Care Planning for Looked After Children
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies to all decisions to Look After children.
It should be read in conjunction with:
- Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure;
- Placement Requests: Access to Resources Making LAC Placements with ART Procedure;
- Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was amended in June 2019 to reflect Section 3 of the Care Planning and Care Leavers (Amendment) Regulations 2014. The Care Plan must identify whether there is reason to believe the child has been trafficked or is an unaccompanied asylum seeker (see Section 10, The Care Plan).
1. The Decision to Look After Child
The decision to look after a child will have life changing consequences for the child and for their family, and it has very significant legal and corporate parenting consequences and responsibilities for Merton council.
A child may not come into care unless in care proceedings, or if they are accommodated under Section 20 and aged below 16 years. In emergency circumstances a child may come into care if approval has been given by a Delegated Manager (Head of Service). There are circumstances when approval will also be required from the Assistant Director, and if necessary the Director of Children's Services (see Secure Accommodation: Policy and Practice Guidance and Out of Area Placements Procedure).
Outside office hours, the Emergency Duty Team can make the decision to Look After a child and it may be that the police are involved if intervention is needed. Any decision to look after a child made outside office hours will be communicated by secure email to the relevant team by the beginning of the next working day (see Children's Emergency and Out of Hours Procedure).
2. Considerations Before a Decision to Look After is Made
A decision to look after a child may be made in circumstances where the child is likely to be at risk of Significant Harm, if they remain in the family home. In an emergency the police may exercise their child protection powers under Section 46 of the Children Act 1989 to remove the child to a safe location for up to 72 hours. Should there be reasonable cause for Merton Children's Services to believe that a child is likely to suffer Significant Harm if:
- The child remains at home; or
- Is removed from a place of safety; or
- Child Protection Enquiries are being made and access to the child is being frustrated.
Then the local authority will apply to the court for an Emergency Protection Order for up to 8 days. See Application for Emergency Protection Orders Procedure. During the social work enquires it should be explored if there are any family or friends that can assume care of the child in an emergency situation.
Before a decision is made to look after a child, consideration must be given to making arrangements with extended family. Due care must be taken where the local authority has been involved in the arrangements for the child to be cared for by relatives; the child may be viewed as within the definition of Looked After and a legal view may be helpful to clarify the status of the child and the placement. In these circumstances, if the child is regarded as looked after and placed with a relative or friend, the Placement with Connected Persons Foster Carers Procedure would apply.
Alternatively, the child may come within the definition of Privately Fostered after 27 days, in which case the Private Fostering Procedure will apply.
N.B. Any arrangements whereby the child is not regarded as Looked After would have to be agreed with the parent or a person with Parental Responsibility, and the allocated social worker 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, the allocated social worker, with his or her team manager, should consider:
- The child's immediate placement needs - including the child's views, the views of the parents, those with Parental Responsibility and any other person whose wishes and feelings the authority consider to be relevant - and whether a placement with a Connected Person may be possible;
- The timescales for the placement;
- A proposed date for the child to return home or when the decision will be reviewed should be agreed;
- The recommended actions of support and work to be included in the Care Plan should be clearly outlined to enable the necessary change for the child to return home wherever possible;
- Parental consent to look after the child and consent to medical care must be obtained;
- The contact arrangements with birth parents, siblings, extended family and friends should be explored.
Where it is considered that Care Proceedings should be initiated to secure the child's placement, see also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.
N.B. Any decision that a child should be the subject of Care Proceedings should have regard to the requirements of the Public Law Outline, and in particular the Pre-Proceedings Checklist which is set out in Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.
All decisions made should be recorded on the child's electronic record, including the reasons for reaching the decision and with the Team Manager and Head of Service.
3. Other Ways of Becoming Looked After
- Children with disabilities who are receiving short breaks in for longer than 17 days in any one break, or a total of more than 75 days in any one year are considered to be looked after under Section 20. The Designated Manager will give approval for the change of status;
- Children remanded to local authority accommodation or to youth detention accommodation are looked after children under Section 92 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The child's social worker must update their LAC status on the social care information management system and start the appropriate workflow to implement the LAC processes;
- Children received under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) and accommodated until the next available youth court date must have their LAC status updated by the social worker on the social care information management system and start the appropriate workflow to implement the LAC processes;
- Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC) who present themselves as such to Merton and have resided in Merton prior to claiming asylum, or children aged 16 years and above who are allocated to Merton by the Pan London UASC Rota, administered by Croydon Council, are deemed to be the responsibility of Merton and to be looked after under Section 20 (see Trafficked and Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children Procedure).
