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OxfordshireChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Decision to Look After Child

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure applies to all decisions to Look After children.

RELATED GUIDANCE

ADCS/Cafcass Practice Guidance for the Use of Section 20

RELATED CHAPTERS

Legal Planning Meetings / Legal Panel Procedure.

See also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.

A child who is dealt with by a court by way of a Remand to Local Authority Accommodation or a Remand to Youth Detention Accommodation will be a Looked After Child. The care planning requirement will be amended in relation to such children - see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was significantly updated in May 2018 to reflect local practice. This procedure should be re-read in its entirety.

Contents

  1. Decision to Look After Child
  2. The Care Plan
  3. Timescales for Completion
  4. Approval of the Care Plan
  5. Circulation of the Care Plan
  6. Other Required Plans, Documentation and Actions

1. Decision to Look After Child

Before a decision is made to Look After a child a referral should be made to the Residential Edge of Care service (REoC), for alternative strategies, or consideration should be given to making arrangements with other extended family members or friends who might be prepared to care for the child without the need for the child to be Looked After (see Children Cared for by Relatives and Friends Outside the Looked After System).

Any such arrangements would have to be agreed with the parent. The social worker and manager must be satisfied that such an arrangement is sufficiently secure to meet the child's needs and is supported by a Child in Need Plan.

If no such arrangement can be identified or such an arrangement would not meet the child's needs, a Planning Meeting will be held wherever possible to plan or consider the following:

  • The child's immediate placement needs, including the child's views, the parents' views and whether a Looked After placement with a relative or friend may be possible;
  • The timescales for the child's placement;
  • A date for the child to return home and when the decision will be reviewed;
  • A Care Plan with actions of support and work to enable the necessary change for the child to return home;
  • The obtaining of parental consent to look after the child and consent to medical care;
  • Any impact on educational arrangements;
  • The requirements of the Public Law Outline and need to send a pre-proceedings letter to the parents (which will require the approval of the Legal Panel - see Legal Planning Meetings / Legal Panel Procedure);
  • The need for Care Proceedings to secure the child's placement and, where appropriate, the need to refer the child to the Legal Panel - see Legal Planning Meetings / Legal Panel Procedure.

The Planning Meeting will include the child (if old enough), the parents and other relevant agencies.

If it is agreed that the child requires to be Looked After, the child's social worker will draw up a draft Care Plan with clear timescales for work/interventions to be completed to enable the child to be returned home and a statement as to whether the child's needs would best be met in a family placement or residential care and why, clarifying the outcomes that are identified.

1.2 Entry to Care Panel

Where a Child and Family Assessment have identified that a placement in foster care or residential care is required to meet a child's needs, a request to look after the child will be referred to the Entry to Care panel.

The decision to look after a child will only be made where the Entry to Care panel is satisfied that all alternative strategies have been explored.

Any requests for a child to become accommodated must be presented to the Entry to Care panel for agreement. The only exemptions are those children placed with kinship carers and children with complex needs where tripartite funding is being requested please refer to the terms of reference for Entry to care panel.

Any child being presented must have been referred to REoC prior to coming to panel to identify whether early intervention could prevent the child coming into care and have been the subject of a Family Group Conference or ‘family meeting’ if time has not allowed for setting up an FGC. 

The social worker should send a referral and book an appointment through the Entry to Care panel admin mail box and complete and send the referral form to request a placement to Placement Services. Please see terms of reference.

The social worker and manager should be available to join the Entry to Care panel in person or by SKYPE to present the draft Care Plan.

The panel will review existing supporting documentation, for example the most recent Child and Family Assessment or Chronology (if available) or the minutes of any recent planning meeting in relation to the child. The social worker will then discuss these documents with the Entry to Care panel members for their consideration.

Where the Entry to Care panel agrees that the child requires a placement, the social worker will then make the necessary arrangements in relation to the placement, in accordance with the relevant Placement Procedure contained in Part 4 of the manual.

