Social Policy: Looked After Children

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This essay will examine the past and present social policy regarding looked after children in the UK, dating back to the late 1970’s. It will examine how the policy has evolved over the last thirty years, and whether political and economical influences have impacted on its development. This essay will also seek to explore what impact the policies regarding looked after children have on the members of society it is aimed at assisting. The definition of a ‘looked after child’ is an individual, up to the age of 18 who has been placed in the care of the local authority, whether this is placed with foster carers, either short or long term or a residential unit. Also, children who are subject to either a Full Care Order, or an Interim Care Order granted by the courts. It is also an appropriate term for a child who is still in the care of his or her own family, but is still subject to one of the above court orders. Statistical data is collected annually by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, from Children’s Services across the country. On 31st March 2009, there were 60,900 looked after children in the UK.

In order to examine the current social policies in place with regard to looked after children, and how those policies have developed, it is relevant to briefly comment on the situation and condition historically, for children who found themselves in the need of substitute care. In the post war years, new legislation was passed in the Children Act 1948 “with the aim of strengthening the legal and procedural framework surrounding the needs of children placed in substitute care” (Cocker, 2008, p4). This was deemed necessary following the instances of neglect and abuse suffered by children evacuated during World War Two, and the case of Dennis O’Neil, a 12 year old boy, whose abuse and subsequent death at the hands of his foster carers in January 1945 caused a public outcry. In the immediate aftermath of this event, a government inquiry was held and a committee (The Curtis Committee) “was set up to look at services for children at risk” (Glennerster, 2007, p64). The outcome of the final report (The Curtis Report 1946) had a direct influence on the legislations laid out in the Children Act 1948. One of the most positive outcomes was that the government had been forced to examine the services in place, or lack of them, which were available for children. Led by recommendations from the Curtis Report, the Home Office set up a separate department in every local council in the country specifically for children. This would include specially trained children’s social workers, thus creating a new social work profession. The modern day Children’s Services was born.

During this time, and for many years after, children were a marginalised group, often powerless to express their own fears or views. Children’s ‘rights’ were not recognised by society, and reports of physical or sexual abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to be caring for them were too often ignored. “Societal attitudes towards children in this period were ambivalent and dismissive” (Stein, 1983). Looked after children “were often from poor families and were seen by some as orphan’s or criminals” (Cocker, 2008, p5). In order to improve the provision and welfare of looked after children, further parliamentary acts over the course of 40 years were introduced, including the Children and Young Person Act 1963, The Children Act 1989, and the more recent Children Act 2004. During this period, different models of care provisions emerged and evolved from one decade to another. With the introduction of large charitable organisations such as Dr Barnado’s and National Children’s Homes and Orphanages in the early part of the century, set up as a preferable option for children from the archaic workhouse, a large number of children found themselves growing up in residential care. This appeared to be a ‘trend’ up until the late 1970’s to early...
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