Sections in this guide (click title to view)
- 1. What does it mean to be looked after?
- 2. Why do I have a social worker?
- 3. Where will I live?
- 4. When can I see my friends and family?
- 5. How will I know what's going to happen?
- 6. My review meetings
1. What does it mean to be looked after?
The term ‘looked after’ means that we are involved in, and have a say about, what happens to you. Some people call this ‘being in care’. On this website we will use the term ‘looked after’.
Children and young people can be ‘looked after’ by a Council from when they are a baby anytime up until they are 18. Sometimes if a child has a disability, they could be looked after up to the age of 19.
There are two different ways you might come into care – this could be where it is decided through the courts or where it is agreed by your parents.
Care orders - decided by the courts
Often a court has said that it would be better for you to live away from home. This is called a care order and is part of the law called the Children’s Act 1989. When the court has made this decision, it is the job of your social worker to make sure you are well looked after, safe, and enjoy a good and happy childhood.
If you are looked after under a care order, your social worker will work with your parents to make very important decisions about your care including where you will live, where you will go to school and how often you will visit your family. It is your social worker’s job to make the final decisions about this to make sure it is the best thing for you. You should be involved in all of these decisions made about your life.
Accommodated - agreed by your parents
Sometimes children and young people become looked after but are not on a care order. This is called being ‘accommodated’. This means we're helping your parents to look after you. If this happens, your parents still make decisions about you, including where you live and where you go to school.
Why is Lambeth Council looking after me?
Sometimes children and young people are looked after because people are worried that you were being hurt or were at risk of harm living with your parents or guardian.
There are lots of different reasons why children and young people are looked after! If you are not sure why you are looked after, you can ask your social worker and they will be more than happy to talk to you about this.
How long will I be looked after for?
Sometimes children and young people only need to be looked after for a very short time. Sometimes this is a few days, a few weeks or a few months. Some children and young people are looked after for a much longer time, until they are 18.
It depends why you are looked after and if it is safe for you to go home. If you don’t know how long you are going to be looked after you can talk to your Social worker or foster carer/key worker so that you know what is happening.
What about how I feel about being looked after?
Going into care for the first time or moving into a new place can be very scary. There will be lots of new people to meet and you may be moving away from friends and family. You may be feeling angry, worried, confused or very sad. You are not alone – your social worker and new carer/key worker is there to talk to you and to keep you safe.
Moving away from your family can be a very hard thing to do – and you might not want to leave and might not think that you need to go. Sometimes a court will make a decision that you will not agree with. This can make you feel very angry and confused. Your social worker will try to help you understand this.
There are other people you can talk to if you think this might help.
Other things you can do when you feel angry or upset about being in care:
- speak to an advocate to help you to have your say
- talk to a friend, teacher, Social Worker, or other trusted adult
- speak to the mental health service for children looked after (CLAMHS)
- keep a diary
- write a letter to an adult that knows you and tell them how you are feeling
- ring a confidential helpline.
2. Why do I have a social worker?
All children and young people looked after have a social worker - this is what the law says has to happen!
A social worker is a person who has been trained to work with you and your family and the people who look after you. It’s their job to make sure that:
- all of your needs are met
- you're safe
- you have opportunities to a good education, health care and leisure activities.
Your social worker is there to listen to you, support you and to help make decisions about your life. They should always help you to understand why you are looked after, talk to you about all the decisions that are made and why, and will help you to make plans for the future. They should always talk to you about your wishes and feelings, and will always make sure your welfare comes first.
The law says that your social worker must visit you where you live, regularly and at least once every six weeks. If you have been living in the same place for more than one year, your social worker will only visit you once every three months. Sometimes, this can feel like a very long time between visits. If you feel that you need more visits, please discuss this with them, or in your review meeting.
Sometimes children or young people in care might disagree with their social worker, or about decisions being made about their life. If you are not happy about the plans that are being made in your life, you can contact an advocate to help you to have your say if you want some help with this. It is important for you to have a say in all of your plans for the future.
Top 10 things your social worker should do:
- Come and visit you regularly where you are living
- Listen to you and take your wishes and feelings into account
- See your nursery, school and college reports
- Keep their promises and do what they say they are going to do
- Keep you informed of what is happening and inform you of your rights
- Speak to you about your interests and things you want to do
- Keep you informed of what is happening with your family
- Celebrate your birthday and special occasions such as religious festivals
- Be available to listen and support you, and to talk to you about things happening in your life
- To make sure you are safe and your needs are met
3. Where will I live?
Where you will live depends on your individual situation and what is happening in your life.
Usually, we'll try to move you to live with a family called a foster family, or foster carer to live as a part of their family.
