Decision to Look After and Initial Care Planning


This procedure applies to all decisions to Children Looked After and the immediate actions required of the social Worker when a child becomes Looked After. It will be read with Placement of Children Looked After Procedure.

See also Public Law Outline Procedure.


"A child who is dealt with by a court by way of a Remand to Local Authority Accommodation or a Remand to Youth Detention Accommodation will be a Looked After Child. The care planning requirement will be amended in relation to such children - see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure."


This chapter was updated in March 2023.

1. Decision to Look After a Child

1.1 The Decision

All decisions that criteria has been met (see Section 20 criteria) for a child to be Looked After must be made at the H.A.R.P (Hertfordshire Access to Resources) Panel or (between Panels and only until the next Panel) by the responsible Head of Service or the Chair of Access to Resources Panel - see East and West Practice and Resources Panel Procedure.

In between panels, the decision must be ratified by the Director of Family Safeguarding for children aged under 12 and by the Operations Director for Specialist Services for children aged over 12. For sibling groups of various ages decision may be ratified by the available authoriser.

Outside office hours, the Out of Hours Service obtains agreement from the appropriate senior manager to any decision that criteria has been met for a child/young person to be looked after.

Any decision to look after a child/young person made outside office hours will be communicated by LCS to the relevant team and Brokerage by the beginning of the next working day.

1.1.1 Looked After Status

When Section 20 criteria has been met the young person is subject to Section 20. The decision that Section 20 is met needs to be recorded by a Service Manager, in casenotes on LCS. Once a placement has been available for 24 hours +, the child/young person is a looked after child/young person whether or not they have occupied the placement.

See also: Public Law Working Group (PLWG) Best Practice Guidance: Section 20/Section 76 Accommodation. This includes Appendix G3: Section 20 Agreement Template and Appendix G2: Explanatory Note for Older Children.

If Section 20 is no longer required before the child/Young person has been in placement for 24 hours, the Section 20 can cease and the Service Manager will need to add a casenote to this effect. See Regulation 39.

Once a Care Order is granted (Care Order/Interim Care Order) the child/young person is looked after from the instant the order is made – with or without a physical copy of the order.

If a child/young person is taken into Police Protection or made the subject of an Emergency Protection Order, they are looked after as soon as they are taken into protection or the order is made.

1.2 Considerations before a Decision to Look After is Made

Before a decision is made that criteria has been met to look after a child/young person, consideration must be given to either putting in resources at home to support the family and safeguard the child/young person or making arrangements with extended family members or friends who might be prepared to care for the child/young person for up to 28 days without the need for the child/young person to come into care. The child/young person may come within the definition of Privately Fostered after 28 days, in which case the Private Fostering Procedure will apply.

In these circumstances, care must be taken where the local authority has been involved in the arrangements for the child/young person to be cared for by relatives; the child/young person may be viewed as within the definition of Looked After and a legal view may be helpful to clarify the status of the child/young person and the placement. In these circumstances, see Placement with Family and Friends/Connected Persons (Including Regulation 24 Placements) Procedure.

In any event, such arrangements would have to be agreed with the parent or a person with Parental Responsibility, and the social worker must be satisfied that such an arrangement is sufficiently safe to meet the child/young person's needs and is supported by a Child in Need Plan.

These are not 'family agreements' where parents would not have done so without Children’s Services (CS) intervention and CS must not make payments in cash or in kind, unless those arrangements have been approved, in writing, by a Service Manager or Head of Service.

If no such arrangement can be identified or such an arrangement would not meet the child/young person's needs, the child/young person's social worker, with his or her Team Manager, should consider:

  • The child/young person's immediate placement needs - including the child/young person's views, the views of the parents, those with Parental Responsibility and any other person whose wishes and feelings the authority consider to be relevant - and whether a placement with a relative or friend under Regulation 38 may be possible;
  • The timescales for the child/young person's placement;
  • A date for the child/young person to return home or when the decision will be reviewed;
  • The actions of support and work to be included in the Care Plan to enable the necessary change for the child/young person to return home wherever possible;
  • The contact arrangements with birth parents, siblings, extended Family and Friends.

Where it is considered that Care Proceedings should be initiated to secure the child/young person's placement, see also Court Proceedings Procedure.

