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3.7.1 Contact with Parents and Siblings

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter applies to arrangements for children placed in foster and residential care to have contact with their parents and siblings.

For arrangements for Social Visits (Including Overnight Stays) away with friends which staff/carers may agree, see Social Visits (Including Overnight Stays) Procedure.

RELATED GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015)

AMENDMENT

In July 2015, this chapter was updated in line with the above statutory guidance. Additional information was added in to Section 1,  Approving and Planning Contact, in relation to sibling placement.


Contents

1. Approving and Planning Contact
2. Supervised Contact
3. Making Contact Arrangements
  3.1 Contact Agreement
  3.2 Supervisors Role
4. Recording Contact
5. Cancellation of Contact
6. Review of Contact Arrangements
7. Suspension or Termination of Contact


1. Approving and Planning Contact

Also see Section 7, Suspension or Termination of Contact.

Every Looked After Child should be encouraged and supported to maintain contact with their parents, siblings (including grandparents and half siblings), and Connected Persons in a manner consistent with the child's Care Plan; which, itself, must take account of any 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 may take the form of direct face to face contact and indirect contact through letters, cards, text message, internet messaging and social networking sites.

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.

Contact may take the form of direct face to face contact and indirect contact through letters, cards, text message, internet messaging and social networking sites.

Contact between children and parents or siblings may only be permitted if previously agreed by the social worker and should be set out in the child's Placement Plan (recorded on the Placement Information Record).

Arrangements for contact should always be clearly detailed in the Placement Plan, setting out how contact will take place, the venue, the frequency and how the arrangements will be evaluated and reviewed - see Section 3, Making Contact Arrangements. Contact via mobile phone and computers should be considered along with any risks associated with such contact.

Where contact is extended as part of a plan to gradually return the child to the parents' care, the Procedure on Placements with Parents should be followed. See Placement with Parents Procedure.

For foster carers providing short breaks, the foster carer must maintain contact as agreed in the short break plan.

Parents can be assisted with travelling expenses to enable contact to go ahead. The social worker should submit a request for financial support to his or her manager, with reasons. Once the manager's approval has been given, the social worker should ask the team's administrative staff to arrange for the payments to be made or travel warrants to be issued.


2. Supervised Contact

The need to supervise contact should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process by the social worker who will require approval from the Team Manager.

The primary focus of the assessment of this issue will be the safety and welfare of the child. Where supervised contact is deemed necessary, the reasons should be clearly recorded and the role of the supervisor or supervisors clearly defined.

A written risk assessment must be completed and approved before supervised contacts begin. 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, other carers or staff;
  • Previous incidents of disruption or threats to disrupt contact or failure to co-operate with conditions agreed for supervised contact;
  • Previous incidents or threats of abduction;
  • Previous incidents of coercion or inappropriate behaviour during contact;
  • The transient or unsettled lifestyle of parents, as opposed to long-standing local connections.

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.

Where supervised contact takes place, the detailed arrangements for the supervision must be set out in the Placement Information Record.

The child's social worker must make sure that the location chosen for contact can accommodate any restrictions set down. Locations should ensure the safety of the child and the supervisor.

If a parent's behaviour prior to contact or immediately before contact raises concerns, the risk assessment should be revisited. If it is considered that the planned contact may place the child at risk of physical or emotional harm, the contact should be cancelled and a review of contact arranged.

The contact agreement should state which adults will be allowed to attend the contact and that this will strictly be adhered to by supervisors.

Consideration should be given to how and when contact visits are ended.

The social worker should keep the contact supervisor informed of significant changes to the Care Plan, Court Proceedings and any decisions made about changes to the frequency of future contact as these are likely to be tension points where extra vigilance in contact is required.

The staff/carers and any other person involved in the supervision of the contact should have copies of the Placement Information Record and the agreement with the parents


3. Making Contact Arrangements

Several Factors must be considered in making arrangements for face to face contact:

  • The child's wishes and feelings in relation to contact;
  • Any special needs of the child or parent; is the proposed building accessible?
  • Is the proposed venue within a short travelling distance from the placement address of the child?
  • Is the proposed venue accessible to the parent via public transport?
  • Does the proposed venue have panic alarms other staff members available?
  • Would the attendance of the parent pose a risk to other users of the building?
  • Is the room child friendly, appropriate and safe for the age of the child and the activities planned?
  • Consideration must be given to the purpose of the contact e.g. Contact where rehabilitation home is planned may contribute towards the Social Care Assessment. Parents should be encouraged to plan for their contact with their child, thinking of activities to undertake with their child and be offered advice and guidance both within and outside of the contact sessions;
  • Contact may be arranged at variable times of the day particularly with babies and young children enabling the parent to undertake everyday tasks such as bathing and preparing meals;
  • Social workers should consider how best to enable the parent to build upon their skills with the support of the contact supervisor.

3.1 Contact Agreement

A Contact Agreement between those involved in the contact should be written up and signed by all parties. The agreement should clearly state any specific conditions relating to the contact including the expectations placed on the parents and the degree of involvement that the supervisor is required to take.