4. Section 20 Accommodation
In April 2016, the ADCS and Cafcass issued Practice Guidance for the Use of S20 Provision in the Children Act 1989 in England and the Equivalent S76 of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 in Wales identifying the positive uses of section 20 to include circumstances such as these:
- Where the child's parent is unable to care for them for a short period and where there are no family or friends able to offer temporary care;
- For unaccompanied children seeking asylum, semi-independent living arrangements and some family and friends arrangements;
- Where the relationship between the child and parent has broken down as part of a strategy to repair the relationship and reunify them;
- For children where the parent(s) consistently desire the care of the child by the local authority as a prelude to relinquishing the child for adoption, but not when a newborn baby is in immediate need of protection, in which case, care proceedings should be issued within five days (see Section 6, Newborn Babies);
- In situations of respite care.
There have been criticisms by the courts for the misuse of Section 20 by local authorities. The appeal judgement of the President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales in November 2015, found that local authorities had failed to get informed consent from parents, failed to evidence in writing the alleged consent of the parents, allowed section 20 arrangements to continue for too long as a prelude to care proceedings, and were reluctant to return children when consent was withdrawn. More recently, a High Court judgement re-confirmed that a local authority failing to respond to a parent's request to have their child back under section 20(8) acts unlawfully (Herefordshire Council v AB  EWFC 10 rtf).
Merton council believes that the avoidance of drift and good permanence arrangements for the child, and the informed consent of the persons with Parental Responsibility, are central to good social care practice, and to respecting the rights of the child and their family.
Consent to the arrangement has to be explicitly given and understood by those with parental responsibility (exceptional circumstances where consent cannot be obtained are detailed in Section 5.1, Duty to Provide Accommodation). It is essential that social workers ensure that a child accommodated in the care of Merton council under Section 20 has a clear permanence plan that sets out the timescales and actions by which they will be returned to their family, or become subject to care proceedings with a plan appropriate to their age and needs, for placement with connected persons, special guardianship, adoption, child arrangement orders or long term foster care. The Permanence Plan has the objective of ensuring that the child has 'a secure, stable and loving family to support them throughout childhood and beyond,' (DfE, Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review, para 2.3). All children should have a permanence plan regardless of age, but at 16 and 17 years, their Pathway Plan will set out the steps and actions by which the young person will transition to adult independence. See Leaving Care Procedure.
5. Obtaining Parental Consent
Section 20 is sometimes referred to as 'voluntary care' because the child has been brought into the care of the local authority with the full agreement of the persons who hold parental responsibility for the child. This includes the birth parent(s), guardians, special guardians, adoptive parents, people named in a Residence Order or a Child Arrangements Order, and step parents, married or civil, who have acquired parental responsibility by the consent of both birth parents, or who have obtained a parental responsibility order of the court. Fathers have parental responsibility if named on the child's birth certificate and/or married to the mother when the child was born.
The High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent)  EWHC 2729 (Fam) set out the relevant information that a parent would need to be able to understand, retain and weigh up in order to have competency to consent to the accommodation of a child:
- That the child will be staying with someone chosen by the local authority, probably a foster carer;
- That the parent can change their mind about the arrangements, and request the child back from accommodation at any time;
- That the parent will be able to see the child.
The voluntary consent of each person with parental responsibility is required for Section 20 admission into care, and if one person with parental responsibility objects, the local authority will need to apply for a court order if accommodation is required (exceptional circumstances where consent cannot be obtained are detailed in Section 5.1, Duty to Provide Accommodation). The police may decide to remove the child to the care of the local authority temporarily in an emergency. The local authority should attempt to discover the views and wishes of all persons with parental responsibility for the child, but can decide to bring a child into care under Section 20 if one of those with parental responsibility cannot be found.
