SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter applies to arrangements for children placed in foster and residential care to have contact with their parents and siblings. The local authority has a duty to promote contact between Looked After children and their parents (Children and Family act 2014) which only ends where a decision is made that the child should be placed for adoption - at which point the local authority’s duty to promote contact ends although there is no presumption for or against contact and consideration will still need to be given to whether contact should continue in the best interests of the child - see Placement for Adoption Procedure. Sibling contact is emphasised as being particularly important.
For guidance regarding frequency of contact within the context of permanence, see Permanence Planning Guidance.
- Approving and Planning Contact with Parents
- Approving and Planning Contact with Relatives and Friends
- Supervised Contact
- Cancellation of Contact
- Review of Contact Arrangements
- Suspension or Termination of Contact
1. Approving and Planning Contact with Parents
Looked After children should be encouraged and supported to maintain contact with their parents, any person who holds Parental Responsibility, other significant family members (including grandparents and half siblings), Connected Persons and 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. There is a presumption of continued contact between the child and their family while the child is Looked After, unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child’s welfare.
Contact between children and their parents or siblings may only be permitted if previously agreed by the social worker and should be set out in the child’s Placement Information Record.
The purpose of the contact and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the Plan. Some reasons for contact may be to build or maintain relationships, assure the child that they are loved and remembered and help come to terms with separation and loss, give permission to settle in a new family and reassure that birth family members are alive and well, help children to understand their history and identity (including ethnic identity).
Contact arrangements should be focused on, and shaped around, the child’s needs. The child’s welfare is the paramount consideration at all times and each child’s wishes and needs for contact should be individually considered and regularly assessed. The wishes and feelings of the child should be ascertained, wherever possible, using advocacy and communication services if necessary.
So far as it is reasonably practicable, the wishes and feelings of the parents and the child’s carers must be ascertained before a decision about contact arrangements is made.
Both direct and indirect contact arrangements should always be clearly detailed, setting out how contact will take place, the venue, the frequency and how the arrangements will be reviewed.
Where contact is extended as part of a plan to gradually return the child to the parents’ care, the Placements with Parents Procedure should be followed.
For foster carers providing short breaks, the foster carer must maintain contact as agreed in the short break plan.
2. Approving and Planning Contact with Relatives and Friends
When the child's placement is made, information regarding any significant relationships including those with Parental Responsibility, siblings, other significant family members (including grandparents and half siblings), Connected Persons and friendships should be obtained, together with the parents' views on the child having contact with such relatives or friends.
If it is considered that contact with a particular person is appropriate despite the parents’ views, legal advice may be required and any decision to allow such contact to go ahead notwithstanding the parents’ views must be clearly recorded, together with the reasons and this must be explained to the parents.
Arrangements for contact with significant relatives/friends must take account of any Contact Order/Child Arrangements Order that may be in force.
Any planned contact arrangements should always be clearly detailed in the Placement Information Record, setting out how contact will take place, the venue, the frequency and how the arrangements will be evaluated and reviewed - see Section 5, Review of Contact Arrangements.
The need to supervise contact with relatives and friends should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process by the social worker and approved by his or her Team Manager, in the same way as set out in Section 1, Approving and Planning Contact with Parents.
Before contact arrangements are set up to take place at the home of a relative or friend on a regular basis, checks on members of the relevant household must be made and a Declaration of Suitability completed as set out in the Placements with Connected Persons Procedure.
3. 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 manager.
The primary focus of the assessment of this issue will be the safety and welfare of the child.
Where supervised contact is deemed necessary, the reasons should be clearly recorded and the role of the supervisor or supervisors clearly defined.
A referral for the supervision of contact should be made to the Supervised Contact Team. The referral information must include information about potential risks in contact. The Supervised Contact Team will provide a written risk assessment and management plan for contacts derived from the information given.
A written risk assessment must be completed before supervised contacts begin.
This assessment must take account of all factors that could impact on the success of supervised contact and relevant safeguards including:
- Any history of abuse or threats of abuse to the child, carers or staff;
- Previous incidents of disruption or threats to disrupt contact or failure to cooperate with conditions agreed for supervised contact;
- Previous incidents or threats of abduction;
- Previous incidents of coercion or inappropriate behaviour during contact;
- The transient or unsettled lifestyle of the parents, as opposed to long-standing local connections;
- 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 then be approved and signed by the Supervised Contact Team manager.
Where supervised contact takes place, the detailed arrangements for the supervision must be set out in the Placement Information Record.
In addition, there should be a written agreement with the parents and other parties having supervised contact, signed by them, which 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.
Social workers, working with the Supervised Contact Team 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 staff/carers and any other person involved in the supervision of the contact should have copies of the Placement Information Record, the risk management plan 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 who 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 record and shared with the parents.
The supervisor must immediately report to the social worker any concerns about the parents’ conduct during the contact. The social worker in consultation with his/her manager and the Supervised Contact Team should consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or the contact arrangements in light of the concerns expressed.
4. 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 Information Record, Court Order and any 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 wherever possible.
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.
NB Contact arrangements must not be withdrawn as a Sanction imposed on a child.
5. Review of Contact Arrangements
The social worker and his/her manager should keep contact arrangements, including the continuing need for supervision, under regular review.
Any significant reactions that the child has to contact should be reported to the child's social worker by those observing contact arrangements, for example foster carers, residential staff and/or supervisors of contact.
The contact arrangements should also be reviewed in any Placement Planning Meeting and at the child's Looked After Review.
Any contact arrangements which are agreed as a result of new friendships formed during the child's placement should be included in the Placement Plan/Placement Information Record.
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 the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the contact arrangements should also be reviewed as required in the Child Protection Plan.
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.
6. Suspension or Termination of Contact
Emergency restrictions on contact can only be made to protect the child from significant risk and must be notified to the placing authority (child's social worker) within 24 hours.
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 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. Any such proposal should be made in the context of the overall aims and objectives of the Care Plan.
Even where it is not possible to hold a Looked After Review because of the urgency of the situation, 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.
The approval of the Designated Manager (Contact with Parents) should be obtained to any proposal to suspend or terminate contact.
Where the child is the subject of an Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order or full Care Order, 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 and, where relevant, the intended Court application, together with the reasons, must be sent to the parents, child (depending on age) and any other relevant person (for example the child's advocate, an Independent Visitor or Children’s Guardian). Staff/carers and other agencies involved with the child’s care must also be informed.