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5.5 Children Living Away From Home (Children Act 1989 Section 85) Procedure

This chapter identifies the duty of every local authority to check the safety and welfare of children living in a residential educational, hospital, psychiatric unit or other therapeutic setting, for longer than 12 weeks. These are children are not ‘Looked After’ by the Local Authority and therefore not subject to the usual Looked After arrangements, (i.e. social work visits and Reviews).


Section 85, Children Act 1989

This chapter was added to this manual in February 2014.


  1. Context and Scope of this Policy
  2. Content and Timing of Notifications
  3. Section 85 Referral Process
  4. Action Following Referral

1. Context and Scope of this Policy

Section 85 of the 1989 Children Act places a duty on local authorities to check on the safety and welfare of children living in residential education or hospital provision for any continuous period exceeding and / or likely to exceed 12 weeks.

The intention behind the legislation is to provide a ‘safety net’ for vulnerable children living away from home where the child is not Accommodated under Section 20 and where the child is not subject to the usual processes of Care Planning and review by an Independent Reviewing Officer.

The legislation is aimed particularly at ensuring the safety and support needs of disabled children and their families. These children are at increased risk of Significant Harm within every category of abuse due to their increased level of dependency on others. The families of disabled children also experience enormous demands upon their parenting capacity in trying to meet a child’s additional needs. (See also Safeguarding Disabled Children - Practice Guidance.)

The institutions required to comply with this notification policy includes:

  • Residential ‘special needs’ schools either joint or single agency funded both ‘in’ and ‘out’ of borough, including maintained and non-maintained boarding schools;
  • Hospitals, including small ‘local’ hospitals and independent/private hospitals;
  • Psychiatric units including private and voluntary sector units including those that treat young people for dependency on drugs or alcohol.
Note: The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 amends Schedule 2 Part 1 of the 1989 Children Act and clarifies the sort of services appropriate for ‘accommodated’ children away from home (s.85) including financial help to promote contact, advice, counseling and help for children to holiday with their family as well as the provision of advocacy services.

2. Content and Timing of Notifications

Notifications to Children’s Services will contain the following information:

  • Childs name;
  • Childs date of birth;
  • Child’s address immediately prior to admission (or that of mother immediately prior to delivery);
  • Date of admission to hospital;
  • Ward/Department;
  • Name and contact details of parents/carers.

The notifying authority will also inform the parents/carers that the information has been disclosed to Children’s Services.

Best practice dictates that notifications should be received at least three weeks before a child has been away from home for the statutory period (12 weeks) so that CYPS interventions remain within timescales.

3. Section 85 Referral Process

All s.85 notifications should be sent to the Southwark MASH and to the Head of Quality Assurance who will ensure that appropriate action is taken.

Notifications are required when a child is likely to be resident within an institution for 12 weeks or more and also when a child is discharged after a 3 month period.

4. Action Following Referral

Where children’s services have been notified under this section, they shall:

  1. Take such steps as are reasonably practicable to enable them to determine whether the child’s welfare is adequately safeguarded and promoted while he is accommodated by the accommodating authority; and
  2.  Consider the extent to which (if at all) they should exercise any of their functions under this Act with respect to the child.

If the child concerned is already a Looked After Child under the Children Act 1989, the allocated Independent reviewing Officer (IRO) will be responsible for convening a looked after review to consider the child’s circumstances.

If the child is not looked after, an IRO will be allocated to make initial enquiries about the situation. This will include a meeting with the child and family to assess the need for any intervention

Where such a need is identified it will be the responsibility of the IRO to organise a case transfer to the appropriate team within children’s social care.