The practical issue of the capacity of the person with parental responsibility to give consent must be explicitly considered by the social worker and that they are personally satisfied the person has the mental capacity (Mental Capacity Act 2005) to do so (exceptional circumstances where consent cannot be obtained are detailed in Section 5.1, Duty to Provide Accommodation). This can be a complex issue, but social workers are trained and skilled in making assessments of complex issues. The courts have established that the social worker, in each instance, has a personal duty to be satisfied that the person giving consent does not lack the capacity to do so. If the social worker has any cause or reason for doubt they must consult with their manager, but their personal duty cannot be abrogated to another. With great care, the social worker should consider the emotional, physical, and mental health of the person with parental responsibility, and also encourage them to seek legal or independent advice.
Additional to capacity to consent, the social worker must ensure that the person with parental responsibility is giving informed consent. This means that the person is made fully aware by the social worker of the consequences of their decision, either for consent or refusal.
Both the social worker and the Designated Manager agreeing the decision to accommodate must be satisfied that:
- The Section 20 admission into care is necessary for the safety and well-being of the child;
- That the rights of the family are not compromised by the absence of a court order;
- That the child's wishes and feelings have been fully considered;
- That the accommodation available to the local authority is appropriate to the child's needs.
In all circumstances it must be determined if there is an alternative to local authority care. This can include being cared for by a family member or friend, or by providing additional practical and financial help and support to the family.
Note that the High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent) made clear that parental Capacity to consent to a child being accommodated under s.20 Children Act 1989, does not equate to their capacity to consent to an adoption order in respect of the child - the capacity to consent is decision-specific (see Section 6, Newborn Babies).
5.1 Duty to Provide Accommodation
In some instances, parents may not be available to provide informed consent or effect care of the child. A recent Court of Appeal hearing (L B Hackney v Williams & Anor  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', (as noted above), it reflected that they were, 'in short, good practice guidance and a description of the process that the family court expects to be followed'.
6. Newborn Babies
There will be very rare circumstances in which Section 20 will be appropriate for the accommodation of newborn babies. Although the mother may have consistently stated her consent to a Section 20 arrangement prior to the birth of the child, the social worker will need to exercise great care when considering the mother's capacity to give consent following the birth. Where there is cause to believe that the baby is likely to suffer significant harm, care proceedings should be issued within five days (Nottingham City Council v (1) LM (2) DW and (3) LW, 2016 EWHC 11). However, in certain shared care arrangements, following robust assessment, Section 20 may be appropriate.
If the parent(s) of the child ask the local authority to place the baby for adoption ('relinquished baby') and there are no reasons to believe the child is at risk of significant harm, the local authority will very properly accommodate under Section 20. It must be noted that a parent cannot legally give informed consent that the child be placed for adoption in the first six weeks of the baby's birth (Section 19 Adoption Act 2002). A parent many also give consent in advance to the making of an Adoption Order. There is a risk that a mother may withdraw her consent in the six weeks between the birth of the child and the date when she can relinquish the child, but this is a manageable risk and care proceedings should not automatically be issued if the intention to relinquish appears to be genuine. See Placing Relinquished Babies and Children for Adoption Procedure.
If the parent withdraws consent at any time before an adoption application has been made by the prospective adopters, the local authority must return the child to the parent(s) within seven days or apply for an Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order or Placement Order (see Part 8.2, Adoption and Permanence).
7. Use of Section 20 Prior to Care Proceedings
The President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales has stated (2015) that section 20, may …have a proper role to play as a short term measure pending the commencement of care proceedings, but not as a quick and inevitable step to care proceedings. A more recent Judgement (Herefordshire Council v AB  EWFC 10 rtf) considered that in circumstances where the threshold criteria (for Care/ Supervision Orders) under Section 31 Children Act 1989 are met, (i.e. where a child is at risk of significant harm, or the likelihood of significant harm), then care proceedings should be issued without delay.
There is a valid role for section 20 in pre-proceedings engagement with the parents where it is the best means of maintaining dialogue and relationship with them in order to progress the work that may avert the issuing of proceedings. A balance has to be struck between maintaining the trust and cooperation of the parents, with the timescale and needs of the child. However, Merton is committed to ensuring that there is no delay in achieving permanence for the child and it is the responsibility of the child's social worker, manager, and the child's Independent Reviewing Officer, to ensure that there is no delay in the issuing of proceedings when progress is not being made for the return home of the child, by the time of the child's second statutory review. It is advisable for social workers and managers to consult the local authority legal advisors for advice, and if appropriate to hold a legal planning meeting at any stage in the process, when the return of the child home becomes less than a real possibility.
