Children Looked After in Contact with Youth Justice Services


This chapter was updated in March 2023 and should be re-read in its entirety.

1. Looked After Children thought to be at Risk of Offending

Local Authorities should have strategies that set out how they will support positive behaviour amongst Children Looked After who may be at risk of offending and the measures that will protect them from 'unnecessary criminalisation', including a protocol with the police.

Where a Looked After child is thought to be at risk of offending, both the Care Plan and the Placement Plan should include the support measures needed to prevent this. The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) should ensure that the Care Plan adequately addresses this.

2. Looked After Children who have been Arrested

If a Looked After child aged under 18 is arrested, the Local Authority should ensure that the young person has the support of an Appropriate Adult and a solicitor while at the police station. The solicitor should have expertise in youth justice, and be provided with relevant information about the young person's circumstances, needs and the Care Plan.

A young person aged 17 or over is entitled to a solicitor. If s/he is mentally vulnerable, an Appropriate Adult should also be provided.

Whether or not the young person is charged, consideration should be given to reviewing his or her Care Plan to ensure that measures are in place to address the causes of offending.

2.1 Safeguarding Children and Young People in Police Custody - Appropriate Adults

YOTs have a statutory responsibility to ensure that an Appropriate Adult service is provided for children and young people.

Providing an Appropriate Adult for young people under 18 years at the Police Station:

Whenever the police detain a child or young person (aged 10 to 17), or interview them as a voluntary attender, they must inform an Appropriate Adult as soon as is practicable and ask them to attend.

The following people can be an Appropriate Adult:

  • Parent or guardian;
  • If the young person is in local authority care, or is otherwise being looked after under the Children Act 1989 a person representing that authority or organisation;
  • A local authority social worker;
  • A YOT worker;
  • Another responsible adult aged over 18.

A person should not act as Appropriate Adult if:

  • They have received admissions or denials about the offence(s) before they act as Appropriate Adult, or are a victim or witness to the offence(s);
  • They are suspected of being, or known to be, involved in the offence(s) concerned;
  • A parent who is estranged from the young person, if the young person objects.

The presence of an Appropriate Adult is required:

  • When the young person is informed of their rights;
  • During a strip or intimate search;
  • During police interview;
  • When fingerprints or samples are taken;
  • When the detained person is part of any identification procedure;
  • At the point of charge.

Detention can be very stressful so it is important that an Appropriate Adult attends as soon as possible to minimise the amount of time the child or young person spends in detention. Youth Justice Board (2014) Case Management Guidance requires attendance within two hours of the initial request being made (however research has shown that young people wait 5 hours on average for an Appropriate Adult to attend).

A parent or guardian should be considered in the first instance. They may need reassurance or practical assistance to attend the police station and to understand the nature of the role of an Appropriate Adult. Every person acting as an Appropriate Adult should be given a copy of the Home Office (2011) Guide for Appropriate Adults.

It is especially important that children and young people who are identified as having mental ill health or learning difficulties are properly supported. In such cases it might be preferable for the Appropriate Adult to be a trained professional rather than a relative. However if the young person prefers a relative or objects to a particular person their wishes should, if practicable, be respected.

The Appropriate Adult's role is to protect the interests of the child or young person, to advise and support them, and ensure that they are fairly treated and their needs met. In particular they should be aware of and able to support any:

  • Mental health needs;
  • Learning and communication difficulties.

The Appropriate Adult's key roles and responsibilities are to:

  • Ensure that the detained person understands what is happening to them and why. It is important to take into account any mental health problems, learning difficulties and speech, language and communication issues;
  • Ensure that the detained person understands their rights;
  • Support, advise and assist the detained person, particularly while they are being questioned;
  • Observe whether the police are acting properly, fairly and with respect for the rights of the detained person;
  • Facilitate communication between the police and the detained person - the Appropriate Adult plays an important role and must be pro-active in undertaking their responsibilities. The role is not one of simply observing proceedings in the police station.

The Appropriate Adult should let the child or young person know how to access legal support, and can insist that this is provided even if the child or young person refuses it. It is not the role of the Appropriate Adult to provide legal advice. Conversations between the Appropriate Adult and the young person are not covered by legal privilege – meaning they may need to divulged as part of any subsequent legal proceedings.

