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OxfordshireChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Assessing Family and Friends Options for Looked After Children

Contents

  1. Required Actions when a Child is Assessed as at Risk of becoming Looked After
  2. Required Actions for Permanence Reports
  3. Key Messages from Research

1. Required Actions when a Child is Assessed as at Risk of becoming Looked After

When a social worker is working with a family where there is a significant risk of family breakdown, harm, or entry to the Looked After system for any other reasons, the decision for the child to be Looked After should only be taken when all alternatives have been adequately explored.

Referral to the Family and Placement Support Services is likely to be appropriate in most cases, to identify a support package and the possibility of developing a plan that provides an effective alternative to care.

Family and friends care should be explored as the first, best option for children who cannot live at home, thus ensuring that alternatives for children and young people to becoming Looked After are addressed, and that families are fully involved in exploring these options. Whether a child is placed with kin or with strangers, relief care options in the family and friends network need to be explored as well.

Section 23 (6) of the Children Act clearly states that for any child becoming Looked After, it is the Local Authority's duty to consider any family members (to include close family friends) as a possible carer for the child. When a child is accommodated and placed with stranger carers in an emergency, family and friends care alternatives must be explored quickly and thoroughly immediately afterwards. Under Regulation 24 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 and Associated Guidance a looked after child can be placed with a Connected Person for up to 16 weeks even though the carers are not approved as foster carers - see Placements with Connected Persons Procedure. A Connected Person is defined as:

“A relative, friend or other person connected with a child. The latter is someone who would not fit the term ‘relative or friend’, but who has a pre-existing relationship with the child. It could be someone who knows the child in a more professional capacity such as (for example) a childminder, a teacher or a youth worker”.

To evidence Section 23 duties have been undertaken, social workers should produce a record of:

  • A genogram, which contains at least 3 generations (Good practice would include all known family members plus important family friends) with contact details;
  • One or more interviews with the child's parents and anyone else involved in their care or with Parental Responsibility, wherein options with family and friends carers are thoroughly explored;
  • A 1:1 interview with each child who cannot live at home, producing an ecomap for each child. (Good practice would include a 1:1 interview with every child in the family; children should be asked about where they think it might be possible for them - and where they would like - to live within the extended Family and Friends network);
  • Contact with at least one adult friend or relation living outside the family home to discuss family and friends care options unless this is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child's welfare (Good practice would be evidence of a face to face interview);
  • A brief report, correlated to the genogram, clarifying the position and potential of every adult extended family member and important family friend in relation to their potential and willingness to offer care. This must be based on direct contact with each family member by the social worker, unless this can be shown to be not consistent with the child's welfare or not reasonably practicable. Where a parent is 'blocking' contact or a placement with other family members, this should be accepted only if consistent with the child's welfare. Legal advice may be sought where it is believed that the withholding of consent or information is unreasonable, and is preventing the identification of an appropriate carer from within the extended family;
  • Assessments of all adult family members and important friends who have expressed an interest or willingness to offer care. This should be based on at least one home visit by the social worker, unless there is a clear indication that they will not prove suitable (e.g. convicted of sexual or seriously violent offences against children; compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act);
  • Evidence that they have promoted a visit to the family by an Family Group Conference (FGC) co-ordinator;
  • Evidence of the offer of an FGC for the family to explore family and friends care options (by an FGC co-ordinator or the social worker where an FGC co-ordinator visit is refused).

2. Required Actions for Permanence Reports

To evidence Section 23 duties have been undertaken, social workers should produce a record of:

  • A genogram, which contains at least 3 generations (copy required) (Good practice would include all known family members plus important family friends) with contact details;
  • One or more interviews with the child's parents and anyone else involved in their care or with Parental Responsibility, wherein options with family and friends carers are thoroughly explored (record not required but statement that this has been done required);
  • A 1:1 interview with each child who cannot live at home, producing an ecomap for each child (full record not required but statement that this has been done required, plus child's stated wishes and feelings re where they might like to live plus copy of ecomap). (Good practice would include a 1:1 interview with every child in the family; children should be asked about where they think it might be possible for them - and where they would like - to live within the extended family network);
  • Contact with at least one adult friend or relation living outside the family home to discuss options with family and friends carers unless this is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child's welfare (record not required but statement that this has been done and with whom). (Good practice would be evidence of a face to face interview);
  • A brief report, correlated to the genogram, clarifying the position and potential of every adult extended family member and important family friend in relation to their potential and willingness to offer care. This must be based on direct contact with each family member by the social worker, unless this can be shown to be not consistent with the child's welfare or not reasonably practicable. Where a parent is 'blocking' contact or a placement with other family members, this should be accepted only if consistent with the child's welfare. Legal advice may be sought where it is believed that the withholding of consent or information is unreasonable, and is preventing the identification of an appropriate carer from within the extended family (record required);
  • Assessments of all adult family members and important friends who have expressed an interest or willingness to offer care. This should be based on at least one home visit by the social worker, unless there is a clear indication that they will not prove suitable (e.g. convicted of sexual or seriously violent offences against children; compulsorily detained under the Mental Health Act) (full records not required unless judgment that carers are unsuitable is contested, borderline or controversial).