The Care Plan for any child subject to section 20 will be tracked and periodically scrutinised by the Head of Safeguarding and Care Planning or Head of Permanence, LAC and Care Leavers to ensure that the section 20 arrangement remains appropriate for the child's needs.
The consequences of delay in issuing proceedings through prolonged and inappropriate use of section 20 are of considerable concern because of the detrimental impact on the child, and because local authorities face stringent criticism from the courts and possible exposure to claims for damages in these circumstances.
8. Recording Parental Consent
There is no legal requirement for the consent of the person with parental responsibility to be recorded in writing and signed by that person, but the President of the Family Division of the High Court of England and Wales has stated that it is always prudent for the local authority to do this. Merton council requires that in all circumstances where it is possible and practical to do so that the social worker must obtain written evidence of the informed consent of the person(s) with parental responsibility. If the social worker is in any doubt about the practicalities or reasonableness of doing this in a specific situation they must consult with their manager and advise the Head of Service of this possibility.
The written agreement for Section 20 consent must include as a minimum:
- Signature of the person(s) with parental responsibility and of the child if aged 16 years;
- Explain briefly and in plain terms the reasons why the child is being accommodated, the purposes that will be achieved and by what timescale, contact arrangements, the actions required of the parent, and when the agreement will be reviewed;
- In simple language outline the legislation for the arrangement and state explicitly that the persons with parental responsibility can withdraw consent and remove the child from the care of the local authority at any time;
Note: it is advisable to also obtain consent to routine medical treatment, immunisations, and health assessment from the person with parental responsibility at the same time. This will avoid any delay in ensuring that the child's first statutory Health Assessment is completed within 20 working days of becoming looked after. See LAC Health Care Assessments and Plans Procedure.
9. Actions Required After a Decision to Look After is Made
In relation to children where Care Proceedings are being considered to secure the child's placement, see also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.
In all cases, if it is agreed that the child should become Looked After, the allocated social worker will draw up a draft Care Plan (see Section 10, The Care Plan), in consultation with their Team Manager, with clear timescales and a recommendation about the type of placement that will best meet the child's needs. It is Merton's view that children should be placed in a foster placement because this is the type of placement that most closely replicates a family environment, offering the child the security and personal advantages usually found within a family. Merton recognises that in certain circumstances residential care may best meet the needs of an individual child. However, only in very exceptional circumstances will a child become looked after in an emergency (unplanned admission) and be placed directly into a residential home. A child should usually be placed in foster care so that the team around the child can fully assess the child and establish a strong relationship with the child before identifying the need for residential care. Merton also believes that residential care should be a means of returning the child to a family environment, either with foster carers or, whenever appropriate, with their own family. Authorisation for residential care is required from the Assistant Director after prior consent to the referral to the Assistant Director has been given by the Head of Service. The child's IRO must be in agreement with the placement plan.
If a foster or residential placement is required, the relevant procedures must be followed, including the need to hold a Placement Planning Meeting, and will be found in:
- Placement Requests: Access to Resources Making LAC Placements with ART Procedure;
- Placements in Foster Care Procedure; or
- Placements in Residential Care Procedure.
Where a decision is made to pursue a Looked After placement with a relative, friend or other connected person (or the child's placement with a relative or friend is judged to be a Looked After placement), an immediate assessment of the relative/friend/connected person must be undertaken. See Placement with Connected Persons Foster Carers Procedure.
For secure placements, see Secure Accommodation: Policy and Practice Guidance.
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. The agreement of the Head of Service must be obtained prior to any sibling group being placed apart from each other. The social worker must complete a together or apart sibling assessment with a clear explanation in writing for why the siblings are being placed apart. This must be placed on the children's records. 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.
