What it means to be looked after

Being looked after by social services can be confusing and scary and you will probably have lots of questions. We hope you will find some of the answers here. If there is anything else you need to know, please talk to your social worker or Children's Rights Officer.

Why am I being looked after?

It is usually because social services and your family agree that it is the best way to support you. It might be that your family needs help because of illness, because living with your own family just wasn't working or because people are worried about your safety.

Where there is an agreement between your parents and social services, being looked after is described as a voluntary agreement. If you are 16 or 17 , you can ask social services for help without your parents permission and they may accommodate you if that is the right way to help.

Young people are also looked after because based on a court decision. This happens when the court feels that you may be in some danger or at risk of harm and the court makes a Care Order.

If you are already being looked after, quite a few things would have happened already. At the beginning everything can be very confusing and sometimes a bit scary. That can make it hard for you to know what's happening, but you should have had:

  • An assessment. This is when social services talk to you, your family and others about what help you need. Wherever possible, social services try to find help so you can stay at home.
  • A placement agreement. This is an agreement between you, social services and the people who are caring for you. The agreement covers things like rules of the house, the food you like and the things you like to do.
  • A care plan. This is a document which social services uses to work out how best to support you. It will state why you are looked after, where you are living, who you want to see and how long you will be looked after for.
  • Reviews. These are regular meetings that will happen until you leave care. When you first come into care, you should have a review within three to four weeks of being looked after. After three months, you will have another review to make sure you are being properly supported. After that, you will have a review every six months. These are your meetings, so make sure you know all about them. It is your regular opportunity to make sure that everyone knows how you feel about where you are living and the things that are important to you like your health, education and seeing friends and family.

Where will I live?

Most young people who are looked after will live with foster carers, or in a children's home. Although there are differences between foster care and children's homes, they should both make sure:

  • You are safe
  • You are well looked after
  • You feel at home
  • You are listened to
  • You have things explained to you
  • Your race, culture, religion, sexuality and any disability is respected
  • You get the support you need in your education
  • You know all about your pocket money and other allowances
  • Personal information about you and your family is kept confidential

Foster care:  
Foster carers are people who have agreed to share their home and lives with young people. It can take a long time to become a foster carer because social services want to make sure that they are trained properly and are able to support young people in the best possible way. Foster carers have their own social workers called supervising social workers.

If you live in foster care, it should be like living in a normal household with the same adults looking after you everyday. They should let you feel as if you are part of the family and so should do things that would be normal in a family like going on holiday with them, attending school meetings and taking you to the doctor or dentist.

Children's homes: 
Some people call children's homes 'residential units'. They are a bit different to living in foster care because there are other looked after young people who live there too. The other difference is that there will be more adults who work there looking after you. Adults who work there are called 'residential child care officers'. Because there may be several social workers, you will be given a named adult who you can talk to. This person is usually called your key worker.

When you first come into care, social workers usually have to find somewhere for you to live at very short notice. This means you will be placed in foster care or in a children's home while better, more permanent plans are made. Your social worker will talk to you about where you would most like to live. Social services try as hard as they can to make sure you can stay in Westminster because it means that there will be fewer changes in your life.

Occasionally the support you need cannot be found in your area and you may have to move away. Talk to your social worker if you are worried about any of this and they will explain things to you.

Me and my social worker

Your social worker will be your main contact in social services. This person is trained to help young people and their families and should take time to get to know you.

When you start to be looked after your social worker must come and meet you within the first seven days. You should then meet up with your social worker regularly and he or she should talk to you on your own about how things are going. Your social worker will also be in touch with your family. Your social worker is responsible for making sure you are looked after properly and can help you sort out any difficulties you are having.

You can call your social worker at any time, but may not always be able to get hold of him or her straight away. All social workers work in teams and there is always someone in the team who is responsible for making sure that messages are taken and urgent problems are dealt with.

Your care plan and review

While you are being looked after by social services there will be decisions made on your behalf by people who have been trained to help. The Children Act 1989 says that professionals must talk to you about why decisions have been made and must give you an opportunity to have your say.

If you feel you are not being listened to or respected you should tell someone. Talk to your social worker or see 'Know your rights' on this page for information about other people who can help.

Whether or not you were involved in deciding what went in to your care plan, you should make sure you have a copy. Your care plan is important because it contains all the information about where you live, what support you need and how long you will need it for.

