Coming into care

The children's guide to being in care


Hi there,

We are a group of children and young people from the Children in Care Council. We have all like you, come into care, either when we were really young or as a teenager.

Coming into care is very scary and lonely at first and you may be wondering what is happening to you, who you can talk to and who you can trust. But everything is going to be ok and things will get better. You have come into care to make sure you are well looked after, to make sure you are happy, healthy and safe.

Our group have put together a guide to help you and others like you understand everything that is happening. It will tell you what it's like to be in care, the people who are there to support you, what to expect and how to cope with the good and the bad.

It is hard to adjust to living somewhere new, understanding the new rules and who the people are that you are living with. But don't forget everyone wants to help you and they do want to listen to what you are feeling, thinking and what you want for your future.

We hope this guide supports and guides you through what is happening.

From the people who understand."


​If you are a child or young person in need, social services will help to make sure you are looked after properly. Usually, this means helping you while you live with your parents but sometimes this is not enough and so social services will feel you should live somewhere else.

The actual decision for a child to come into care is usually made by the courts but sometimes it is an agreement between parents and social services. Being in care is also called being 'looked after' because you are legally being looked after by your local authority.

Children and young people come into care for different reasons. For example:

  • because your family found it difficult to cope
  • you were at risk of some sort of harm
  • you have become separated from your family
  • your family are unwell

It can be a combination of reasons and your Social Worker should explain to you why you are in care. There are different types of care - see 'Where will I live?'.

Where you live will depend on what is right for you and the type of care on you are in. These are the main types of care.

  • Foster care. This means you live in a normal home with a specially trained person called a foster carer. They might have children already and they will look after you like a member of their own family. Foster care can last a short time while plans about your future are being made, or it can be for longer. In some situations, children stay with a foster carer just for one night while a more suitable place is arranged.
  • Residential home. Also called a children's home, this is a large house where several children can stay. There will be staff there all the time who work in shifts and are trained to make sure you are looked after properly. You will have a keyworker who can answer your questions and help you with any problems.
  • Kinship care. This is where you live with someone who already knows you, like a relative or a friend. Depending on the circumstances, they might have training to make sure you are looked after properly.
  • Respite care. This means that you go to a residential home or foster care only for a set amount of time on a regular basis, for example two nights every month.
  • Residential school. This is a school where you stay overnight, but on the holidays and weekends you go to a carer or your family.
  • Remand. If you have been arrested and are on remand awaiting trial, then you are legally 'in care' and will get the same support as any other young person in care. While on remand you could be in a foster home or in custody.

Note that sometimes young people are detained in a hospital without their agreement because they need urgent mental health treatment. This does not automatically mean they are in care.

​A safe and loving family home is the best place for any child to grow up in. Sometimes however a lot needs to happen before it is right for you to go back to your own family. We will work hard to enable you to live with your family and if you can't live with your parents then social workers will look at whether you can live with friends or other family.

Some young people in care go back to their family very quickly, some take longer and others stay in foster care until they are an adult. It might seem unfair and like you are being punished, but remember that it is not your fault and that you deserve to have a safe and happy childhood.

​Every young person's situation is different, and the amount of contact you have with your family is totally dependent on your circumstances. Contact arrangements are decided by your Social Worker or the courts and they must take into account your wishes when making these arrangements. You might feel desperate to see your parents, siblings, pets or anyone else who is special to you. You might not want to see your family, and it's okay to feel that way.

Social services should do all they can to make sure contact happens, but it has to be safe and right for you. Your views and wishes will be listened to when arrangements for contact are made. If you are unhappy with the arrangements, speak to your Social Worker, IRO, Advocate or another adult you trust.

Living in foster care or a residential home might feel very strange at first. The way your Foster Carer or Keyworker does things might be different from what you are used to - they might eat different foods and watch different TV programmes. They should however talk to you to help you settle in and tell you what you need to know. Here are some of the things that it might be useful to know about:

  • Rules: if you are in foster care or a residential home there will be rules that you need to follow. These will be around things like being respectful, going to bed on time or helping around the house. Boundaries might include things like not being allowed to go out, extra chores or fixing things you may have broken. Rules and boundaries might feel unfair at times, but in the long run they will help you know what is expected of you, develop skills for later life and feel safe and secure.
  • Pocket money: Depending on your age, you will get some pocket money each week. Some extra money might be available to make sure you can still do the things you like, such as go to football practice.
  • Clothes: Your carers have money for buying clothes for you, but you should have a say in what clothes they buy.
  • Privacy: You have the right to use a phone to contact your Social Worker, IRO or Advocate. You should have your own room, although young children might share, and a safe place to keep your stuff. Your carers and the adults working with you must not share information about you with anyone who doesn't need to know.