10. The Care Plan
In all circumstances where a decision is made to look after a child, the child must have a Care Plan completed by the allocated social worker and signed by the relevant Team Manager, the contents of which should 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 child's Health Plan;
- The child's Personal Education Plan;
- The Contingency Plan;
- The arrangements and timescales for the child to leave the care of the local authority;
- The date of the child's first Looked After Review (within 20 working days);
- The name of the Independent Reviewing Officer.
When a young person is 16 years of age, a Pathway Plan should be completed which will supersede the Care Plan.
Where there is no recent Assessment in relation to the child, the Care Plan must provide for an Assessment to be completed.
The allocated social worker is responsible for drawing up and updating the Care Plan in consultation with:
- The child (if they are able to express their views and wishes);
- The child's parents and those with Parental Responsibility;
- Significant Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for or looking after the child;
- Other members of the child's family network who are significant to the child;
- The child's school or the education service and the Virtual School;
- The relevant health trust;
- The Youth Offending Service, if the child is known to them;
- Any other agency involved with the child's care.
Note: The Care Plan must identify if there is reason to believe that the child is a victim of trafficking, or is an unaccompanied asylum seeker and has applied for, or intends to apply for, asylum.
The allocated social worker should ensure that the child, those with Parental Responsibility and the alternative carer/s understand the Care Plan and their role in contributing to its implementation.
One of the key functions of the Care Plan is to ensure that each child has a Permanence Plan by the time of their second Looked After Review. The Care Plan is subject to monitoring at each Looked After Review - see Looked After Reviews Procedure.
The Care Plan should include the current 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 their religious persuasion, racial origin, cultural and linguistic background;
- Family and social relationships; contact arrangements for them with sibling(s) if they are accommodated; 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.
11. 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.
12. Approval of the Care Plan
Any final Care Plan taken before the Court within Care Proceedings must be endorsed and signed by a Head of Service. In some circumstances, an Assistant Director may sign off a Care Plan if there are long term funding implications within a placement.
All other Care Plans must be endorsed and signed by the social worker's Team Manager.
13. Circulation of Care Plan
The Care Plan must be circulated to the following people:
- The child (if age appropriate);
- The parent(s);
- Commissioned 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 Fostering Service, where the child is in a foster care placement. N.B. The Care Plan should be filed in the confidential section of the foster carer's file and returned when the placement comes to an end;
The allocated Independent Reviewing Officer can access the Care Plan on the social care information system.
14. Other Required Plans, Documentation and Actions
14.1 Placement Plan (recorded on the Placement Information Record)
The child must have a Placement Plan at 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 a child is placed or, if not reasonably practicable, within 5 working days of the start of the placement.
The information to be included in the Placement Plan will include:
- The day-to-day care arrangements for the child, including how their religious and cultural needs will be met, and how the child's welfare will be safeguarded and promoted by the appropriate person;
- The contact arrangements 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 Child Arrangements Order / Contact Order (under Section 8 or 34 of the Children Act 1989); the arrangements for notifying any changes in contact arrangements;
- 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;
- 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 for Looked After Children; the Local Authority maintaining any statement of Special Educational Needs and a copy of this should be a appendix of the Plan;
- The frequency of visits by the allocated social worker; and how advice, support and assistance between visits will be offered;
- If an Independent Visitor is appointed, the arrangements for them to visit the child and the reporting process to the allocated social worker;
- The circumstances in which a placement may be terminated;
- The name, contact email and telephone details of the Independent Reviewing Officer, the Independent Visitor if one is appointed, the allocated social worker who will be visiting the child, and the Personal Adviser for an Eligible Young Person.
The Placement Plan will be recorded on the Placement Information Record on the child's electronic database.
Copies of the Placement Information Record must be provided to the child (if of sufficient age and understanding), the parents. A copy should be shared with the residential placement and foster carers before the child is placed. Where a child is placed in an in-house foster placement, one copy should also be sent to the Fostering Team - to be kept in the confidential section of the foster carer's file and returned at the end of the placement.
At the start of the placement, the carers should also be given any supplementary information about details of the child's day to day needs which are not covered by the Placement Information Record but are important to ensure that the carers are in the best possible position to help the child settle in and readjust to their new placement, for example any particular worries they may have at night-time or the child's favourite bed time story, comfort toy etc.
When a new placement starts or the child moves placement, the case file Chronology should be updated and should be regularly reviewed.
