3.4 Children Living Away from Home: Guidance
Revelations of widespread abuse and neglect of children living away from home have done much to raise awareness of the particular vulnerability of children in these circumstances. It is important for agencies and professionals not to be complacent and to be vigilant at all times so that children in these circumstances do not suffer.
Everywhere that children live should provide the same basic safeguards against abuse, founded on an approach that promotes their general welfare, protects them from harm, and treats them with dignity and respect.
Settings where children are living away from home include: boarding schools, children’s homes and foster homes, hospitals, prisons, young offender institutions, secure training centres, secure units and army bases. This guidance is also relevant in relation to private fostering and foreign exchange visits. The same consideration should be given to children from other local authorities who may be temporarily living in Buckinghamshire, as well as children from Buckinghamshire who are temporarily living in a different local authority.
Buckinghamshire Safeguarding Children Partnership’s (BSCP) guidance and procedures for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children apply in every situation and to all settings, including those where children are living away from home.
Individual agencies that provide care for children living away from home should implement clear and unambiguous procedures to respond to potential matters of concern about children’s welfare, in line with the relevant legal requirements.
Risks and Safeguards
Children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to being abused by adults and peers. With limited and sometimes controlled contact with family and carers, they may not be able to disclose what is happening to them. Many young people live away from home because of concerns about conditions at their home. It is particularly important therefore that their welfare is protected when they are being cared for by another agency, institution or family.
Disabled children are particularly vulnerable when living/staying away from home (see BSCP’s guidance on Abuse of Disabled Children).
All settings (such as those set out in section 3.4.3) must ensure that:
There should be clear procedures and support systems in place for dealing with expressions of concern about staff or volunteers (see BSCP’s procedure for Managing Allegations against Staff and Volunteers). Organisations should have a whistleblowing policy and code of conduct instructing staff and volunteers on their duty to their employer and their professional obligation to raise legitimate concerns about the conduct of colleagues or managers. There should be a guarantee that procedures can be invoked in ways that do not prejudice the whistle-blower’s own position and prospects.
Complaints procedures and child protection policies should be kept up to date. These must be clear, effective, user-friendly and readily accessible to children and young people, including those with disabilities and those for whom English is not their preferred language.
Children should genuinely be able to raise concerns and make suggestions for changes and improvements, which should be taken seriously. Procedures should address informal as well as formal complaints. Systems that do not promote open communication about ‘minor’ complaints will not be responsive to major ones and a pattern of minor complaints may indicate more deeply rooted problems in management and culture that need to be addressed.
When there are concerns about significant harm to a child, the same child protection procedures apply as for those children who live with their own families. There are also additional procedures relevant to specific circumstances (as outlined below).
Looked After Children
Children and young people living in foster care or residential settings are among the most socially excluded groups in England. They are vulnerable to abuse and may be in care due to abuse.
The BCSP expects there to be a strong working partnership between all key people and agencies involved in the child’s life, to enable clarification and allocation of the different roles and responsibilities as ‘public’ parents, to ensure the child is kept safe. This includes the child/young person and their family, as well as the day-to-day carers and others who have a role to play.
Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a Looked After Child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering, significant harm in their placement, Children’s Social Care will convene a strategy meeting involving all relevant partners.
In these circumstances, enquiries should consider the safety of any other children living in the foster home/residential setting, including the foster carers’ own children, grandchildren or any children cared for by the foster carers in their home, as well as any children whom the foster carers may be caring for or working with outside their home in a voluntary or paid capacity, e.g. teaching, faith or youth work, scouts or other groups.
Social workers are required to see Looked After Children on their own and evidence of this should be recorded on the child's records. The role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) now includes ensuring they have the opportunity to see the child prior to reviews, speaking to them on their own, when age and developmentally appropriate. This is in addition to seeing them at other times, and to ensuring the child has contact information for the IRO.
Looked After Children who have learning and/or behavioural difficulties and/or sensory/physical impairment are particularly vulnerable to abuse. Staff working with these children must be alert to any indications that a child might be in need of protection (see BSCP’s guidance on Abuse of Disabled Children)
Throughout any period of being looked after, a child must be made aware of their rights under the Children Act 1989 and 2004. Children and young people have a right to be heard. They can best describe how it is for them because they know how it feels. Children and young people have a right to free expression on matters that affect them. Their views should be respected and should be given due weight in accordance to their age and maturity.
On becoming looked after, children and young people must be provided with information about the services provided in Buckinghamshire. All staff and social workers should also be briefed about these services during their induction.
Private fostering is when a child or young person under 16 (or under 18 if disabled) is living with someone who is not a close relative (i.e. grandparent, aunt, uncle, brother or sister) for 28 days or more. This may include children sent from abroad, asylum-seeking and refugee children, teenagers with short-term arrangements with friends or other non-relatives, and language students with host families.
There are procedures in relation to private fostering which must be followed (see Buckinghamshire County Council’s Private Fostering Procedures). Any professional who becomes aware that a child is in a private fostering arrangement should notify Children’s Social Care by calling First Response on 01296 383962.
