Out of Area Placements
Note that different provisions apply to children who acquire Looked After status as a result of a remand to local authority accommodation or Youth Detention Accommodation. In relation to those children, please see Section 8, Care Planning for Young People on Remand of the Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure.
AMENDMENTSection 6, Placements in Wales was updated in December 2021 in line with updated Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review.
1. Placements to which this Procedure Applies
This procedure applies to any placement of a Looked After child outside the London Borough Merton, except where the placement is with a Connected Person, or an approved foster carer.
2. Approval of Out of Borough Placements
The decision to place the child out of the area must be approved by the Head of Service, Access to Resources and the Director of Children's Services. This includes a Placement at a Distance, (i.e. outside the area of the local authority and not within the area of any adjoining local authority).
Both Officers must be satisfied of the following factors:
- The child's wishes and feelings have been given due consideration;
- That the placement is the most appropriate placement available for the child and consistent with the local authority care planning for them;
- That close relatives and/or extended family members have been fully consulted where appropriate;
- That the local authority that the child or young person will be placed has been notified, or, for a Placement at a Distance, the area authority have been consulted and have been provided with a copy of the child's Care Plan (see Notification of Placements);
- That the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) has been consulted (usually the IRO will discuss with the child after the child has visited the proposed placement);
- If the identified placement is a new, externally commissioned service, the ART will initiate the setting up of a contract within 5 working days with the provider and quality assure the service throughout the child's placement.
Please see Merton Procedure for Senior Management Approval when Requesting an Out of Borough Placement for a Looked After Child or Young Person to be used when requesting and sourcing an Out of Borough placement.
3. Placement Considerations
Placements at a Distance will require effective planning, engagement and information sharing with the services likely to be responsible for meeting the child's needs in the future. Consultation with the area authority must (except in an emergency) be undertaken in good time to enable a thorough assessment of appropriateness to be made. Annex 1: Suggested information for discussion between authorities when planning distant placements suggests information that might be discussed with the area authority.
Where the placement under consideration is in a children's home, account should be taken of the information in the home's Statement of Purpose and its location assessment (which should include details of the home's safeguarding arrangements, including any measures taken by the home to manage safeguarding concerns arising from the neighbourhood where the home is located).
The Placement team will seek to find a placement with a provider who is rated either "Good" or "Outstanding" with Ofsted. On the few occasions where a placement with a lower rating is being considered or the rating of a placement changes after a child is placed, the Ofsted action plan must be obtained and presented to an Assistant Director for final agreement for the placement.
In assessing the suitability of an out of authority placement, consideration should be given to the arrangements which will need to be put in place to enable the child to access services such as primary and secondary health care. Where the child will require specialist health services such as CAMHS, the Integrated Care Board (local health board in Wales) that commissions secondary healthcare in the area authority should be consulted, to establish whether the placement is appropriate and able to meet the child's needs. The designated nurse for looked-after children in the area authority will also be a valuable source of advice and information.
Similarly, the Virtual School Head for looked-after children in the area authority (Looked After Children Education Co-ordinators (LACE) in Wales) should be able to advise about access to school support.For children vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, children's services in the area authority will be an important source of intelligence and information about local arrangements for safeguarding children.
4. Notification of Placements
- Written notification must be given to the area authority of the arrangements for the placement before the placement is made or, if the placement is made in an emergency, within five working days of the start of the placement unless it is not reasonably practicable to do so.
The notification must include:
- Details of the assessment of the child's needs and the reasons why the placement is the most suitable for responding to these; and
- A copy of the child's care plan (unless already provided in the case of a Placement at a Distance).
4.1 Sharing Information
The Head of Service, Children's Safeguarding Standards and Training is tasked to inform the local authority, i.e. the placement that the child resides in of these changes.
