Ceasing to Look After a Child


The Local Authority has a duty to ensure that when children have been accommodated under Section 20 (Children Act 1989) and are discharged from, or leave care that the discharge is in their best interests and that they will be safeguarded and their welfare will be promoted. This will also include young people who chose to leave care and where there is or likely to be a Leaving Care Entitlement.

Where a child or young person has been accommodated for 20 days or more, the decision should be made by a Nominated Officer, or Director of Children's Services. 

Were a young person chose to leave care, the Assistant Director must be fully informed of the reasons for the decisions and the agreed Care Plan when he/she ceased to be looked after. 


Leaving Care and Transition Procedure

Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Trafficking and Modern Slavery Procedure


The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers

The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000

Children and Young Persons Act 2008 and Care Leavers' (England) Regulations 2010

Working Together to Safeguard Children, Assessing need and providing help


Kent Safeguarding Children Multi-Agency Partnership (KSCMP), Children Missing from Home and Care Procedures


This chapter was updated in August 2022 to add a note regarding transferring a child’s belongings in appropriate luggage and includes a link to a link to NYAS, My Things Matter Report. (See Section 5, Administration / Process Issues).

1. Context

Children become Accommodated through Section 20 for many different reasons and are some of the most vulnerable children. Section 20 Accommodation can:

  • Offer children and families short term support as a result of disability (short term break);
  • Support a family in crisis, for example, as a result of health issues of the carer and where no other family or friend is available;
  • Be the first stage for a Relinquished Child – particularly a child under 6 weeks of age;
  • Be a means of safeguarding a child as a result of Child Protection Enquiries, enabling an assessment of risk and needs prior to more formal planning;
  • Ensure appropriate care to a child who presents as 'abandoned';
  • Be a way of managing a child where there are concerns of Significant Harm as a result of appearing to be 'beyond parental control';
  • Offer the level of support and care required to an unaccompanied young person from abroad. (See Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Trafficking and Modern Slavery Procedure);
  • Offer support and care to 16 and 17 year old young people who have been assessed as child in need and in need of accommodation due to homelessness (Southwark Judgement).

When a child is Accommodated, (and it is not part of a planned Short Break), timescales should be established at the outset for the length of time the Accommodation is considered to be required, together with a plan for the child returning home. This should be in line with Kent's permanency planning procedures in order to avoid drift.

The first Looked After Review should take place within 20 working days and will be key to evaluating the risk, or likelihood of risk, of any Significant Harm; the needs of the child; further detailed multi-agency work required to support to the child and family, together with the timescales for these. This chapter was extensively updated in September 2016 and should be read throughout.

There can sometimes be concern about delay because of issues in working with either the parent or child. Equally, a parent or carer may request that the child be returned to their care ahead of the Care Plan, or where the concerns still exist. (See Section 2.3. Circumstances Around Ceasing to Look After a Child).

2. Children Accommodated under Section 20

Where a child has been accommodated for 20 working days or more, the Local Authority must carefully consider a request for the child to be discharged from care to ensure they remain safe and that their welfare continues to be promoted as outlined in the KCC Permanency Planning Guidance, and Permanency Planning Meeting.

It is expected that a Permanency Planning Meeting is organised at the earliest opportunity. For planned entrance into care this should be held within 7 days. For emergency placements, a Permanency Planning Meeting should be held within 20 working days, (by the first review), to ensure that there is a clear timeframe and decision making process for the child to either remain in care or to return home.

Ceasing to Look After a child will normally be part of the Care Plan that will fully consider these issues.

2.1 Assessment

As a result of Accommodating the child, in most cases there will already be an Assessment and a range of multi-agency information about the child and the family which will include an understanding of the child and family's needs, wishes and wants, together with an appreciation of their respective abilities to work with support services in a positive and constructive way.

Where the plan is for a child to return to the care of their family when they cease to be looked-after, there should be a robust planning and decision-making process to ensure the decision is in the best interests of the child and will safeguard and promote their welfare.