1.3 Decisions in an emergency

In an emergency, the Emergency Duty Officer or the social worker's Team Manager can make the decision but the matter must be referred to the next available Entry to Care panel. Any decision to look after a child made outside office hours will be communicated by phone and/or email to the relevant teams and placement services by the beginning of the next working day. The decision to accommodate a child in an emergency will only be agreed if:

  • All attempts at early intervention to maintain and support the child with his or her family have broken down; or
  • The child has been abandoned; or
  • The child would be at risk of Significant Harm by remaining with the family; or
  • The child is disabled and a series of short break placements is necessary to provide respite for his or her carers.
If a child becomes Looked After in an emergency, the child must be referred to entry to care panel retrospectively and the Care Plan will be developed at the planning meeting to take place within 72 hours of the placement.

Where it is considered that the child has complex needs and the responsibility for meeting those needs lies with more than one agency, the procedure for referring the case to the Placement and Commissioning Panel should be followed.

Where a decision is made to pursue a Looked After placement with a relative or friend or other Connected Person and the placement is likely to be for longer than 16 weeks, the assessment of the relative/friend as a Foster Carer must commence immediately with a view to presentation to the Fostering Panel within 16 weeks, and a referral to the Family Placement Team must be made immediately for this purpose. See Placements with Connected Persons Procedure.

For secure placements, see Placements in Secure Accommodation on Welfare Grounds Procedure.

For placements outside the local authority area, see Out of Area Placements Procedure.

In the case of siblings, wherever it is in the best interests of each individual child, they should be placed together. Where they cannot be placed together, they must be supported to understand why they cannot live together, and there should be robust plans for contact between them, so far as this is consistent with their welfare.

1.4 Section 20 Accommodation

There are many scenarios in which Section 20 is used positively and these include situations of family support (e.g. Short Term Breaks) (see Children's Disability Service and the Multi Agency Priority Panel Process - Eligibility Criteria and Service Allocation Guidelines for Community Support/Short Break Care Procedure) and where parents are unable to care for children, for whatever reason, and there are no agreed alternative family or friends to undertake this.

In Accommodating a child under Section 20, it must always be borne in mind that the local authority does not have Parental Responsibility; only the parents / those carers with Parental Responsibility can make decisions for the child. The parent/carer can remove the child from Accommodation at any time and any such request must be responded to promptly by the local authority, or it must otherwise take action through the court. (See also Ceasing to Look After a Child Procedure).

The parents/carers should be advised of any changes in the child's circumstances whilst the child is in local authority care.

It is therefore important to ensure that the parents/carers have full information about their continuing responsibilities as well as those of the local authority and that this is enshrined in the Care Plan and a written agreement.

A recent Court of Appeal hearing (L B Hackney v Williams & Anor [2017] EWCA Civ 26) confirmed that 'Consent' under any of the Section 20 provisions was not a statutory requirement as such. It stated that the local authority has a duty to provide accommodation for children, (subject to a parent being able to legally object and / or remove) where the person who had been caring for them was 'prevented (whether or not permanently and for whatever reason) from providing them with suitable accommodation or care'.

This, therefore, supports the local authority in its duties towards children on those occasions where 'parental consent' cannot, for a variety of reasons, be obtained at the time of a child's accommodation or parents cannot effect care of the child themselves.

Nevertheless, with regard to previous court judgments on 'consent', it reflected that they were, 'in short, good practice guidance and a description of the process that the family court expects to be followed'.

Therefore, obtaining Parental Consent as a matter of good practice remains an essential part of Accommodating a child under this part of the 1989 Act. A number of court decisions have been particularly critical of local authorities' actions with regard to consent and great care needs to be undertaken to ensure parents have the appropriate capacity to do this.

Section 20 agreements are not valid unless the parent giving consent has capacity to do so, (in cases where the father also has Parental Responsibility, the consent of both parents should be sought). The consent needs to be properly informed and fairly obtained. Willingness to consent cannot be inferred from silence, submission or acquiescence - it is a positive action.