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;
  • Detail the frequency, timing and structure of contact;
  • State the adults who will be allowed to attend for supervised contact and supervisors should be asked to apply that strictly;
  • Detail the arrangements for ending the contact, i.e. whether goodbyes should take place in the contact room and the parent should leave the building before the child is returned to his/her carer;
  • Be clear about whether the person(s) having contact are permitted to give the child food, drinks, gifts or money during contact;
  • Be clear about areas of conversation that should be avoided;
  • Detail ground rules about use of language, secrecy, whispering, false promises;
  • Detail expectations about punctuality;
  • State clearly the circumstances in which contact will be cancelled or terminated;
  • Detail how regularly the parent should see copies of the contact notes;
  • Detail any arrangements for telephone contact;
  • Detail any agreements or restrictions on contact via text message, email, social networking sites;
  • Inform how to make a complaint.

The parents, carers and any other person involved in the contact should have copies the agreement.

3.2 Supervisors Role

Where possible, those supervising the contact should be known to the child and the family before the supervised contact takes place.

If contact is part of an ongoing assessment, the supervisor may offer advice and note the advice and whether it has been acted upon but otherwise should not take an active role unless there is a risk to the child's safety.

The level of supervisor involvement should be agreed with the social worker, parent and child prior to the contact.

In the event of problems emerging, the supervisors must be clear who to contact (including 'reserve options') and what details they will need to share. The supervisor should not engage in any conversation with the parent about the child's case or others involved in it.

The supervisor must immediately report to the social worker any concerns about the parents' conduct during the contact. The social worker in consultation with his/her manager should consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or the contact arrangements in light of the concerns expressed.


4. Recording Contact

The contact session should be recorded in full, comments should be evidenced and the record kept on the child's file. The quality of the contact and the interaction between the parents and the child should be noted as should any concerns or risk factors. Contact notes should be shared with parents including positive factors and causes for concern. The parent should be made aware that the information recorded will be passed to the social worker and may be required in any court proceedings.


5. Cancellation of Contact

Where contact does not take place in accordance with the child's Placement Plan/Placement Information Record, there must be a good reason, for example that the child is too ill to attend. Wherever possible, the staff/carer should consult the child's social worker in advance if they consider there is a good reason to cancel the contact.

If contact is cancelled, the social worker or, if the social worker is not available, the staff/carer must ensure that the child and, as far as practicable, the parent is informed in advance and that the reason for the decision is explained. The social worker or staff/carer should arrange an alternative contact.

If contact does not take place and consultation has not been possible with the social worker, the staff/carer must inform the child's social worker as soon as possible and confirm in writing the decision to cancel and the reason.

For details of suspension and termination see Section 7, Suspension or Termination of Contact.

Contact arrangements must not be withdrawn as a Sanction imposed on a child.

See Sanctions Procedure.

Expectations on parents' for their attendance at contact should be detailed within the contact agreement. If parents fail to attend two consecutive contact sessions, the social worker should discuss the matter with their team manager. Consideration should be given to the reasons for the failed attendance and whether enough assistance has been given to support parents' attendance, e.g. travel pass, or any special needs of the parent. If parents consistently fail to attend contact, a review of contact should take place and the contact agreement should be reviewed.

See Section 7, Suspension or Termination of Contact.


6. Review of Contact Arrangements

The social worker and his/her manager should keep contact arrangements, including the continuing need for supervision, under regular review.

Any significant reactions that the child has to contact should be reported to the child’s social worker by those observing contact arrangements, for example foster carers, residential staff and/or supervisors of contact.

The contact arrangements should also be reviewed at the Looked After Children Review and in Review of the Child's Plan for a Looked After Child. The child's wishes and feelings in respect of contact should be gathered.

Where a Contact Order is in force and it is considered that the contact arrangements set out in the Order should be altered, the agreement of the child and the parents should be sought and legal advice should be obtained as to the need to seek a variation of the Court Order.

A contact review should be convened if there are issues arising in contact or a parent is failing to attend contact sessions available to them. The contact review meeting should include the parent, social worker and contact supervisor.

The risk assessment in relation to the arrangements for supervising contact must be reviewed at least every six months, or sooner, if any incident or report identifies concerns.

Where the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the contact arrangements should also be reviewed as required in the Child Protection Plan.


7. Suspension or Termination of Contact

Emergency restrictions on contact can only be made to protect the child from significant risk and must be notified to the placing authority (child’s social worker) within 24 hours.

Where it is considered that the child's contact with the parents should be suspended or terminated, the social worker must be consulted and legal advice should be obtained.

Any such proposal should be made in the context of the overall aims and objectives of the Care Plan.

Any proposal to suspend or terminate the contact should be considered as part of the review of the Contact Service Agreement and/or the Looked After Children Review, unless the circumstances require an urgent decision to be made.

Where it not possible to hold a Looked After Children Review because of the urgency of the situation, the reasons for the proposal must be explained to the parents and to the child, and their agreement obtained if possible.

At the final review, the family will be given the opportunity verbally to feed back their views and opinions.

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.

The approval of the Team Manager should be obtained to any proposal to suspend or terminate contact.

Written confirmation of the decision made, together with the reasons, must be sent to the parents, child (depending on age) and any other relevant person (for example Advocate, Independent Visitor or Children's Guardian). Staff/carers and other agencies involved with the child's care must also be informed.

Where the child is the subject of an Emergency Protection Order Interim Care Order or 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, Legal Services should be contacted as a matter of urgency so that the necessary Court action can be initiated.

End