Children's Services Policies, Values and Principles
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter provides the context for all procedures.
It contains the overarching policy for the provision of services to children and families. It also sets out underlying values and principles for recording, confidentiality and consultation.
AMENDMENTIn January 2019, a fully updated Section 4, Corporate Parenting was added in response to the DfE, Applying Corporate Parenting Principles to Looked-after Children and Care Leavers – Statutory Guidance (Feb 2018). It includes the seven corporate parenting principles set out in the guidance. The legislative framework was also updated.
This policy sets out the framework within which Children's Services work with children, young people and their families. It is underpinned by a range of legislation including, but not limited to:
- Children Acts 1989 and 2004;
- Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000;
- Care Standards Act 2000;
- United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child;
- Human Rights Act 1998;
- Adoption and Children Act 2002;
- Data Protection legislation;
- Children and Families Act 2014;
- Children and Social Work Act 2017.
The policy framework also has regard to and is consistent with a range of government guidance, particularly the principles set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children.
It is largely directed towards the work that Children's Services undertakes with Children in Need and Looked After Children; which is carried out in partnership with all sectors of the Local Authority and with other statutory, independent and voluntary sector services.
2. Key Values
We keep children and young people at the heart of all our work. The best interests of children must be our paramount consideration. Services should be built around children's needs, and should be inclusive, accessible and welcoming.
We listen, respond to and value our children and young people. Children and young people have rights to participate in decisions affecting their lives and participation provides opportunities for them to develop important life skills. Services should not only listen but should help children and young people shape services they receive. We should also canvas, and respond, to the views of parents and carers.
We value families. There are unique advantages for children from family life. Children's best interests will be met, overwhelmingly, by being cared for within their birth families or, for those looked after by Merton, within foster or adoptive families. All services should support and promote family life wherever possible, building on family strengths and promoting family resilience.
We value local communities. Local communities, networks, groups and organisations have a key role in promoting the wellbeing of children. Services should work together and in partnership with communities to make positive changes for children and promote community cohesion.
We challenge inequality, promote inclusion and value diversity. Improving outcomes for all children requires us to address the poorer outcomes some children can experience through, for example, poverty, ill health and discrimination. Services should contribute to reducing and removing such barriers and closing gaps in outcomes where they exist. They should be responsive to the diverse needs and aspirations of Merton's changing population.
We promote a learning culture which values staff and volunteers. Services should be evidence based and provided by a skilled workforce. Workers and volunteers in Children's Services in Merton should possess a 'common core' set of skills and receive additional learning and development opportunities appropriate to their roles.
Services should be accountable. All publicly funded services in Merton are accountable to their individual governance bodies, to the Children's Trust and to the local community for their effectiveness. We want our services to make a difference in the lives of children, young people and families and are committed to continuous improvement.
We are committed to continuous improvement. We want our young people to benefit from services which are consistently good or outstanding and to achieve the very best outcomes. We will robustly challenge ourselves and each other through honest self assessment and a strong focus on continuous improvement. We will actively seek out good and best practice, using data, inspection findings, research and user feedback to swiftly deliver improvements we identify as necessary.
We have the highest ambitions for all our children and young people and will judge our success by a range of criteria:
- Providing or commissioning services or settings which are judged good or outstanding by our regulators;
- Improving outcomes and closing gaps, particularly for more vulnerable children and young people;
- Evidencing that our early intervention and prevention work has prevented children and young people from developing higher level needs, is enabling 'step down' from higher level interventions, and is supporting children and young people to develop resilience and independence;
- Demonstrating that the views and ambitions of children and young people have informed and improved our service offer.
3. Key Principles
Consideration of children's welfare and best interests will always be at the centre of the work that is undertaken
Merton Children's Services will work to ensure the above outcomes by working to maintain children within their own families, and facilitating services to support this arrangement, wherever this is possible and consistent with the child's safety and well-being.
Where a child cannot be cared for within his or her immediate family, strenuous efforts will be made to identify potential carers within the wider kinship network of the child who are able and willing to care for the child.
