Overnight Stays Away from the Placement or Other Staying Contact or Care Arrangements

1. Introduction and Overview

The 2010 Fostering Regulations set out that foster carers should be given the maximum appropriate flexibility to take decisions relating to children in their care and that the extent of the delegated authority should be set out in the Placement Plan.

Further it is set out that "Children Looked After should as far as possible be granted the same permissions to take part in normal and acceptable age appropriate peer activities as would reasonably be granted by the parents of their peers. It should be normal practice for the responsible authority, in agreement with those with Parental Responsibility, to delegate to the child's foster carer day to day decision making about allowing a Child Looked After to stay overnight with friends, and to state this in the Placement Plan".

The need to ensure that the extent of delegated authority is set out in the Placement Plan is thus the key message in recent guidance. For further information please see The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 4: Fostering Services (2011) - particularly paragraphs from 3.9.

The delegated decision form on ICS should be completed for all placements by the child's social worker, this will be agreed by parents and carers at a care planning meeting and signed off by the Head of Service.

2. Family Time

Arrangements for the temporary alternative care of Children Looked After or regular contact with family members, friends etc. must be discussed and agreed with parents and children at Initial Care Planning Meetings and Placement Agreement Meetings, and reviewed at Statutory Reviews (see Family Time With Parents, Siblings and Other Significant Family & Friends Procedure).

3. Foster Carers' Friends and Relatives as Temporary Carers

Foster carers must be advised that they need to think most carefully before leaving children with any other adult/s.

Foster carers should identify in advance those members of their friends and family they consider to be part of their support network and this should be agreed by the supervising social worker and included in their safe care plan. This should also detail the role they play and the support they provide. Such individuals should also be included and agreed within the child/young persons' care planning process with details reflected within the placement plan.

It would be expected that foster carers would be as vigilant for foster children as they would their own, thereby taking all care to ensure the person who cares for the children is trustworthy. They are asked to take the precautions of "good parent".

If a foster carer has any concerns or reservations about leaving a child with another adult then they must raise this with their social worker, equally if they are aware of any history that may need to be discussed and assessed then this must also be highlighted to their social worker and reflected in the child's risk assessment and Placement Plan. Appropriate checks must be undertaken on any adult named within the foster carers support network.

4. Baby Sitters

Foster carers must be advised that they need to think most carefully before leaving children with a sitter.

Babysitters and child minders must be at least 18 years of age.

All arrangements for babysitting and any regular child care must be written into the Placement Plan and delegated authority agreed.

5. One-Off Overnight Stays

Standard 7 - Leisure Activities of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 requires that children are encouraged (in line with placement plans and risk assessments) to enjoy the activities that any other child can, including out of school activities, friendships, visits and sleepovers without requiring a DBS check.

Many children and young people living in children's homes and foster care continue to raise concerns about being prevented from staying overnight with friends for 'sleepovers'. In response Paragraph 3.17 of The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 4: Fostering Services (2011) clarifies that:

There is no statutory duty for DBS checks to be carried out on adults in a private household where a child may stay overnight.

  • DBS checks should not normally be sought as a precondition of an overnight stay;
  • Decisions on overnight stays should, in most circumstances, be delegated to foster carers and residential care staff, and arrangements for such decisions written into the Placement Plan or Foster Care Agreement;
  • Children Looked After should as far as possible be granted the same permissions to take part in normal and acceptable age appropriate peer activities as would reasonably be granted by the parents of their peers;
  • Only where there are exceptional reasons should the permission of the responsible authority be required or restrictions placed on overnight stays;
  • An agreement should have been reached prior to a request from the child/young person.

When deciding whether or not to permit a looked after child to stay overnight with a friend or have a holiday with their friends or with relatives of their foster carer or to go on a school trip, foster carers and the responsible authority are guided to consider the following factor:

  • What are the child's views about the proposed stay?
  • "Whether there are any relevant restrictions contained for exceptional reasons in the child's Care Plan, including the Placement Plan;
  • Whether there are any court orders which restrict the child from making a particular overnight stay, visit or holiday;
  • Whether there are any factors in the child's past experiences or behaviour which would preclude the overnight stay, visit or holiday;
  • Whether there are any grounds for concern that the child may be at significant risk in the household concerned or from the activities proposed;
  • The age and level of understanding of the child concerned;
  • What is known about the reasons for the overnight stay, visit or holiday;
  • The length of the stay;
  • What is known of the family with whom the child will be staying? Does the knowledge raise any concerns?
  • Has contact been made with the adults in the family, ensuring that the arrangements for the stay are as described by the child and the stay is convenient for the adults involved?
  • What is known of the home? Should the home be visited prior to the stay? This may be informal e.g. on dropping the child off for the stay, making enquiries about the arrangements. Alternatively a foster carer may know the home, having visited previously;
  • Are the arrangements/extent of supervision age-appropriate? The age/maturity/ vulnerability of the child will determine how these checks are undertaken.

