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4.2.5 Ceasing to Look After a Child


This chapter reflects the statutory guidance 'Ceasing to look after a child' in 'Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations (2015)' as amended by the 'Care Planning and Fostering (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2015' and The Children and Social Work Act 2017, together with Working Together to Safeguard Children.

Where a child has been looked after under a court order, they would cease to be looked after once the order expires or is revoked.

The local authority has a duty to ensure that when children have been Accommodated (s20, Children Act 1989) and are discharged from, or leave care, that the discharge is in their best interests and that they will be safeguarded and their welfare will be promoted.

Where discharge does not appear to be in the child's best interests, immediate consideration must be given to whether protective action should be taken and legal advice may be required.


Leaving Care and Transition Procedure


The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015)

Working Together to Safeguard Children, Assessing need and providing help


This chapter was updated in April 2019 in line with the Children and Social Work Act 2017 and revised statutory guidance.

These changes relate to ongoing education support for children and young people with the status of 'previously Looked After Children'. A previously Looked After Child is one who is no longer looked after in England and Wales because they are the subject of an Adoption, Special Guardianship or Child Arrangements Order which includes arrangements relating to with whom the child is to live, or when the child is to live with any person, or has been adopted from 'state care' outside England and Wales.


  1. Context
  2. Children Subject of Legal Orders
  3. Children Accommodated under Section 20
  4. Looked After for Short Periods or Short Breaks
  5. Administration / Process Issues

1. Context

Children become Accommodated for many different reasons and are some of the most vulnerable children. Section 20 Accommodation can:

  • Offer children and families short term support following assessment of disability (short breaks);
  • Support a family in crisis, for example as a result of health issues of the carer where no other family or friend is available;
  • Be the first stage for a Relinquished Child, particularly a child under 6 weeks of age;
  • Be a means of safeguarding a child as a result of Child Protection enquiries, enabling an assessment of risk and needs prior to more formal planning;
  • Ensure appropriate care to a child who presents as 'abandoned';
  • Provide care for a child where there are concerns of Significant Harm as a result of them appearing to be 'beyond parental control';
  • Offer the level of support and care required to an unaccompanied young person from abroad (see Unaccompanied (including Asylum Seeking) Children Procedure).

When a child is Accommodated, and it is not part of a planned Short Break, timescales should be established at the outset for the length of time the Accommodation is considered to be required, together with a plan for the child returning home. Where the need for accommodation continues beyond the short term, care proceedings must be considered as a way of securing their future.

The first Looked After Review must take place within 20 days and will be key to evaluating the risk, or likelihood of risk, of any significant harm, the needs of the child, any multi-agency work required to support to the child and family, together with the timescales for these.

There can sometimes be concern about delay because of issues in working with either the parent or child. Equally, a parent or carer may request that the child be returned to their care ahead of the Care Plan, or where the concerns still exist.

Some children will cease to be looked after through a Child Arrangements Order, Special Guardianship Order or Adoption. These children are entitled to support in their school or early years setting through the school's Designated Teacher who would develop a plan that promotes and monitors their educational attainment. The Virtual School is able to provide advice and guidance where required. It is important to note that such support is provided at the request of/with the agreement of those with parental responsibility.

2. Children Subject of Legal Orders

Children and young people may be looked after as the result of a legal provision including remands, Police Protection, Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Orders and Care Orders.

In all cases, discharge should be carefully planned following assessment of the child's needs, any outstanding risks and the capacity /suitability of the situation they are to move to.

Police Protection and Emergency Protection Orders may be allowed to elapse if there are no outstanding safeguarding concerns warranting further action.

A child who is the subject of an Interim Care Order might return home during proceedings with the agreement or direction of the court, usually with some expectations or requirements linked to the ongoing proceedings.

Children who are on Care Orders may be adopted, or leave care through a Special Guardianship Order or a Child Arrangements Order. If there is a plan for them to return to the care of a parent (or someone who previously had parental responsibility) this would follow the requirements of the Placement with Parents Procedure.

3. Children Accommodated under Section 20

Where a child has been Accommodated for 20 working days or more, the local authority must carefully consider a request for the child to be discharged from care to ensure they remain safe and that their welfare continues to be promoted. That said, there must be no delay in responding to a parent's request for discharge.

Ceasing to Look After a child will normally be part of the Care Plan that will fully consider these issues.

3.1 Assessment

At the point at which a child becomes Looked After, there will normally be in place an assessment and a range of multi-agency information about the child and the family which will include an understanding of the child and family's needs, wishes and wants, together with an appreciation of their respective abilities to work with support services in a positive and constructive way.

