Children Subject to Care Orders Who are Placed at Home
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies to any placement of a child on a Care Order or an Interim Care Order, with a parent for more than 24 hours.
It also relates to circumstances where a Child in Care is returning to the care of a person who has parental responsibility in relation to the child.
Children may also be placed with parents having acquired Looked After status following a Remand to Local Authority Accommodation - see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure.
A Child and Family Assessment should also be undertaken to assess the suitability of short term placements and overnight stays, this will inform the placement with parents report/risk assessment report which should be completed.
For children who are subject to an Interim or a Full Care Order, the Social Worker will need to request Short Term Placement or regular overnight stays with Parents approval from the Head of Service and a risk assessment form is to be completed for overnights and for short term planning a placement with parents report.
If a series of short-term placements or overnight stays are part of a longer-term plan of reunification, the decision should be approved by the Head of Service.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was reviewed and updated where required in December 2022.
1. Consultation before Placement
Before a child is placed, the following people must be consulted and their views accounted for:
- The child;
- Both parents (including a parent who is not the proposed carer of the child);
- Any other member of the family who is significant to the child;
- Any person with parental responsibility;
- Relevant health professional including any health visitor or school nurse known to the child;
- The child's current foster carer and supervising social worker or the manager of the children's home currently caring for the child;
- The police;
- The Youth Offending Service, when appropriate;
- The child's Independent Reviewing Officer;
- The child's Guardian.
2. Decision Making
The decision to make a placement can only be made by the Head of Service.
A decision to place the child with parents must not be put into effect until it has been approved by the Head of Service. The Placement Plan should be prepared and provided to the parents prior to placement.
A child must not be placed with parents if that would be incompatible with an order as to contact under Section 34 Children Act 1989.
During the course of a Looked After Review, it may be considered that rehabilitation may be appropriate. However the Independent Reviewing Officer can only recommend that the responsible team give consideration to such a placement. In cases where the Independent Reviewing Officer does not support the plan they will consider use of the IRO Dispute Resolution Process.
The Head of Service must be satisfied that:
- The child's wishes and feelings have been ascertained and given due consideration;
- A high quality assessment has been completed by the child's allocated Social Worker with a clear rationale for why the placement is appropriate, the level and nature of the support to be offered, how the placement will be monitored and the contingency plan if the placement breaks down. All assessments must include a risk assessment that thoroughly considers parental capacity to build upon and sustain positive change;
- The placement will safeguard and promote the child's welfare;
- The Independent Reviewing Officer has been consulted;
- All agencies working with the chid have been consulted.
3. Assessment of Parents Suitability to Care for the Child
Before deciding to place a child with parents, the Local Authority must consider whether, in all the circumstances and taking into account the services to be provided by the Local Authority, the placement will safeguard and promote the child's welfare and meet his/her needs set out in the Care Plan;
Review the child's case record:
- The suitability of the proposed placement should be assessed through:
- Obtaining relevant information about the proposed main carer or carers and all members of the household;
- Inspecting the accommodation; and
- Checking the proposed carer and all members of the household aged 16 and over with the Disclosure and Barring Service, the carers GP, NSPCC and Children's Services records.
- The Child and Family Assessment should be completed and take account of:
- The parents' capacity to care for children and, in particular in relation to the specific child:
- To provide for the child 's physical needs and appropriate medical and dental care;
- To protect the child adequately from harm or danger, including any person who presents a risk of harm to the child;
- To ensure that the home environment is safe for the child, including where relevant, the need for a risk assessment of any pets and the environment in which they are kept;
- To ensure that the child's emotional needs are met and he/she is provided with a positive sense of self, including any particular needs arising from religious persuasion, racial origin, and cultural and linguistic background, and any disability the child has;
- To promote the child's learning and intellectual development through encouragement, cognitive stimulation and the promotion of educational success and social opportunities;
- When a parent has other children already at home, the children's school should be contacted to inform the assessment in terms of engagement and supporting the child's learning;
- To enable the child to regulate his/her emotions and behaviour, including by modelling appropriate behaviour and interactions with others;
- To provide a stable family environment to enable the child to develop and maintain secure attachments to the parents and other persons who provide care for the child;
- The NSPCC toolkit provides assessment tools and evidence of their use should be presented in any assessment, see: An evidence-informed framework for return home practice;
- The assessment should clearly identify any support needs and propose a clear reunification plan, again the link above provides a useful template for this.