14.3 Arrangement of First Looked After Review
The allocated social worker must notify the LAC Administrator of the placement within two working days of the child becoming looked after, so that the necessary arrangements for the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) (within 5 working days of the child becoming looked after wherever possible) and the child's first Looked After Review can be made. See the Looked After Reviews Procedure for the procedures relating to reviews, including the responsibility for invitations to reviews.
14.4 Health Care
If the placement is a planned one before the start of the placement, the allocated social worker should request the parent to transfer the child's personal child health record. Where this is lost or not available, the allocated social worker should ask for a replacement to be issued and ask the Designated Nurse for LAC to assist with providing any information to complete the record.
The allocated social worker should also contact the Designated Nurse for LAC to arrange a Health Care Assessment before the placement or, if not reasonably practicable before the first Looked After Review (i.e. within 20 working days of the placement) so that the completion of a Health Care Plan is in time for the child's first Looked After Review. See LAC Health Care Assessments and Plans Procedure.
In addition, the allocated social worker should inform the carer of any current medication the child is taking, 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. Any known allergies should be shared too so that the carers are fully aware of any needs.
14.5 Personal Education Plan (PEP)
The social worker should also liaise with the Designated Teacher and the Virtual School so that a Personal Education Plan (PEP) can be completed 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. See Education of Looked After and Previously Looked After Children Procedure.
14.6 Provision of Information
The allocated social worker must provide the child and parents with written information about the placement.
The child and parents must also be provided with information about the complaints process and the availability of advocates.
14.7 Changes in Legal Status
Any changes in a child's legal status as a result of court proceedings must be recorded on the child's electronic record and all key professionals working with the family to be notified.
15. Ceasing to Look After a Child Under Section 20
15.1 Decision to Cease Looking After A Child
The courts have emphasised the Children Act 1989 provision that a person with Parental Responsibility can withdraw their consent to the Section 20 arrangement and "remove the child" from the care of the local authority "at any time". This is their right and Merton respects that right. There is never an acceptable reason to pressurise the person with parental responsibility into not exercising their rights in this respect, or to make the decision that they believe to be the right decision. In very many cases there will be agreement between the social worker and their manager and the person with parental responsibility that this is the right decision and supported by the objectives and timescales of the care plan for the child. The care plan for the child should always include the arrangements and timescale for their leaving care if they are subject to section 20. The assessment of the social worker which informs the care plan will have included an understanding of the child and of their family's needs and wishes, and identified their strengths and areas for change. The ability of the child and family to work constructively and in a relationship of trust and transparency with professionals will have been gauged. The arrangements in the care plan for the child ceasing to be looked after should identify the accommodation and its suitability to which the child will be moving, the support services and their level required from Children's Social Care and its partners, and the wider economic and environmental factors impacting on the child leaving care.
Note: For a child who has been accommodated for more than 20 days under section 20 the decision to cease looking after the child must be approved by the "Nominated Officer" which in Merton is the Assistant Director. If the child is aged 16 and 17 years, approval from the Assistant Director is required. See Section 15.4, Eligible Young Person, and see Leaving Care Procedure. This requirement applies in all circumstances, including those where the return home is agreed within the Pathway Plan.
15.2 Considerations Before a Decision is Made
Any child returning home from the care of Merton must have their case presented to the Head of Service, who may consult with the Assistant Director, so that the Care Plan is quality assured and the plan for reunification ensures that the social worker is taking all the required actions. In making the decision, the Head of Service must be reassured that the child will be safe from harm in the assessment of the social worker and their manager. Particular care and scrutiny will be exercised for an unplanned return home where the decision of the person with parental responsibility has been made without consultation with the child's social worker, or is not in accordance with the objectives and timescales in the care plan for the child. In these circumstances it is reasonable to ask the person with parental responsibility to allow the local authority a short period of time in which to plan for the child's return so that the right supports and services to the child and family are in place. This cannot be made an excuse for delay, and must be negotiated with the full agreement of the person with parental responsibility. If a child returns home immediately because parental consent to the Section 20 arrangement is withdrawn, the reunification plan must be presented to the Head of Service at the earliest opportunity thereafter to ensure the success of the child's return to their family.