Foster carers and foster families are trained to look after children and young people that can’t live with their family. All foster carer’s are different and come from all different backgrounds – black, white or mixed families. You might live with a single carer, a married couple or they may have children of their own.
We will always do our best to make sure you live with a foster carer that you will get along with, and who will be able to understand you and what you need while they look after you. Your foster carer will help you to keep in touch with your family and friends, and will make sure that you are safe and well cared for.
All foster carers have been through checks by us and the police to make sure that they will be able to care for you properly. They are reviewed every year to make sure that they are doing their job properly. You can have your say about the way that they are looking after you.
Living with family or a family friend
Some looked after children and young people live with an extended family member or family friend who takes responsibility for looking after you. This is called kinship care. You will still have a social worker who will visit you regularly to make sure you are safe and happy.
Some children and young people live in children’s home - we call this residential care.
If you live in residential care you will live in a house where there are other children and young people both boys and girls who are also looked after. There will be workers in the house 24 hours a day and they will be there to look after you.
You will have a key worker from the house who will meet with you on your own every week to make sure you are okay. They will be there to help you with your course work, and to keep you safe. Some of these residential homes are specialist, which means that you will have some extra support from the workers. If you have a disability or extra needs, these homes will be able to give you the time you need.
Some children and young people looked after live in a boarding school. This is where you will live and receive schooling at the same place with other children and workers. The workers there are responsible for looking after you.
Some looked after young people might live in secure accommodation. Young people only move to secure accommodation when there is a very serious risk of harm to themselves or to other people. We will always try to help young people to deal with any issues before moving any young people into secure accommodation.
Top tips when moving into a new place
Moving into a new home can be a very stressful time. We hope that you will feel comfortable, safe and happy where you are living. If you are moving into a new home (placement) here are some ideas of what you can do to make it easier:
- Think about any questions you might have about where you are moving – and write them down. These might be about your bedroom, the food you will eat, pocket money, school, when you will see your family and any other things that you might want to know about.
- If you are not happy or are worried about something – please tell someone you trust. No-one will be cross with you.
What happens if I don't tell my carer or key worker where I am?
Sometimes it can feel really tough being in care. It’s not easy moving to live with new people and being away from family, friends and things that you are used to. Sometimes you might prefer to spend time with your friends, or might find it hard spending time in your new home. Whatever the reasons, it’s always good to try to talk to someone you trust and to let the person or people caring for you know where you are.
Sometimes you might need time away, but we need to make sure that you are safe.
You won't be in trouble, it's best to just let someone know where you are. This is what any parents would expect from their children too.
- your social worker, duty social worker or emergency duty team, teacher or any other adult that you trust
- the police
- your foster carer.
If you don’t tell anyone where you are, we'll be worried about you and we'll have to report you as missing.
Why? Because we're responsible for your safety and need to make sure you are okay. If you do go out without permission, or do not return to where you are living, your carer or key worker will have to inform us and sometimes the police (if they are worried about your safety). If you are finding things hard, please talk to a trusted adult so that we can help you.
4. When can I see my friends and family?
We always want to make sure that you can keep in contact with your family, friends and carers where it is safe for you to do so.
Your social worker will talk to you about how and when you will see your family. You, your social worker and the people looking after you will decide together when, where and how you will keep in touch with your family and friends. Your feelings and wishes will be listened to before this is decided.
Remember that your social worker can stop you seeing your parents if it is too unsafe for you to see them. You can talk to your social worker about this if it happens.
What is a contact order?
Sometimes the court will make a decision about how often you should see or speak to your family or sometimes a friend. This is called a contact order. This can say that you should not see a certain person. Sometimes it can say where and when you might see certain family members or friends, and who else should be there with you. A contact order is made to protect you and make sure you are always safe.
If your contact order says you should see a family member or friend but this is not happening then you should make a formal complaint. You can apply for a contact order if there is not one in place to make sure that you can see your family or friends. It is always very helpful to mention these kinds of worries in your review meeting so that they can arrange this for you.
Once you're 16 you can choose if you want to see your family. We can’t stop you from doing this when you are 16 or older.
You may be able to keep in contact with your family by:
- them visiting you - sometimes a trusted adult will need to be there with you to make sure you are safe at all times
- writing letters - you may be able to send them photos and pictures too
- phone calls - you may be able to talk to them on the phone.
It is important that you tell your social worker about family or friends that you want to see or talk to. You don’t have to have contact with someone if you don’t want to. If you want to see someone that you are not seeing – you can tell your social worker and they can try to organise this for you if it is safe for you to see them. Remember that contact plans can be changed! Just talk to your social worker about this.
Sometimes the court might make a decision about how often you can or can’t see your family. If you are not happy with this please talk to a trusted adult. It is important for you to have your say!
