View Working Together View Working Together
View Oxfordshire Childrens Service Procedures Manual View Oxfordshire Childrens Service Procedures Manual

3.6 Children Living Away From Home (Including Foster Care and Private Fostering)


  1. Introduction
  2. Essential Safeguards  
  3. Foster Care
  4. Private Fostering
  5. Children in Residential Settings
  6. Children in Hospital
  7. Children in Custody
  8. Children of Families Living in Temporary Accommodation

1. Introduction

Revelations of the widespread Abuse and Neglect of children living away from home have done much to raise awareness of the particular vulnerability of such children. Many of these revelations have focused on Sexual Abuse, but Physical Abuse, Emotional Abuse and Neglect - including peer abuse, bullying and substance misuse - are equally a threat in institutional and other settings.

Concerns for the safety of children living away from home have to be put in the context of attention to the overall developmental needs of such children and a concern for the best possible outcomes for their health and development.

Every setting in which they 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.

These values are reflected in regulations and in the National Minimum Standards, which contain specific requirements on safeguarding and child protection for each particular regulated setting where children live away from home - see also A Guide to Making Safe and Appropriate Appointments in Schools and all Services for Children and Vulnerable Adults and Allegations Against Staff, Carers and Volunteers Procedure.

2. Essential Safeguards

The following essential safeguards should be observed in all settings such as foster care, residential care, Private Fostering, armed forces bases, healthcare, boarding schools (including residential special schools), Prisons, Young Offenders’ Institutions, Secure Training Centres and secure units. Where services are not directly provided, these safeguards should be explicitly addressed in any contract with a service provider.

All settings must ensure that:

  • Children feel valued and respected and their self-esteem is promoted;
  • There is an openness on the part of the institution to the external world and to external scrutiny; including contact with families and the wider community;
  • Staff and foster carers are trained in all aspects of safeguarding children, are alert to children’s vulnerabilities and risks of harm, and knowledgeable about how to implement safeguarding children procedures;
  • Children are listened to, and their views and concerns responded to;
  • Children have ready access to a trusted adult outside the institution, e.g. a family member, social worker, Independent Visitor or children’s advocate. Children should be made aware of independent advocacy services, external mentors and Childline;
  • Staff/carers recognise the importance of ascertaining the wishes and feelings of children and understand how individual children communicate by verbal or non-verbal means;
  • Complaints procedures are clear, effective, and user–friendly and are readily accessible to children and young people including those with disabilities and those for whom English is not their preferred language;
  • Bullying is effectively countered - see Bullying Guidance;
  • Recruitment and selection procedures are rigorous and create a high threshold of entry to deter abusers and there is effective supervision and support that extends to temporary staff and volunteers - see A Guide to Making Safe and Appropriate Appointments in Schools and all Services for Children and Vulnerable Adults;
  • Contractor staff are effectively checked and supervised when on site or in contact with children;
  • Clear procedures and support systems are in place for dealing with expressions of concern by staff and carers about other staff or carers (a Whistle-blowing Policy);
  • There is respect for diversity, and sensitivity to race, culture, religion, gender, sexuality and disability;
  • Staff and carers are alert to the risks of harm to children in the external environment from people prepared to exploit the additional vulnerability of children living away from home.

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child has suffered Significant Harm, the Local Authority for the area in which the child is living has the responsibility to convene a Strategy Discussion/Meeting, which should include representatives from the responsible Local Authority that placed the child, if different.

At the Strategy Discussion/Meeting it should be decided which Local Authority should take responsibility for the next steps, which may include a Child Protection Assessment.

2.1 Children Who are not Looked After but are Placed in Residential Settings away from Home

When children are placed in boarding schools funded by SEN and/or Social Care they should only be placed in schools that have been rated as Good by Ofsted for both their educational and care provision. In exceptional circumstances where this is not possible, a risk assessment/risk management plan must be drawn up before the child is placed to address the concerns and this should be signed off by senior managers commissioning the placement. Most of these boarding school placements are planned with the child's parents/carers. The school should always be visited by an education officer and/or the child's social worker to ensure it meets the individual child's needs before the child moves there.

If the school has not been caring for any Oxfordshire child for 2 years, the education and Social Care specialists, plus a health specialist as appropriate, should visit the child in the placement within 3 months of their start date to monitor the effectiveness of the placement and to ensure the child is safeguarded. If there are any concerns about the placement 's ability to meet the child's needs or to safeguard their welfare, a further monitoring visit will be arranged within 3 months

If the child is in a 38 or 44 week boarding school placement, they will not be considered as looked after children. The exception to this would be if a child already in care is placed in a termly boarding placement, returning to foster carers/a care setting in the school holidays. If children are in 48 or 52 week residential school placements, consideration should be given to whether they should become looked after under [S20] of the 1989 Children Act. If the child is moving to the residential school because s/he needs the specialist educational provision and the parents are actively engaged in supporting the child in the placement either by regular visits or by having the child home, they will not become looked after.