​When you come into care your Social Worker will try to make sure that you stay in the same school. Sometimes however this is not possible, because for example you have moved too far away. If you have been moved to a different school and do not know why, ask your Social Worker, carer or Keyworker and they will explain it to you. Your carers will help make sure you have everything you need for school and can get there every day. They should also support you by having a quiet place where you can do your homework.

All schools must have a Designated Teacher who is trained to understand the needs of children in care and are there to make sure there's nothing in the way of you getting the education you need. There is also a team in the council called the Virtual School. They work with schools, children and young people, Social Workers and carers to give any support, advice and guidance around your education.

Working together, your Social Worker, carer, Designated Teacher, the Virtual School and you will put together a Personal Education Plan (PEP) which sets out everything you need, to help you do as well as possible with your learning. There will be a PEP meeting each term which you are invited to attend.

​Children and young people in care get special help with their health because if you have had problems at home or have moved around a lot, some of your health needs may not have been met. For example you may have missed important vaccinations, not have been to a dentist for a while or missed talks about sexual education at school. It is important that you know that there are people who you can talk to about any health concerns you may have. They will treat you with respect and not embarrass you.

When you first come into care you will have an Initial Health Assessment, carried out by a doctor or specially trained nurse. It might involve listening to your chest but it won't involve any intimate examinations. There will be a Health Plan which sets out any actions needed to make sure your health needs are met. You will then have a Review Health Assessment once a year.

A Social Worker is a professional trained to help children and their families when they are going through difficulties. Every child and young person in care has a Social Worker until they are 18 years old or leave care. Some of the things they do for you are:

  • Listen to you: they have a mobile phone just for their work and should give you the number.
  • Explain things to you so you understand what's going on.
  • Talk to other professionals to make sure everybody is working together for you.
  • Make sure you have contact with your family and friends, as long as it's safe.
  • Visit you regularly and make sure that you have everything you need.
  • Create your Care Plan, which sets out in writing everything you need and plans for your future.
  • Keep records about what happens in your life.

​An Advocate helps children and young people express their wishes and feelings so they have a say in what happens in their life. Unlike a Social Worker, an Advocate doesn't make the important decisions about you, like where you will live and go to school. They are just there to listen to you and help get your point of view across to other people. They can be particularly useful by going to meetings with you and speaking on your behalf. An Advocate will support you if you want to make a complaint. You can have an Advocate for as long as you supported by the leaving care team.

An Independent Visitor is a volunteer who will spend time with just you on regular basis. They are someone that you can talk to, get along with and ask for advice. You could even ask your Independent Visitor to support you in your meetings. Before you start to see your Independent Visitor, we will make sure they are good, safe people. We try to find someone who has lots in common with you such as hobbies and interests. All young people in care have the right to an Independent Visitor. You can have an Independent Visitor up to the age of 21.

You can contact us to ask for an Advocate or an Independent Visitor or ask a professional or carer to help you.

Children and young people in care will come into contact with a lot of professional people including:

  • Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). Every looked after child or young person will have an Independent Reviewing Officer. They will talk to everyone involved in supporting you to make sure that good progress is being made with your Care Plan and that you are safe and well cared for. They set up your review meetings and make sure you can get involved in them (see section below). They are called 'independent' because they are not part of your Social Worker's team. This means they can work from the outside to make sure all the professionals are doing what they are supposed to, for you.
  • Keyworker. The Keyworker is a member of staff at a children's home who will help you settle in, help with any problems and answer any questions you have.
  • Participation Worker. These work in the Participation Team in the council. They offer advice and activities for children in care and those leaving care. They run the Children in Care Council and the Care Leavers Council.
  • Personal Adviser (PA). When you are around 16 years old, you will get a Personal Adviser. They are there to help you as you become an adult and more able to look after yourself. They will be there for you at least until you are 21, or 25 if you still need them. You will have a social worker until you are 18, so for a while there will be a crossover where you have both. There is a lot of support you will get as a young person who is leaving care and this is set out in our separate guide.
  • Supervising Social Worker. This is your foster carer's Social Worker. They help make sure your carer has everything they need to look after you properly.
  • Virtual School Education Officer. This is the person who works with your school and social worker to monitor your education. They will help your school to put things in to place to support you to make progress with your learning.

Every child and young person has a review meeting which is run by your Independent Reviewing Officer. The meetings are very important as they are there to make sure that you have everything you need and that your Care Plan is correct. After all, you change as you grow older and your Care Plan will need to change with you.

