Supporting Looked After Children

A looked after child is a child who has been under the care of the local authority for more than 24 hours. Looked after children (LAC) are increasingly referred to as children in care (CIC) which is a term many children and young people prefer. In relation to their peers looked after children have a statistically higher chance of experiencing complex social and emotional needs as a result of trauma, abuse or neglect.(Source).

Professionals working with looked after children may need to enhance their usual resource and skill to meet the needs of those young people. Education of looked after children is often delayed compared to their peers due to the high levels of SEND within the cohort coupled with any disruption to their education prior to coming into care. Taking steps to support LAC/CIC is an important factor for professionals working with children and young people (CYP) so not to compound further, any feelings of exclusion, isolation and possible low self-esteem. (Source)

Research has also noted that due to previous childhood experiences looked after children experience compromised mental health and wellbeing outcomes compared with their peers with the rate of mental health disorders in the general population aged 5 to 15 is 10% compared with 45% the rate for those who are looked after.

Publication of Our children sufficiency strategy 2020-22 shares information on what our children tell us. Through consultation and engagement consistent themes have emerged as important for CYP in care. 

These are:
• Time: for young people to build trusting relationships with professionals, and
with family.
• Help and support: with education, mental health and wellbeing, and life skills.
• The ‘day-to-day (small) things’: such as access to Wi-Fi and social media.
• Young-person centered decision making: Young people repeatedly described
examples of not being heard, listened to or included in decision making.

Research from the NSPCC has highlighted the need to provide a secure, caring environment to help looked after children process early life experiences.

Their research has suggested 5 priority areas of change to improve emotional and mental health of looked after children.

  • Embed an emphasis on emotional wellbeing throughout the system. This highlights the need for professionals working with looked after children to develop their knowledge and understanding of how to support looked after children.
  • Take a proactive and preventative approach. Support for looked after children’s emotional and mental health needs should begin with assessment.
  • Give children and young people voice and influence. Looked after children and young people need continued opportunities to share what is important to them within their own care.
  • Support and sustain children’s relationships. Carers for looked after children benefit from training and support around sensitivity, understanding and resilience.  
  • Support care leavers’ emotional needs. Professionals can support the YP to identify and strengthen their support networks in their transition as a care leaver (Bazalgette, Rahilly and Trevelyan, 2015).

Anna Freud share information and resources to support schools an professionals in supporting looked after children within their setting. 

Alongside this they have published videos to support with awareness and advise. 


Further advise on Support for looked after children in care has been published by the National Education Union which highlights the need to be proactive in areas such as attendance, engagement, emotional health and wellbeing and the effects of trauma. 

Free e-learnings resources can also be found from MindEd Hub which look at promoting mental health/ health outcomes for looked after children,  Part 1Part 2.

Last update: 22/02/2024