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2.1.10 Contact Service

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

The Contact Service is a county wide resource that provides supervised contact for children within Lincolnshire. This chapter outlines the Contact Service and aims to provide an operational overview of the service provided. This chapter should be read in its entirety.

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

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

RELEVANT CHAPTER

Family Group Conferences Procedure

Contact with Parents and Siblings Procedure

This chapter was introduced in to the manual in December 2016.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Private Law Contact
  3. Staffing Structure
  4. Legal Framework
  5. General Principles
  6. Referrals to the Supervised Contact Service
  7. Frequency of Contact
  8. The Role of the Contact Supervisor
  9. Recording Supervised Contact Sessions
  10. Transport Arrangements
  11. Service User Feedback/Consultation
  12. Core Hours of Delivery
  13. Performance Standards


1. Introduction

Supervised contact ensures the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of a child. It also assists in building and sustaining positive relationships between a child and members of their non-resident family.

The Contact Service is a county wide resource that provides supervised contact for children within Lincolnshire. Services operate from seven Family Centres across the County, these being:

  • The Warren Family Centre, Gainsborough; (1)
  • Grantham Family Centre; (1)
  • Boston Family Centre; (1)
  • Hartsholme Family Centre, Lincoln; (1)
  • St Giles Family Centre, Lincoln;
  • Virginia House (soon to relocate to Keily House, Louth);
  • Roseberry House, Skegness. (1)

((1) denotes that the Family Centre is a secure venue)

Over the last year partnerships have developed with Children's Centres resulting in contact taking place in these venues where there is low identified risk.

Typically, contact is by the agreement or direction of the Court where the Local Authority is in proceedings. The service often supervises contacts on a shorter term basis to assist Social Workers with assessments and court welfare reports. All contacts are fully recorded and the supervisors' records can be used within court and may contribute towards a social care assessment. With all cases it is expected that the referring social work team will supervise 20% of these.


2. Private Law Contact

The Contact Service has developed a partnership with Children's Links who provide supported contact for private law cases, sessions operate fortnightly from Lincolnshire County Council (LCC) Family Centres. Referrals for this provision are via the Child Contact Centre Co-ordinator on 07554450502.


3. Staffing Structure

To meet geographical demand the Contact Service is structured as described below.

Staffing Structure


4. Legal Framework

Local Authorities have a duty to provide contact between children and young people looked after by the Local Authority and their families. The Children’s Act 1989 emphasises the responsibility of the Local Authority:

  • To safeguard and promote the welfare and upbringing of children and young people within their area by their families (Section 17);
  • To allow reasonable contact between a child in care of the Local Authority and their families (Section 34).

Supervised contact ensures the physical safety and emotional wellbeing of a child. It also assists in building and sustaining positive relationships between a child and members of their non-resident family.

This requires supervisors who are skilled and confident enough to intervene immediately and firmly if necessary and can work professionally in a planned way with vulnerable children and highly distressed adults.

In addition, the Human Rights Act 1998 Article 8 defines the right to family life, and a failure to promote contact at the correct level both in terms of frequency and level of support provided could be argued as contrary to this if it was disproportionate and without good reason. Additionally, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Article 9 states: “Respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child’s best interests.”

The Children Act 1989 provides the legal framework for judicial decisions relating to children. The Act requires judicial consideration of the “Welfare Checklist” prior to the making of almost all Orders under the Act. The court is also required by the Act to consider whether in the circumstances of the case, it is in the child’s interest to make the Order sought.

Section 34 of the Act regulates contact between children in care and their families. Local Authorities have a duty to allow children in their care to have reasonable contact with their parents. Refusal of contact for more than 7 days or permanent refusal requires authorisation from a court under section 34(4), as does reducing contact from direct to indirect contact.

The duty to promote contact is also a requirement in both the Children’s Home Regulations and the Fostering Services Regulations. These requirements are applied within the Children’s Homes Regulations including Quality Standards (2015) (Standard 14), and the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services (2011) (Standard 9).


5. General Principles

In delivering contact services, the following principles will be adhered to:

  • Contact is essential for children to maintain an attachment and sense of identity with their family of origin;
  • The impact of all contact should be positive for children;
  • The child’s voice, their views and feelings should be paramount;
  • Supervisors have a duty to respond where it is perceived that contact is having a negative impact upon the child;
  • Contact should be responsive to a child’s changing needs and circumstances;
  • Observations should be factual, significant and in a format that is easy to read by a service user;
  • Contact will take place in an identified suitable venue closest to the current placement address of the child.


6. Referrals to the Supervised Contact Service

Priorities for the supervised contact service are:

  • Interim Care Orders Section 38 Children Act 1989;
  • • Accommodated under Section 20Children Act 1989;
  • • Long term Looked After children subject to a Care Order Section 31 CA 1989;
  • Whilst an assessment is being undertaken by a social worker Section 7 and Section 8 Children Act 1989.