In making the decision to cease looking after a child, the Authority must assess:

  • The suitability of the child's proposed accommodation and maintenance when he/she ceases to be looked-after; and
  • What services and support the child might need and who they might contact for support;
  • Where the child is returning home, what services and support the parent might need and who they might contact for support;
  • The Local Authority must also ascertain the child's wishes and feelings about the proposed plan for their care (having regard to their age and understanding), and consider them; 
  • Consideration must also be given to the wider context of the family and environmental factors.

2.2 Decision Making

Where a child has been Looked After for 20 working days or more, the decision to cease looking after the child should not be put into effect until it has been approved by the Nominated Officer or the Assistant Director.

Where the child/young person is 16/17 years and has been accommodated under Section 20 or Section 31, discharge from care should not take place until the decision has been approved by the Director of Children's Services. (See Section 3, Care Leaver Status).

In making the decision, the area Assistant Director of Children's Services must be satisfied that a thorough assessment has been completed which confirms:

  • The young person's wishes have been ascertained and considered;
  • The decision to cease to look after the child will safeguard and promote their welfare;
  • The support that the child and parent receive via the Children's Services Department and partner agencies will be effective in supporting the child being safeguarded and promote the child's well being and best interests;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) has been informed.

2.3 Circumstances Around Ceasing to Look After a Child

Circumstances around ceasing, or discharging, a child from being Looked After will vary as much as the original reasons for Accommodating the child, but the discharge of the child from being Looked After should always be undertaken in a timely and planned way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child.

A prompt return to their parent or carer will invariably be appropriate and welcomed, especially if the return is part of the child's Care Plan and made possible because of the assessment that has already been undertaken, together with the ongoing involvement of the practitioner.

Where a parent or carer requests the child be returned to their care outside of the Care Plan (if one has been established), the parent or carer should be asked to undertake the return in a planned or negotiated way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child, (e.g. Family Time (contact) arrangements to assist the return; individual counselling, etc), and to ensure appropriate support becomes available to them or the child. (Note: a lack of resources should not be a reason for delaying the child returning home).

However, when the local authority receives a request for the child to return home immediately, (under Section 20(8). It is the duty of the local authority to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to ensure a safe plan is place to return the child home without due delay to avoid a breach of the parents or the child's human rights. (s20 J Mumby, Re: N).

Nevertheless, where a return to a parent/carer cannot be planned and also raises concern, (either because of the circumstances surrounding the reasons for Accommodation in the first place or because it does not take into account the safeguarding and the welfare of the child), in these circumstances:

  • Careful consideration should be given as to whether the request puts the child at risk of immediate Significant Harm. If this is the case, then the procedure for seeking an Emergency Protection Order (or, where appropriate, Police Protection) should be invoked;
  • The Nominated Manager's view should be sought;
  • Where a review has been undertaken, the IRO's opinion should be sought;
  • A Working Agreement with the parent or carer should be sought;
  • Consider whether the case or child should be stepped down to Early Help or commissioned services;
  • Other partner agencies, such as Schools, Education Department and Health should be advised of the change of circumstances;
  • A Child in Need Planning Meeting should be promptly arranged.

Consideration may also be given as to whether the parent / carer's actions require the convening of an Initial or, (if the child is already subject to a Child Protection Plan), a Review Child Protection Conference (if the Child Protection Plan does not give such guidance).

2.4 Planning

Where a child who is not already considered to be a Child In Need but ceases to be Looked After, the child will become a Child In Need, (see Child in Need Plans and Meetings Policy).

A Child In Need meeting should be convened wherever possible and appropriate, with relevant agencies, and a Plan drawn up which will promote the safeguarding, welfare and best interests of the child, with the objective of ensuring that the return to the parent or carer is successful.

The Plan should:

  • Take in to account the child's needs;
  • Take into account the child's views;
  • The parents' capacity to meet the needs of the child;
  • The existing family and support network;
  • The environmental/community factors – both positive and negative;
  • Acknowledge the child's changed legal status;
  • Establish other agencies roles and responsibilities with respect to the Plan.