Where the plan is for a child to return to the care of their family, there must be robust planning and decision making to ensure the decision is in the best interests of the child and will safeguard and promote their welfare.

When considering ceasing looking after a child, the social worker must assess:

  • The suitability of the child's proposed accommodation and maintenance when they cease to be looked-after;
  • What services and support the child might need and who they might contact for support;
  • Where the child is returning home, what services and support the parent might need and who they might contact for support. Normally, a Family (CIN) Plan would be formulated at this point to ensure coordinated support.
  • The child's wishes and feelings about the proposed plan for their care (having regard to their age and understanding), and consider them; 
  • The wider context of the family and environmental factors.

3.2 Ceasing to Look After a Child

Circumstances around ceasing, or discharging, a child from being Looked After will vary as much as the original reasons for Accommodating the child, but the discharge of the child from being Looked After should always be undertaken in a timely and planned way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child.

A prompt return to their parent or carer will usually be appropriate and welcomed, especially if the return is part of the child's Care Plan and made possible because of the assessment that has already been undertaken, together with the ongoing involvement of the practitioner.

Where a parent or carer requests the child be returned to their care outside of the Care Plan (if one has been established), the parent or carer should be asked to undertake the return in a planned or negotiated way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child, (e.g. contact arrangements to assist the return; individual counselling, etc), and to ensure appropriate support becomes available to them or the child. (Note: a lack of resources should not be a reason for delaying the child returning home).

However, when the local authority receives a request for the child to return home immediately, (under Section 20(8)) this must be responded to straight away. Any delay in so doing may bring severe criticism, and possible financial penalty, from a court.

Nevertheless, where a return to a parent/carer cannot be planned and also raises concern, either because of the reasons for Accommodation in the first place or because it does not adequately safeguard the child):

  • Careful consideration should be given as to whether the request puts the child at risk of immediate Significant Harm. If this is the case, then the procedure for seeking an Emergency Protection Order (or, where appropriate, Police Protection) should be invoked;
  • The view of the Head of Service / Social Care Lead for Disabled Children should be sought;
  • Where a review has been undertaken, the IRO's opinion should be sought;
  • A Working Agreement with the parent or carer should be sought;
  • Consider whether an urgent request and commissioning of a resource(s) or service for the child or parent /carer should be sought, for example, 'Relate' or drug/alcohol advisory services, etc;
  • Other partner agencies, such as Schools, Education Department and Health should be advised of the change of circumstances;
  • A Child in Need Planning Meeting should be promptly arranged.

    In all cases, once return is confirmed, the social worker must end the child's LAC status on ICS (complete SOC408).

Consideration should also be given to whether the situation requires the convening of an Initial or, if the child is already subject to a Child Protection Plan a Review, Child Protection Conference.

3.3 Decision Making

Where a child has been Looked After for 20 working days or more, the decision to cease looking after the child should not be put into effect until there has been a discussion with the Head of Service regarding the appropriateness of the child's return and they have come to a view on this. Where there are safeguarding concerns it will be important to consider whether legal action should be taken.

Where the child/young person is 16/17 years and has been Accommodated under Section 20, discharge should not normally take place until the appropriateness of the proposal has been considered by the Assistant Director of Children's Services.

In considering the situation, the Head of Service/ Assistant Director must be satisfied that:

  • The young person's wishes have been ascertained and considered;
  • The decision to cease to look after the child will safeguard and promote their welfare;
  • The support that the child and parent receive via the Children's Services Department and partner agencies will be effective in supporting the child being safeguarded and promote the child's wellbeing and best interests;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) has been informed.

The social worker must be clear, and record on ICS, whether the period of accommodation has made the young person 'eligible' for services under the Leaving Care Act 2000.

Note: An Eligible young person is someone aged 16 or 17 years who has been Looked After for a period, or periods, totalling 13 weeks or more which started after their 14th birthday (this does not include a series of pre-planned short-term placements of up to 4 weeks) and ended after they reached the age of 16 years with a return to a parent or person with parental responsibility.

An Eligible child (who becomes 'Relevant' once discharged) will have the status and entitlements of a 'care leaver'. As such, they will be able to receive ongoing support, advice and encouragement to maximise their potential and will benefit from having direct support from their Personal Adviser up to the age of 25 years where they are in Education and/or Training.

Where a young person is seeking to discharge themselves from care and live independently, the social worker must assess the degree to which the young person is able to live independently and their continuing need for support and accommodation. This should explicitly include consideration of their ability to manage their finances, maintain their accommodation/tenancy and any vulnerability to sexual or criminal exploitation or other safeguarding concerns. These must be addressed in the report/discussion with the Assistant Director regarding the appropriateness of discharge.

