Contact with Parents and Siblings
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter applies to arrangements for children placed in foster and residential care within Merton who have contact with their parents and siblings.Arrangements for social visits and overnight stays away with friends which foster carers and/or residential staff may agree too, see Social Visits and Overnight Stays with Friends Procedure.
For guidance regarding frequency of contact within the context of permanence, see Permanence Planning Guidance.
Delegation of Authority to Foster Carers Procedure
The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review
Childnet advice for Supporting Young People Online - Provides information about managing online contact between a child/young person and birth family.
In December 2022 Section 2, Supervised Contact was updated to reflect a finding by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that the supervisor's observations of the contact must be clearly recorded in the child's record and shared with the parents within 3 months of the visit.
1. Approving and Planning Contact
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), friends, 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 will be agreed if in the children's best interests and discussed with the allocated social worker and should be clearly set out in the child's Placement Information Record. It may be useful to encourage young people to share details of how they communicate with others (this may include mobile phones or other social networking sites and apps and consoles such as Xbox or Play Station) and an agreement reached between the young person, social worker and foster carer about how safely to do this.
The purpose of the contact and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the Plan. 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. The use of mobile communication should also be considered.
Where contact is extended as part of a rehabilitation plan for the child to their parents' care and the child remains Looked After, the Placement 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. Supervised Contact
The supervision of contact should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process by the allocated social worker and his/her line manager. It is the responsibility of the allocated social worker to ensure that the person(s) supervising contact, if not themselves is appropriately skilled and experienced to do so and this is evidenced on the child's record. Where a child is looked after by the local authority and contact arrangements need to be supervised, this will normally be undertaken by the LAC Contact Team.
The primary focus of the assessment for contact will be the safety and welfare of the child.
Where supervised contact is deemed necessary, a referral must be made to the LAC Contact Team, clearly recording the reasons, any risk factors and the any specific roles or requirements for the supervisor or supervisors in the specific case.
A written risk assessment must be completed before supervised contacts begin and regularly reviewed. This will usually be undertaken by the social worker and the Manager of the LAC Contact team.
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, foster carer or residential staff;
- Any previous incidents of disruption and/or threats to disrupt contact or failure to cooperate with the terms and conditions agreed for supervised contact;
- Any previous incidents or threats and/or abduction;
- Any 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 and/or their treatment plan if complex health issues.
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 social worker's Team Manager and endorsed by a Head of Service.
Where supervised contact takes place, the detailed arrangements for the supervision must be set out in the Placement Information Record and the venue should be assessed in terms of suitability, if not a regularly commissioned by the Manager of the LAC Contact team.
In addition, there should be a written agreement with the parents and any 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 undertake basic caring tasks (in relation to very young children) or to give the child refreshments, such as food, drinks, sweets, gifts or money during contact;
- With regard to taking pictures and receiving pictures of significant family member's or other, this should be agreed prior with the allocated social worker, as this could encompass the child's life story work and assist them foster a positive identify during contact sessions;
- It should state clearly the circumstances in which contact will be suspended or terminated;
- The agreement should be reviewed on a regular basis and amended as and if a need arises.
The Manager of the LAC Contact team must make sure that locations identified for contact can adhere to the guidance outlined within the working agreement i.e. implementing any the conditions set out.
Where there is a heightened risk, the Manager of the LAC Contact team should ensure that there is a clear safety structure for the contact supervisor and child if contact needs to be suspended and if need be explore the use of two worker's if this minimises the risk.
In some cases it may be necessary to pre-alert the Police in the event of problems emerging and to ensure that they are appropriately briefed:
- The working agreement should state the names of the adults who will be allowed to attend for supervised contact and supervisors should be asked to apply that strictly and not be flexible under any circumstances; they may need to verify their identity if there has been a change of contact supervisor;
- Particular attention should be given to when and how contact sessions are started and ended. Depending on the circumstances and the venue "goodbyes" as far as possible should take place indoors with visitors being asked to leave before the children to reduce distress.
If there are any proposed changes to a Child's Care Plan where there are Court proceedings and/or decisions made about the frequency of future contact this will be determined by the Court.
All staff involved in the supervision of the child's contact should have had a copy of the Placement Information Record and the working agreement and any significant information to inform them of the family history to assess their assessment.
Where possible, those supervising the contact should be known to the child and the family before the supervised contact takes place; if not they should try and arrive a little earlier to introduce themselves or meet prior, if time allows if they are a regular contact facilitator for the family.
In the event of problems emerging, the contact supervisors must be clear who to contact within the Local Authority and ensure that this is clearly documented.
The contact supervisor's direct observations must be clearly recorded with an analysis and provided to the allocated social worker and any observations that require further follow up should be discussed to review at the next contact session, if need be. The supervisor's observations of the contact must be clearly recorded in the child's record and shared with the parents within 3 months of the visit (Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman finding).The contact supervisor must immediately report to the Manager of the Contact Team and the allocated social worker or in their absence the Duty Social Worker or the Team Manager any concerns during the contact. The allocated social worker in consultation with his/her manager should consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or the current contact arrangements in light of any new concerns expressed, which may mean suspending the contact session until more investigations are made.
See Section 4, Review of Contact.
3. 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.
The allocated social worker or Duty Social Worker should inform all parties in advance if they consider there is a good reason to cancel the contact and provide reason why. Best endeavours should be made to provide an alternative contact date and time and missed contact should be made up, by arrangement with the parents, carer and the allocated social worker.
See Section 5, Suspension and Termination of Contact.N.B. Contact arrangements must not be withdrawn as a Sanction imposed on a child.
4. Review of Contact Arrangements
The Team Manager of the Contact Team, allocated social worker and his/her manager should keep contact arrangements, including the continuing need for supervision, under regular review.
Any significant observations and/or worries that the child has with regard to contact should be reported to the allocated social worker by those observing contact arrangements, for example foster carers, residential staff and/or contact supervisors.
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 supervised contact must be reviewed at least every three months, or sooner, if there has been any incident or report identifies concerns that need to be monitored.
Where the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the contact arrangements should also be continue to be reviewed.Where a Contact Order has been granted and it is considered that the contact arrangements set out in the Order should be altered, the allocated social worker should seek immediate advice from their legal advisor in consultation with their Team Manager. No changes should be agreed prior to the matter being heard within the court arena for approval.
5. Suspension and Termination of Contact
Contact arrangements can be temporarily suspended, pending a review if parents consistently fail to attend without good reason as this can cause significant distress to a child.
In this situation, a review of the contact arrangements must take place urgently in order to ensure that consideration is given to how to resume these arrangements if it remains in the best interests of the child. If a child's future remains in the Court arena, any longer term suspension of contact must be considered in the light of these proceedings.
Termination of contact can only be made to protect the child from significant risk or if the child is judged to be experiencing a significant trauma as a result of contact arrangements
Where it is considered that the child's contact with their parents should be suspended or terminated, the allocated worker must be consulted and legal advice should be obtained, if they are subject to a Contact Order or the case is in Care Proceedings and this is shared with all parties involved with the case.
Any proposal to terminate the contact should be considered as part of the child's Looked After Review. If the circumstances require an urgent decision to be made then this should be discussed with the Team Manager and Head of Service. Any such proposal should be made in the context of the overall aims and objectives of the Care Plan and in consultation with the parents and the child.
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 and form part of the working agreement.
The approval of the Head of Service is required should there be a need 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, the local authority's legal representative 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 and/or Children's Guardian). The child's carers and any other agencies involved with the child's care must also be informed, such as the School, School Nurse, Health Visitor in the event they are privy to any information that may inform the decision making process.