For more information on Appropriate Adults, including their role in supporting children and young people, and who can fulfil this role, please see the National Appropriate Adult Network website.

3. Young People who are Remanded

See also Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure.

Young people who are not bailed and are dealt with by a court by way of a Remand to Local Authority Accommodation or a Remand to Youth Detention Accommodation are Looked After.  This will include both children who were already Looked After, and those who become Looked After by virtue of the remand.

Looked After Reviews must take place. For further information, see Looked After Reviews Procedure.

Where the young person was not already Looked After, the Local Authority must arrange for an assessment of the young person's needs, building on any previous assessment completed by the YOT, and plan their care in conjunction with the responsible YOT.

The Youth Justice case manager must inform Central Placement Service by email at '' and the Independent Review Team of all children and young people who are remanded or sentenced to custody or secure accommodation within 72 hours of the decision being made in court.

Care planning will need to consider the young person's needs both during the period of remand and following the court hearing. The Care Plan will need to take into account arrangements for the young person's support where s/he ceases to be Looked After because of receiving a custodial sentence.

Where a young person is already Looked After and is remanded, the IRO should be notified as soon as the young person is placed in custody (on remand or following sentence), including the details of where they are placed and the relevant order.

4. Looked After Young People who are Convicted

The social worker should provide information to the Youth Justice case manager responsible for completing the AssetPlus and any other assessments. The Youth Justice case manager should also consult the social worker over the content and recommendations of the Pre-sentence Report.

The social worker should provide information on the interventions and support that would be made available if the young person were to receive a community disposal. Copies of the Asset, Pre-sentence Report and other reports completed by the Youth Justice case manager must be sent to the social worker and placed on the young person's case record.

5. Responsibilities of the Local Authority to Looked After Young People in Custody

Where the young person is the subject of a Care Order he or she will remain Looked After during the time in custody. The Local Authority therefore continues to share Parental Responsibility and the IRO will have an ongoing role in care planning and review.

Where a sentenced or remanded young person ceases to be Looked After because s/he is no longer Accommodated under section 20 of the Children Act 1989, the young person's social worker should ensure that the relevant Youth Justice case manager is made aware that the young person had been Looked After up until sentence. The social worker should also discuss with the Youth Justice case manager and the young person any arrangements for remaining in touch whilst in custody and for assessing whether the young person may need to become Looked After again on release.

5.1 Information Sharing

Within 5 working days of the young person's remand or sentence to custody, the social worker should contact the young person's Youth Justice case manager and the designated case supervisor within the establishment to inform them of:

  • The young person's care status, including their entitlement to support as a care leaver;
  • Persons with Parental Responsibility;
  • Name and contact details of the allocated social worker, their Team Manager and the IRO;
  • Any immediate information necessary to ensure the young person's safety or that of others;
  • Relevant information about the young person's family/carers and contact arrangements;
  • Relevant information about the young person's needs that will enhance the establishment's ability to care for the young person;
  • The date when the social worker will be visiting the young person; and
  • The date of any forthcoming review of the young person's case.

This should be followed up in writing to the establishment and copied to the Youth Justice  case manager.

5.2 Looked After Reviews

Going into custody is a significant change, and requires that, if a Looked After Review is not already due to take place, then one should be scheduled during the period that the young person is in custody. The usual minimum statutory timescales for Looked After Reviews apply thereafter. However, depending on the length of the young person's stay in custody, consideration should be given to undertaking a review within the last month before release to ensure that the Care Plan can be updated to meet the child’s needs on release, particularly their placement.

5.3 Social Work Visits

The young person's allocated social worker must visit the young person within one week of being sentenced and detained - the role must not be fulfilled by the Youth Justice worker.

Subsequent visits must take place at intervals of not more than 6 weeks for the first year; thereafter at intervals of not more than 3 months. Additional visits should take place if reasonably requested by the young person, the establishment or the Youth Justice Service, or there are particular circumstances that require a visit (e.g. notification of under performance of placement provider/concerns about the safety or welfare of the young person).

