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What is a looked after child?

Children who are looked after - words matter as much as actions

When you start researching information on becoming a foster parent, chances are you’ll quickly come across the term “looked after” in reference to children or young people in care.

Whilst the home nations have some nuanced differences in their strategic approach to children who go into the care system, the term “looked after” is a broad and widely-used phrase that encompasses children and young people (under 18 years old) who, for a period longer than 24 hours, have to:

  • Live with foster parents
  • Live with kinship carers
  • Live in a residential children's home


  • Live in a residential setting, e.g. a school or secure unit

You only need to read Judith’s blog "foster parent v foster carer" to understand why, at Family Fostering Partners, we prefer to steer away from the term “looked after children”, except in the most formal of cases.

When we use words to reference the care, nurture and love our foster parents provide - “children who are looked after” is our preferred term. We feel it more accurately reflects the respect they deserve when choosing to take action by opening their hearts and homes to a vulnerable child and embracing the challenges and complexity that brings.


Who are the “children who are looked after”?

There are many varied reasons why a child might need to go into care; some examples are:

  • They may have needs or disabilities that require specialist care
  • They suffer (or are at risk of) neglect, abuse or harm in the birth family home
  • They’re unaccompanied asylum seekers
  • Their birth parent(s) are unable to look after them properly

Working in conjunction with the local authority, social services and the courts, foster parents play an invaluable part in a looked after child’s life. Sometimes it might be for a matter of hours, but more usually, it's for much longer until they’re ready to leave the care system and live independently.

When a looked after child joins a new foster family, it could be the first time they’ve known the stability of a routine or even the first time they’ve known privacy or safety. It marks the start of a period of adjustment, negotiation and flexibility for everyone.

Care of a looked after child legally ends when the child returns home, is formally adopted or turns 18 years old. Whilst they’re entitled to assistance while they prepare to leave the care system until they’re 21, foster parents are often an intrinsic and active part of this transition.


Super parenting with Family Fostering Partners

Being a foster parent involves what we like to call "super parenting".

Super parenting takes everything you instinctively want to give a vulnerable child by way of love, care and attention, then integrates this with the responsibility of working with the professional team managing the child’s care plan.

It is being trusted and relied upon to share everything you identify as a supportive, healthy and trusting family environment with someone else’s child.

The responsibility is great, but the rewards are even greater.

If you think you’re ready to be a super parent, why not talk to us about joining our family of foster parents today?

You can read more about us here or get in touch using the links at the bottom of this page.

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