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5.6.1 Contact with Family and Friends

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was reviewed and amended throughout in July 2017 and confirms that overnight stays for children should be exceptional and part of the child’s care plan and be recommended following a risk assessment, (see Section 1, Approving and Planning Contact). Any contact outside of the care plan should be agreed with the Team Manager and IRO. All contacts should be recorded on ICS. (See Section 2, Supervised Contact).


Contents

  1. Approving and Planning Contact
  2. Supervised Contact
  3. Cancellation of Contact
  4. Review of Contact Arrangements
  5. Suspension or Termination of Contact


1. Approving and Planning Contact

Also see Section 5, Suspension or Termination of Contact.

The Council has a duty to promote contact for Children Looked After. Children Looked After should be encouraged and supported to maintain contact with their Parents, any other person who holds parental responsibility, grandparents, siblings and half-siblings in a manner consistent with the child’s Care Plan; which, itself, must take account of any Child Protection Plan or Contact Order that may be in force.

Contact between children and parents, any other person who holds parental responsibility, grandparents, siblings and half-siblings may only be permitted if previously agreed as part of the child’s care plan by the Team Manager and Social Worker and should be set out in the child’s Placement Plan.

The purpose of the contact and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the Plan.

Both direct and indirect contact arrangements should always clearly detail when contact will take place, the venue, the frequency and how the arrangements will be evaluated and reviewed at each care planning meeting and ratified at a Looked After Child Review.

Overnight contact with parents will be exceptional unless part of a placement with parents agreement.

Any overnight contact with parents that is not regular (for example at Christmas or on special occasions) should be risk assessed using the risk matrix. This will then inform the decision by the Head of Service to agree the contact. The Head of Service must record their decision on ICS.

Where contact is extended as part of a plan to gradually return the child to the Parents’ care, the Procedure on Placements with Parents should be followed. This includes any regular overnight contact with parents as part of a contact plan. For example regular weekly or monthly contact.

See Placement with Parents Procedure.


2. Supervised Contact

The need to supervise contact should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process by the Social Worker and his/her Team Manager. It is the responsibility of the child’s Social Worker to ensure that the person(s) supervising contact is appropriately skilled and experienced to do so.

The primary focus of the assessment of this issue will be the safety and welfare of the child or young person.

Where supervised contact is deemed necessary, the reasons should be clearly recorded and the role of the supervisor or supervisors clearly defined.

A written risk assessment must be completed before supervised contacts begin or when it is known a child is having contact outside of agreed arrangements. Any contact outside agreed arrangements must be approved by the Team Manager and the IRO must be consulted.

This assessment must take account of all factors that could impact on the success of supervised contact and relevant safeguards including:

  1. Any history of abuse or threats of abuse to the child, other Carers or Staff;
  2. Previous incidents of disruption or threats to disrupt contact or failure to co-operate with conditions agreed for supervised contact;
  3. Previous incidents or threats of abduction;
  4. Previous incidents of coercion or inappropriate behaviour during contact;
  5. The transient or unsettled lifestyle of Parents, as opposed to long-standing local connections;
  6. The child’s behaviour and needs, including medical needs.

Where any of the above features in the risk assessment, and supervised contact is to continue, the risk assessment must state the specific measures to be put in place to minimise risks.

The assessment must be approved and signed by the Team Manager.

Where supervised contact takes place, the detailed arrangements for the contact must be set out in the Placement Plan.

In addition, there should be a written agreement with the Parents, signed by them.

The written agreement with the Parents and other parties having contact should state clearly any specific conditions relating to the contact and any expectations placed on the Parents: 

  • The agreement should be clear about where the contact must take place and whether any flexibility is allowed for activity or movements within or away from the agreed location;
  • It should also be clear about whether the person(s) having contact are permitted to give the child food, drinks, gifts or money during contact;
  • It should state clearly the circumstances in which contact will be terminated, including termination due to lateness in arriving at contact by the Parent or other party.

Social Workers must make sure that locations chosen for contact can accommodate any restrictions set down. In more risky situations, those organising and supervising contact might want to choose locations where early and easy contact can be made with other parties or agencies such as the Police. 

In some cases prior contact with the Police should agree prearranged responses in the event of problems emerging.