Once the most beneficial frequency and level of supervision of contact has been assessed, the following steps should be taken:

  • Referrals for supervised contact need to be discussed, where possible, with the relevant Contact Co-ordinator prior to making a referral to the Contact Service. The referral should include an assessment that supports the application for the level, type, frequency and structure of the supervised contact. The referral must also include details of known risks in relation to both the adults and children involved in the contact and identify actions that have / or need to been taken to reduce these risks;
  • When requesting supervised or supported contact the referrer should enter the child’s Mosaic record and open up the ‘Specialist Contact Request for Service questionnaire’. This is located in the drop down box in the ‘Create Case Notes’ tab. The referrer should enter the start date and the head line field only;
  • Once the referral has been processed contact will be arranged as soon as possible;
  • Good practice normally requires that the social worker will observe 20% of all contact sessions as a minimum standard, negotiation regarding the key dates will be agreed between the Social Worker and the Contact Co-ordinator;
  • The Contact Service Coordinator will be advised of any proposed change to volume or frequency of sessions via an updated referral form forwarded to the service by the designated Service Manager;
  • Where a case is being heard in court at the Final Hearing stage, the Contact Service will liaise closely with the social worker regarding changes to contact arrangements / newly identified risks. A new supervised contact agreement will be produced to reflect all changes;
  • In cases where rehabilitation is possible, Contact Supervisors will assist in rehabilitation plans for children on returning back into the care of their family. This ensures a more streamlined process and offers some consistency to the family during this period before transferring back to the Early Help team.


7. Frequency of Contact

Frequency of contact will vary from case to case. It must be acknowledged that some children are involved in multiple contact arrangements which if not carefully managed allow them little time for anything else.

Frequency and duration will be informed by:

  1. Previous level of contact with child (non-resident parent /extended family);
  2. Purpose of contact e.g. assessments;
  3. Emotional capability of the child and parent to cope with the contact;
  4. Views of the child;
  5. The potential disruption and stress to the child’ caused by the contact arrangements;
  6. Out of school activities that the child attends;
  7. Parental contact with newly-born babies and infants may be higher, particularly if mother is breastfeeding, though sessions may be of shorter duration. Nevertheless the courts have indicated that daily contact (7 days a week) will be exceptional and unusual. There is increasing evidence that even 5 times a week is disruptive and stressful for the baby or infant and that such frequent contacts should be avoided to allow the child to settle in its new placement.

When considering frequency of contact, the primary consideration will be the welfare and best interests of the child.

7.1 Replacement Sessions

Where contact arrangements are changed through no fault of the parents, such as due to the unavailability of contact providers, if possible a replacement session will be arranged. The responsibility to make new / alternative arrangements lies with the Contact Supervisor involved, ensuring details regarding the new arrangements are shared with all parties. Cancellation due to parent/ child illness, extreme weather conditions inhibiting attendance, court attendance and contact dates conflicting with bank holidays will not be replaced.

7.2 Supervised Contact Agreement

Prior to the commencement of supervised contact, a meeting will take place between the allocated Contact Supervisor, and the adult(s) involved in the contact sessions and the allocated Social Worker. The Contact Supervisor will aim to meet and introduce themselves to the child, foster carer and school/nursery.

The Supervised Contact agreement will outline, dates, times, venues, expectations of family members attending contact etc. This agreement will clearly outline the consequences of failed or negative contacts, and should be attached as an appendix to any court Care Plan.

  1. When a contact session is missed by a parent or other relative the social worker will be informed as soon as possible, the Contact Supervisor will discuss the reasons for the missed contact with the family and feedback to the allocated social worker;
  2. In the even of three missed contacts without satisfactory explanation, or contact being cut short for reasons of parental lateness or leaving before end of scheduled session, or a pattern of missed sessions contact will be held in abeyance. The Contact Coordinator will notify the case holder of all dates of non-attendance. A Contact Review meeting will be arranged at the earliest opportunity in order to address the non-attendance issues;
  3. An urgent meeting will be held with adults involved to consider whether the level and duration of contact is appropriate and in the child's interests.

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;
  • Agreements regarding any photography / videoing within the contact session;
  • 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 etc;
  • Detail expectations about punctuality;
  • State clearly the circumstances in which contact will be cancelled or terminated;
  • Detail any agreements or restrictions on contact via text message, email, social networking sites;
  • Inform how to make a complaint.

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

7.3 Contact Review

The purpose of the contact review meeting is to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of contact, whether contact still needs to be supervised and whether any changes need to made to the arrangements. It’s an opportunity to discuss with the parents and Social Worker any issues and to highlight where contact is going well.

Generally contact should be reviewed every 12 weeks, however, at times this may need to be more or less frequent depending on individual circumstances.

Where the child resides in Local Authority Care long term or is the subject of a full Care Order contact reviews will take place on an annual basis.