The Child in Need Plan should be subject to Review (see Child In Need Plans and Meetings Policy, Review CIN Planning Meetings) to ensure the Plan remains relevant, appropriate and required or whether it should be 'stepped down' to a CAF Plan.

3. Care Leaver Status

Young people aged 16/17 who is or who have been in care, are entitled to various degrees of support depending on their care leaving status: See also Leaving Care and Transition Procedure.

The different definitions are outlined below:

Eligible Children 

  • These are Young people aged 16 and 17 years of age who have been looked after for at least 13 weeks (with at least one episode of care lasting more than 4 weeks) since the age of 14 years and who continue to be looked after for at least 24 hours following their 16th birthday;
  • (Children or young people receiving a number of short term breaks, none longer than 4 weeks and who return to their parents or someone with parental responsibility, do not meet the criteria of an eligible child);
  • Time spent by a young person in a hospital or in custody immediately prior to being looked after does count as time looked after for the purposes of defining entitlement to services and support as a care leaver. These young people would become eligible if they met the 13 week requirement and, after discharge/release from hospital/custody, they become Relevant Children following their 16th birthday if under 18 years, and a former relevant child following their 18th birthday.

Relevant Children

Children and young people aged 16 and 17 years of age who met the criteria as an eligible child but ceased to be looked after prior to their 18th birthday. 

Qualifying Children and Young People over 16

This refers to young people between the ages of 16 and 21 who have been looked after for at least 24 hours following their 16th birthday and do not meet the 13 week criteria necessary to become an eligible or relevant child. 

Young people who have been privately fostered or were looked after immediately prior to becoming subject to a Special Guardianship Order also come under these criteria following their 16th birthday.

An eligible or relevant child who successfully returns home to their parents would revert to the care leaver status of a 'qualifying child/young person' if their return home was deemed permanent (usually determined as a minimum of 6 months):

  • If a young person was looked after following their 16th birthday for any period over 24 hours but less than a total of 3 months;
  • If a young person, since age 14 years has been looked after but has not been looked after for more than a month in any single period;
  • Young people who were eligible but returned home permanently, prior to 18th birthday;
  • Any young person who is subject to a Special Guardianship Order who was immediately prior to the making of the order looked after.

This status lasts until the young person's 21st birthday. Other than those in Higher Education (university) where there is an entitlement for the Local Authority to pay for their accommodation costs over the vacation periods, the level of support provided by the Local Authority is significantly less than it is for former relevant children. 

Former Relevant Children

Young people who are not children but rather young adults aged between 18 and 20 who met the criteria of an eligible and/or relevant child prior to their 18th birthday and who have subsequently reached 18 years of age.

The category extends up to a young person's 21st birthday or 25th birthday if they are disabled or engaged in Higher Education and (since April 2011) if after 21 they wish to pursue some form of Further Education. 

  • Relevant and Eligible young people are entitled to the same level of support from the local authority which includes:
  • A Personal Adviser;
  • A pathway plan;
  • A duty to stay in touch with the young person;
  • To provide the maintenance and accommodation costs of the care leaver up to their 18th birthday.

Assessment of Need

The Assessment of Need underpins the young person's current Care Plan as the starting point for developing the Pathway Plan. The Assessment of Need should take place not more than 3 months after the young person's 16th birthday or after s/he becomes eligible, if later than16 yrs. It should not require significant additional work if the young person is settled with an up to date Care Plan.

This Assessment of Needs must take into account the following:

  • The wishes and feelings of the young person;
  • His/her parents or other person with Parental Responsibility;
  • The young person's health (including his/her physical, emotional and mental health) and development;
  • The young person's continuing need for education, training or employment;
  • The support that will be offered by his/her parents, friends and that all other Connected Persons will be able to give;
  • The financial resources available to the young person, together with an assessment of his/her financial capability to manage their own finances;
  • The extent to which the young person possesses the practical and other skills s/he will need to manage more independent living;
  • The young person's need for continuing care, support and accommodation;
  • The view of the educational establishment the young person attends and, if he/she has an Education, Health and Care Plan, the views of the authority that maintains the Care Plan (if different);
  • The views of the IRO;
  • The views of the social worker/Personal Adviser;
  • The views of any person providing health care to the young person;
  • The views any other person the Local Authority or young person feel is relevant.

