Who is a looked after child?

Children can be taken into care or supported by local authorities based on different sections of the Children Act 1989. The section that they are looked after or supported under influences the rules that apply and the entitlements that they have.

 A child is looked after by a local authority if he or she is:

  • in their care by reason of a care order (under Section 31);
  • being provided with accommodation (under section 20) for more than 24 hours, with the agreement of their parents, or if s/he is aged 16 or over;
  • placed away from home under an emergency protection order, where they are accommodated by or on behalf of the local authority;
  • in remand to local authority accommodation or under supervision with a residence requirement requiring them to live in local authority accommodation;
  • in police protection or arrested and at the police’s request accommodated by the local authority (section 21 of the 1989 Act).

Accommodating homeless 16 and 17 year olds

There has historically been some confusion about whether homeless 16 and 17 year olds should be housed and supported by housing departments or looked after by children’s services.

A number of legal judgments over recent years, most notably G vs Southwark in 2009, have restated and clarified the established legal position that the duty under section 20 of the Children Act 1989  takes precedence over the duties in the Housing Act 1996  in providing for children in need who require accommodation.

Want to find out more?

Read more about the case law and how local authorities should respond to it in the CLG and DCSF statutory guidance and NCAS and Shelter’s briefings in the related documents section.