Concurrent Planning: Providing Permanent Placements at the Earliest Opportunity
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter seeks to explore and identify the issues around in Concurrent Planning and Fostering for Adoption.
1. Introduction - Aim and Vision
Knowsley Borough Council supports the principle of placing children with their adoptive parents at the earliest opportunity. Concurrency is both an exciting and challenging opportunity to promote timely decisions about the appropriate placement of young children who are subject to Care Proceedings whilst providing them with a very early attachment to their permanent care givers.
2. What is Concurrent Planning or Fostering for Adoption?
Concurrent planning was first established in the early 1980's by Linda Katz, she wrote about the benefits of 'working towards family reunification while at the same time developing an alternative permanence plan. Today, the concepts of concurrent planning are being used in numerous states and other jurisdictions across the USA. Concurrent planning is identified in the USA's 'Adoption and Safe Families Act 1997' as best practice.
In summary concurrent planning aims to:
- Minimise the number of moves for young children entering the care system, thus preventing unnecessary broken attachments, by placing children early with carers who can if necessary become their adoptive family, whilst children's social care and the Court make decisions about their future;
- Reduce the length of time a young child spends in foster care before being placed with a permanent family, either birth or adoptive family. The emphasis is on the importance of decision making being within a child's timescale – often set at the beginning of a concurrent placement with a written agreement and usually working towards a 26 week timeframe;
- Ensure the birth parents are actively supported in undertaking work to help them make appropriate changes that might lead to their child being returned to their care. This is done within tight timeframes set for work to be undertaken focusing on parents behaviours and actions not promises made;
- It demands tighter planning and thinking with clear decision making earlier on in the process.
3. Concurrent Planning in the UK
The model was introduced in the UK in 1998 and today there are several Local Authorities and private organisations who pioneer concurrent planning as an effective method of care and permanence planning.
In April 2011 central government integrated concurrent planning into their statutory guidance for adoption which Local Authority's should actively consider4, emphasising the need for permanence planning and for the adoption process to be quicker, with decisions being made sooner for children. In May 2013, the Government announced an update to the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations. It introduced a new regulation: Regulation 25A of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review 2010 which came into force on 1 July 2013 and provides for a person who has been approved as a prospective adopter by a local authority or a voluntary adoption agency to be temporarily approved by a Child Looked After's responsible local authority as the foster carer for that child. This is a positive step as the adopters do not have to go through the full fostering assessment and approval process set out in the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011.
The effect of the regulation is that the child may be placed with prospective adoptive parents who have not been approved as foster carers under the Fostering Services Regulations. In addition, if the person has already been approved as a foster carer, by a Local Authority or Fostering Agency, there is no need to approve them again for a named child under the CPPR 2010 Regulations. There is no time limit on this approval under Regulation 24A. It also removes the need for any report to be submitted to Fostering Panel and clears the way for the placement to be supervised and supported by the Adoption service only. The purpose of this new guidance is to tackle delay and achieve timely permanence and stability.
The government considers concurrent planning to be 'best practice' to achieve this, all Local Authorities alongside their partner agencies must consider how concurrent planning can be used to meet local need.
4. The Benefits of Concurrent Planning or Fostering for Adoption
To the child:
- Reduces number of placements;
- Early permanence through reunification or other permanence option;
- It enables children who are adopted to be given a truthful, balanced account of their birth parents as they grow older, incorporating both positives and negatives in age appropriate ways, as concurrent carers will have the opportunity to get to know a child's birth family.
To the parent:
- Parents benefit from early accessible services;
- Outcome is determined by the parent;
- When outcome is not reunification, this lays the groundwork for openness with the permanent caregiver.
For the Local Authority, legal services and the Courts:
- Clear, time limited targets set for birth parents;
- Speeds up resolution of permanence planning for children where prognosis for rehabilitation is poor;
- Less likely disruption of adoptive placements.
5. Guiding Principles
The basic philosophy asserts that adults, rather than children, should assume the emotional risk in foster care. It also assumes that adults are better placed than children to manage both the ambiguity of relationships and the uncertainty of an unknown future. The emotional burden is transferred to the adults.
