Definitions for children involved with Social Care


This section provides definitions of the three categories of children allocated to social services. These are Looked After Children, Children with a Child Protection Plan (formerly known as the Child Protection register) and Children in Need.

Looked After Children
Children with a Child Protection Plan
Children in Need
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Looked After Children

The term Looked After Children (LAC) includes: all children being looked after for at least 24 hours by an LA; those subject to a care order under section 31 of the Children Act 1989; and those looked after on a voluntary basis through an agreement with their parents under Section 20 of that Act.

Each LAC is subject to a legal status. These have not shown any significant changes over the past three years. The most common are:-

  1. Section 20 – Where the child is accommodated with the agreement of the parent/guardian, who retains parental responsibility. 25 ‑ 30% of all LAC have this status. Among children newly coming into care, 50 ‑ 60% have this status.
  2. Interim Care Order – This places the child in the care of the local authority on an interim basis whilst the family is assessed and until the court can make a final decision. It gives the local authority parental responsibility, shared with the parents. 15 ‑ 20% of all LAC have this status. Among children newly coming into care, 20 ‑ 30% have this status. The first time an Interim Care Order is made it can last for 8 weeks and it can be renewed after that for up to 28 days at a time. This process is usually fairly routine, unless significant changes have occurred.
  3. Care Order – This places the child under the care of the local authority, who then shares parental responsibility for the child with the parents, and will make most of the important decisions about the child’s upbringing, such as where they live and how they are educated. A Care Order usually lasts until the child is 18 or is adopted. They may be rescinded by the court, but this is rare. 40 ‑ 50% of LAC have this status.
  4. Placement Order – The court has agreed that adoption is in the best interest of the child, who remains Looked After until such time as suitable adoptive parents can be found, and the process of adoption completed.
  5. Other legal statuses include Protected under Police Powers, Emergency Protection Order, On Remand / In Custody, Short Breaks (“Respite-Only”).

Children accommodated under Section 20 are looked after with the consent of their parent/guardian. This could be due to a temporary situation of family stress, such as parental illness, or where the child is difficult to manage, or where the parent(s) accept that they are unable to care adequately for the child for reasons such as substance misuse or mental health.

Children under a Care Order need not necessarily be accommodated by the LA, but they will remain looked after until the Order is rescinded by the court, or they reach their 18th birthday. A court can only make a care order if it is sure that:

  • the child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm
  • the harm is caused by the child’s parents
  • the harm would be caused because of insufficient care being given to the child by the parents in the future
  • the child is likely to suffer harm because they are beyond parental control

When a care order is made, it places responsibility on the local authority to look after the child, and to provide them with accommodation and care. The authority is responsible for the child’s welfare while the care order is in place.

A care order can only be made for children under 17 years of age (or 16 if the child is married). A care order stops if the child is adopted, and can only last until their 18th birthday.

Local authorities can provide children with accommodation under a wide range of circumstances, for example:

  • as the result of an agreement between the local authority and the child’s parents or guardians that being accommodated would be in the child’s best interest
  • the child having been remanded to the care of a local authority by a criminal court
  • because the child is helping the police with their enquiries
  • the child has been placed for adoption, and the local authority is acting as the adoption agency. Note: These children are not included in the LAC data in this report, as we do not have home addresses for them, and they are about to leave our population of children in need.
  • the child is subject to a police protection order

Children may also be looked after under an agreed series of short-term breaks, known as “respite-only”. Most of these are disabled children, who are otherwise under no risk from their carers. These are excluded from many performance indicators, unless the total period of respite exceeds 120 days in any 12 month period, at which time they become fully looked after under Section 20.

The LA is responsible for a number of aspects of the care of looked after children, except respite-only, including health & dental checks and regular reviews of the placement arrangements.

Seven National Indicators and several local indicators are derived from the SSDA903 statistical return concerning Looked After Children. Other national and local indicators also relate to LAC.

As at September 2010 the average cost of Looked After Children in Bristol is £720 per week.

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Children with a Child Protection Plan

A Child Protection Plan (CPP) is a detailed inter-agency plan setting out what work needs to be done to:

  • safeguard the child from further harm;
  • promote the child’s health and development; and
  • if it is in the best interests of the child, to support the family to promote the welfare of the child

The Child Protection Plan is agreed in outline at the initial child protection conference and developed by the key worker, core professionals, the child and family.

Children with a CPP are very politically sensitive, as they are still living in the situation that gave rise to concern in the first place, unlike LAC who have been removed from that situation.

There are three National Indicators based on our data relating to CPP children. These are derived from the Children in Need Census.

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Children in Need

Children in Need (CIN) have become much more prominent over the past two years as a result of the greatly enlarged CIN Census. There is no formal definition as such, except to say that CIN are those children who have an allocated Social Worker, but who are not LAC, and do not have a CPP (though LAC and CPP children are actually included in the CIN Census). Our current data recording system (PARIS) does not lend itself well to monitoring and understanding this group of children. Data quality and completeness have not been as high as for LAC & CPP, but this is improving as new systems are put in place to record and report on data quality.

Six National Indicators are derived from the Children in Need Census.

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