N.B. Any decision that a child/young person should be the subject of Care Proceedings should have regard to the requirements of the Public Law Outline, and in particular the Pre-Proceedings Checklist which is set out in Public Law Outline.

All decisions made should be recorded on the child/young person's electronic record, including the reasons for reaching the decision.

For all children/young people the context and purpose for which s 20 is being considered should be identified. This may be short-term accommodation during a period of assessment or respite; alternatively, it may be a longer period of accommodation, including the provision of education or medical treatment.

Particular regard must be had to the child/young person’s age. Different considerations, including the purpose and duration, may be heavily influenced depending on the age group of the relevant child/young person. The PLWG Best Practice Guidance advises considering the groups as follows (a) newborn and very young babies, (b) toddlers up to five years of age, (c) six years’ old to preteens, (d) teens but under sixteen years’ old, and (e) sixteen years’ old or older when the child/young person can consent to accommodation. The voice of the child/young person must be clearly recorded and stated.

The Best Practice Guidance states that separation of a newborn or a young baby from their parents is scarcely appropriate under the provisions of s 20. The circumstances in which this is appropriate are very rare. The (limited) appropriate use of s 20 in this context may include circumstances where the parents need a very short period in a residential unit to prepare for the child/young person to join them, or if a carer needs to undergo a short programme of detoxification or medical treatment. In appropriate pre-birth cases, discussions about the use of section 20 can commence some time prior to birth so that those with parental responsibility have time to consider all the options and be assisted in making an informed decision. However, agreement to a child/young person being accommodated can only be given once the child/young person is born.

Any immigration issues concerning the children/young people, the family and any adults who may be caring for the children/young people must be established.

Within each local authority, the use of section 20 should be monitored by senior management, although this may be delegated.

1.3 Obtaining Parental Consent to Look After a Child/Young Person

Obtaining parental consent as a matter of good practice remains an essential part of Accommodating a child/young person under this part of the Children Act 1989. A number of court decisions have been particularly critical of local authorities' actions with regard to consent and great care needs to be undertaken to ensure parents have the appropriate capacity to do this. The local authority should ensure that consent is not given under duress or compulsion to agree (whether disguised or otherwise). Consent may not be valid if given in the face of a threat to issue court proceedings. Where possible, the person with parental responsibility should have access to legal advice.

Where possible, the purpose and duration of any proposed accommodation should be agreed in advance of the child/young person being accommodated. In case of emergencies, this should be addressed as soon as it is practicable to do so. The purpose and duration of accommodation may change and should be subject to review.

Section 20 agreements are not valid unless the parent giving consent has capacity to do so, the consent is properly informed and fairly obtained (and without coercion) from the outset. Willingness to consent cannot be inferred from silence, submission or acquiescence - it is a positive action.

Click here to view Section 20 Parental Consent information and Form.

Every social worker has a personal duty to be satisfied that the person giving the consent has capacity to do so. The social worker must actively address the issue of capacity and take into account the circumstances at the time and weigh all the relevant information.

Detailed guidance on the obtaining of parental consent was given by the High Court in the case of  Re CA (A Baby) (2012): 

  • The social worker must first be satisfied that the parent giving consent does not lack the mental Capacity to do so. Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a person is unable to make a decision if they are unable:
    • To understand the information relevant to the decision;
    • To retain that information;
    • To use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision; or
    • To communicate his/her decision.
  • If there is doubt about Capacity, no further attempts to obtain consent should be made at that time, and advice should be sought from a manager;
  • In cases where the parent is not fluent in English steps have been made to ensure that the parent has a proper understanding of what precisely they are being asked to agree to by including the use of interpreting and provision of text translated into in the parent's own language which they sign to indicate that they have read the document and agree to its terms;
  • Special care must be taken when considering asking a woman who has just given birth for S20 consent, In these cases careful consideration needs to be given as to whether this request should be made especially where there is no immediate danger to the child/young person and where probably no order would be made;
  • If satisfied that the parent has Capacity, the social worker must be satisfied that the consent is fully informed:
    • Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?
    • Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
    • Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?
    • Does the parent understand that they can withdraw their consent at any time and their child would be returned immediately?
  • If not satisfied that the consent if fully informed, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought from a manager and legal advice sought if thought necessary;
  • If satisfied that the consent is fully informed, then it is necessary to be satisfied that the giving of such consent and the subsequent removal of the child/young person from the parent is both fair and proportionate:
    • What is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
    • If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends before signing consent or immediately after?
    • Is it necessary for the safety of the child/young person for her to be removed at this time?
    • Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?