Before the child moves to the placement, parents should be told that they have the right to make spontaneous visits to their child and if the provider does not facilitate this, they should be told to contact their SEN officer or social worker who will support them around this. Parents should be encouraged to contact named professionals if they have any concerns about the quality about the care their child is receiving at the school. They should be encouraged to make regular visits and to keep in touch with the child between visits.

Children who live away from home for more than 12 weeks without regular planned visits home are subject to review and monitoring arrangements under S85 of the Children Act. S85 requires that the child should be seen every 6 months and that the Monitoring Officer should spend time with the child speaking to them and observing the child in their environment. In Oxfordshire, there is a requirement that the child is seen 4 times a year, for the two monitoring visits, at the annual SEN review and for a care review.

If Monitoring Officers have any concerns re the ability of the placement to keep the child safe including systemic vulnerabilities like high staff turnover, high use of agency staff, reliance on restrictive physical interventions, these should be escalated to Senior Managers who have commissioned the placement and the Joint Placement and Commissioning Panel.

If a child needs to be placed in a specialist health setting outside Oxfordshire in an emergency, quality checks should be undertaken by a representative from Oxford Health's Continuing Care team and/or the LD CAMHS team and the child's social worker within 7 days of the admission (or 28 days if there are other Oxfordshire children in the placement and there are no concerns about the quality of the placement and its ability to safeguard the child). The Care Programme Approach coordinating reviews will be managed by the placing agency and not by the provider service or hospital.

Consideration should be given to S85 reviews of children in psychiatric hospitals being chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). The frequency of these reviews should be discussed with the IRO and will depend on the child's individual circumstance.

Children should not be discharged from these specialist hospital placements without a discharge planning meeting using the Care Programme Approach. In most cases it will be necessary to complete detailed risk assessments to ensure the discharge can be managed safely.

3. Foster Care

The Local Authority‘s duty to undertake a Child Protection Assessment, when there are concerns about Significant Harm to a child, applies on the same basis to children in foster care as it does to children who live with their own families.

When the concerns relate to a child placed in a foster home outside the area of the responsible Local Authority - see Children Moving Across Boundaries Procedure.

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child in foster care has suffered or is suffering Significant Harm in the foster placement, the Allegations Against Staff, Carers and Volunteers Procedure will apply and a Strategy Meeting will be held. 

In these circumstances, enquiries should consider the safety of any other children living in the household, including the foster carers’ own children, grand-children 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.

As foster care is undertaken in the privacy of the foster carers’ own home, it is important that children have a voice outside the family. Social workers are required to see children in foster care on their own and evidence of this should be recorded on the child’s records. 

Foster carers should monitor the whereabouts of their foster children, their patterns of absence and contacts, and follow the recognised agency procedure whenever a foster child is Missing from their home.

Where a looked after child becomes pregnant, the unborn baby should be assessed in a separate, but linked assessment, from the looked after child. See Assessment of an (Unborn) Child of a Young Person who is Looked After, Leaving Care or in whom there is Substantial Social Care/YOS Involvement Procedure.

4. Private Fostering

A Private Fostering arrangement is essentially one that is made without the involvement of Local Authority for a child under the age of 16 (under 18 if disabled) to be cared for by someone other than a parent or close relative for 28 days or more. Privately Fostered children are a diverse and sometimes vulnerable group which includes:

  • Children sent from abroad to stay with another family, usually to improve their educational opportunities - see also Safeguarding Children from Abroad Guidance;
  • Children who stay with another family whilst their parents are in hospital, prison or serving overseas in the armed forces;
  • Asylum-seeking and refugee children;
  • Teenagers who, having broken ties with their parents, are staying in short-term arrangements with friends or other non-relatives;
  • Language students living with host families.

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 to have a child Privately Fostered.

Teachers, health and other professionals should notify the Local Authority of a Private Fostering arrangement that comes to their attention, where they are not satisfied that the arrangement has been or will be notified.

It is the duty of every Local Authority to satisfy itself that the welfare of the children, who are Privately Fostered within their area, is being satisfactorily safeguarded and promoted. This includes an initial visit to the child and private foster carers within 7 days of receiving notification that the placement has started and a full assessment of the private fostering arrangement. The Local Authority must also arrange to visit privately fostered children every 6 weeks for the first year of the arrangement and every 12 weeks thereafter. Children should be given the contact details of the social worker who will be visiting them while they are being privately fostered.

All arrangements and regulations in relation to Private Fostering are set out in the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005. Oxfordshire County Council has its own Private Fostering Policy.

When there are concerns about Significant Harm to a child who is Privately Fostered, the Local Authority and all the other agencies have the same duties to make enquiries as they do to any other child. The concerns must be reported to the Local Authority where the private foster placement is located in accordance with the Referrals (including Referral Pathway) Procedure and the Local Safeguarding Children Procedures contained in this manual will then be applied.

It should always be borne in mind that some children/young people to whom the Private Fostering Regulations apply may be victims of Trafficking or other forms of exploitation and as such may be very vulnerable - see also Safeguarding Children from Abroad Guidance.

In Oxfordshire, the duties of the Local Authority in relation to Private Fostering are carried out by the Children, Education and Families Directorate.

