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4.5.1 Contact with Family and Friends

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Along with all the chapters relating to looked after children this chapter was added to the manual in June 2011.

RELATED GUIDANCE

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

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in February 2015 in line with the above Related Guidance. Additional information was added in Section 3, Considering Contact - Views of the Child and Section 4, Issues for Consideration when Planning Contact.


Contents

1. Introduction     
  1.1 What is Contact?
  1.2 Legislation and Research   
2. Procedures 
3. Considering Contact - Views of the Child 
4. Issues for Consideration when Planning Contact
5. Considering Contact when Placing a Child 
6. Contact that does not need to be Supervised
7. Supervised Contact   
8. Suspending/Closing Contact 
9. Contact Provision by Area Team/Unit Team Workers 
10. Prison Contact
11. Referral Form


1. Introduction

1.1 What is Contact?

The interests of the majority of looked after children are best served by sustaining or creating links with their birth families including wider family members. Consideration of contact is an essential element in the planning process.

“Contact” refers to all contact between a looked after child and significant others, including parents, others with parental responsibility, brothers, sisters, other relatives and friends. Direct Contact means any face-to-face contact, from a short meeting to an overnight or longer stay. Indirect Contact means letters, cards, telephone calls, texts, emails, exchange of photographs, videos and presents. NB Those involved in decision-making regarding contact should be aware of the opportunities and the risks posed by the available technologies when considering a child’s needs and need for safety around contact.

Contact can be Supervised / Unsupervised depending on the assessed level of risk. When deemed necessary to safeguard the child Direct Contact must be Supervised, details of how the supervision will be achieved will form part of the Care Plan.

Contact can help inform decision making about:

  • The potential for re-unification;
  • The potential of kinship care;
  • Contact following permanent placement.

1.2 Legislation and Research  

The legal basis for contact is contained within The Children Act (1989) Schedule 2 paragraph 15 (1):

“The Local Authority must, unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with his welfare, endeavour to promote contact between children who are looked after by them and:

  • His parents;
  • Any person who is not a parent but who has parental responsibility for him;
  • Any relative, friend or other person connected with him.”

Schedule 2 paragraph 15 (2) (a):

“The Local Authority must ensure that parents and those with parental responsibility know where a child who is being looked after is living, unless the authority has reasonable cause to believe that informing that person would prejudice the child's welfare.”

Schedule 2 paragraph (10) (b):

“The Local Authority shall take such steps as are reasonably practicable where any child within their area who is in need and whom they are not looking after is living apart from his family, to promote contact between him and his family (e.g. children in health or similar establishments, and private foster placements).”

Cambridgeshire have permission to use Oxfordshire’s “Contact Planning Information Pack” by Margaret Bryher. Some of this chapter is based upon this material and offers guidance in decision making around contact.

The Care Planning, Placements and Case Review Guidance and Regulations 2010 paragraphs 2.78 - 2.93 describe the legislative context for contact; who should be included; different types of contact, including sibling contact and the differing considerations depending on the child’s legal status, please see paragraphs 8-9 in Oxfordshire’s “Contact Planning Information Pack”.

The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 Schedule 1 (3, 1) “If C(child) has a sibling for whom the responsible authority or another authority are providing accommodation and the children have not been placed together, the arrangements made to promote contact between them, so far as is consistent with C’s welfare.

The research base around contact varies depending on the legal status of the child. See BAAF website for research and publications around the subject of contact.

A key document to consider when thinking about the effect of contact decisions on the child is “Keeping in Touch’’ a report of children’s experience by the Children’s Rights Director for England” (2009) Keeping in Touch (see OFSTED website).


2. Procedures

When deciding to accommodate a child, the Social Worker must attend CAM for the threshold to be agreed. Paperwork submitted to CAM regarding analysis of contact and planning must include an up to date Assessment. (Please see Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure).

All decisions relating to contact must be made, or confirmed, at a Planning Meeting and regularly reviewed, and recorded on the Care Plan.

If action has to be taken to prevent or delay contact in an extreme circumstance to protect the safety and well-being of the child(ren), the Team Manager would need to agree this as an interim measure and then all parties should be immediately informed and a Planning Meeting should be convened as soon as possible to review future arrangements.

All discussions, recommendations, decisions and actions relating to contact must be recorded.


3. Considering Contact - Views of the Child

The views of children must always be sought when determining and reviewing contact arrangements. If of sufficient age and understanding, then the child must be party to the contact plan within the Care Plan. 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.

Throughout the placement, social workers and carers should monitor the effect of contact on the child and seek their views as to how contact plans are working.

The child must be supported in making their views in respect of contact known at their statutory reviews. If the child or young person does not feel comfortable with doing so within the meeting then the Review Manager must be informed and must speak to the child in a separate meeting. Consideration must be given for the child to have an advocate.

Where children’s wishes for contact cannot be met, the reasons for this must be explained to them and recorded on ICS.

There will be some young people who will establish contact with family and friends against the wishes and advice of CYPS and outside the arrangements made in the contact plan. In this circumstance then a statutory review meeting will need to be held to discuss this and a risk assessment should be drawn up.