5. How will I know what's going to happen?
When you're looked after, your social worker will talk to you about what is going to happen and what we will do to look after you.
Your social worker has to write down what everyone will do to help look after you. Your social worker will need to talk to you, your foster carer or key worker, your family, sometimes your teachers, and anyone else that is important in your life to do this. This is called a care plan. It is very important that you have your say because the care plan is about you.
You can have a copy of your care plan and should ask your social worker for it. You can talk to your social worker or carer if you don’t agree with the plan.
Your care plan will talk about many areas of your life such as:
- where you will live
- what school you will go to
- when you see your family
- what you want now
- who will support you
Your care plan will change over time – just like you will! This is to make sure that your needs are always met as you grow. Your care plan will be reviewed every six months to make sure your needs are being met.
Your placement plan
When you are looked after your social worker will write what is called a placement plan which is all about what will happen day to day where you live.
This is different to your care plan because it is about what will happen where you are living. It will say how your carers, guardians or key workers will help look after you.
This will include:
- how you will get to nursery/school/college
- your health needs
- who you will be able to see, or not see
- religious needs
- cultural needs
- how much pocket money you’ll get
- going on holidays
- food you like and dislike
- rules when visiting friends
- about using computer/internet where you live.
Sometimes you might be asked to sign a form to say that you agree with your care plan and placement plan. You don't have to agree with the plan and should talk to your Social Worker if you don’t agree with everything that is written so that you can try to come to an agreement.
How do I get help with all these plans made about me?
Sometimes it can be hard to have so many people in your life, and so many different meetings and plans about your life. Remember that all of this is done to make sure you are safe, healthy, that all of your needs are met, and that you are happy!
If your first language is not English your social worker can arrange for an interpreter to come to any meetings, and to translate letters so you can understand them if you want.
If you have any speech or hearing difficulties your social worker will make sure you get the support you need.
If you are not happy about the plans being made, or if you think it would help to have someone to talk to that is not your social worker or carer – you can always bring a friend or an advocate (someone who speaks up with you) to support you.
Do you want an advocate? You can speak to your social worker or you can call.
6. My review meetings
What is a review meeting?
When you are looked after, the law says we must review your care plan and what is happening in your life within four weeks of your coming into care, then after three months and then every six months to make sure that you are being cared for and given the best opportunities.
This meeting is called a review. The review is run by someone that is independent to your situation. They are called an independent reviewing officer (IRO). The IRO is independent of your social worker. It is their job to make sure that everyone that comes to the meeting has a fair say – especially you because this meeting is about you and your life! It is also their job to check that you are being well cared for.
Who will be at my review?
At your review will be:
- an independent reviewing officer
- your social worker
- your foster carer/guardian/key workers
- your parents (if it is safe for you)
- someone from your school or college (not all the time)
- a health professional (not all the time)
You can tell your social worker or foster carer if there is anyone that you do not want to be at your review meeting – or if there is someone else you want to invite.
Can I bring a friend?
Did you know that you can ask to bring a friend or advocate to your review meeting to support you and help you to say what you think and feel. If you want to bring someone to your next review meeting just tell your social worker.
How can I have my say about what's happening in my life?
Before your review meeting you can meet with the IRO on your own (or with a friend or advocate if you want) about your wishes and feelings about how you are being looked after and what plans are being made for your future care. You can also tell them about any worries that you have.
Before your review meeting you will be sent a review consultation form which has questions about what is happening in your life. This was written and designed by other children and young people who are looked after to make sure it is more helpful. You can fill in this form and send it to your IRO so that they can get an idea about your views and wishes, and what is happening in your life.
After your review meeting, your IRO should send you a copy of what was talked about, and what they have decided needs to happen to continue to care for you well.
Here is a message from the Independent Reviewing Team:
We want every review to be…
- your review you tell us where you want to have your review meeting
- open atmosphere - we want you to be able to tell us your wishes and feelings
- relevant - about you and your life.
- environmentally friendly - this is about you – we don’t want it to be about paperwork!
- easy – we want you to feel comfortable at all times.
- well done – we want to celebrate all the good things you have been doing.
What will happen after the review?
You should get a copy of what was said in the meeting and all decisions that were made. This is called a review report and is sent to you by the IRO.
Did you know that you can ask for your review report to be translated into another language or format such as larger print? Well you can!
If you forget to say something in your review, ask your social worker or foster carer to pass it on to the IRO or email or text them yourself. The IRO want to know what you think about your review meetings so let the know!
If you need to speak to your IRO and you do not have their mobile number, call our admin number on 020 7926 8521 and you will be put through to the duty IRO who will be able to help you.