If there is a reasonable belief that the child may be at risk of significant harm if they leave the care of the local authority, the social worker should arrange for an immediate legal planning meeting (LPM) to be chaired by their manager to determine if the threshold is met to issue proceedings for an order. The approval of the Head of Service is required for the issuance of proceedings. Depending on circumstances, the Head of Service may authorise the social worker and their manager to apply for an Emergency Protection Order or work together with the police to consider the use of police protection.
There will be circumstances in which the social worker and team manager and partner agencies may have concerns for the development and well-being of the child returning home or leaving care, but these are not significant safeguarding concerns and do not meet the threshold for proceedings. In these circumstances a Child in Need Plan (CIN Plan) should be put in place and reviewed within 1 month of the child's return home, at 3 months and thereafter at 6 monthly intervals. It should not usually exceed 9 months and the third review will be chaired by a manager to assess progress. See Children in Need Plans and Reviews Procedure.
In making the decision, the Head of Service or Assistant Director must be certain that the child or young person has been fully consulted and that their wishes and feelings have been taken into consideration in the assessment of the social worker, and that a statutory review, brought forward if necessary, has endorsed the plan. The Head of Service or Assistant Director must also be satisfied that the assessment of the social worker has fully outlined the support from Children's Social Care, Early Help Services and from the partner agencies that the child and family will receive on their leaving care.
15.3 Actions Required After a Decision Has Been Made
- A LAC review will be convened by the social worker prior to the child ceasing to be looked after, chaired by the Independent Reviewing Officer. The social worker must have an outline CIN plan agreed at the LAC Review and endorsed by the IRO which supports the transition home and outline's which services may be required to support the child at home;
- Where CSC makes an application for a Supervision Order, an outline CIN plan will be agreed at the LAC review prior to the final hearing;
- Consideration should be given to holding a Family Group Conference in order to support the reunification process in a planned way;
- Request any services that are required to support the child and family, including CAF/Early Years, CAHMS, Alcohol and Drugs Team, etc. See Multi-agency information sharing and assessment;
- Inform partner agencies, such as schools, health, GP, etc.
- Inform Access to Resources Team (see Placement Requests: Access to Resources Making LAC Placements with ART Procedure);
- Agree a Working Agreement with the Family where appropriate.
15.4 Eligible Young Person
An eligible young person is aged 16 or 17 years and has been in the care of Merton council for a period, or periods, totalling 13 weeks starting after their 14th birthday and ending after they reached 16 years (this does not include a series of pre-planned short-term placements of up to 4 weeks). (See Young People Aged 16 and 17 Years Ceasing to be Looked After Procedure).
Eligible Children are entitled to the same level of support as every other Looked After Child, during this important time of their development and transition from childhood to adulthood. The child's assessment of needs will have been updated by their social worker throughout the time of the their being looked after so that the care plan remains relevant and appropriate for the child. The care plan will have been formally reviewed by the child's IRO at the statutory intervals, and the IRO will have ensured that both the assessment and care plan have been updated by the social worker. At age 16, the child's care plan is replaced by the Pathway Plan. The Pathway Plan is informed by the Leaving Care Assessment of Need. A personal advisor is appointed to the young person. The assessment of need will take into account the young person's emotional, physical and intellectual development, their life skills, their health needs, their aspirations for employment, education and training, finances, and their ability to live independently. The views of the young person, their carers, those with parental responsibility, their IRO, their social worker, and their personal advisor will be fully taken into account.
The Pathway Plan is informed by the assessment of need and will clearly state how the needs of the young person will be met for suitable accommodation, education, employment and training, financial security, health and emotional health, life skills development and support, and how the local authority will assist in meeting these needs. The outcomes to be achieved will be stated in the Pathway Plan and progress monitored in subsequent reviews. The actions and responsibilities for each of those involved with the young person will be clearly identified. The services and resources to be provided by Merton will be stated in the Pathway Plan so that there is transparency of arrangements and the young person is fully aware of their entitlements to support, advice and encouragement until age 25 if they are in education and training. See Leaving Care Procedure.
Note: The agreement to cease looking after an eligible child aged 16 or 17 years can only be given by the Assistant Director.