Detailed guidance on the obtaining of parental consent was given by the High Court in the case of Re CA (A Baby) (2012): 

  • The social worker must first be satisfied that the parent giving consent does not lack the mental Capacity to do so. Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a person is unable to make a decision if s/he is unable:
    • To understand the information relevant to the decision;
    • To retain that information;
    • To use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision; or
    • To communicate his/her decision.
  • If there is doubt about Capacity, no further attempts to obtain consent should be made at that time, and advice should be sought from a manager.
  • If satisfied that the parent has Capacity, the social worker must be satisfied that the consent is fully informed:
    • Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?
    • Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
    • Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?
  • If not satisfied that the consent if fully informed, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought from a manager and legal advice sought if thought necessary.
  • If satisfied that the consent is fully informed, then it is necessary to be satisfied that the giving of such consent and the subsequent removal of the child from the parent is both fair and proportionate:
    • What is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
    • If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?
    • Is it necessary for the safety of the child for her to be removed at this time?
    • Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?

Whether a person has capacity can sometimes be difficult to determine, as some individuals have a learning disability or mental health problem but can present as being more 'able' than in fact they are. Equally, within the context of 'assessing capacity', social workers should approach with great care relying on Section 20 agreements from mothers after giving birth, (especially where there is no immediate danger to the child and where probably no order would be made).

Where there is any concern about a parent / carer's capacity, the social worker should ensure they discuss this issue with their team manager, or that the parent has information from a legal adviser or professional advice [1]. Note: In Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH (2012) EWHC2190 (Fam) it was identified that, 'every social worker obtaining consent is under a personal duty (the outcome of which may not be dictated to by others) to be satisfied that the person giving consent does not lack the capacity to do so'.

[1] Note: Unless a parent is subject to Proceedings, or Letter Before Proceedings, they will be unable to qualify for Legal Aid.

2. The Care Plan

In all circumstances where a decision is made to look after a child, the child must have a Care Plan, the contents of which include:

  • The child's Placement Plan (setting out why the placement was chosen and how the placement will contribute to meeting the child's needs);
  • The child's Permanence Plan (setting out the long term plans for the child's upbringing including timescales);
  • The Pathway Plan (where appropriate, for young people leaving care);
  • The child's Health Plan;
  • The child's Personal Education Plan;
  • The contingency plan;
  • The date of the child's first Looked After Review (within 20 working days);
  • The name of the Independent Reviewing Officer.

The child's social worker is responsible for drawing up and updating the Care Plan in consultation with:

  1.  The child;
  2. The child's parents and those with Parental Responsibility;
  3. Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for or looking after the child;
  4. Other members of the child's family network who are significant to the child;
  5. The child's school or education authority;
  6. The relevant health trust;
  7. The Youth Offending Service, if the child is known to them;
  8. Other agency involved with the child's care.

The Care Plan can be updated by the social worker, with the manager's approval, at any time. 

The Care Plan is subject to scrutiny at each Looked After Review. It should be updated after each Review but if there are no substantial changes, the Care Plan can be updated by attaching to it the Review minutes.

One of the key functions of the Care Plan is to ensure that each child has a Permanence Plan by the time of the second Looked After Review. The Care Plan is subject to scrutiny at each Looked After Review - see Looked After Reviews Procedure.

The Care Plan should include the arrangements made to meet the child's needs in relation to his or her:

  • Emotional and behavioural development;
  • The child's identity in relation to religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background;
  • Family and social relationships; arrangements for contact with sibling(s) accommodated by the authority or another local authority; details of any Section 8 Order, in relation to a Looked After Child; details of any order in relation to contact with a child in care; arrangements for contact with parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility/any other Connected Person; arrangements for the appointment of an Independent Visitor for a Looked After Child;
  • Social presentation;
  • Self-care skills.

3. Timescales for Completion

A Care Plan must be prepared prior to a child's first placement, or, if it is not practicable to do so, within 10 working days of the child's first placement.

4. Approval of the Care Plan

Any final Care Plan taken before the Court within Care Proceedings must be endorsed and signed by a Designated Manager (Care Plan).

All other Care Plans must be endorsed and signed by the social worker's Team Manager.

5. Circulation of Care Plan

The Care Plan must be circulated to the following people:

  • The child;
  • The parent(s);
  • Providers/Carers - if no Care Plan has been drawn up prior to the child's placement, the social worker must ensure that the providers/carers understand the key objectives of the plan, and how the placement will help achieve these objectives;
  • The child's Independent Reviewing Officer.