The purpose of the visits is to assess the young person's needs and maintain an up to date Care Plan. The social worker should see the young person in private unless he or she refuses or requests that others attend the meeting.

5.4 Advice, Assistance and Support Between Visits

Looked After young people in custody remain entitled to advice, assistance and support between visits. The social worker should consider whether the young person is being adequately safeguarded and their welfare promoted. Specific factors to take into account are:

  • Is the young person safe?
  • Is there a risk of self-harm?
  • Does the young person need money, clothes, books or other practical support?
  • Are education staff aware of and able to meet the young person's educational needs, including any special needs or abilities?
  • Are the health unit and wing staff aware of, and able to meet, the young person's health needs?
  • Are staff aware of, and able to meet, the young person's religious and cultural needs?
  • Is the young person worried about anything? If so, what?
  • What impact has the sentence had on family relationships? Does there need to be help with contact arrangements?
  • What action is needed to the young person's Care Plan/Pathway Plan?

This assessment should be informed by the views of the Youth Justice case manager, staff in the custodial establishment, the young person and family. This assessment will form the basis of an interim plan as to how the young person's needs will be met in custody and who is responsible for each aspect of the plan.

5.5 Establishment Link Person

A person within the custodial establishment should be nominated to act as the link with the care planning process. They should be informed of the key elements of the young person's Care Plan and keep the social worker informed of the young person's progress and events within the establishment. The young person's Youth Justice  case manager should also be kept informed of changes to the Care Plan and other relevant information. Subject to the young person's agreement, the Youth Justice case manager and nominated link person should be invited to attend review meetings.

5.6 Sentence Planning

The young person's social worker should always be invited to remand or sentence planning meetings, and as a minimum should attend the first meeting and the release preparation meeting. If the social worker cannot attend, they must provide relevant information about the young person's Care or Pathway Plan to the Targeted Youth Support Service case manager prior to the meeting.

5.7 Planning for Release

The young person's social worker and Youth Justice case manager must work together to co-ordinate arrangements for the young person's release and subsequent support in the community. The young person will continue to have 2 separate plans: the Care Plan (which may include the Pathway Plan), and the Youth Justice  Intervention plan. They must be co-ordinated.

Where a review of the young person's case chaired by the IRO has not already occurred, the social worker in conjunction with the IRO must arrange for a review prior to the young person's release from custody. The timing might be scheduled so that it is co-ordinated with the release preparation meeting.

If the young person is to continue being Looked After, the Local Authority will be responsible for the provision of a placement and financial support in the community. The social worker should record the plan for how this support is to be provided  and make copies available to the young person, the Youth Justice case manager, the IRO, and other agencies that will be involved with supporting the young person after release and family if appropriate.

There will be potential areas of overlap where arrangements may be made by either the Youth Justice case manager or the social worker (e.g. health and education). Negotiation should take place on which of them is best placed to make the arrangements in each case.

As soon as possible, and at least by the time of the final sentence planning meeting 10 working days before release, the young person must be told the content of both the Care Plan and the Notice of Supervision or Licence so that the child is aware of:

  • Who is collecting them;
  • Where s/he will be living;
  • The reporting arrangements;
  • Sources of support - including out of hours;
  • The arrangements for education or employment;
  • Arrangements for meeting continued health needs;
  • How and when they will receive financial support;
  • When they will be seeing their social worker; and
  • The roles and responsibilities of the respective practitioners.

Where the young person is serving their sentence (or part of it) in the community, the social worker and Youth Justice case manager should keep each other informed of significant events, including any changes in service delivery or plans. 

It is good practice to have some joint meetings involving the young person, the Youth Justice case manager and the social worker. Where the young person is having difficulty in complying with his/her Notice of Supervision or Licence conditions, the social worker should work with the Youth Justice Service to put additional support in place.

6. National Guidance

Practical guidance on minimum standards for:

  • Preventing Offending;
  • Out-of-Court Disposals;
  • Assessing Young People;
  • Working in Court;
  • Working with Victims of Crime;
  • Interventions in Custody and the Community.

Standards for Children in the Youth Justice System 2019 and Case Management Guidance for Youth Offending Teams and Managers on How to Work with Children and Young People in the Youth Justice System