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5.1.14 Written Agreements


  1. Introduction
  2. Practice Principles  
  3. Guidelines for Written Agreements
  4. When is a Written Agreement Appropriate 
  5. Purpose   
  6. Other Relevant Guidance

1. Introduction

The Children Act 1989 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002 require the use of written agreements in some aspects of child care work and recommend their use in others. The use of written agreements is essential when working with children and young people and their families. They reflect sound partnership practice and ensure that the views of all parties are heard and all parties are clear about the reason for agency involvement and what the expected outcomes are. The written agreement should provide clarity as to what changes are expected and how they will be achieved. Written agreements need to be flexible, regularly reviewed and should reflect the wishes and feelings of all involved parties. The more ownership by the involved parties, the more likely it is that the written agreement will be adhered to. Written agreements are a working tool - a means to an end and not an end in themselves.

2. Practice Principles

It is the Child's Plan that is reviewed to monitor that the child's needs and planned outcomes are being met. The written agreement must not replace the focus on and the purpose of the child's plan

Safeguarding the child is paramount and and the appropriate procedure shall be followed if there is concern that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. Careful consideration must be given to a child's circumstances where serial agreements are made and the planned outcomes for the child are not met.

Representatives from agencies and organisations must recognise that they hold more power that the service user, in terms of both legal and economic power. They will also hold more power derived from an accumulated training and the support of their organisation. Service users will be disadvantaged by their situation and by their dependency on the organisation that is helping them

Written agreements should be genuinely non authoritarian, non judgmental and participative. They should reflect the perspective, wishes and expectations of the service user as well as being clear as to the agencies expected outcome.

Written agreements offer the potential for

  • Shared work;
  • Shared responsibility;
  • Common Goals;
  • Clear expectations of everyone;
  • Honesty and transparency.

Written agreements should be agreed and written in a style and language which is readily understood by all involved.

3. Guidelines for Written Agreements

The following is adapted from the Family Rights Group who identify ten conditions that should be met before a written agreement is considered appropriate or acceptable. These are;

1. The worker/agency must see the written agreement as an enabling tool

Written agreements should be used across a range of circumstances including keeping families together, being re-united or maintaining contact with each other. They should not be seen as tools to control parents or prove evidence for court. Families should not see them as a tool to lure them into failure, or fear that there is a secret agenda. They are used to facilitate the use of the Child's Plan.

2. Agreements should be negotiated, not imposed

The child, young person, family and worker should establish what they believe the problem is and agree on what needs to be done. If it is not possible for all the participants to agree the arrangements the Local Authority may have to make a decision, in this situation they should confirm the decision in writing. However, it must be made clear that this will do something different from an agreement. Language and expectations must be clear, not vague and the responsibilities of the agency/worker as well as the expectations of the service user should be clearly stated.

3. All participants can seek independent advice

Workers and family members can take advice inside or outside of the meeting. Service users may want to seek Independent advice from a friend, family member, interpreter, legal advisor or member of their local community. Service users should be given information about what a written agreement is, when they are required by law and of what value they are.

4. The families view is genuinely respected

Service users will only be able to fully participate if they recognise a genuine commitment on the part of the worker/agency to genuinely establish and work within the written agreement. Agencies need to be prepared to share power, be transparent and achieve consensus with the family.

5. The agency tasks must be clearly defined

Service users must be clear about the role and responsibilities of each agency, why they are involved and whet their expectations are.

6. The written agreement will be both followed and reviewed

Once drawn up the written agreement should be referred to during routine visits and at the reviews of the child's plan. Dates contained in the agreement should be adhered to and serial agreements should be monitored closely in supervision and reviews to ensure that the focus on the child's safeguarding needs is not lost. When an action is achieved it should be formally recognised and the written agreement adjusted accordingly. Children, young people and families need to know what sanctions can be imposed upon them or the worker if they do not carry out the agreed goals.

7. The written agreement must be fair and achievable

The agreement should identify the tasks required to move all parties towards the identified goal and agreed goal. As work progresses it may become apparent that the original terms of the agreement were not appropriate, fair or achievable. All parties must be able to challenge the agreement and request a review.

8. The final document is agreed by all

The terms of the agreement should not be written up by the worker as a true and final record unless the resulting document is then shared with all parties for it to be amended. All parties should sign the agreement to show it was negotiated and agreed. However, workers must seek to ensure that service users are not reluctantly signing it as they believe they have no choice.

9. It is written in clear and unambiguous language

The agreement should be jargon free, expectations should be clear and not vague and the agreement drawn up in a way that is understood by the service user. A number of languages and media must be considered including; Braille, audio, dev/computer or written. 

10. The content of the agreement can be challenged

Family members need to know that they can challenge the content of the agreement and that this will not be seen as a sign of their lack of cooperation. However safeguarding the child is paramount and and the appropriate procedure shall be followed if there is concern that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. Careful consideration must be given to a child's circumstances where serial agreements are made and the planned outcomes for the child are not met.

4. When is a Written Agreement be Appropriate

Written agreements should not be restricted to situations where workers are concerned about a parent's standard of child care. They should not be used negatively, in circumstances where the parent may potentially lose their child due to concerns around safeguarding. They are positive and should be used as such. Therefore written agreements should be used across a wide service user and problem range.

They may be used in the following circumstances

  • It may be a new piece of work or failure of previous agreement;
  • In circumstances where a child is looked after by the local authority under a S20 voluntary agreement;
  • Where a child is looked after by the local authority and subject to a care order;
  • Where a child is at home and subject to a care order;
  • Where a child is subject to a child protection plan following a child protection conference;
  • Where a child is subject to a Child and Family Progress Plans;
  • Where a child is subject to a TAC/CAF;
  • Where there has been a Family Group Conference;
  • Where a child is subject to involvement of the youth offending service;
  • In any other circumstances where a child is receiving services and it is felt that a written agreement will benefit them for instance if they are receiving help via the youth service.

5. Purpose

The purpose of the written agreement is to establish:

  • Consensus about what the difficulty / problem is;
  • Consensus about what needs to change;
  • Agreement about who will be involved in the plan;
  • Consistency between organisations;
  • That all parties know what is expected of them;
  • What sort of agreement it is i.e. formal / informal, and whether it is underpinned by legislation or as a voluntary arrangement;
  • To identify resources and agree who will provide them;
  • To ensure children are safe;
  • To ensure children's needs are met both at universal, specialist and targeted level;
  • To ensure that tasks are identified that will lead to successful completion of the required outcome, and including what the sanctions will be on all parties including service users and workers/organisations.

6. Other Relevant Guidance

  1. Involving children and young people;
  2. Recording with care;
  3. Working with children and families.