6. Other Required Plans, Documentation and Actions

6.1

Placement Plan (recorded on the Placement Information Record). The child must have a Placement Plan at the time of the placement or, if not reasonably practicable, within 5 working days of the start of the placement - this includes the parent's consent to the placement (if applicable) and the child's medical treatment. It should be completed as far as possible before the child is placed.

The information to be included in the Placement Plan will include:

  1. How on a day-to-day basis the child will be cared for and the child's welfare will be safeguarded and promoted by the appropriate person;
  2. Any arrangements for contact between the child and parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility/any other connected person, including, if appropriate, reasons why contact is not reasonably practicable or not consistent with the child's welfare; details of any Contact Order/Child Arrangements Order (under Section 8 or 34 of the Children Act 1989); the arrangements for notifying any changes in contact arrangements;
  3. Arrangements for the child's health (physical, emotional and mental) and dental care, including the name and address of registered medical and dental practitioners; arrangements for giving/withholding consent to medical/dental examination/treatment;
  4. Arrangements for the child's education and training, including the name and address of the child's school/other educational institution/provider and designated teacher; the Local Authority maintaining any Education, Health and Care Plan for 0-25 years;
  5. The arrangements for and frequency of visits by the child's social worker; and for advice, support and assistance between visits;
  6. If an Independent Visitor is appointed, the arrangements for them to visit the child;
  7. The circumstances in which the placement may be terminated;
  8. The name and contact details of the Independent Reviewing Officer, the Independent Visitor if one is appointed, the social worker who will be visiting the child, and the Personal Adviser for an Eligible Young Person.

6.2

Copies of the Placement Plan/Placement Information Record must be provided to the child (if of sufficient age and understanding), the parents and must be handed to the residential staff/carers before the child is placed. One copy should also be retained in the child's record and, in the case of a child placed with an in-house foster carer, one copy sent to the foster carers' link social worker - to be kept in the confidential section of the foster carer's file and returned at the end of the placement.

At the time of the placement, the residential staff/carers should also be given any additional information about details of the child's day to day needs which are not covered by the Placement Plan/Placement Information Record but are important to ensure that the staff/carers are in the best possible position to help the child settle in the new placement, for example any particular fears at night-time or the child's favourite toys.

6.3

The social worker should complete a CLA Recording Form and ensure the details of the child's placement/care package is logged on Framework-i. The social worker should also complete a Movement Form. The team administrator will send copies of the Movement Form to the relevant finance officer to trigger payments to carers/agencies for the agreed weekly cost of the placement and any additional services/costs. Copies of the Movement Form will also be sent to the Health Liaison Nurse (see paragraph 6.5 below) and the education officer responsible for looked after children (see paragraph 6.6 below).

6.4

The social worker's team administrator will also liaise with the Independent Chairs/Quality Assurance Unit to arrange the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) for the child's Looked After Reviews. The IRO will contact the social worker to arrange the time and date of the first Looked After Review (within 28 days of the child becoming looked after). See Looked After Reviews Procedure for the procedures relating to the Reviews, including the responsibility for invitations to the Reviews.

6.5

Health Care. Before or at the time of the placement, the social worker should request the parent to transfer the child's Personal Child Health Record and contact the Health Liaison Nurse to arrange a Health Assessment and the completion of a Health Action Plan in time for the first Looked After Review. See Health Care Assessments and Plans Procedure. In addition, the social worker should inform the carer of any medication the child is taking, and why, and ensure that a supply of medication is provided in a clearly labelled bottle with the child's name, required dosage and the time the medication is to be given. For further details, see First Aid, Home Remedies and Prescribed Medicines Procedure.

6.6

Personal Education Plan (PEP). The social worker should also notify the education officer responsible for looked after children of the child's placement and take the necessary steps to complete a Personal Education Plan as part of the Care Plan before the child becomes looked after (or within 10 working days in the case of an emergency placement) and be available in time for the first Looked After Review.