4. Issues for Consideration when Planning Contact

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.

It is expected that parents will see contact with their children as beneficial to the child and part of their responsibility as parents to maintain. It is reasonable to expect parents to use their income, including any child benefit received for the children, to fund their independent travel arrangements. Where the parent’s income prohibits this i.e. if they are in receipt of income support or are two low wage earners, then the Social Care Team will be responsible for supporting parents maintaining contact, seeking the most cost effective means.

Parents who have difficulty in ‘organisation’ may find it difficult to adhere to any contact agreement, i.e. those with mental health problems, substance misuse, personality disorder that may affect their executive functioning, learning disability etc may need the Social Worker to support them in any contact agreement to make contact successful for them and the child.

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. The Social Care Team is also responsible for supporting other family members when contact with them is deemed beneficial for the child.


5. Considering Contact when Placing a Child

The need for contact must be considered alongside the promotion of their health and education, needs arising from the child’s race, culture, religion and disability and the need to place siblings together.

The following checks must be made when considering contact:

The purpose of the contact.

To maintain the child’s significant relationships.

It will almost always include “keeping the door open” for re-unification, and supporting the child through the process of becoming looked after.
Who the child will have contact with. Can include non-resident parents, grandparents, siblings, other relatives and friends, as well as the child’s main/previous carers.
Who the child should not have contact with. Identified individuals with the support of the courts if required.
The type of contact preferred. Direct/Indirect/Supervised or a combination of any of the three.
Will contact form part of an assessment? Yes - and subject to regular review.
How often the contact should take place. As the need of the child dictates, considering the child’s age and sense of time and need to settle in placement to experience / take part in family life, in particular for school age children who need to relax after school, homework etc.
How long each contact session should last. As above.
Where the contact should take place. Contact should take place at or near the foster/residential home, and if a long journey is involved it should be the adults having contact that travel.
How the child will get to contact. It is in the child’s interest to be travel with carer or contact supervisor.
How the contact will be supervised and by whom. Supervised contact can be discreet and non-participatory or can be supervised very closely where every word and action can be intercepted and at levels between these two. Thought must be given to the level of supervision needed and who is best placed to undertake it.
What the total cost of contact will be. All costs must be taken into account - transport, staff time, venue and where appropriate activities etc.
How the child will be supported with contact. Contact can be difficult for children including preparation for, during and after contact. Consistency each time is important as is consideration of an advocate for the children.
How the contact will be monitored and reviewed. Carers/Supervisors will be expected to report on all aspects of contact and reviewed at least bi-monthly and details of the review entered in the child’s file.
Contingency arrangements if contact does not take place. Should be predicated on the need of the child, not by the demands of the parent. Wait until the next contact is due or schedule a new contact if an alternative date is given and if agreed by Team Manager who will escalate if appropriate.
How and by whom will contact be recorded. Carer in Carer Log or Soc 902 completed by supervisor both must be signed off by manager.

For children in need of an immediate placement, the child’s social worker will need to consider the proposed contact arrangements in the light of the available resources. Wherever possible, a placement that enables the contact plan to be fully implemented should be chosen.

The child’s other needs may however outweigh this consideration, for example where an independent provider placement is the only one available where siblings can be kept together. The reasons for choosing a particular placement must be recorded on the child’s file in ICS and any shortfall in meeting the needs for contact as a result clearly identified and reasoning shown.


6. Contact that does not need to be Supervised

Arrangements for unsupervised contact should be detailed in the contact plan within the care plan. Consideration of risk around this should be outlined in the child or young person’s safety plan.


7. Supervised Contact

Contact should only be supervised in order to safeguard the child, and each statutory review will determine whether the reasons for supervision still apply.

All supervised contact must be arranged via the Supervised Contact Team (see procedures and flowchart) Supervised Contact Team Procedures.

Where a placement is planned, the contact plan will be drawn up as part of the care plan and described as part of the placement plan. The contact plan, along with the care plan; child safety plan and a single assessment should be sent with the Supervised Contact Team Referral form (SOC 1847) to the Supervised Contact Team.

The contact plan, within the Care plan, should specify the desired level of contact and also specifics such as activities, level of supervision, whether community outings are permitted, the nature of the venue and any directions for the nature of observation of the contact sessions.

The Supervised contact team will arrange a Contact Agreement meeting within 5 working days of the referral. This meeting will be recorded on the Agreement Meeting Form (SOC 1846) and will give more detail as to the arrangements for contact.

The meeting will:

  • Analyse further any risks with transport, the venue or any special needs of the child that contact may present to the child and how they will be managed;
  • Outline the expectations for all involved - child, family members, social workers, contact supervisor;
  • Specify the degree of closeness of supervision;
  • Outline contingency plans including how advice and additional support may be obtained;
  • As part of a single assessment or as part of reporting to court, it will be necessary for the social worker to observe around 20% of contact i.e. one in five contacts, and to use observations by contact supervisors as part of their evidence. If contact is to be observed for this reason this must be made explicit in the contact agreement.

Contact supervisors must have appropriate training and be informed about the child’s background and current circumstances. Family members may supervise contact if they are able to ensure the child’s safety.