- The parents' state of health (physical, emotional and mental). This is now extended to include the parents' medical history, including current or past issues of domestic abuse, substance misuse or mental health problems;
- The parent's family relationships and the composition of the parents' household, including;
- The identity of all other members of the household, their age and the nature of their relationship with parents and one another, including any sexual relationship; their relationship with any parent of the child;
- Other adults who are not members of the household but are likely to have regular contact with the child;
- Current / previous domestic abuse between household members including the parents.
- The parents' family history, including:
- The particulars of the parents' childhood and upbringing, including the strengths and difficulties of their parents/carers;
- The parents' relationship with their parents and siblings, and their relationships with each other;
- The parents' educational achievement, including any specific learning difficulty/disability;
- A chronology of significant life events;
- Other relatives and their relationships with the child and parents.
- Criminal offences of which the parents have been convicted or cautioned (Note: This applies to all people in the household aged 16 yrs and above);
- Parents' past and present employment/sources of income.
- The nature of the neighbourhood and resources available in the community to support the child and parents.
- The parents' capacity to care for children and, in particular in relation to the specific child:
In relation to other members of the parents' household, the assessment must take account of the above considerations except (d), (f) and (g).
The assessment should include any available information about the parents' previous experiences of looking after children. Where a parent has other children subject to care/adoption orders, earlier case records should be explored to ascertain the circumstances which led to social work involvement and any indication that the capacity of the parent to bring up children has changed.
The NSPCC have developed a useful toolkit to support reunification of children with their parents: see An evidence-informed framework for return home practice - Helping social workers make decisions on returning children home from care.
4. Placement of Child with Parents before Assessment Completed
In exceptional circumstances and without either a Section 37 or 38 (6) order (including when an interim care order is made as a result of private proceedings), where it consistent with the child's welfare, the child may be placed with parents before the assessment has been completed, provided:
- Approval is granted by the Head of Service;
- Arrangements are made for the parents to be interviewed to obtain as much of the assessment information as can be readily ascertained at that interview;
- The assessment and the review of the child's case are completed within 10 working days of the child being placed;
- The decision on placement is made and approved within 10 working days of the assessment being completed; and
- If the decision is to confirm the placement, the Placement Plan is reviewed (and if appropriate amended);
- If the decision is not to confirm the placement, the placement maybe terminated. At this stage legal advice should be sought.
The child's Social Worker will ensure that the appropriate background checks are carried out in a timely manner, which will help to gather information from other agencies about the suitability of the proposed placement.
Practitioners should also seek to meet with all other members of the household before placing the child. This is particularly relevant to identifying issues such as domestic abuse and substance misuse which may impact on the child's safety.
When a team responsible for the welfare of a child subject to a Care Order decides that a placement with parents may be appropriate, the Team Manager will convene a Care Planning Meeting to discuss the situation. It is essential that all relevant people are invited to this meeting and that if relevant people are unable to attend, that their views are sought.
The meeting should cover:
- A summary of child's and family history;
- A summary of how and why the child/ren came to be in care;
- A summary of the plan for the child when he / she originally came into care;
- Details of proposed placement with the parents;
- The outcome of the assessments, consultations and enquiries made, including an assessment of the parent's ability to meet the identified needs of the child;
- The aims and the objectives of the proposed placement (there needs to be great clarity about why this placement is being proposed and why other orders have not been considered appropriate i.e. Supervision order) and long term plan for the child;
- Any identified areas of risk involved in the placement;
- The support and services to be provided to the family and child;
- Details for the child/ren's education;
- Contingency plans in the event of breakdown.
