the foster carer's file and returned at the end of the placement.

At the time of the placement, the residential staff/carers should also be given any additional information about details of the child's day to day needs which are not covered by the Placement Plan but are important to ensure that the staff/carers are in the best possible position to help the child settle in the new placement, for example any particular fears at night-time or the child's favourite toys.

Parents should be advised to notify the relevant Benefit Office of their change in circumstance. It remains the parents' responsibility to do this.

4.2 Chronology

Whenever a new placement is made or the child moves placement, the child's Chronology should be updated.

4.3 Arrangement of first Looked After Review

The child's social worker must update the Child's Electronic Record with the child's Looked After status together with the placement type which is automatically sent to the Independent Review Unit within 2 working days of the child becoming looked after, so that the necessary arrangements for the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) (within 5 working days of the child becoming looked after) and the child's first Looked After Review can be made. See the Child Looked After Reviews Procedure for the procedures relating to reviews, including the responsibility for invitations to reviews.

4.4 Health Care

Before or at the time of the placement, the social worker should request the parent/carer to transfer the child's personal child health record. Where this is lost or not available, the social worker should ask for a replacement to be issued and ask the Designated Nurse for CLA to assist with providing any information to complete the record.

The social worker should also contact the Designated Nurse for CLA to arrange a Health Care Assessment before the placement or, if not reasonably practicable before the first Looked After Review (i.e. within 20 working days of the placement) so that the completion of a Health Care Plan is in time for the child's first Looked After Review. See Health Assessments and Health Recommendation Plans Procedure.

In addition, the social worker should inform the carer in writing (within the Placement Plan Record or Care Plan) of any medication the child is taking, and ensure that a supply of medication is provided in a clearly labelled bottle with the child's name, required dosage and the time the medication is to be given.

4.5 Personal Education Plan (PEP)

The social worker should also liaise with the Designated Teacher so that a Personal Education Plan (PEP) can be completed as part of the Care Plan before the child becomes looked after (or within 10 working days in the case of an emergency placement) and be available in time for the first Child Looked After Review. See Education of Children Looked After and Previously Looked After Procedure.

4.6 Provision of Information

The child's social worker must provide the child and parents/carers with a copy of the Placement Plan and Care Plan.

The child and parents must also be provided with information about the complaints process and the availability of advocates.

4.7 Changes in Legal Status

Any changes in a child's legal status must be recorded in the child's Electronic Record.

Trix procedures

Only valid for 48hrs