Where the young person is seeking to discharge him/herself from care and live independently, the social worker in addition should evaluate and consider, (including the information from above), the degree to which the young person is able to live independently and the need for their continuing need for support and accommodation.


Following the completion of the Assessment of Need, the social worker should complete the Pathway Plan as soon as possible. The Pathway Plan should detail:

  • Which services will be provided; who will provide these services;
  • What actions the social worker/Personal Adviser themselves need to undertake to secure such support;
  • Details of the support and involvement from family and other Connected Persons;
  • Timescales with regard to all of these.

It is more than a 'statement of intent, it is a living document'.

The Pathway Plan must include what outcomes are to be achieved be with regard to the young person. 

The Pathway Plan must specify the name of the social worker/Personal Adviser and detail the arrangements for visiting the young person. It should cover:

  • Details of the young person's accommodation when s/he ceases to be Looked After, and how this will be suitable in view of his/her assessed needs;
  • The plans and arrangements for the young person's continuing education and training;
  • What support the young person will require to enable him/her to develop and sustain appropriate family and social relationships;
  • How the young person will be supported to build and develop his/her independent living skills;
  • The financial support to be provided to enable the young person to meet accommodation and personal living costs;
  • How the Authority will assist the young person in obtaining employment or other purposeful activity when s/he ceases to be looked after, taking into account his/her aspirations, skills and educational potential;
  • The young person's financial capabilities and money management capacity, along with strategies to develop skills in this area;
  • How the young person's physical, emotional and mental health needs will be met.

The Pathway Plan should identify a Contingency Plan, (should the Pathway Plan not effectively meet the young person's needs).

The Pathway Plan must be reviewed:

  • When the young person requests; or
  • If the Personal Adviser considers it necessary; or
  • At least once every 6 months.

The Plan should be adjusted accordingly with the young person's achievements, needs and maturity.

Decision Making

Young people who chose to leave care and where there is or likely to be a Leaving Care Entitlement.

Where a young person has indicated his or her choice to leave care, the Area Assistant Director must be fully informed of the circumstances and plan before approval. The Area Assistant Director of Children's must be satisfied that:

  • There is an assessment of need (covering all the relevant areas); a Pathway Plan (detailing all the issues in Schedule 8 of the 2010 Regulations) agreed with young person and carers/parents;
  • The young person's wishes have been ascertained and considered and additionally; 
  • Those of the parents or anyone with parental responsibility;
  • The young person and their parents or those with parental responsibility are fully aware and informed by the social worker, in writing, of the impact of the young person's decision on their care leaver and/or leaving care status * That all available support options have been explored with the young person, should they decide to leave care (see Section 3, Care Leaving status);
  • Where the social worker believes that by choosing to leave care before their 18th birthday, the young person may adversely affect their entitlement to leaving care services or that their decision may place them at risk of harm; the social worker must communicate their concerns to the young person directly and follow this up in writing to both the young person and their parent/s or anyone with Parental Responsibility. Where there are any child protection concerns, CP procedures must be followed;
  • IRO has been informed of the young person's intentions or desire to leave care and a LAC Review convened in advance of the young person being discharged from Care;
  • The LAC Review will fully consider the young person's expressed wishes and provide a written record of the discussion about the rationale for the young person's decision, the potential impact of their decision on their Leaving Care status and what, if any alternatives may be available;
  • Where a young person chooses to leave care prior to their 18th birthday, the case will remain in the Child In Care Team, The young person will remain a "relevant" young person. Where a young person has returned to someone with Parental Responsibility, (P.R) this shall be reviewed by the social worker after six months, If the rehabilitation to someone with PR has been successful, then the young person's care leaving status will revert to Qualifying, and the case should be considered for either Closure or ongoing support through CiN / Early Help services. As a Qualifying young person the Local Authority will have a duty to "Keep in Touch" – yearly around the young person's Birthday;
  • Where a young person chooses to exit a care arrangement prior to their 18th birthday, there must be a formal CIC Review to look at all the issues, including any safeguarding concerns connected to the young person's decision. In the event that there are child protection concerns connected to the young person's plan legal advice may be required;
  • After six months post care a Multi agency meeting with the young person should be convened to review the young person's situation. This will be chaired by the previous IRO but will not involve the formal processes associated with a CIC Review;
  • A case note detailing the discussion will be entered onto the young person's Liberi record and in the case of a successful rehabilitation to parental or other family care the young person's care status can be adjusted accordingly;
  • The same would apply to a young person where the Care Order is to be revoked;
  • All decisions and views of the area Assistant Director must be recorded on the young person's file;
  • As and when a child aged 16 to 17 has left care, their care leaving status will change from Eligible to relevant. A relevant child will have the status and entitlements of a 'care leaver'. As such, they will be able to receive ongoing support, advice and encouragement to maximise their potential and will benefit from having direct support from their social worker/Personal Adviser up to the age of 25 years where they are in Education and Training.