The views of the IRO must be obtained by the Social Worker prior to the Care Planning Meeting being held.
If the Care Planning Meeting agrees that a placement with parents is appropriate, a recommendation can be made to apply for approval of such a placement.
The Local Authority should always consider whether the Care Order is still required. The Authority and parents may agree to apply to discharge the Care Order; such an agreement must include the level of future support and supervision by the Local Authority, and co-operation by parents. The Authority must provide such services and support to the parents as appear to be necessary to safeguard and promote the child's welfare, In order to ensure an efficient response, the Team Manager should at this stage liaise with the Head of Service and notify them that a request for placement with parents is planned. At this stage, the Head of Service can advise the Team Manager of any additional issues that need to be clarified before a decision can be made.
The child's Social Worker will then prepare a report for the Head of Service that includes:
- Basic details of young person;
- Details of proposed placement;
- Reasons for proposed placement;
- Progress and outcomes of checks with other agencies;
- The views of other relevant agencies, evidence should be provided that the views of agencies have been sought in writing;
- Information gathered when undertaking the assessment (see Section 3, Assessment of Parents suitability to Care for the Child);
- Any specific risks associated with the placement and treasures in place to mitigate those risks;
- Services that will be made available to support and monitor the placement. This should be detailed and include the frequency of visits and support.
The template is available on ICS.
For all children and young people who have been in a foster or residential placement and subject to a full care order this report should be accompanied by a Child and Family Assessment as outlined above.
For all children and young people subject to care proceedings and when a proposed Care Plan is Care Order at home, the Social Worker's final evidence should be available to the Head of Service as requested. The Placement with Parents report must be agreed by the Assistant Executive Director in advance of the care plan being filed in court.
This information, together with electronic case files, will be reviewed by the Team Manager and then sent to the Head of Service for approval. If the Head of Service is in support of the proposed placement, and if the Head of Service believes that the report is of sufficient quality, the Head of Service will send the documentation to the Head of Service for approval.
It is crucial that the Head of Service has sufficient time to give the request their full consideration. The Head of Service may have additional questions or may want the Social Worker to make changes to the report. For this reason the documents should be sent to the Head of Service in a timely way and the Head of Service should always have a minimum of five full working days in which to consider the request. Social Workers, Team Managers, Legal Services and Head of Service should always take account of this when developing timetables.
The Head of Service will make a decision within 5 working days of receipt of the information. However this may be a provisional decision, contingent on the outcome of any background checks that have not yet been received yet. Dates of decisions should be clearly recorded in the case file.
The Social Worker should ensure that all relevant parties are notified in writing of the placement once it is made. This includes:
- The Independent Reviewing Officer;
- Relevant partner agencies (including school, health etc.);
- Any non-resident parent;
- Any other person who has parental responsibility for the child;
- Any person who has contact with the child by virtue of an order under S34 Children Act 1989.
The letter should make the child's legal status clear as well as the fact that the Local Authority share parental responsibility. Where this placement is in another local authority area the child's social worker should ensure that the procedure for notifying this Local Authority of the placement is followed.
The child's Social Worker will ensure that the relevant Children Looked After (CLA) documentation e.g. Care Plan, Risk Assessment etc. are updated to show that the plans for the child have changed and the reasons for this.
6. Supervision of Placement
When a placement is made, the Local Authority continues to share Parental Responsibility for the child, and hence, the child remains Looked After, therefore all the statutory monitoring mechanisms for Children Looked After continue to apply. Looked After Reviews and Statutory Visits are still required.
Parents should be provided with the relevant information in line with care planning regulations:
- Placement information record;
- Care plan;
- Personal Education Plan;
- Health Action Plan;
- Delegated responsibility form.
Looked After Reviews are statutorily required to take place at the following intervals:
- Within 20 working days of the start of the placement;
- Within 3 months of the first review;
- Thereafter at 6 monthly intervals;
- Should the IRO or Social Worker have specific concerns or hold the view that the care order is no longer required an earlier review maybe arranged.