5. Children in Residential Settings

All residential settings where children and young people are placed, including children’s homes and residential schools, whether provided by a private, charitable or faith based organisation, or a Local Authority, must adhere to the Children’s Homes Regulations 2001 (as amended by the Children's Homes (Amendment) Regulations 2011, associated guidance) and all other relevant Regulations and to the relevant National Minimum Standards

Clear records must be kept and reviews and inspections must take place in accordance with National Minimum Standards and the Regulations.

Children in such settings are particularly vulnerable and must be listened to.

All such establishments must have in place complaints procedures for children and young people, visiting and contact arrangements with social workers and Independent Visitors (for Looked After children), as well as parents, and advocacy services. 

Where there is reasonable cause to believe that a child in a residential setting has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm, a referral must be made in accordance with the Referrals (including Referral Pathway) Procedure. The concerns may range from bullying or abuse by other children to allegations against staff – see Bullying Guidance, Children who Exhibit Harmful Behaviour (Including Sexual, Physical and Emotional) Procedure and, where the concerns relate to a member or members of staff and/or the care the child is receiving in the residential setting, the Allegations Against Staff, Carers and Volunteers Procedure will apply and a Strategy Meeting will be held. 

When the concerns relate to a Looked After Child placed in residential care outside the area of the responsible Local Authority – see Children Moving Across Boundaries Procedure.

Where a looked after child becomes pregnant, the unborn baby should be assessed in a separate, but linked assessment, from the looked after child. See Assessment of an (Unborn) Child of a Young Person who is Looked After, Leaving Care or in whom there is Substantial Social Care/YOS Involvement Procedure.

6. Children in Hospital

Hospitals should be child-friendly, safe and healthy places for children.

Wherever possible, children should be consulted about where they would prefer to stay in hospital, and their views should be taken into account and be respected. Care should be provided in an appropriate location and in an environment that is safe and well suited to the age and stage of development of the child or young person.

Children under 16 should not 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 in appropriate wards.

Hospitals must have policies in place to ensure that their facilities are secure and regularly reviewed.

Any concerns about Significant Harm to a child within a hospital or health setting must be referred to the Local Authority in whose area the hospital is located.  In Oxfordshire, such a referral must be made to Children, Education and Families in accordance with the Referrals (including Referrals (including Referrals Pathway) Procedure. In the Oxfordshire Children’s Hospital the Children’s Social Care team is located on the John Radcliffe Hospital site. In the Highfield Adolescent Mental Health Unit, the CAMHS social worker should be informed.

No child known to Children, Education and Families who is an inpatient in a hospital and about whom there are child protection concerns should be discharged home without an assessment to establish that the home environment is safe, the concerns by medical staff having been fully addressed and there being a plan in place for the ongoing promotion and safeguarding of the child’s welfare – see the Referrals (including Referrals Pathway) Procedure.

Where children are admitted to hospital with a serious or fatal injury that appears to be non-accidental requiring a Child Protection assessment under Section 47, the OSCB Protocol for a Co-ordinated Response to Serious/Fatal Safeguarding Cases should be followed.

When the child has been in hospital for three months or more, the appropriate health/hospital trust must notify the Local Authority for the area where the child is normally resident or, if this is unclear, the Local Authority where the child is accommodated. This is so that the Local Authority can assess the child’s needs under the Assessment Framework and decide whether services are required to be provided.

For a child usually resident in Oxfordshire, such notification should be sent to the hospital’s Children’s Social Care team, or CAMHS social worker, as appropriate.

For further reading and information see the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services (NSF) 2004 and the Public Inquiry into Children’s Heart Surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary 1984-1995: Learning from Bristol.

7. Children in Custody

The Local Authority has the same responsibilities towards children in custody as it does to other children in the Local Authority area.

Under the Legal Aid Sentencing & Punishing of Offenders Act 2012, children are remanded to the care of the Local Authority and are managed within the statutory LAC framework.

Young Offenders Institutions which accommodate Juveniles (16-18) 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.

Specific institutions in an area must ensure that there are links in place with the Local Safeguarding Children Boards and local authorities.

The local authorities' responsibilities are set out in Local Authority Circular (LAC) 2004(26). For guidance on the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012

8. Children of Families Living in Temporary Accommodation

Placement in temporary accommodation, often a distance from previous support networks or involving frequent moves, can lead to individuals and families falling through the net.

It is important that effective systems are in place to ensure that children from homeless families receive services from health and education, Social Care and welfare support services as well as any other specific services, because with frequent moves they may become disengaged from services. For example a child who is not registered with a school or a GP will miss out on basic services such as health screening, eye tests, immunisations and learning to read and write. Where a child who needs specific treatment misses appointments due to moves, the problem may become an issue of Significant Harm.

Temporary accommodation, for example bed and breakfast accommodation or women’s refuges, may be a location which is not secure and safe and where other adults are also resident who may pose a risk to the child.

All concerns of Significant Harm to a child in Oxfordshire in such circumstances should be referred to Children, Education and Families in accordance with the Referrals (including Referral Pathway) Procedure.