Child in Care Review Meeting before the Young Person Leaves Care (Unplanned)

Before the young person leaves care, a review meeting should be convened immediately after he/she has indicated their intention to leave. This meeting should be chaired by the IRO. The meeting should also decide whether the young person Child in Care status should be ceased. If this is the case, the IRO must ensure that necessary steps are taken to fully inform the Assistant Director.

Where a decision is agreed that the young person's status as a LAC child should be ceased, the case must remain in the Child in Care Team (CIC) until he/she turns 18. If the young person is 18 or turns 18 at the time of the six months out of care review meeting, the case should be transferred to the Leaving Care Team. The meeting should consider the following:

  • Reason for the young person wanting to exit care;
  • Risk assessment completed by the social worker taking into account the living arrangements and the reasons for wanting to leave care by the young person;
  • Where there are child protection concerns, the CP procedures must be followed (Link);
  • Plans agreed so far with the young person as to his/her welfare and safeguarding needs. The social worker must also indicate in the plan, what kind of support he/she will receive when she leaves care;
  • The plan should also specify time when the review of the plan will take place and who will chair this meeting. (It is an expectation that the review will take place after 6 months and should be chaired by an allocated IRO). If the young person is over 18 at the time of the review, this meeting should be convened by the Leaving Care Team;
  • The views of parents and/or any adult with parental responsibility with whom the young person will; be living must be incorporated in the plan;
  • The IRO would need to be satisfied that the social worker has discussed in full the implications on the young person's leaving care status as part of the pathway plan.

Post Care Multi Agency Meeting

The post care multi agency meeting will take place after or within the first Six months of the young person exiting care. This timeframe may be flexible, depending on the circumstances of the young person. The meeting should be chaired by an IRO to ensure that all safeguarding matters relating to the young person including their wishes are being considered in their pathway plan.

  • The composition of the meeting should include the young person, adult with PR or with whom the young person is living with and other relevant agencies directly working with the young person;
  • The social worker must provide a brief update on the young person's progress;
  • The young person must be given enough provision to update on progress and discuss his/her needs in the meeting;
  • A Care pathway plan to be reviewed and updated;
  • The young person Leaving Care status must be reviewed, and the implications of any change in status must be fully discussed with the young person and recorded on file.

Where a young person is not available or present, the meeting is still expected to be held. In this case the IRO/Leaving Care manager with consultation with their managers will make the decision whether a further meeting was required.

4. Children who are Looked After for Short Periods (Fewer than 20 days) Including Short Term Breaks

In the event a child may have become Looked After for a short period, fewer than 20 days, such as in a family crisis, it is not necessary for the Nominated Officer to approve their return home in these circumstances. However, the social worker and team manager must be satisfied that the return is (or remains) in the child's best interests and the arrangements will (continue to) safeguard and promote the child's welfare. 