Your care plan must be looked at regularly to make sure it continues to be as helpful as possible and you will have review meetings to do this. These meetings are a chance for you to get together with the people who are important to you to talk about how you are getting on. The meetings should look at:

  • Why you are being looked after by social services
  • What the arrangements are for your care
  • How long those arrangements will be in place

The review is your meeting. You should know everyone at the meeting and it should be held somewhere you feel comfortable. The meeting will be run by an independent chair who is there to make sure your views are heard. You should have a chance to meet this person before the meeting and you can tell them if there are things you want discussed or people you want invited to or excluded from the meeting.

Your social worker should arrange to see you before the meeting and will ask you to fill in a form to help you think about the things you like or don't like. Your social worker will also bring a report about how he or she thinks you are getting on and will make suggestions about what should happen in the future.

After the meeting decisions will be written down and everyone who took part will be given a copy. You should make sure you are happy with what has been agreed and keep your copy in a safe place. If your parents were not at the review meeting they will be sent a copy of the report so that they know what decisions have been made. The review chair will make sure decisions made at the meeting are followed up.

Your first two review meetings will be held within three months of you first becoming looked after. You will then have a meeting at least every six months. If you are unhappy about the care you are getting you do not have to wait for a review meeting to talk to us about your worries. You can talk to your social worker any time or can ask the Children's Rights Officer or Young Person's Complaints Officer to help make sure your views are heard.

You care plan, reports from your review meetings and notes written by your social worker or other professionals are all put in a file. The Data Protection Act (DPA)1998 is a piece of law that says you have a right to ask to see this file at any time (although you may not be allowed to see information in this file that talks about other people). The DPA also has very clear rules about keeping your information private. This means nobody except the people providing your care can see anything that has been written about you.

Me and my health

Whether you are being looked after by social services or not it is important that you look after your health and that you know who to go to if you're ill. When you first start being looked after your social worker will make sure you are registered with a doctor and dentist and will offer you a health assessment medical check up.

You should be registered with a doctor (GP). If you are already registered and the surgery is not too far from where you are living you may be able to carry on seeing that doctor if you would like to. Alternatively you could register with the doctor your foster carer uses or another doctor close to where you are staying.

You will be put in touch with a designated doctor or nurse for looked after children. This is a doctor or nurse whose job is to help looked after children with their health. He or she will talk to you, make sure you are OK and agree with you what health plans you might have.

Your social worker will make sure you are registered with a dentist and if you are looked after for some time we will talk to you about whether you have had regular check-ups as part of your six monthly review meetings.

If you have a medical your sight and hearing will be checked. If you wear glasses or contact lenses you should already be having regular check-ups with an optician. If you suffer from headaches or think things look blurred (such as the board at school) you should ask your social worker, foster carer or key-worker about seeing an optician.

You should be given advice and information about drugs, alcohol, relationships and sex to help you make decisions about the things that affect your health. You should also have a chance to talk about anything that's worrying you. Growing up can be difficult and confusing for everyone has good and bad times. It often helps to talk about your problems instead of bottling them up.

Know your rights

It is important for you to know what to do if you do not feel that your rights are being respected. Children's services have to make sure that you are protected from harm, that you get the services that fit your needs, and that you can participate in making decisions that affect you.

Most rights we have are written down in law. For example there are laws that say that no one should be discriminated against because of their race, culture, disability or sex. That means that when we are discriminated against we know that we can get help to stop it happening.

The Children Act 1989 is a piece of law that sets out what you should expect from children's services. It also says what children's services must do to make sure you are OK. It explains what to do if you are not happy about the way you are looked after.

The Children Act says:

  • You have a right to complain if you are not happy
  • You must be protected and kept safe
  • Children's services must find out what your wishes and feelings are before making decisions about you
  • Your welfare must come first
  • You must be able to see family and friends unless it puts you at risk
  • Your race, culture, religion, language, sex and disability must be taken into consideration

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child describes a set of 'rights' for all children. These rights are not law, but it is used as a guide to describe how all children and young people should be treated:

  • A right to education
  • A right to see information written about you
  • A right to be protected
  • A right to have your voice heard and taken into account when decisions are made about you
  • A right to be protected against discrimination

If you think that something is wrong in the way you are being looked after, you should check it out. At first you might just have a query or a grumble, so you may be able to sort it out by talking to an adult you trust. If you can, you should speak to your carer or your social worker first. If you feel uncomfortable about this, think of another adult who you trust.

If you know you are having a review soon, maybe that is a good place to share your worries. They should listen to you and help you to work out if you want to do anything. If you want information, they should be able to find out the information for you.

You also have a right to make a complaint under The Children Act. You are allowed to complain about any service you receive as well as about any service that you don't receive. The complaints procedure is specially designed so that if you make a complaint, it must be looked into by people who did not make the decision and who do not work for social services.

Last updated: 21 June 2016