The process of concurrent planning is built upon a series of basic concepts, each designed to lead to timely permanency. The importance of decision making that is within a child's timescale is reiterated throughout the process:
- Differential Diagnosis: screening and assessments are used to identify which children are likely to return home and whether concurrent planning is suitable;
- Success Redefined: all involved have to reconsider how they define success. Reunification is just one option as the only aim is permanence for the child. Success is safely placing the child in a permanent home at the earliest opportunity;
- Plan A and B: work begins on both plans simultaneously. Plan A is reunification whilst Plan B is the alternative Permanence Plan;
- Full disclosure: The birth parents must understand what is expected of them and the consequences of failing to meet those expectations;
- Forensic Social Work: all information must be properly documented and disseminated to the parties so that the plans can progress. Tighter planning and thinking are demanded, with clear decision making earlier on in the process;
- Behaviour, Not Promises: birth parents must do more than just make promises. Changes are made within tight timeframes set for work to be done. Progress can only be achieved by a demonstrable change in behaviour. Parents are given every opportunity to make necessary changes (see also Pre Proceedings and Public Law Outline (PLO) Procedures and Practice Guidance, Preparing Final Evidence and Care Planning);
- Written Agreements: the steps that must be taken so that the child can be returned to the care of the birth parents should be clearly expressed. This provides a focus for the birth parents;
- Contact: should be arranged that takes into account the welfare of the child. Length of visits should be individually determined, developmentally informed and change as parenting capacity and the infant's needs change. Longer but less frequent visits allow for a cycle of feeding, sleeping, infant care and play, all with the support and education for parents provided. Contact enables the parents to share information and practice their skills and new behaviours. It also allows the social worker to monitor and assess progress.
6. Recruitment of Adopters Willing to Consider a Concurrent Placement
'They need to have exceptional qualities', 'they need to be pretty special people to cope with the demands', 'they need to be sussed out individuals'; these are just some of the comments that have been made by professionals when considering concurrent carers. Concurrent planning is based on the assumption that every child will be placed in a home that can become his or her permanent home if reunification is not possible. The Adoption service is working hard to recruit, prepare, and support families who are willing to take the risks and make the commitment required by concurrent planning. The staff working in the service have been trained in identifying the qualities of resilience that as required in the adoptive applicants. These adopters will then be trained to be able to work effectively with a child's birth family in order to promote contact and care plans. They will be prepared to support and facilitate any rehabilitation plans that are formulated. Consideration will be given to offering the close relatives of these adopters awareness training so they can offer support.
7. The Differences between Concurrent Carers and Mainstream Foster Carers and Adopters
Concurrent carers are approved adopters who it has been agreed can undertake the fostering concurrent role under Regulation 25A. They must be willing, in the first instance, to care for a baby, and to support the child's return to the birth parent, with the possibility that- if this is not viable- the fostering arrangement will lead to adoption.
Concurrent planning is different from the much more common practice of parallel, or twin track planning in that the child is placed in the concurrent planning carers home whilst decision making proceeds, rather than in a temporary foster placement.
Concurrent carer's surnames and addresses will be kept confidential from a child's birth family in order to safeguard the child's wellbeing until adoption becomes their permanence plan. This will be detailed within a child's Care Plan.
Children will not be placed with concurrent carers who live in the same district as their birth family. Again this is to safeguard the child.
Concurrent carers who adopt a child are in the unique position that they have had the opportunity to get to know a child's birth parents. This is one of the real benefits which emerges from concurrent planning, 'it enables concurrent carers to give their children a truthful, balanced account of their birth parents as they grow older, incorporating both positives and negatives in age appropriate ways'.
8. Suitability of Concurrent Planning for Children and their Families
Whilst the concurrent planning model has many advantages it will not be the right option for all children. Concurrent planning has generally been used in cases where there is a higher likelihood of adoption as opposed to rehabilitation and whereby there has been significant historical social work involvement. These are children aged 0-24 months who have been identified at an early stage to be at high risk of Significant Harm and for whom the pre- birth assessment of multiple risk factors such as parental mental health concerns, substance misuse and/or Domestic Abuse suggests that there is a high probability that return to birth family or extended family will not be possible. In many instances the birth family will have had other children placed for adoption.
