New to care?


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What does it mean being in care?

Being looked after is also called 'being in care'. There are lots of reasons why children are looked after or in care. This may be for a short while or until you are an adult. Everyone's situation is different so if you don't know why you're in care, speak to your social worker who will try very hard to explain.

Even though the local authority cares for you, your parents are still responsible for you, but they now share those responsibilities with the local authority. You may be looked after because your parents have agreed the local authority can care for you or a family court has said that you need to be looked after.

While in care, where you live will depend on your individual situation and what's happening in your life. You may be in:

  • Foster care
  • Living with a family member or a friend of the family
  • A children's home (sometimes called Children's Residential Unit)
  • Secure accommodation

If there is anything else you need to know about being in care/looked after, talk to your social worker.

Who will I meet and what do they do?

Social worker

Your social worker’s job is to make sure that whilst you are in care, you are safe and well. They need to work with you, your parents and all the other adults in your life, such as your carers, teachers and doctors to make sure that your needs are being met in all areas, for example school, contact, health and if not, try to address what can be done to make things better.

A social worker also needs to find out about your wishes and feelings and will try to include you wherever possible. To do this, they will need to meet with you regularly.

IRO (Independent Reviewing Officer)

An IRO holds a meeting (Looked after Child’s Statutory Review) every 5 to 6 months to review your Care Plan. The people who are involved in your life come to the meeting, and talk about how things have been for you.

We talk about things that are going well and also any problems you may be experiencing and what can be done to help you.

They also make recommendations of things that have to be done before the next review, for example have a meeting about contact, give you help with starting a new school.

The IRO will also check that the recommendations from the last review meeting have been carried out.

In between these meetings, the IRO needs to be kept up-to-date of any big changes in your life by the Social Worker and can be contacted by phone or email.

LAC nurse, or school nurse, or school health advisor

When you are in care or looked after, you need to have an annual (yearly) health assessment to make sure you are fit and well and that all your needs around your health are being met.

The nurse will carry out this assessment, which is usually an appointment at school or your home.

You can also talk to them about any problems you may have or things you need. You can talk to them in school or tell your foster carer or social worker that you need an appointment.

Foster carer or residential care worker

These are the people who look after you day-to-day and who you live with, in your home. They will also come to attend meetings with you or on your behalf.

Family placement social worker

A child has a social worker and foster carers also have a social worker. Both workers visit foster carers regularly to talk to them about how things are going and help them with any problems or issues they may have.

Other people you may meet

Staff from Virtual School

If you are having any problems in school or need some extra help, you might meet someone from the Virtual School who can help you.

IV (independent visitor)

This is someone who is not a social worker or from school, it is someone who is independent and can offer you support and be there for you. They are volunteers who are carefully vetted and trained to offer young people opportunities to go out for social events and have fun.

Social Work Support Officers

These are the people who may be involved in helping arrange contact with your family. They may also assist by transporting you to these contacts.

How will decisions be made and when will I know?

It is expected that day to day decisions about you will be made by your foster carer. These are decisions such as daily routines, bedtimes and what activities are being planned for you. They will try to involve you as much as possible.

If you live in a residential unit, these decisions would be made by the team of carers there or someone called your keyworker. Keyworkers are part of the residential staff team, but they have particular responsibility for you.

Sometimes the big decisions have to be made in court. This might be when social workers believe it is not safe for you to remain at home and they ask the judge to make a care order. The judge appoints a Children’s Guardian to look into your case and everyone involved then completes reports to decide where you will live, long term.

Every child who is looked after will have an IRO who will chair the review meetings every 5 months. The IRO will meet with you before the review to get your views. (See related webpage.)

Your social worker will update you on any changes to your care plan as soon as possible after the changes.

Decisions will be made by chatting to people who know you for example your parents, social worker, teachers, but most importantly by chatting to you.

When will you know about decisions?

Some decisions can be made immediately such as how will I get to school? Can I stay at the same school? And your carers can often make these decisions.

Other decisions may take longer, such as will I go on holiday, school trips, when will I see my mum/dad, siblings? Can I live with my siblings?

Sometimes if the courts are involved, then decisions about you can take a few months and the judge may ask other people such as the guardian to help him to make the right decisions for you.

If you attend your review you will know immediately about some decisions made about you, others may take a little bit longer.

Who to contact

It can be difficult being in care. There are a lot of adults talking to you and about you. You might not understand everything that is going on and you might feel embarrassed to ask what things mean.

But don't worry, you can talk to your social worker when they visit you or you can contact them sooner by:

  • Telephone: at their office. If they are not there you can leave a message and they will ring or text you as soon as they can.
  • Email: All social workers have an email address and you can send an email at any time.
  • Mobile: All social workers have a mobile phone which you can ring on or send a text to.
  • Face to face: You can make an appointment to see your social worker in person at their office or at the place you live, they can also meet you at the park, or McDonalds, which ever suits you.
  • Letter: If you want to write to your social worker you can write to them at their work's address.
  • Duty social worker or manager: If it's not possible to speak to your social worker you can also talk to a duty social worker or the social worker's manager who will try very hard to help you.
  • Other adults: if you feel you don't want to speak to your social worker directly, you can pass on messages to other adults such as your teacher, carer, key worker etc who can talk to your social worker on your behalf.

Staying in touch

If you have just moved, you should be able to keep in contact with friends, family members and anyone else you are close to. However, sometimes this is not possible, or you may not be able to see them face to face, or on your own.

If this happens your social worker will explain why and may be able to speak to them on your behalf, and then give you their messages. There are many ways to stay in touch. You may be able to use your mobile to make a call or the internet. If you do not have access to any of these, you can always write a letter or send a card.

Your social worker, carer, new family or teacher will all be able to help you keep in touch with friends, family members and former carers. If it is not possible for you to keep in touch with people yourself, your social worker may be able to give you news of home, or explain why it is not possible to speak to them and what can be done.

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