looked after children - what is a looked after child?
7 min read/Published On: July 1, 2024/1339 words/

Looked After Children: What is a Looked After Child?

A looked-after child is one that their local authority has cared for over 24 hours. This care can be due to neglect, abuse, or other challenging family circumstances. These children often face unique challenges that require specialised support and intervention.

In this blog, we will talk about looked after children. We will discuss the types of care they can receive. We will also explore how trauma affects them. Additionally, we will explain why education and training are important for those who work with them.

What are Looked After Children?

Looked after children, also referred to as children looked after, are those whom local authorities have taken into the care system. This usually occurs because their birth family cannot provide a safe and nurturing environment.

A child stops being ‘looked after’ when they are adopted, return home, or turn 18. However, local authorities across the UK must support children leaving care at 18 until they are at the age of 21. This support may include allowing them to continue living with their foster family or offering other forms of assistance to help them transition into independent living.

Types of Looked After Children

Looked after children and young people come from a wide range of backgrounds and have diverse needs. Understanding these differences is crucial for providing the right support. Here, we outline the various types of looked after children:

Children Who Have Experienced Abuse or Neglect

Authorities have removed many looked after children from their homes due to severe neglect or abuse. These children often have complex emotional and psychological needs as a result of their experiences. Children in these situations may experience long-term mental health issues and require ongoing support.

Children with Challenging Behaviour

Some looked after children exhibit challenging behaviours, such as aggression or defiance, stemming from past trauma or behavioural conditions. Specialised care and intervention are crucial for supporting these children effectively and improving their long-term outcomes.

Children with Disabilities or Special Educational Needs

A subset of looked after children have physical disabilities, learning disabilities, or special educational needs. These children require tailored care plans that accommodate their specific requirements and support their educational and developmental progress, often involving multiple education settings and relevant child services.

Children from Ethnic Minority Backgrounds

Looked after children come from diverse ethnic backgrounds, each with its cultural and religious needs. Providing culturally sensitive care that respects and incorporates their heritage is essential for their sense of identity and belonging and is part of effective corporate parenting.

Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC)

Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are those who have arrived in the country without a guardian. These children face unique challenges, including language barriers, trauma from their journey, and the need for legal and social support. Their care often involves creating a pathway plan to help them navigate the care system and their new environment.

Types of Care for Children

Several types of care are available for children who are in foster care. We designed these options to meet the diverse needs of looked after children and ensure their well-being. The most common types of care include:

Foster Care

Foster care is the most common form of care for looked after children. In this setting, children live with foster carers who provide a family-like environment. Foster care can be short-term or long-term, depending on the child’s needs and the goal of their care plan. Foster carers play a crucial role in offering stability and support, helping children achieve better outcomes.

Residential Care

Residential care involves children living in a residential home with professional staff. Social workers often use these settings for children with complex needs or challenging behaviour that may be difficult to manage in a foster home. Residential care provides a structured environment with access to specialised support services, which is vital for addressing mental health and behavioural issues.

Kinship Care

Relatives or close family friends look after children in kinship care, also known as family and friends care. This type of care helps maintain familial bonds and provides a sense of continuity and familiarity for the child.


Families legally adopt children as a long-term solution. This provides a permanent and stable home for the child. Adoptive families take on all parental responsibilities and rights, ensuring the child has a stable and supportive environment to grow up in.

Short-Term and Emergency Care

Short-term and emergency care provide immediate and temporary placements for children who need urgent care. This type of care ensures the child’s safety and well-being while we make long-term arrangements. It includes respite care, which offers short breaks for existing carers.

Therapeutic Care

Therapeutic care caters to children with significant emotional or behavioural issues, often stemming from trauma. This type of care involves specialised therapeutic interventions and support, often provided in a residential or foster care setting. Therapeutic care aims to address the child’s mental health needs and support their overall development.

Supported Lodgings

Supported lodgings are a type of care for older looked after children, usually aged 16-21, who are preparing for independence. In supported lodgings, young people live in a supportive environment where they can develop life skills and transition gradually to independent living. This support extends to the age of 25 if they are in education or training.

Where Might Looked After Children be Living?

Looked after children may live in various environments depending on their individual needs and circumstances. These can include:

  • Foster Homes: Providing a family setting with foster carers.
  • Residential Homes: Offering structured environments with professional care.
  • With Relatives: Sometimes children live with family members under a kinship care arrangement.

How does Trauma Affect Looked After Children?

Trauma can profoundly affect looked after children. Experiences of abuse, neglect, or instability can lead to a range of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These issues can significantly impact their behaviour, relationships, and educational outcomes. Addressing trauma through mental health services is crucial for helping these children heal and thrive.

Looked After Children in Education

Education plays a vital role in the lives of looked after children. Schools and other education settings provide not just academic learning but also stability and routine. However, these children often face barriers such as frequent school changes, gaps in their education, and emotional difficulties. Specialised support and tailored educational plans are essential to help them succeed.

What is a Care Leaver?

A care leaver is someone who was in care on their 16th birthday and has been under care for at least 13 weeks since turning 14. For those aged 16 and 17, local authorities or Health and Social Care Trusts cover the costs of accommodation, food, utility bills, other living expenses, and travel expenses for education and training. For care leavers aged 18 to 21, they are eligible for UK welfare benefits, such as housing benefit.

What Happens When Looked After Children Leave Care?

When looked after children leave care at 18, they often require continued support to help them transition to independent living. Local authorities provide this support, which may include helping them find housing, employment, or further education opportunities. This support, part of corporate parenting responsibilities, is crucial for helping young people build a successful future.

A personal adviser helps develop a pathway plan to navigate this transition, ensuring that they have the necessary resources and guidance until they turn 21 or up to 25 if they are in education or training. This continued support is vital for helping young people thrive after they have left care.

Looked After Children Training

Looked after children training enhances understanding of the challenges faced by vulnerable children in social care. Whether you are a social worker, foster parent, or another care professional, this training equips you with the essential knowledge and skills you will need when working with looked after children to achieve positive outcomes for looked after children effectively.

AC Education meticulously crafts its children’s services training to create a nurturing and supportive environment where children can heal, recover, and flourish. Our expert-led training programmes are ideal for professionals in child social care, foster care, adoption, and residential childcare who are providing support for looked after children.