If continuing care within his/her family is not possible every effort will be made to identify suitable alternative carers, reflecting the child's ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background wherever possible and appropriate. Suitable local placements will be identified to achieve educational and social continuity
Children's Services will ensure that children who are looked after are placed in approved placements, suitable to meet their needs and that, wherever possible, siblings are placed together. For younger children, they will be placed in a family placement unless there are sound assessed reasons why residential care is the preferred option.
Children's Services will ensure that permanence plans are made for all looked after children within 4 months of their becoming looked after and enacted as quickly as possible. If a young person remains in care we will ensure that they are supported when they leave care at least until they are 25, to give them a positive start to independent living.Children, their parents and other significant adults will be consulted about plans for their care and these plans will be subject to independent review. Children's Services will also consult about the services it provides and ensure that children have access to advocacy services that will assist them in being heard.
4. Corporate Parenting
4.1 Corporate Parenting Responsibilities
The role that councils play in looking after children is one of the most important things they do. Local authorities have a unique responsibility to the children they look after and their care leavers.
The term 'corporate parent' is broadly understood by Directors of Children's Services and Lead Members for Children, as well as those working directly in Children's Services, in relation to how local authorities should approach their responsibilities for looked after children and care leavers. A strong ethos of corporate parenting means that sense of vision and responsibility towards the children they look after and their care leavers is a priority for everyone. Corporate Parenting is an important part of the Ofsted inspection framework and the Corporate Parenting Principles are referenced in Ofsted's Inspecting Local Authority Children's Services.
The Corporate Parenting Principles are intended to facilitate as far as possible secure, nurturing, and positive experiences for looked after children and young people and enable positive outcomes for them.
The experiences of looked-after children and care leavers, particularly in regards to whether they feel cared for and listened to, will therefore be an important measure of how successfully local authorities embed these principles.
4.2 Corporate Parenting Principles
The Corporate Parenting Principles set out seven principles that local authorities will have regard to when exercising their functions in relation to looked after children and young people, as follows:
- To act in the best interests, and promote the physical and mental health and wellbeing, of those children and young people;
- To encourage those children and young people to express their views, wishes and feelings;
- To take into account the views, wishes and feelings of those children and young people;
- To help those children and young people gain access to, and make the best use of, services provided by the local authority and its relevant partners;
- To promote high aspirations, and seek to secure the best outcomes, for those children and young people;
- For those children and young people to be safe, and for stability in their home lives, relationships and education or work; and
- To prepare those children and young people for adulthood and independent living.
The Corporate Parenting Principles do not replace or change existing legal duties, The principles are intended to encourage local authorities to be ambitious and aspirational for their looked-after children and care leavers.
In addition, section 10 of the Children Act 2004 sets out the responsibility to make arrangements to promote co-operation between 'relevant partners' with a view to improving the well-being of children in their area. This should include arrangements in relation to looked-after children and care leavers. Section 10(5) of the 2004 Act places a duty on relevant partners to co-operate with the local authority in the making of these arrangements, therefore promoting and ensuring a joined-up approach to improving the well-being of children in their area.
5. Our Strategy
The strategy for Merton Children's Services is to harness government policy and funding streams to improve performance, so that we can work with other agencies to ensure better outcomes for every child and his or her family through cost effective systems, structures and partnerships - through targeting services to prevent most children from becoming children in need, whilst concentrating specialist services on children most in need to give them the best possible life chances.
Our integrated working is based on the principles of improving multi-agency working to provide appropriate support to children and their families, by putting the child's needs at the centre and by overcoming traditional service boundaries. Its rationale is that better outcomes for children will be secured by:
- Earlier and more holistic identification of needs;
- Earlier and more effective intervention;
- Improved information sharing and co-ordination across agencies;
- Better service experience for children and families;
- Reduction in bureaucracy.
The Merton Child and Young Person Well-Being Model (MWBM) reflects how local services provide support for children along a continuum. The semi-circle representing the continuum of additional needs illustrates the principle that services providing support become increasingly targeted and specialist as the child's level of need increases. The model includes an indication of the local threshold for beginning Single Assessments.
Further information on Merton's Child and Young People Wellbeing Model can be found on the Merton Safeguarding Children Partnership website.