Parents should travel independently and when possible Foster Carers should be encouraged to transport the child. The Supervised Contact team will be responsible for arranging transport for or transporting the child, arranging and paying for the venue and the recording of the contact session.

The Foster Carer/Contact supervisor will, where possible, transport the child to and from contact. This will allow them to prepare the child or young person, support them during contact, and then afterward manage any feelings or problems that may have arisen from the contact session for the child or young person.

Recording will be completed by the supervisor on a SOC 902c, which the Business Support workers from the Supervised Contact team will put on to the child’s record on ICS.

Any other issues will be recorded on a separate SOC 902c, following the same process. Any issues for immediate consideration will be reported to the allocated social worker by the Supervised Contact Team.

The contact agreement will be reviewed 2 weeks prior to the child’s statutory review and recorded on The Agreement Review form (SOC 1850) so that the contact plan can be reviewed as part of the care plan at the statutory review. The Supervised Contact Team will send the contact agreement review to the Review Manager before the statutory review.

If the Supervised Contact Team feel that contact is not working as in the best interests of the child they must give feedback to Service/Area manager.

If contact is on-going but Supervised Contact Team thinks it is unnecessary they must report back to Area Team to make new arrangements.

Where the child is placed in an emergency, the Supervised Contact team will consider the request to set up contact and arrange a temporary agreement meeting with all concerned - if this is not possible a risk assessment is carried out and the date set for a full agreement meeting as soon as possible. Contact can be done at the manager’s discretion but not without a risk assessment. All of the required paperwork must be sent to the Supervised Contact team within 5 working days of the child becoming Looked After.

The Supervised Contact Team will manage all requests for supervised contact, including where a child is placed out of authority. Some out of authority placements will include contact as part of the entire package for this child. If so, the Supervised Contact Team should be made aware of this. The Supervised Contact Team also manages contact for disabled children that are full-time looked after.

Social Care Teams when requiring a change of contact provision must complete a SOC1051 (Change of Circumstance Form) indicating whether service is to be suspended, terminated or amended. Changes cannot be made without an approved SOC1439 Reductions and cessation of contact must be in line with the final care plan as agreed by the Court. SOC1051 must be completed by Social Worker/Team Coordinator - LAC for submission to Supervised Contact Team by Business Support.


8. Suspending/Closing Contact

There is provision in the Children Act 1989 Section 34.4 for the local authority or the child to apply to the Family Proceedings Court for an order refusing contact with a child who is the subject of a care order.

There is also provision in the Children Act 1989 Section 34.6 for contact with a child subject to a care order to be suspended for 7 days, where this action is urgently required to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.

The approval of the Group Manager (or above) should be obtained to any proposal to suspend or terminate contact.

The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 (P2 S8) stipulate that on suspension of contact, the child or young person (if age appropriate), the parent or other person that has parental responsibility, the IRO and any other relevant party must be informed in writing that contact has been suspended. The date of the decision and length of suspension, the reasons for the decision and the process for expressing dissatisfaction must all be included in the information sent to all parties. The change in contact arrangements must be recorded in the care plan.

Where there are concerns about contact or the arrangements for contact are not working e.g. repeated non-attendance; behaviour of those involved an agreement meeting should be re-convened to look at the causes. If necessary, the meeting can recommend the suspension of contact. The Group Manager or above will make the decision and record the reasons for this on the child’s file, as well as ensuring the information is disseminated as above.

Particular attention will need to be paid to the arrangements around final contact and careful plans need to be made with the Supervised Contact Team.


9. Contact Provision by Area Team/Unit Team Workers

Under certain circumstances Area Teams may wish to provide their own supervised contact. To maintain countywide records of contact and to assure equitable standards the following arrangements should be followed.

The Area/Unit Team has to nominate workers that they want to use for contact and ensure they have attended the SC Team training modules and are familiar with the processes.

SC Team keeps a record of all workers that have done the training and informs the Area Teams of workers that can now be allocated to do contact.

Area/Unit Team does referral, risk assessment, allocates workers (after checking they are on SC Team approved list) and agreement meeting paperwork. They also need to name back up worker in case of sickness, leave etc. This back up worker could be a SC Team worker if necessary but would need to work with SC Team to arrange this.

Team worker must note details and calculate costs of:

  • Hours of contact and frequency;
  • Hours of write up time;
  • Travel time and mileage;
  • Venue / activity costs if applicable.

These details must be put on SOC1439 for Manager to sign off.

Area sends copies of all of the above paperwork to SC Team - stating that it’s for information only - Area/Unit team doing contact so that all relevant data can be added to database.

SC Team adds all details and estimated costs to database. The Area/Unit Team to file all information electronically as normal.

If arrangements have to change for any reason and SC Team have to pick up the case a new referral and risk assessment will have to be done.

When contact is ending Area / Unit Team to send notification to SC Team to close case on database.


10. Prison Contact

Guidance on the assessment of prison contact is provided is a separate chapter: Guidance for Assessing Prison Contact Guidance.


11. Referral Form

See Documents Library.

End