Nevertheless, there will be situations where such circumstances create concern with respect to the child's vulnerability and where it is appropriate to consider whether the child should have a Child Protection Plan or be a Child In Need (see Child in Need Plans and Meetings Policy).

4.1 Short Term Breaks

The process for ceasing to look after a child should also apply to Short Term Breaks (where the Child is considered to be Accommodated in these circumstances), unless the Child is subject to Regulation 48 (1989 Act, The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010).

(See also The Children Act 1989, Care Planning, Placement and Case Review).

In these instances the Child will already be a Child in Need and the Children's Social Services Department and partner agencies will have a considerable level of understanding with respect to the child and the parent or carers with a good level of communication between the practitioners and the family/child.

Nevertheless, the practitioner and team manager should always remain alert and sensitive to changes within the family's circumstances.

(See also Short Breaks Procedure).

4.2 Relinquished Children

In particular, where children are relinquished at birth, and prior to placing a child in an adoptive placement, the child may be placed in a fostering placement under Section 20. In these circumstances, consent for the child to be placed for adoption and for an Adoption Order to be made can be withdrawn, and consent cannot be sought where the child is under 6 weeks of age, unless there is a Placement Order. (See Sections 18 – 20 Adoption and Children Act 2002).

Where a parent withdraws consent and the child is placed under Section 20, as part of the assessment raised in Section 2.1 careful consideration should be given to:

  • The circumstances with regard to the reasons for the child being relinquished;
  • Any previous personal history of the parent or family;
  • The period of time elapsed between the child being relinquished and the parent's change of mind; and,
  • The reasons for the parent's change of mind;
  • The Family Time ( Contact) / interest expressed by the parent during their separation;
  • Issues of bonding by the parent;
  • Preparation for caring for the child;
  • Proposed caring environment / home circumstances and support for the parent.

This list is not exhaustive and the information provided as part of the Accommodation and relinquishing procedure will be key in identifying whether safeguarding processes should be invoked.

The social worker and team manager should determine whether the child should be considered as a Child In Need, (if the child has been accommodated for fewer than 20 days), but irrespective of this, there should be clear communication and liaison with GP and health visiting services in respect of the circumstances of the child.

Note: where the child has been accommodated for more than 20 days, then the permission of the Nominated Officer is required for the child to be returned to the parent's care and due consideration be given to the Review decisions. (See Section 2, Children Accommodated under Section 20 and Relinquished Babies and Children Procedure).

5. Administration / Process Issues

As with all changing circumstances, the practitioner should:

  • Ensure that a Child in Need Plan is drawn up and distributed to all relevant professionals/agencies involved;
  • Establish a Working Agreement with the Parent or Carer where relevant;
  • Ensure the child is appropriately supported through the transitional phase, including any emotional support; ensuring belongings, mementos, etc. are all transferred with the child in appropriate luggage (belongings should never be transported in bin-bags or other inappropriate containers [1]); information and other discussions with the parents or carers;
  • Ensure that the parent or carer is appropriately supported through the transitional phase;
  • Where education has been an issue for a child or young person, and they have necessarily had to change school, ensure their transition back to their education setting is supported by the setting, the family and promoted with the child or young person;
  • Ensure that all partner agencies are made aware of the change of legal status of the child, particularly the school or nursery, the Health Visitor and GP;
  • Where the placement has been out of the local authority, the Local Authority where the child was placed should be informed of the move of the child;
  • Where there has been another Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) involved the CCG should be promptly advised of the child's move so that the medical documents can be transferred. The Child's home CCG should also be informed of the change so that the child's Health Plan can be progressed without delay;
  • Ensure that the Placement Team is informed, and where the provider is an independent provider, that notice is given as soon as possible and within the commissioning/contractual arrangements;
  • Inform the IRO;
  • Ensure that the electronic record is updated to amend the status and address details etc;
  • Ensure that School and Health records are effectively transferred (where appropriate) to support a smooth transition of information.

[1] See NYAS, My Things Matter Report.