3. Key Messages from Research

Placement

Family and friends care contributes to placement stability, satisfaction and well-being. Older children with complex needs may achieve better outcomes. Lone children placed with elderly relatives may be more likely to disrupt.

Family and friends placements are mostly initiated by relatives or friends rather than LAs.

Potential foster carers who are Connected Persons may not meet the stranger foster care approval threshold but studies show they are still able to provide more than adequate care with support. 

Placements of Looked After children with Connected Persons can be safe, particularly if the needs of the family are addressed in the assessment process and appropriate support provided to meet these needs.

Extended family participation in partnership decisions around placement options is recommended.

Assessment

Greater recognition and understanding of the unique aspects of the typical family or friends carer profile and consideration of the implications for assessment and enabling are required.

Multi-agency assessment of education, health and social care needs is required; with necessary support being identified concurrently.

Much of the literature on assessment in family and friends care is dedicated to the need for an appropriate assessment framework and for specialist workers skilled to operate it due to differences for example in initial contact, demography, existing placement, the family network involved. Movement away from more traditional methods (centred on professional information gathering, analysis and decision) to a model of exchange and action between worker and family is recommended.

Family Group Conferences are advocated as an effective medium for promoting family involvement in identifying issues and carers and for decision making. The individual needs of the child, parent and carer must be considered, but crucially within the context of the family group.

One of the identified difficulties here is the competing ideologies of partnership and empowerment and their variance with child protection practice. The assessment of potential placements needs to consider the capacity of Connected Persons as carers to protect from physical or emotional harm. There is consensus in the literature that such placements can be safe if the assessment and planning process is effective in identifying and meeting support and training needs. The potential risks and benefits of these placements need to be considered within the assessment process, which should address empowerment and capacity to change.

Support

Family and friends carers need access to quality information and adequate financial and professional support.

Children in placements with family and friends do not want frequent changes of social worker. Consideration should be given to allocation of separate child and carer social workers or one 'family' social worker in these cases.

Consideration needs to be given to support given to family and friends care in and outside of the Looked After system.

Positive attitudes to family and friends care are required from professionals to match the commitment of the carers.

Contact and Rehabilitation

Family and friends care promotes contact, which is important to children, carers and families.

Greater levels of social worker involvement to support carers in managing contact are recommended. There are complex issues and conflict between those involved but family members are more committed to maintaining relationships.

Contact should form part of the assessment process, with a resulting plan for working towards child-focused and restored sibling relationships. 

Studies looking at reunification rates and outcomes are inconclusive.

Training

Training requirements of family and friends carers need to be recognised and provided for; and participation encouraged. Studies indicate such carers rarely attend training.

A particular area of need identified is behaviour management, including counselling and specialist help for children with severe and persistent behavioural and emotional difficulties. Also help with explaining to children why they are living with them, and how to explain to their friends, and the plan concerning them. 

The need for training of Social Workers and Panel members in knowledge and skills related to family and friends care is raised in the literature, with emphasis on the need for training to enable engagement with wider family networks and partnership skills.

Policy and Practice

Policies, procedures and support services are inconsistent across Local Authorities. Clear policy, guidance, training and support for staff are needed. However, please also see Family and Friends Care Policy. All local authorities are required to have such a policy by 30 September 20011 under statutory guidance published in March 2011.

Social workers and Panel need to be trained in key areas, such as understanding family and friends care issues, assessment and planning, mediation, partnership skills, contact management and engagement with family networks.

Policy recommendations in the literature include:

  • Assurance that placement quality is maintained;
  • Further research on how placements are made and the organisational arrangements that would best initiate and sustain kinship placements;
  • Specialist workers for family and friends care arrangements;
  • Full written information for family and friends carers on legal and financial options available;
  • Development of a suitable assessment approach - addressing particular circumstances, not compromising on risk, training for panels;
  • Consideration of thresholds used for approving family and friends carers;
  • Adequate financial assistance;
  • Service provision (e.g. assistance with behaviour, contact, respite);
  • Better review and monitoring;
  • Training for workers;
  • National policy framework.