  • The agreement should state the adults who will be allowed to attend for supervised contact and supervisors should be asked to apply that strictly;
  • Particular attention should be given to when and how visits are ended. It is probably best that all “goodbyes” take place indoors with the visitors asked to leave before supervisors return children to their placements;
  • Significant changes to Care Plans, Court proceedings and/or decisions made about the frequency of future contact are all likely to be potential tension points so extra vigilance should apply at any contacts arranged around these times.

The carers and any other person involved in the supervision of the contact should have copies of the Placement Plan, delegated authority and the agreement with the Parents.

Where possible, those supervising the contact should be known to the child and the family before the supervised contact takes place.

In the event of problems emerging, the supervisors must be clear whom to contact (including ‘reserve options’) and what details they will need to share. The supervisor’s observations of the contact must be clearly recorded in the child’s file and shared with the parents.

The supervisor must immediately report to the Social Worker any concerns about the parents’ and or family members conduct during the contact. The Social Worker in consultation with his/her Team Manager should consider the views of the supervisor and consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or the contact arrangements. The supervisor should ensure there is a full written record of the session on the child’s record in ICS with 48 hours.

When the child is returned to their placement the supervisor of the contact should ensure that staff/carers are made aware of any significant issues relating to the contact session.

See Section 4, Review of Contact.

See Section 5, Suspension and Termination of Contact


3. Cancellation of Contact

Contact should never be cancelled unless there is a very good reason, for example it is deemed that it would not be safe for it to take place or the child is too unwell for it to take place. Contact should take place in accordance with the child’s Placement Plan, Court Order, Court Directions. Wherever possible, the Staff/Carer should consult the child’s Social Worker in advance if they consider there is a good reason to cancel the contact. 

If contact is cancelled, the Social Worker or, if the Social Worker is not available, the staff/carer must ensure that the child and, as far as practicable, the parent is informed in advance and that the reason for the decision is explained. The Social Worker or staff/carer should arrange an alternative contact.

If contact does not take place and consultation has not been possible with the Social Worker, the staff/carer must inform the child’s Social Worker as soon as possible and confirm in writing the decision to cancel and the reason.

If legal proceedings are still in progress the legal department must be informed.

See Section 5, Suspension and Termination of Contact.

Contact arrangements must not be withdrawn as a Sanction imposed on a child.


4. Review of Contact Arrangements

The Social Worker and his/her Team Manager should keep contact arrangements, including the continuing need for supervision, under regular review.

The arrangements should also be reviewed at the child’s Looked After Review and in the Care Planning Meeting.

The risk assessment in relation to the arrangements for supervising contact must be reviewed at least every six months, or sooner, if any incident or report identifies concerns.

Where a Contact Order is in force and it is considered that the contact arrangements set out in the Order should be altered, the agreement of the child and the Parents should be sought and legal advice should be obtained as to the need to seek a variation of the Court Order.

Any review of contact should be recorded in case notes with a clear rationale of the purpose of the contact and whether and in what way it continues to meet the needs of the child or young person. The views of the child should form part of the rationale.


5. Suspension or Termination of Contact

Where it is considered that the child’s contact with the Parents should be suspended or terminated, the Social Worker must be consulted and legal advice should be obtained.

Any such proposal should be made in the context of the overall aims and objectives of the Care Plan.

Any proposal to suspend or terminate the contact should be considered as part of the child’s Looked After Review, unless the circumstances require an urgent decision to be made. Legal advice should be sought by the Social Worker.

Any change in contact arrangements, including termination of contact should be presented as part of the care plan to the Children Looked After review meeting and ratified by the Independent reviewing officer (IRO). Even where it is not possible to hold a Looked After Review because of the urgency of the situation, the IRO must be consulted and the reasons for the proposal must be explained to the parents and to the child, and their agreement obtained if possible.

Where the proposal is to suspend the contact, the length and purpose of the suspension together with the basis upon which contact will be reinstated must be made clear.

Where the child is the subject of an Emergency Protection Order, Interim or full Care Order, approval of a Head of Service must be sought before contact is suspended. An application to the Court for authority to terminate the contact will always be necessary if contact is to be suspended for more than 7 days. As soon as such a decision is made, Legal Services should be contacted as a matter of urgency so that the necessary Court action can be initiated.

Written confirmation of the decision made, together with the reasons, must be sent to the parents, child (depending on age) and any other relevant person (for example advocate, independent visitor or children’s guardian). Staff/carers and other agencies involved with the child’s care must also be informed.

End