  • How often do reviews happen? The first one happens within 20 days of you coming into care. Then there is one within 3 months after that, then every six months. They can be more often if needed.
  • Where do they take place? Your Social Worker will organise a venue for the review to take place and they will let you know where it is. You can tell your IRO or Social Worker where you would like it or where you would rather avoid, and they will do their best to meet your wishes.
  • Who will be there? The Independent Reviewing Officer and Social Worker will be there, along with other adults who are important in your life. This will include for example your parents and carers, someone from your school, and a doctor or nurse.
  • What does the meeting cover? Things like your education, your health, and leisure activities, seeing your family and friends, plans for your future and how you are feeling.
  • Can I take part? Yes, this is your review and you have the right to attend and take part. It's really important and useful for the Independent Reviewing Officer to know how you are feeling and what you want to happen in future. There are lots of different ways to take part. You can attend and speak for yourself, or an Advocate or Independent Visitor could come with you, or you could send a text to your IRO, it's up to you. If you like, you can just attend a part of the meeting.

There are many reports created when you are in care. It may seem like an awful lot, but they help the different professionals to know what you need, what decisions have been made for you and how you are feeling.

The professionals in your life will only share information about you with other people when it is necessary, and they will only share the details that are relevant. Similarly, you won't get to know details about other people if you don't need to know it, so you might receive partial rather than full reports sometimes. The council takes these issues extremely seriously.

  • Care Plan. This is an important plan which sets out what your individual needs are and how they will be met, and the plans for your future. Your Social Worker is responsible for making sure your Care Plan is right and gets done.
  • Health Plan. Every child and young person coming into care has an Initial Health Assessment when they first come into care, and then a further assessment every year. The Assessment is carried out by a doctor or nurse and is there to find out if you have any health issues and make sure they are dealt with. Any actions needed are set out in the Health Plan.
  • Health Passport. When you are around 18 years old, you will be given a Health Passport to help you have a good understanding of your health needs and history. It is a document showing things like illnesses you had as a child, what vaccinations you have had, and any issues such as allergies. It will be useful when you are registering with a doctor's surgery. 
  • Pathway Plan. This is different from your Care Plan because it is only created when you are around 16 years old, and it looks at your future in much more detail. It will change as your needs and wishes change. It will include things like where you are going to live, details about the people who will help you, and how you can access work, training or education. It will include a backup plan in case things don't work out as expected.
  • Personal Education Plan (PEP). This sets out everything that needs to happen in order for you to do as well as you can in your education. You will have the chance to contribute to the plan. Part of the Virtual School's role is to make sure that all PEPs are of a good standard.
  • Child and Family Assessment. This is a report completed by your Social Worker before your Review Meeting. It looks at your needs and circumstances and is used by the adults working with you to create your Care Plan. Your views are an important part of the assessment.
  • IRO Summary and Report / LAC Review Decisions and Recommendations. These reports are records of what happens at your Review Meeting. If you have shared your views with the meeting then they will be recorded here and you can have a copy sent to you.

​Yes, there are two main groups which meet regularly for young people in care or leaving care. They have a big impact on shaping the services for all young people in care and they are a lot of fun.

  • The Children in Care Council is a group for young people between 12 and 16 who are in care.
  • The Care Leavers Council is the group for young people aged 16 to 25 who are entering adulthood.
  • The Virtual School Participation Programme is a range of fun activities that take place during the school holidays.

There are other groups you could join that are not just for children in care such as:

  • Shooting Stars. Shooting Stars is a group of young people from Northamptonshire between the ages of 13 to 25 years that have SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities). It meets monthly.
  • Northampton Youth Forum which elects representatives to speak on behalf of young people in Northampton.
  • Young Healthwatch for young people who would like to make a difference for young people in health and social care.

If you would like to know more about any of these groups, see our 'Get involved' page.

​Being in care is not always easy. There will be a lot of adults trying to help you, but even then things can go wrong. You might feel that you are not being listened to or involved in decisions, or you are confused about what is going on, or that you are not allowed to see your family or friends.

You can get help with any of your problems by speaking to your:

  • Social Worker
  • Foster Carer
  • Personal Adviser
  • IRO.
  • Teacher
  • Advocate
  • Independent Visitor

If you are still not happy you can make a complaint. Your Social Worker, Personal Adviser or Advocate can help you do so. We will take your complaint seriously and will do our very best to be fair, to respond to you properly and learn from our mistakes. You can see the details about how to make a complaint.

Children's Rights Team - supporting you

The Children's Rights Team make sure you receive help and advice, can attend meetings with you, or help you get legal advice and support. 

Contact Children's Rights

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