2. Actions Required after a Decision that Threshold is met to Look After is Made

The Social Worker makes a referral to the Brokerage Team for a Suitable Placement

In relation to children/young people where an application for an EPO or on notice Care Proceedings are being considered to secure the child/young person's placement, see also Court Proceedings Procedure.

Social worker must complete the Placement Plan on LCS obtaining signature(s) of a parent giving parental consent to look after the child/young person (S20) and parental consent to medical treatment and routine immunisations and assessments for S20, Police Protection, EPO and Interim Care Order.

The Placement Plan must also be signed by the placement carer when the child/young person is placed.

A copy of the signatures must be scanned into forms on LCS.

Where consideration is being given to pursue a Looked After placement with a relative or friend, an immediate viability assessment of the relative/friend must be undertaken. Where the placement is agreed by the Head of Service, the social worker must make a referral to the Fostering Team to conduct an assessment of the relative/friend as a Family and Friends/Connected Persons Foster Carer with a view to presentation to the Fostering Panel.

See Placement with Family and Friends/Connected Persons (Including Regulation 24 Placements) Procedure.

If the placement has not been identified through the brokerage service then they must be notified by the social worker so that the CLA review process can be instigated.

The Social Worker is required to hold a Placement Planning Meeting either before or within 72 hours of placement. See Placement of Children Looked After Procedure.

For secure placements, see Placements in Secure Accommodation Procedure.

Click here for LCS Guidance.

In the case of siblings, wherever it is in the best interests of each individual child/young person, they should be placed together. Where they cannot be placed together, they must be supported to understand why they cannot live together, and there should be robust plans for contact between them, so far as this is consistent with their welfare.

Consideration should also be made with regards to Criminal Injuries Compensation. Records should indicate whether or not proceeding with an application is suitable or not.

3. The Care Plan

In all circumstances where a decision is made to look after a child/young person, the child/young person must have a Care Plan completed by the social worker and signed off on LCS by the Team Manager prior to the first placement or, if this is not practicable, within 10 working days of the first placement. The child/young person's social worker will draw up a draft child/young person's plan on LCS with clear timescales. This will include the arrangements for the placement, contact, a Personal Education Planning PEP meeting (see Education of Children Looked After Procedure) and for the child or young person to have an Initial Health Assessment (see Section 5.7 of this Manual, Health and Wellbeing).

For further details of Care Planning please see the dedicated Care Planning Guidance.

Where there is no recent Child and Family Assessment in relation to the child/young person, the Care Plan must provide for this to be completed.

The child/young person's social worker is responsible for drawing up the Care Plan in consultation with:

  1. The Team Manager;
  2. The carers;
  3. Supervising SW/agency;
  4. The child/young person;
  5. The child/young person's parents;
  6. Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for or looking after the child/young person;
  7. Other members of the child/young person's family network who are significant to the child/young person;
  8. The child/young person's school or the education service;
  9. The relevant health professionals;
  10. The Youth Offending Service, if the child/young person is known to them;
  11. Any other agency involved with the child/young person's care.

The social worker should ensure that the child/young person, those with Parental Responsibility and the carer understand the Care Plan and their role in contributing to its implementation.

The Care Plan is subject to scrutiny at each Looked After Review.

3.1 Circulation of Care Plan

The Care Plan must be circulated to the following people:

  • The child/young person, if appropriate;
  • The parent(s);
  • Providers/Carers;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer.

The Fostering Service, can access the care plan on LCS. See LCS User Guide.

4. Further Details

4.1 Placement Plan

This will be read with Placement of Children Looked After Procedure.

The child/young person must have a Placement Plan at the time of the placement (this includes the parent's consent to the placement (if applicable) and the child/young person's medical treatment). It should be completed as far as possible before the child/young person is placed.