Under the Children Act 1989, private foster carers and those with parental responsibility are required to notify the local authority of their intention to privately foster or have a child fostered by calling First Response on 01296 383962 (also refer to The Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005).
Children's Social Care must satisfy themselves as to the suitability of the private foster carer, their household and accommodation.
Further information and resources for professionals on private fostering are available on the BSCP website.
Children on Foreign Exchange Visits or Homestays
Children on foreign exchange visits/homestays typically stay with a family selected by the school in the host country. Where this is for a period of less than 28 days, they are not classed as being ‘privately fostered’. In these circumstances the only agency involved is education, with the school making arrangements to select host families and to negotiate the provision of families abroad. Where the stay exceeds 28 days, for children staying in the UK this will be considered a private fostering arrangement and the guidance in the section above should be followed.
In the event that any child in a household is subject to a Child Protection Plan or is the subject of a Section 47 Enquiry, the household should (until there is a satisfactory resolution of concerns) be regarded by the school as unsuitable to receive a pupil from an overseas school.
Full guidance about exchanges and homestays can be found in the Resources section of Evolve, the local authority web-based system for establishments to access to register and plan their visits; which then go to a nominated Education Adviser for approval.
Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) regulations do not apply to UK-based exchange visits of less than 28 days, but overseas parents should indicate that they consent to the suitability of the selection process that places their child with the volunteer host family.
A DBS check in itself is no guarantee as to the suitability of an adult to work with any given group of young or vulnerable people. The placement of an adult within a situation of professional trust (where young people could be vulnerable to physical or mental exploitation, abuse or grooming) should be based on a common sense assessment of the risk-benefit.
Visit leaders should ensure that parents/carers understand that DBS checks are unlikely to be available in countries visited by young people from the UK. They therefore must ensure that the overseas host school or agency is aware of the need to plan for appropriate home placements. In practical terms, this will mean schools are guided by the host teacher’s knowledge of his/her pupils and their families. There is thus an understanding/mutual trust between families sending pupils to stay with an overseas host family.
The visit leader should ensure that:
Children in Hospital for More than 12 weeks
The National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services (NSF) September 2004 sets out standards for hospital services. Hospitals should be child-friendly, safe and healthy places for children, with care in an appropriate location and environment.
Children under 16 should not usually be cared for on an adult ward, although if they are aged 14 or over they may be given a choice as to whether they wish to be cared for on an adult ward. Hospital admission data should include the age of children so that hospitals can monitor whether children are being given appropriate care on appropriate wards. For further information refer to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s (NICE) recommendations.
Children’s Social Care must be notified by the hospital if a child is in hospital for more than 12 weeks. Children’s Social Care must then carry out an assessment of the child’s welfare and safety (as per Section 85 of the Children Act 1989).
The hospital should inform the parents/carers of the child that the information will be shared with Children’s Social Care and the reasons for this.
Best practice is that notifications should be received at least three weeks before a child has been away from home for the statutory period of 12 weeks so that the Children’s Social Care assessment remains within timescales.
There will be occasions when children are staying in a hospital outside of the Local Authority where they normally live, especially where they are receiving treatment from specialist units. In such cases hospital staff should ensure there is relevant communication and liaison with professionals in the child’s home authority, including with Children’s Social Care where a notification under Section 85 of the Children Act needs to be made.
Young Offenders Institutions
Children in Policy Custody
Children of Families Living in Temporary Accommodation
Children may be at risk of harm when they are living in temporary accommodation that also houses adults, for example B&Bs, hostels or refuges.
Young Offenders Institutions which accommodate juveniles (16–18-year-olds) must have policies and procedures in place which set out their duties to safeguard and promote the welfare of the children and young people in their care.
Placement in temporary accommodation, often at a distance from previous support networks or involving frequent moves, can lead to individuals and families falling through the net and becoming disengaged from health, education, social care and welfare support systems. Some families who have experienced homelessness and are placed in temporary accommodation by local authorities under the main homeless duty can have very transient lifestyles.
It is important that effective communication and systems are in place to ensure that children from homeless families receive services from health and education, as well as any other relevant services.
There will be additional challenges where temporary accommodation is provided in another local authority. In such cases the services involved with the family should take extra care to ensure there is good communication and that relevant services are continued.
There is statutory guidance on making arrangements under section 11 of the Children Act 2004 to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, which sets out local authorities’ responsibilities for homeless families.
Homeless 16 and 17 year olds
In relation to homeless 16 and 17 year olds, the Joint Protocol for Homeless 16 and 17 Year Olds should be followed. This sets out the responsibilities of the four District Council housing departments and Buckinghamshire County Council.
Related Policies, Procedures, and Guidance
- Neglect Guidance
- Managing Allegations against Staff and Volunteers
- Buckinghamshire Safer Recruitment Toolkit
- Private Fostering
- Policy on Abuse of Disabled Children
- Children’s Social Care Procedures for Looked After Children
- Migrant Children and Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children
- Joint Protocol for Homeless 16 and 17 Year Olds