Looked after children (LAC)

Who are 'looked after children'?

The term ‘looked after’ refers to children who are under 18 and have been provided with care and accommodation by children’s services. Often this will be with foster carers, but some looked after children might stay in a children’s home or boarding school, or with another adult known to the parents and children’s services.

The aim is to ensure the health and safety of looked after children, who often come from families who have experienced extreme hardship and upheaval, whilst working as closely as possible with the birth parents.

Any disruption to home life often means that looked after children do not achieve their academic potential.Children’s services also works to make sure the educational needs of each child are met.

Why do children become 'looked after'?

A large number of these children coming into care will have a history of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Some may have suffered the death of a parent, or have parents who can’t look after them properly because of illness. Others may have disabilities and many different needs. A very small number are in care because of crimes they have committed.

How does a child become 'looked after'?

Children come into our care by two main routes – because the parents have asked for this help or because the child is in danger of being harmed.

  • Under section 20 of the Children Act 1989: where parents have asked for our help, because for some reason their child can no longer stay at home, we will find suitable accommodation for the child. Parental responsibility remains with the parent/guardian.
  • Under section 31 of the Children Act 1989: if the child is in danger of being harmed, a care order will be made by a court. The court will take all the circumstances into careful consideration before doing this. When a care order is made, children’s services acquire parental responsibility and become a legal parent alongside the parent/guardian.

What's involved in this process?

After an assessment of the child and their circumstances has been made by us, we will agree with the family and child (if the child is able to understand) the arrangements for their care. These arrangements can include a plan for the process of returning the child to the family home. They are set out in two documents: a care plan and a placement agreement. These documents help us to plan, review and monitor the child’s services. They have been designed to improve and strengthen the relationship between child, parents and professionals working with them.

The care plan describes how the child’s health, education and welfare will be supported, along with how to maintain contact with family and friends.

The placement agreement covers living arrangements, including travel, and any restrictions that might be placed on the child.

Photographs and images

For advice on using images of looked after children on websites or print publications, go to Czone – Using images of pupils.


To find out more about the education of looked after children, contact the Virtual School for Children in Care.