- There should be care planning meetings every six weeks as a minimum in the first six months of placement.
- Thereafter there should be a a minimum of one care planning meeting between reviews. Care planning meetings should be more frequent if required, this level should be agreed and recorded in the Children Looked After review;
- Care planning meetings for children on care orders at home and must always be chaired by a Team Manager or Advanced Practitioner.
All Care Orders at home will be considered at the Legal Permanence Panel which meets on a monthly basis. This panel will scrutinise the appropriateness of the legal order for the child and ensure that plans are being progressed towards a position whereby discharge of the order can be applied for.
In order to ensure that the first review can take place within 20 working days of placement, the Social Worker should ensure that the child's IRO is kept informed once approval of the placement is granted.
The Looked After Review for a child placed with parents will be conducted in the same way as for a child in a Local Authority placement. All relevant paperwork and documents should be completed in the usual way by the Social Worker - see Looked After Review Procedure.
Statutory Visits should take place at the following intervals:
- Within one week of the start of the placement;
- Every 2 weeks for the first 2 months of placement;
- A minimum of every 4 weeks for the duration of the placement, but more frequently it there are any increased risks.
If the child is placed with parents pending a full assessment, social work visits must take place at least once a week until the assessment is completed and ratified.
Statutory visits to a child placed with parents should be treated in the same way as for a child in a Local Authority placement, and should be recorded within case file.
As with all cases, the level of supervision should reflect both need and the level of concern and be discussed and agreed in formal supervision sessions that are recorded and transferred onto the case file contact notes.
Where there is a significant incident or issue, (such as a change to the people living in the household, the child is regularly going missing from home, there is an increase in the level of risk to the child), the social worker must notify Head of Service and Independent Reviewing Officer in writing within five working days in the form of an addendum to the Placement with Parents Report.
The placement plan should include:
- Details of the support and services to be provided to the parents and children during the placement;
- The obligation on the parents to notify the Local Authority of any relevant change in circumstances including any intention to change address, any changes in the household in which the child/ren resides and any serious incident involving the child/ren;
- The circumstances in which it is necessary to obtain the prior approval of the Local Authority to the child to be cared for or live in a household other than that of the parents.
The primary purpose of placement with parents is to test rehabilitation. It is therefore expected that if the placement continues, and the child remains with his or her parents, that consideration will be given to discharge of the Care Order to avoid a child remaining looked after for longer than is necessary. This should be considered in the Children Looked After Review.
In order to ensure that applications for the revocation of care orders are made promptly all care orders at home that have been in place for six months or more are reviewed by the care orders at home legal planning panel. This meets monthly and is chaired by the Head of Service and attended by the Local Authority legal advisor.
Discharge of the Care Order can only be achieved by application to the court, and approval for such an application by Children's Social Care can only be given by the Head of Service and should be recommended by the Children Looked After Review.
8. Termination of Placement
Wherever possible, the decision to end a placement should be made at a Looked after Review informed by a Child and Family Assessment and the ending should take place in a planned way. The parents need to be fully consulted about the concerns held by the Local Authority and their views together with the views of all relevant professionals should be considered by the Local Authority before a decision is made. Legal advice should also be obtained by the child's Social Worker or Team Manager.
In Re DE (A Child) (2014), the High Court stated that not less than fourteen days' notice of a removal of the child should be given to the parents, save in an emergency.
The Court further stated that any removal of a child in circumstances where the child's welfare does not require immediate removal, or without proper consideration and consultation, is likely to be an unlawful interference with the rights of the parent and child under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
If the situation is an emergency (i.e. a situation that would justify application for an Emergency Protection Order if the child were not already looked after), the Team Manager can take the decision to remove the child from the placement immediately, following consultation with the Local Authority legal department and the agreement of a Head of Service.
When the placement has been terminated, the Social Worker should ensure that all relevant agencies are notified (including the local authority in which the child is placed) and that the Head of Service is also informed.