5. Emergency Placements
In the case of a placement made in an emergency, the approval of the Nominated Officer/ Director of Children's Services is still required and s/he must be satisfied that the child's wishes and feelings have been ascertained and given due consideration and that the placement is the most appropriate placement available consistent with the Care Plan. Within 5 working days the IRO must be informed; relatives be consulted (where appropriate) and the area authority notified.
6. Placements in Wales
For placements in Wales, the Welsh Government has developed a protocol for notifying the local authority and the local health board when a child has been placed there from outside the area, and again when the placement ends. This protocol is attached at Annex 2: Welsh Model Out of Area Notification Protocol.
Local authorities must not place a child under 16 in 'other arrangements' out of authority placement in Wales except where the placement is in one of the exempted regulated settings:
- Accommodation provided by a registered care home service equivalent to a registered care home in England;
- Schools providing accommodation that are not also registered as a care home service;
- Residential family centres.
Other arrangement placements in Wales may also be used for residential holiday schemes for disabled children as long as the placement setting is one of the alternatively regulated exemptions listed above.
It is essential that the responsible authority takes every step to establish that the child's needs are matched to the services provided by the placement and that the notification protocol is completed by the responsible authorities and submitted to Care Inspectorate Wales and Ofsted.
Annex 1: Suggested information for discussion between authorities when planning distant placements
Basic information about the child
- Name and date of birth;
- Legal status (subject of a care order (s.31 Children Act); voluntarily accommodated (s.20) remanded (s. 21);
- Number of previous placements - outline reasons for child leaving earlier placements.
Plans for the child's care
- Details of the assessment of the child's needs, with information about the child's wishes and feelings, with reasons the planned placement is suitable;
- Duration of placement (emergency/short-term/long-term/permanent). If it is not possible to assess the intended duration of placement - reasons for this and when this information will be available;
- Arrangements for contact;
- Details of who will be responsible for implementing plans for the child's day to day care (the 'placement plan') including details of arrangements for delegating responsibilities to the child's carer(s);
- Details of any plans to offer the child care leaving support (as an 'eligible child') during the anticipated duration of the placement;
- Contingency arrangements if the plan to support the child in the current placement does not succeed.
Services to support the child
- Details of plans to meet the child's educational needs - information about the school the child is expected to attend; details of plans for supporting the child if a school has not been identified;
- Information about plans to meet the child's health needs, e.g. whether the child requires secondary health care (including metal health and other specialist health care), including details about the ICB acting as "responsible commissioner.";
- Details of any youth justice supervision order that would need to be overseen by youth justice services in the area authority.
Local authorities have a common interest in supporting high standards of corporate parenting for all looked-after children.
When approached for consultation about potential placements, area authorities should be able to offer a professional view about the benefits of a planned placement, the benefits of living in the neighbourhood where the placement is located and the potential for local services to respond appropriately to the needs of the child concerned.
Local authorities could also advise about other sources of information to assist social workers and commissioners in determining whether a distant out of authority placement is the most appropriate for the child concerned (e.g. the Virtual School Head or the Designated Nurse for looked-after children).
Annex 2: Welsh Model Out of Area Notification Protocol
(This protocol was developed by the Welsh Government in conjunction with the children's residential care sector in Wales).
Where a child who is looked-after is placed at distance the responsible authority has a statutory duty to notify the local authority and the health care provider, in the area in which the child is to be placed, of the arrangements for placement prior to placement and no later than 10 days thereafter.
Similarly, where a child is provided with accommodation by any Local Health Board, Special Health Authority, Integrated Care Board, NHS Trust or by a local authority in exercise of education functions for three months or more or with the intention of the placement lasting for this time the Accommodating Authority has a duty to notify the appropriate officer of the responsible authority.
Where a child is provided with accommodation in any care home or independent hospital for three months or more or with the intention of the placement lasting for this time the residential setting has a statutory duty to notify the lead Director of Social Services in the area in which the establishment is situated.
Notification should be sent to the Director of Social Services in the local authority in which the home is situated.