The guidance continues:

"If in doubt about the appropriate decision or if there is reason to consider that a child may be at specific risk in staying in a particular household, the foster carers should consult the responsible authority for advice. The child and their carers should always be told of the criteria that will be used to make decisions about overnight stays, visits and holidays.

Foster carers should always have contact details for the household in which the child will be staying. They should also make contact with the household beforehand, as would any good parent, to assist in assessing the request and to confirm arrangements and to ensure that the household where the child will be staying have, in turn, the contact details of the foster carer(s).

There is no statutory duty for Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) disclosures to be sought in relation to adults in a private household where a child may stay overnight or visit, or who the child may accompany on a holiday or on a school trip. DBS checks should not normally be sought as a precondition.

There is no requirement that where a Child Looked After visits or spends a holiday with their foster carer's friends or relative that the individual must be approved as a local authority foster carer, as the child will remain formally placed with their usual foster carers".

If the child is accommodated under s20 overnight stays must be agreed with parents where the decision is not delegated. For those on Emergency Protection Orders or Interim Care Order, overnight stays can only be agreed by the Local Authority with the consent of parents. In both instances prior delegation of responsibility to the foster cares should have been discussed and the extent set out in the Placement Plan.

If the child is on a Care Order, and the parent unreasonably withholds permission, the extent to which the parent exercises Parental Responsibility can be restricted under S33 (3) (b) of the Children Act 1989.

If there are concerns at the proposed arrangements, then the checks outlined (see Section 7, Enquiries and Checks) must be undertaken and permission withheld for the overnight stay to occur until these have been completed.

In the case of an older young person (over 16) permission may be given with a written risk assessment on file, clearly outlining why this should occur, given that risks have been identified.

The child's Social Worker must be notified of any overnight stays, who in turn must notify the child's parents.

6. Regular or more Prolonged Stays for a Child Looked After

A number of adults, other than carers and parents, may have more regular or more prolonged stays with a child looked after.

Consideration must be given in each situation to determine the extent of enquiries to be undertaken before arrangements can be agreed.

Where the arrangements are for temporary care whilst the foster carers are away, the Supervising Social Worker must carry out necessary checks as detailed below (see Section 7, Enquiries and Checks).

Where the arrangements are as a result of the child requesting to stay with friends/relatives, whether from residential or foster care, the child's Social Worker must carry out the necessary checks and this must be referred to the Head of Service for consideration.

The Head of Service must approve any exceptional circumstances, where it would not be reasonable to carry out a certain check. The outcome of checks and enquiries and any exemptions must be recorded on the child's file and a copy sent to the Supervising Social Worker or the Registered Manager of the residential establishment.

In reaching a decision concerning the extent of the enquiries consideration must be given to:

  • The need to safeguard and promote the child's welfare;
  • The need to give consideration to the wishes of the child, as appropriate to their age and understanding;
  • The need to obtain the parents' views with regard to their ongoing parental, particularly in respect of children Accommodated under Section 20;
  • The need for young people approaching and beyond the age of 16 to increasingly make decisions for themselves, taking into consideration the risks;
  • Consideration of the length of the proposed stay.

In some circumstances, where it is clear that relatives or friends will be substantially involved with children, then it may be more appropriate to approve them as carers in their own right.

7. Enquiries/Checks

DBS and Direct Police Checks (Police National Computer - PNC)

The following approach has been developed by Knowsley to guide as to the appropriate use of DBS and PNC checks.

DBS checks should only be carried out on adults who have regular access or access involving more than an occasional overnight stay, to a child, where they are doing so in a paid capacity (e.g. as a foster carer) or as a formal volunteer.

Where the adult, whether a parent, parent's co-habitee, or other connected person is:

  • To have regular or staying contact with the child;
  • And a decision that police information is required.

Then a National Police Computer Check should be undertaken. In these circumstances the police will only provide this information if written consent of the adult is obtained.

Children, Schools and Families Records

ICS must be checked to see whether the proposed carer is known to the Department. If the proposed carer - friend or relative - lives in the area of another local authority, that local authority must be approached for any information.

Home Visit

It is expected that a visit be made by the allocated social worker to any household where a child will stay overnight to ensure the suitability of the accommodation. The level and formality of the visit will depend on the length of the proposed stay, age of the child etc.

Interviews with Proposed Carers

The proposed temporary carers must be interviewed by the child's Social Worker and or the Supervising Social Worker to ensure their suitability, and that they have some general understanding of the needs of the child, some understanding of the responsibilities of caring for a child looked after and an understanding of the need for confidentiality in relation to information given concerning the child looked after.

The age, gender, health and circumstances of the proposed temporary carer must be taken into account in assessing the suitability of the arrangements.

8. Outcome of Checks and Enquiries

The outcome of the checks and enquiries must be discussed with the relevant Team Manager and decisions must be recorded on the child's file.

The proposed temporary carers must be notified in writing of the agreements regarding the temporary care including:

  • Arrangements for contact with the Department or foster carers, particularly in an emergency;
  • Arrangements for medical consent;
  • The need for confidentiality.