John Lewis Christmas advert - Children in care
John Lewis released it’s highly anticipated 2022 Christmas advert on 10th November. The British Department store used it’s iconic Christmas advertisement campaign to shine light on the care system.
This Christmas advert has sparked conversation nationally about children in care.
A looked after child
A looked after child is a child who is in in the care of the Local Authority, as defined under section 22(1) of the Children Act 1989. These are children subject to a care order, an emergency protection order, police protection or a child accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. A looked after child is also child who has been provided with accommodation by the Local Authority for over a 24-hour period.
Looked after children are often referred to as children in care.
There are a number of reasons why children become looked after by the Local Authority.
• The child’s birth parents consent to it;
• The child could be an unaccompanied asylum seeker; or
• Children's Social Care services may intervene because they felt the child was at significant risk of harm.
The Local authority have a duty to the looked after children under section 22(3) of the Children Act 1989. They have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child and to make such use of services available for children cared for by their own parents as appears to the authority reasonable in the child’s case.
In 2021, there were 80,850 looked after children in England. This increased by 2% in 2022, where there were 82,170 looked after children in England.
A child stops being a looked after child once they are adopted, become subject to a Special Guardianship Order, return home to their birth parents or turn 18.
What is adoption?
To be adopted, a child must be under the age of 18 when the adoption application is made and not be (or never been) married or in a civil partnership.
In most circumstances, the child’s birth parents will have to consent for the adoption to take place. However, consent from the birth parents is not necessary when the birth parents cannot be found, the birth parents are incapable of giving consent or if the child is at risk if they were not to be adopted.
The child’s welfare is the court’s overriding consideration when exercising their powers. The court also consider section 1(4) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This section states that the court or adoption agency must have regard to, but is not limited to, the following:
(a) The child’s ascertainable wishes and feelings,
(b) The child’s needs,
(c) The likely effect on the child (throughout their life) of having ceased to be a member of the original family and become an adopted person,
(d) The child’s age, sex, background or any other characteristics,
(e) Any harm which the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering,
(f) The relationship the child has with relatives, with any person who is a prospective adopter, and with any other relevant relationship with the child
Following the creation of an adoption order, the adoptive parents are given full parental responsibility. An adoption order therefore removes parental responsibilities from the birth parents.
English Local Authorities saw a decrease of 18% in adoption in 2021 from the previous year. This meant that only 2,870 looked after children were adopted. The decrease in adoption was likely caused by the impact of Covid-19. On a positive note, there was a slight increase of 2% in the number of looked after children adopted in 2022. In this year, 2,950 children were adopted in England.
What is a Special Guardianship Order?
A Special guardianship Order can be made by the court where a looked after child cannot live with the birth parents and adoption is not suitable for the child. This is a formal court order and is usually granted to grandparents, close relatives, foster carers or family friends to secure a child’s living arrangements with them.
Before the Order is granted, grandparents, close relatives, foster carers or family friends must let the Local Authority know their intentions and then apply to the court. The court will determine if an order is in the best interests of the child informed by a report from the Local Authority (Special Guardianship Assessment).
Under a Special Guardianship Order, the applicant is responsible for looking after the child until they are 18 years old. As a result of the Order, the applicant person will be given parental responsibility.
A Special Guardianship Order differs to adoption as it does not remove parental responsibility from the child’s birth parents. This means that the person(s) under a Special Guardianship Order will need to consult with and may need consent from the birth parents before making some important decisions about the child for example changing the child’s surname, taking the child abroad for a period longer than 3 months or placing the child for adoption.
In 2022, there was an increase in the number of looked after children leaving care under a Special Guardianship Order. This increased by 1% from 2021. England therefore saw 3,870 looked after children leave care as the subject of a Special guardianship Order. During this period, 87% of Special Guardianship Orders were granted to relatives or friends of the child and 11% to former foster carers of the child.
We offer legal advice to parents and family members involved in care proceedings with the local authority. Should you require any assistance, please contact our Child Care Team on 01935 424581.