15.5 Children who are Looked After for Short Periods (Fewer than 20 days) Including Short Term Breaks
The agreement of the Head of Service is not required to cease a period of accommodation under Section 20 that is planned to last less than 20 days and does end within 20 days, (for example, where there is a medical emergency for the parent or for short term breaks). The ending of the placement after the agreed period of accommodation in these circumstances will be straightforward in most cases, but there may be occasions when in the process of coming to know the child and its family in the period of accommodation, the child's social worker and their manager have reason to be concerned for the child's safety and well-being.
Depending on the significance of the concern and taking account of the threshold criteria, it will be for the social worker and their manager to decide if the child should have a Child in Need Plan, (if they do not already have a Child in Need Plan) or a Child Protection Plan. In emergency and where there is cause to believe that the child is likely to be at risk of Significant Harm if returned to the parent, police protection or a court order will be sought. If, in these significant circumstances, the relationship and working between the person(s) with parental responsibility and the social worker are good and there is agreement for the child to remain accommodated under Section 20 for the purpose of further assessment, the agreement of the Head of Service is required and Section 1.31 to 1.35 must be followed.
15.6 Relinquished Child
If the parent(s)/guardian of the child have asked the local authority to place the baby for adoption ('relinquished baby') and there were no reasons to believe the child to be at risk of significant harm, the local authority will have accommodated under Section 20. It must be noted that a parent cannot legally give informed consent that the child be placed for adoption in the first six weeks of the baby's birth (Section 19 Adoption Act 2002). A parent many also give consent in advance to the making of an adoption order. Care proceedings will not have been issued if the intention of the parent(s) to relinquish their baby appeared to be genuine. If the parent withdraws consent at any time before an adoption application has been made by the prospective adopters, the local authority must return the child to the parent(s) within seven days.
If the child has been placed in accommodation for more than 20 days, the agreement of the Head of Service is required. In the circumstances of the parent(s) withdrawing their consent either before or after 20 days, the understanding and intentions of the parent(s) need to be carefully considered by the social worker and their manager. They will need to consider the reasons why the parent(s) originally relinquished their baby, the reasons for their change of mind, the involvement of the local authority and other statutory services with the parent(s), the parent(s) bonding with their baby, desire for contact with the baby, and any concerns pre-birth or post-birth for the baby's health and care. There must be close liaison and consultation with the GP, health professionals, and extended birth family members where appropriate. If the social worker and manager have reason to believe that the child would likely be at risk of significant harm if returned to the parent(s) they will need to convene an immediate Legal Planning Meeting and apply for an Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order or Placement Order depending on at which point the baby is currently in the adoption process. The agreement of the Designated Manager is required. If the concerns for the baby and parent(s) do not meet the threshold for a Care Order, and the child is to be returned to their care, the social worker and their manager must decide if there should be a Child in Need Plan or a Child Protection Plan depending on the strengths of the family and the concerns for the family. See Part 8.2, Adoption and Permanence.
15.7 Checklist of Actions for the Social Worker
Approval having been given by the Head of Service or the Assistant Director as applicable, the social worker will ensure that the child has a Child in Need Plan, if the circumstances for the child and the family do not require a Child Protection Plan, and that the Pathway Plan is updated if the child is aged 16 or 17 years. The social worker will ensure that the:
- Professionals, particularly GP, health, education, school, and family members and people of significance to the child are aware of the child's change of status, address, and circumstances, and where appropriate have participated in the Child in Need Plan;
- IRO should be invited to hold a LAC review to discuss the discharge from care to home plan, frequency of contact with the social worker, identify services to support rehabilitation and consider if a safety plan and contingency plan are necessary. These should be written and recorded on the child's file in the event of a return home breakdown;
- Child has moved from their placement with all their belongings and items of personal importance to them, including any savings;
- Child knows who to contact in an emergency for advice, help, and support and has the right contact details for them;
- Child continues to receive support throughout the transitional phase as they require, to include emotional and practical support, that they are seen on their own by the social worker and that their views and wishes are fully understood;
- Access to Resources Team have been told in advance of the placement ending as soon as this was agreed so that the placement provider receives the notice required by the contract;
- Change of status and new address for the child is recorded in Mosaic on the day this changes, or no later than 24 hours after (if placed outside Merton the ACT will notify the borough where the child was placed of the placement ending).