7.4 Levels of Risk

Supervised contact often carries an element of risk and therefore careful planning is required.

It is the responsibility of the Social Worker to complete the risk assessment as part of the referral document in the first instance. At the point of referral the following points should be considered:

  • 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.

Whilst we try to respond to emergency requests as quickly as possible, it is vital that all risks are considered in full. Where risk levels change, this should be recorder and shared with all parties as soon as possible.

Where the contact presents a high risk of risks arise following a contact session a risk management meeting will be convened, chaired by the relevant Service Manager.

It is very important that when significant decisions are made about current and future plans for the children, the Contact Service is contacted by the Social Worker to ensure that joint consideration of the impact this might have on the child and parent takes place.

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.


8. The Role of the Contact Supervisor

For each referral a primary Contact Supervisor will be allocated, it is the aim of the service that this supervisor will continue working the case throughout the services involvement to ensure consistency for the child and their parent.

The supervisor will meet with the family members to allow opportunity for them to discuss, what is working well within the contact session, what they are worried about and what needs to happen in future contact sessions. This will provide the family with on-going support to improve their parenting capacity within the realms of supervised contact.

The Contact Supervisor may be required to role model during the contact session to actively demonstrate practical parenting tasks.

It is the Contact Supervisors role to intervene and possibly terminate a contact session if the child is deemed to be at risk of harm at any time within the session.

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.

The Contact Co-ordinator line manages the Contact Supervisors and will undertake case supervision and quality auditing as per procedure.


9. Recording Supervised Contact Sessions

The Contact Supervisor will provide a weekly overview of the contact sessions that have taken place that week; this will be within the signs of safety model. This will include, what has worked well within the contact session, what are the worries and what needs to happen. This will be in conjunction with the family's views of the contact session and the Contact Supervisors assessment.

Recording standards are in line with LCC case recording procedures.

The contact recordings are saved on the child's file within Mosaic.

Contact recordings are distributed to legal service representatives on a weekly basis (cases in public law proceedings).


10. Transport Arrangements

Transport for contact is arranged by the Service. There is an expectation that contact takes place at a venue near to where children are placed and that parent's travel. Transport is procured through the Transport Service Group (TSG) which takes 5 working days to set up. During the interim period Contact Services arrange transport via local taxi firms on the approved operators list.

However it is recognised that it is in the best interests for children if carers are able to bring them to contact in the first instance. Transport should only be arranged through a taxi or TSG after agreement with a Contact Coordinator.

Any transport arranged for children should be appropriate to their needs and safety. Only transport from the approved operators list should be used. These Operators and Escorts are DBS checked and are deemed safe to transport vulnerable babies and children by TSG.


11. Service User Feedback / Consultation

The Supervised Contact Service is committed to seeking the views of service users in relation to the quality of the service we provide and how we can make changes/improvements where appropriate.

Contact Supervisors ask for the parent and child's views at each session and these are added onto the Signs of Safety forms, which are then saved to the child's Mosaic file.

Formal service feedback forms are completed with parents at each contact review meeting.

Within each Family Centre 'fishes for wishes' forms are available for any visiting service user to provide direct feedback regarding the service, the venue or general views.

Additionally feedback forms are completed by parents, professionals, carers and the child at the point of closure.

Within each Family Centre a Munro Representative is appointed, their role is to ensure that the Contact Service is Munro compliant to enable Contact Supervisors to make the best judgements about how to help Children and Families that enter the service.


12. Core Hours of Delivery

The Supervised Contact Service operates Monday to Friday between 9am and 6pm. Where required, contact can be provided at alternative times, on a Saturday and bank holidays.


13. Performance Standards

The Contact Service contributes to the following Performance Indicators:

  • Stability of placements;
  • Children returning to a family member from LAC status;
  • Numbers of children rehabilitated home.

It is important that we monitor the effectiveness and quality of the Contact Service and to this end the service has some performance standards which it is monitored against:

  • All requests will be allocated to a Contact Supervisor within 24 Hrs;
  • Contact Agreements will be created on Mosaic within 14 days of commencement;
  • All contacts with the family will be recorded on Mosaic, within 5 working days;
  • The child's voice will be captured on 100% of all Contact recordings;
  • Contact Reviews will be undertaken at 12 weekly intervals or annually if the child is long term LAC;
  • Case supervision will be completed on an 8 weekly basis;
  • Any safeguarding concerns will be reported immediately;
  • All telephone calls and messages will be responded to within 2 working days;
  • All emails will be responded to within 2 working days;
  • 80% of service user evaluation forms will be received following closure;
  • 60 day Quality Audits will be completed by the Contact Co-ordinator within 5 working days;
  • Closure Quality Audits will be completed by the Contact Co-ordinator within 5 working days;
  • Any identified remedial action from the closure Quality Audit will be undertaken by the involved Contact Supervisor within 3 working days;
  • The Quality Audit response must be completed within 5 working days.

End