Understanding Looked-After Children: Safeguarding and the Role of Designated Teachers

Sam Preston 10 April 2024 3 min read
Understanding Looked-After Children: Safeguarding and the Role of Designated Teachers  feature image

In the UK, a child who has been under the care of their local authority for more than 24 hours is considered a looked-after child. This term, sometimes interchanged with "children in care," encompasses thousands of vulnerable children across the UK who require special attention and support. Understanding the complexities and challenges of these children's lives is crucial to providing them with the support they need to thrive.

Looked-After Children

Looked-after children find themselves in care for various reasons, often stemming from experiences of abuse, neglect, or other forms of trauma. They may live with foster parents or relatives through kinship foster care or reside in residential children's homes or other settings. In Scotland, children under a supervision requirement order also fall under this category, receiving support whilst living at home. It's important to note that not all children under the care of someone other than their parents have official "child in care" status; some may be in private kinship care or under a special guardianship order.

As said, the reasons for a child entering care can vary significantly, ranging from concerns about safety and parental incapacity to abandonment or involvement in the criminal justice system. Whatever the circumstances, entering care marks a significant transition in a child's life, often accompanied by emotional upheaval and uncertainty.

Challenges for Looked-After Children

Looked-after children confront a multitude of challenges that necessitate specialised attention to safeguard their well-being. These vulnerable individuals are at an elevated risk of engaging in offending behaviour due to their life experiences and vulnerabilities, highlighting the importance of tailored support to address these underlying factors. Moreover, the emotional and psychological impacts of being separated from their birth families can significantly affect looked-after children, highlighting the need for sensitivity and support in managing feelings of loss and displacement.

In addition to these challenges, children in care may be vulnerable to institutional abuse within residential homes or other care settings, necessitating stringent measures to ensure their safety and protection from harm. Securing suitable and stable placements is paramount to their well-being, as the instability caused by frequent changes in placement or inconsistent caregivers can detrimentally impact their emotional and psychological development. Furthermore, the transition from care to adulthood poses significant challenges, emphasising the importance of comprehensive support to facilitate their transition into independent living and responsibilities.

Educational Challenges for Looked-After Children

Educationally, looked-after children often face barriers such as academic failure and exclusion, highlighting the need for targeted support to promote their academic success. Many of these children have experienced trauma, such as abuse or neglect, which can exacerbate their vulnerability to further harm. Addressing these past traumas through therapeutic interventions, such as trauma-informed practice, is crucial for their overall well-being and resilience.

Recognising Safeguarding Implications for Looked-After Children

Recognising and understanding these safeguarding implications is essential for creating a nurturing and stable environment that prioritises the emotional well-being and individual needs of looked-after children. Additionally, the profound impact of being looked after, coupled with the increased susceptibility to going missing, highlights the urgent need for comprehensive support and protection measures to mitigate risks and promote positive outcomes in various areas, including education, mental health, and physical well-being.

Supporting Looked-After Children

Supporting looked-after children requires a multifaceted approach to addressing their needs and circumstances. Our duty of care must include early intervention and timely decision-making, critical in providing children with the necessary support and protection.

Efforts to support children on the edge of care aim to improve decision-making processes and provide comprehensive support to families. This involves enhancing multi-agency collaboration, improving practitioner training, and ensuring stability for children and young people throughout their care journey.

For children leaving care, transitioning to independence can be daunting. Legislation across the UK mandates support for care leavers until at least the age of 21, with provisions for personal advisers, accommodation, and other essential services. Reunification frameworks and strategies are also in place to facilitate safe returns to family settings when appropriate.

The Role of Designated Teachers for Looked-After Children

In England, the role of the Designated Teacher for Looked-after Children holds significant importance in ensuring the educational needs of children in care are adequately met. This concept, introduced as part of the Children Act 1989 and reinforced by subsequent legislation and guidance, plays a vital role in supporting the educational welfare of looked-after children.

Designated teachers are typically appointed within schools to champion the educational welfare of looked-after children. Their primary responsibility is to act as a central point of contact within the school for matters related to looked-after children and to liaise effectively with social workers, carers, and other relevant professionals to ensure holistic support for the child's education.

The key responsibilities of designated teachers include:

Advocacy and Support:
Designated teachers advocate for the educational needs of looked-after children within the school environment, ensuring that their voices are heard, and their concerns are addressed appropriately. This may involve providing additional support, resources, or accommodations to help the child thrive academically.
Monitoring Progress:
Designated teachers closely monitor the academic progress and attainment of looked-after children, tracking attendance, behaviour, and achievement levels to identify any areas where additional support may be required.
Individualised Support Plans:
Collaborating with other professionals, designated teachers to help develop and implement Individual Education Plans (IEPs) or Personal Education Plans (PEPs) tailored to the specific needs of each looked-after child. These plans outline targets, interventions, and support strategies to promote educational success.
Training and Awareness:
Designated teachers undergo specialised training, usually provided by the Virtual School within their local authority, to better understand the unique challenges looked-after children face and develop strategies to support them effectively. They also work to raise awareness among school staff about the needs of this vulnerable group and promote a culture of inclusivity and understanding.
Transition Support:
Designated teachers facilitate smooth transitions for looked-after children, whether it's transitioning between schools, key stages, or into adulthood. They ensure that relevant information is shared with receiving schools or institutions and that appropriate support mechanisms are in place to ease the transition process.
Partnership Working:
Designated teachers collaborate with social workers, virtual school heads, foster carers, and other professionals involved in the care and support of looked-after children. Regular communication and joint planning ensure a coordinated approach to meeting the child's educational and holistic needs.
Data Management and Reporting:
Designated teachers maintain accurate records of looked-after children within the school's systems, ensuring that relevant information is kept confidential but easily accessible to authorised personnel. They also contribute to statutory reporting requirements, such as the Annual Report to the Virtual School Head.

Designated teachers play a pivotal role in ensuring that looked-after children receive the support, guidance, and opportunities they need to achieve their full potential academically and beyond. Their dedication to promoting educational inclusion and equality helps break down barriers and empower vulnerable children to succeed in education and life.

In conclusion, understanding the nuances of care arrangements and the challenges looked-after children face is essential for developing effective support systems. By prioritising the well-being and needs of these vulnerable individuals, we can work towards ensuring that every child in care has the opportunity to thrive and reach their full potential.

Sam Preston

SSS Learning Safeguarding Director

Related Training Courses and Products by SSS Learning