Virtual School - Further Information

A child under the age of 18 years is 'in care' if they are living away from home and being provided with accommodation by Children's Services. Children who are in the care of Children's Services are referred to as 'looked after children', 'children in care' or 'children looked after.

At any one time, around 39,000 children of school age are in the care of local authorities. The reasons they are in care might include:

  • Child's parents/guardian have requested/agreed for a child to be cared for by Children's Services. 
  • Children's Services has been granted parental responsibility for a child (Care Order). 
  • A child is placed for adoption but has not yet been legally adopted. 
  • The majority of children in care are there because their family cannot provide them with adequate care, for example because of: poverty, family breakdown, disability or other complex needs. 
  • Some children will be in care because they have been affected by abuse or neglect. 
  • Unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK may be in care because they have no family to look after them. 
  • A very small minority of children are in care because of offences they have committed.

A Care Order is an order made by a court which gives Children's Services parental responsibility of a child. Parental responsibility is shared between a child's parent(s) and Children's Services, but Children's Services will have a veto on some decisions.

  • If a child is subject to a Care Order, his or her parents or guardians cannot remove them from care unless Children's Services agrees.
  • A child's parents or guardians and a child themselves, have the right to apply to the court to end a Care Order.
  • It is important that the school knows whether, for example, what decisions in relation to education or contact visits have been agreed.
  • All Care Orders end when a child reaches the age of 18, although some may be ended before this.

Section 20 Accommodated - Children who are accommodated under section 20 by Children's Services when the parent(s) is unable to care for a child. This must be with the consent of the parent(s) or, if over 16, with the young person's own consent (section 20, Children Act 1989). 

Section 31 Full care order - Children who are the subject of a Full Care Order (section 31, Children Act 1989) 

Section 38 Interim Care Order - Interim Care Order - (section 38, Children act 1989).

Section 3 of the Children Act 1989 defines parental responsibility as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which, by law, a parent of a child has in relation to a child and his/her property. 

Local authorities share parental responsibility with the birth parents for children in care under a Care Order. Whatever a child's care status, parental responsibility lasts until a child is 18 unless a child is adopted. 

A child's birth parent(s) retains parental responsibility for those accommodated under Section 20. Foster carers do not hold parental responsibility but can make decisions or appeal decisions made about education. Unlike family law, education law gives rights to those who have care of a child as well as birth parents and those with parental responsibility.

A child's parent(s) retains parental responsibility but may delegate aspects of this to Children's Services. They can remove a child from care at any time.

Foster care

The majority of children in care live in foster homes. Foster care is provided by Children's Services or by Independent Fostering Agencies, commissioned by Children's Services. There are different types of foster placements. 

  • Emergency
    Emergency foster carers look after children at short notice for a few days until longer-term plans are made.
  • Short-term
    Short-term foster carers provide a temporary place for a child to stay until the child can return home to their own family or until longer-term care plans are made. Short-term placements are the ideal scenario. However, some 'short-term' placements can last for several months or years.
  • Long-term
    Long-term fostering provides children with a stable place to stay for long periods - over one year plus. Children in long-term foster care are unlikely to live with their family again before they leave care (16-18 years of age).
  • Supported lodgings
    Supported lodgings help children make the move from care to independent living in a supportive and safe environment.
  • Respite foster placements
    Also known as 'short-break' or 'shared care', this covers a variety of different types of part-time care. A carer might have a child to stay for anything from a few hours each week to a couple of weekends each month, giving their own family or their full-time foster carers a break.
  • Mother and baby foster placements
    Foster placements for young mothers and their babies, providing them with care and support to help them to learn how to care for their baby.
  • Children's home
    Children's homes are provided by Children's Services or commissioned by them from the voluntary sector, and increasingly the private sector.
  • Placement at home
    Some children on care orders live with their parents at home. 
  • Out of authority placements
    Children living in foster or residential care or other accommodation outside the boundaries of their home local authority. Parental responsibility remains with the home local authority.
A previously looked-after child is one who is no longer looked after in England and Wales because s/he is the subject of an adoption, special guardianship or child arrangements order which includes arrangements relating to with whom the child is to live, or when the child is to live with any person, or has been adopted from 'state care' outside England and Wales.

Adoption Order

Establishes a permanent relationship between the adopters and the child.  They are legally recognised as the parents of the child as though they were the birth parents.  The child has the same rights as a birth child of that family.  It removes Parental Responsibility from birth parents, and anyone else, including the Local Authority.

Child Arrangement Orders

An adult can apply to a court for a residence order. This will transfer parental responsibility to the applicant. Residence orders cease when a child is 18 years of age.

Special Guardianship Order (SGO)

A Special Guardianship Order gives the special guardian legal parental responsibility for the child which is expected to last until the child is 18. In practice, this means that the child is no longer the responsibility of the local authority, and the special guardian will have more clear responsibility for all day-to day decisions about caring for the child or young person, and for taking important decisions about their upbringing, for example their education. 

A child who was Previously CLA can receive Pupil Premium Plus funding if:

-They left care in England and Wales to be adopted 

-They left care under a Special Guardianship Order (SGO)

-They left care under a Child Arrangement Order

NSPCC - Children Looked After