9. Working with Birth Families
There should be a separate social worker assigned to the birth family assessment and support, from the social worker who supports the concurrent carers.
Good quality Family Group Meetings should take place to identify possible placements within extended family and all viabilities options have been completed within the pre- proceedings protocol by the Fostering Service where the birth family are living.
It is intended that birth parents will be informed at the earliest opportunity during pre-proceedings work that concurrent planning is being considered as a care planning option. A letter has been produced for birth parents explaining concurrent planning which encourages parents to share this with their legal representatives. Parents should be in agreement with a concurrent care plan, whilst they may intend to contest the granting of a Care and Placement Order by the Courts, they should be in agreement that should their child be removed from their care, that they will be placed with concurrent carers. Where possible, birth parents will be encouraged to meet the concurrent carers prior to their child being placed. The Court will make the final decision in agreeing a concurrent Care Plan.
Contact arrangements must be feasible for both the child/concurrent carers and birth family to manage and ideally no more than three times a week, to lessen disruption to the baby's routine and less than one hour's travelling time.
10. Working with Carers
Concurrent carers will be approved as suitable to adopt and subject to Regulation 25A as agreed by the Agency Decision Maker where the birth parent is living.
Concurrent carers will have undertaken adoption preparation training and an additional training or reading which addresses issues relevant to foster care and concurrent planning. The carers will complete a home assessment and their Prospective Adopters Report (PAR) will be submitted to Adoption Panel along with an addendum report detailing the applicants understanding of concurrency.
Awareness training will also be offered to relatives and friends of the concurrent carers.
The carers need to be people who can manage their own feelings and give priority to the child's best interests. The Adoption Panel will make a recommendation to the Agency Decision maker on the applicants' suitability to adopt and on their suitability to manage a fostering to adopt arrangement. It may be felt that some applicants can make excellent adoptive parents but do not have the qualities for concurrency.
Carers will be paid an allowance whilst the child is fostered, up until the Placement Order. This will be equivalent to the basic fostering rate. It is anticipated that one carer must be at home full time with the child throughout the period of fostering and that carers should escort the child to and from contact. This restricts the numbers of families who can put themselves forward as they will not be eligible for adoption leave during the period when they are concurrent carers. It will also be difficult for many prospective concurrent carers to have the employment flexibility to leave work at very short notice.
The carers will be supported during this process by their assessing social worker, regular support groups will be held for concurrent carers.
Consideration needs to be given to the very real risks of the infant having health or other issues or that the Court will decide contact arrangements with birth parents that make it very difficult for the concurrent carers to manage. Many of these infants will have been exposed to drugs and alcohol and may be very fractious.
11. What else is needed to Implement Concurrent Planning
Everyone who works with children and families in abuse or Neglect cases needs to understand and accept the concepts of concurrent planning as a creative and responsible way to achieve permanence for a child. The support of the Courts, legal representatives and Children's Guardians is absolutely necessary to the success of concurrent planning.
In evaluation studies of concurrent planning in the UK, the success of concurrent planning projects has been hampered by the preconception that concurrent planning is 'adoption by the backdoor' and 'stealing babies from families. Such notions are not helpful and serve to undermine the benefits of concurrent planning.
Evaluations also indicate that concurrent planning is difficult to implement and difficult to gain the support of all parties and professionals involved, particularly the Courts and legal representatives. The importance of initial groundwork is discussed together with the need for key champions in a variety of settings (i.e. children's social care, health, CAFCASS, legal professionals and the Courts) is central.
Concurrent planning allows the Local Authority to work on two permanence plans simultaneously in order to achieve permanence for the child as early as possible. However, the Local Authority cannot do this alone. Concurrent planning requires the understanding and support of the courts, CAFCASS, legal professionals and all others involved in the care planning process.