3.4 Planning

Where a child who is not already considered to be a Child In Need ceases to be Looked After, the child will normally become a Child In Need.

A Child In Need meeting should be convened wherever possible and appropriate, with relevant agencies, and a Plan drawn up which will promote the safeguarding, welfare and best interests of the child, with the objective of ensuring that the return to the parent or carer is successful.

The Plan should:

  • Take in to account the child's needs;
  • Take into account the child's views;
  • The parents' capacity to meet the needs of the child;
  • The existing family and support network;
  • The environmental/community factors – both positive and negative;
  • Acknowledge the child's changed legal status;
  • Establish other agencies roles and responsibilities with respect to the Plan.

The Child in Need Plan will be subject to review to ensure the Plan remains relevant, appropriate and required or whether it should be 'stepped down' to involve support through early help.

4. Looked After for Short Periods or Short Breaks

Where a child is Looked After for just a short period (i.e. fewer than 20 days), such as a planned short break or in a family crisis, it is not necessary for the Head of Service / Social Care Lead for Disabled Children to consider their return home. However, the social worker and their manager must still be satisfied that the plan, including their return home is appropriate and there will be situations where the child might be safeguarded through a Child Protection Plan (see S47 Child Protection Enquiries (Cambridgeshire SCB)), a Child In Need plan or require action to enable them to remain looked after.

4.1 Short Breaks

The process for ceasing to look after a child should also apply to Short Breaks (where the Child is considered to be Accommodated under s20), unless the Child is subject to Regulation 48 (1989 Act, The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010).

(See also The Children Act 1989, Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2015).

Here, the child will already be a Child in Need and Children's Services and partner agencies will have a considerable level of understanding with respect to the child and the parent or carers, usually with a good level of communication between the practitioners and the family/child.

Nevertheless, the social worker and team manager should always remain alert and sensitive to changes within the family's circumstances and be satisfied that the short breaks plan, including the return home is appropriate.

(See Short Breaks Procedure).

4.2 Relinquished Children

In particular, where children are relinquished at birth, and prior to placing a child in an adoptive placement, the child may be placed in a fostering placement under Section 20. In these circumstances, consent for the child to be placed for adoption and for an Adoption Order to be made can be withdrawn, and consent cannot be sought where the child is under 6 weeks of age, unless there is a Placement Order. (See Sections 18 – 20 Adoption and Children Act 2002).

Where a parent withdraws consent to adoption and the child is placed under Section 20, careful consideration should be given to:

  • The circumstances and reasons for the child being relinquished;
  • Any previous personal history of the parent or family;
  • The period of time elapsed between the child being relinquished and the parent's change of mind; and
  • The reasons for the parent's change of mind;
  • The level of contact / interest expressed by the parent during their separation;
  • Issues of bonding with the parent;
  • Their preparation for caring for the child;
  • Proposed caring environment / home circumstances and support available to the parent.

This list is not exhaustive and the information provided as part of the Accommodation and relinquishing procedure will be key in identifying whether safeguarding processes should be invoked.

The social worker and their line manager must consider whether a return would be in the long term interests of the child. Where the child has been Accommodated for more than 20 days, then the discussion with the Head of Service outlined in previous sections is required when considering the child's return to the parent's care. Due consideration be will be given to the decisions from any LAC Review in deciding whether protective action is required to prevent the child's removal.

If the child is to return home, the social worker and their line manager should determine whether the child should be considered as a Child In Need, but in any event there should be clear communication and liaison with GP and health visiting services in respect of the circumstances of the child.

5. Administration / Process Issues

As with all changing circumstances, the practitioner should:

  • Ensure the child is appropriately supported through the transitional phase, including any emotional support, ensuring belongings, mementos, information and other discussions with the parent or carer;
  • Ensure that the parent or carer is appropriately supported through the transitional phase, including their readiness to receive the child and that support services are arranged;
  • Ensure that suitable education or day care provision is available immediately with introductory arrangements as required;
  • Ensure that all partner agencies are made aware of the return and change of legal status of the child, particularly the school or nursery, the Health Visitor and GP and local services (re)engaged (Form SOC 408);
  • Where the placement has been out of Cambridgeshire, the Local Authority where the child was placed should be informed of the move;
  • Ensure that the Access to Resources Team is informed so that notice is given as soon as possible to any independent provider;
  • Inform the IRO;
  • Ensure that ICS is updated to amend the care and legal status and address details, etc.