Copies of the Placement Plan must be provided to the child/young person (if of sufficient age and understanding), the parents and must be handed to the residential staff/carers before the child/young person is placed. Where a child/young person is placed in an in-house foster placement, the Fostering service can access documents through LCS. At the time of the placement, the residential staff/carers should also be given any additional information about details of the child/young person's day to day needs which are not covered by the Placement Plan but are important to ensure that the staff/carers are in the best possible position to help the child/young person settle in the new placement, for example any particular fears at night-time or the child/young person's favourite toys.

4.2 Chronology

Whenever a child or young person starts to be looked after, or the child/young person moves placement, the child/young person's Chronology should be updated. Click here for LCS Guidance. Please also see Chronologies and Historical Information Procedure.

4.3 Arrangement of first Looked After Review

The child/young person's social worker must notify the Brokerage team (Central Placement Team) of the placement, so that the necessary arrangements for the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) and the child/young person's first Looked After Review can be made. See the Looked After Review Procedure for the procedures relating to reviews, including the responsibility for invitations to reviews.

4.4 Health Care

The parent needs to sign the Placement Plan to give their consent to Medical treatment, immunisations and routine checks.

Before or at the time of the placement, the social worker should request the parent to provide the child/young person's personal child/young person health record (Red Book). Where this is lost or not available, the social worker should ask the parent for essential health Information such as immunisations, illnesses and medication and record these on the Placement Plan.

The social worker should complete and sign Part A of the CoramBAAF Initial Health Assessment IHA Forms for Children and Young People and send it with the completed Placement Plan to the CLA Health Team to arrange an Initial Health Assessment (IHA). Please see Health Care Assessments and Health Care Plans Procedure for further details.

The social worker should inform the carer of any medication the child/young person is taking, and ensure that a supply of medication is provided in a clearly labelled bottle with the child/young person's name, required dosage and the time the medication is to be given of which a written record must be maintained. See LCS User Guide.

4.5 Personal Education Plan (PEP)

The social worker should also liaise with the Designated Teacher so that a Personal Education Plan (PEP) can be completed within 20 school days for the first Looked After Review. See Education of Children Looked After Procedure.

4.6 Provision of Information

The child's social worker must provide the child and parents with written information about the placement, unless this would put the child at risk. The information given to parents should be recorded in case notes on LCS.

The child and parents must also be provided with information about the complaints process and the availability of advocates.

4.7 Changes in Legal Status

Any changes in a child/young person's legal status as a result of court proceedings must be recorded on LCS. See LCS User Guide.

5. Stopping of Child Benefit to Parent

Parents are not entitled to Child Benefit if their child/young person is Looked After continuously for more than eight weeks. HMRC have produced a Guidance Leaflet for Social Workers and parents should be advised to check their entitlements through HMRC Child Benefit website.

Social workers may access the CH 193 Notification Form once on the HMRC website. The notification form MUST be sent to the Child Benefit Office by the social worker as soon as it's clear that a child/young person will be looked after for 8 weeks or more and parents MUST be informed that the Child Benefit Office has been notified.

6. Use of Mother (or Father) and Baby Foster Placements

Mother & Baby Foster placements should only be used in very limited and exceptional circumstances, e.g. in teenage pregnancy where the parent themselves needs support and guidance on parenting skills and any associated risks are assessed for appropriateness for such a placement. This might also be a care leaver, who lacked knowledge and family support, a 15/16 year old whose family could not or would not offer support or an order by the court for an older mother and her baby.

Mother and Baby foster placements are NOT suitable in the following circumstances:

  • As a holding mechanism to defer decisions or to await residential assessment;
  • For Assessment: carers do not have the skills and training to do this and the circumstances are not consistent with independent assessment;
  • Where there are any significant Child Protection issues, because again the circumstances do not allow for 24/7 supervision, nor is it appropriate to be asking a carer to exercise this degree of vigilance and control.

In summary foster placement should only be considered for young parents who need guidance and support, and not in circumstances where there are any assessed CP or lifestyle concerns with the parent or their partner that would deem such a placement unsuitable or unsafe.

From this it can be seen that there will be very few cases where it would be appropriate to consider Mother and Baby foster placement, and especially within the Court arena where inevitably we are considering risk of significant harm. These cases are not suitable for foster placement and any suggestion of this should be robustly opposed.