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Durham County Council

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Looked after children


At any one time there are approximately 68,000 children and young people that are looked after in England. There are many reasons why children and young people become looked after but the highest proportion of children are taken into care as a result of abuse or neglect. It is very important to recognise that very few children enter care because of their own behaviour, but rather due to the effect of circumstances and the environment in which they live.

When a child becomes looked after they may be :

Subject to a Care Order (Section 31 1989 Children Act)

This is when the council applies to a court to have the child placed under their supervision. The Care Order will only be made by the court if the child is suffering or is likely to suffer from significant harm attributable to the care given to the child if the Order is not made.

In this case parental responsibility for the child is shared between the parent and the council. We strive to work closely with the parent but if necessary can override the decision of the parent if it is deemed in the best interests of the child.

Accommodated (Section 20 1989 Children Act)

Under this section a child becomes looked after because the council provides them with accommodation for more than 24 hours through voluntary agreement with the parent(s). It includes situations when:

  • there is no person with parental responsibility for the child
  • the child is lost or abandoned
  • the person who has been caring for the child is prevented from providing suitable accommodation or care

Some children may also be compulsorily accommodated including children who are remanded to the council or subject to a criminal justice supervision order with a residence requirement (Section 21 Children Act 1989).

Emergency Protection Order (Section 44 Children Act 1989)

A child may be taken into care under this section if there is reasonable cause to believe that they are likely to suffer significant harm if urgent action is not taken.

Family and Friends Care Policy

This policy (PDF, 187kb) explains how we will support family and friends carers. Family and friends carers are extended family or family friends who look after a child or young person who can't be cared for by their birth parents. We have a legal responsibility, under the Children Act 1989, to provide family and friends carers with the support that they need to safeguard and promote the child or young person's welfare, regardless of whether they are classed as "looked after" by the Council.

We have also provided practice guidance (PDF, 226kb) for professionals working with family and friends carers.