View Cambridgeshire LSCB Manual View Cambridgeshire LSCB Manual
View Working Together to Safeguard Children View Working Together to Safeguard Children

4.5.1 Contact with Parents/Adults 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, anyone else with Parental Responsibility who is not a parent, siblings, any relative, friend or other person connected with the child.

For arrangements for social visits and overnight stays away with friends which staff/carers may agree, see Social Visits and Overnight Stays Procedure.

For guidance regarding frequency of contact within the context of permanence, see Permanence Planning Guidance.

RELATED CHAPTER

Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure

RELATED GUIDANCE

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

AMENDMENT

In May 2018 this chapter was extensively revised and should be re-read in full.


Contents

  1. Different Types of Contact
  2. Approving and Planning Contact
  3. Supervised Contact
  4. Review of Contact Arrangements
  5. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Contact


1. Different Types of Contact

Face to face meetings and visits will generally be the best way of maintaining relationships, but other means such as letters, phone calls, mobile communications, photograph exchanges etc. should be borne in mind. Social workers and carers should work together to explore how electronic media can support positive relationships for children. Children should be supported to ensure they are safe online rather than this form of contact being avoided. It may be useful to encourage young people to share details of how they communicate with others (this may include mobile phones or other social networking sites and apps and consoles such as Xbox or PlayStation) and an agreement reached between the young person, social worker and foster carer about how safely to do this.

Where there is no direct contact due to the progression of plans for permanence, indirect contact may be most appropriate, though all must be vigilant about the potential for social media to be used inappropriately in this context.


2. Approving and Planning Contact

The responsible social worker has a duty to promote contact between the child and parents, siblings, anyone with Parental Responsibility who is not a parent, any relative, friend or other person connected with the child unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child’s welfare. The assessment and discussions with the child will identify those people for whom it is important to maintain contact. This may include those (including a parent) with whom contact has been lost and consideration should be given as to how this could be re-established.

This should be in a manner consistent with the child’s Care Plan which must take account of any Child Protection Plan or 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 between children and their parents, siblings or relevant others may only be permitted if previously agreed by the social worker and should be set out in the child’s Placement Information Record. This must also explicitly state any limitations on contact and the reasons for them.

The purpose of the contact and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the 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 and reviewed. The wishes and feelings of the child should be ascertained, wherever possible, using advocacy and communication services if necessary. For many children, relationships with family members, previous carers, friends and others are valued. Contact can be very important in helping children develop their sense of identity and understand their lives.

So far as it is reasonably practicable, the wishes and feelings of the parents and the child’s carers must be ascertained before decisions about contact arrangements are made.

Both direct and indirect contact arrangements should always be clearly detailed, setting out how contact will take place, the venue, the frequency and how the arrangements will be reviewed. The use of mobile communication should also be considered.

Where contact is extended as part of a plan to gradually return the child to the parents’ care, the Placement with Parents Procedure must be followed.

For foster carers providing short breaks, the foster carer must maintain contact as agreed in the Short Break Plan.

Maintaining contact between siblings from both the same or different parents is reported by children to be one of their highest priorities (The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review, June 2015). It is not always possible or appropriate to place sibling groups together and where this is not the case it requires the active involvement and commitment of all parties to facilitate contact between them.

Independent Reviewing Officers should ensure that Looked After Reviews consider whether contact arrangements, including sibling contact, have been established, are safe and effective and that the child is happy with the contact both in terms of frequency and quality.


3. Supervised Contact

The need to supervise contact should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process by the social worker and their manager. It is the responsibility of the social worker to ensure that the person(s) supervising contact is appropriately skilled and experienced to do so. This may be a trusted relative/friend or the Supervised Contact Service (SCS).

Where supervised contact is deemed necessary, the reasons should be clearly recorded on ICS and the role of the supervisor or supervisors clearly defined and the detailed arrangements for supervision must be set out in the Placement Information Record.

It is essential that supervised contact arrangements are dynamic and flexible so that they can develop in response to the changing plans for a child’s future. When the child’s plan and circumstances change, contact arrangements should be reviewed and never allowed to drift. The social worker is responsible for ensuring that contact continues to meet the child’s needs and arrangements should be reviewed and confirmed at each Looked After Review.

Any supervision of contact can be intrusive for families and careful consideration must be given to the level of supervision required. The ‘closeness’ of supervision will depend on its purpose and any risks involved. There can be different levels of supervision – from closely supervised, where the supervisor is to be in close proximity to ensure that any comments made are appropriate, to more loose supervision where they have to be in the same vicinity but not necessarily within earshot. 

The expectation of any contact supervisor will be to intervene if any person having contact with a child is behaving in a way that is causing concern and to remind them of the expectations as outlined in the contact agreement.

As with frequency of contact, the closeness of supervision should be regularly reviewed to ensure that it continues to meet the child’s needs in the wider context of the care planning.

In all cases, consideration should be given to whether family members, friends or foster carers can appropriately assist in supervision of contact, provided this does not put child at risk and this should also be kept under review. Sibling contact is often best facilitated by those known to the children.

The Supervised Contact Service (SCS) exists to provide high quality contact to ensure children can maintain and build upon family networks and, where planned, will actively support the reunification of children with their families.

The Service Aims to:

  • Enable children and young people to experience positive and safe contact with their birth family or extended family;
  • Facilitate contact in a child friendly environment, which is comfortable and affords privacy;
  • Provide children and young people with the care and support they need to participate in contact designed to meet their needs;
  • Ensure young people and their families have equal access to services, which meet their individual needs, whatever their background;
  • Offer support and guidance during contact to build on family relationships and, where appropriate, strengthen rehabilitation plans.

To obtain the involvement of SCS, the social worker must complete a referral providing key details of the child/case to inform planning of effective and safe contact for the child. It would also be beneficial to have an early telephone discussion with SCS regarding the contact plan to ensure arrangements can be facilitated as soon as required.

The information required is incorporated in the exemplar on ICS:

  • Child’s details;
  • Parents details;
  • Placement details;
  • Type of contact being requested including frequency and venue;
  • Transport details.

Referred cases are considered on a weekly basis and allocated once all logistical arrangements have been agreed. The supervision of contact will begin once an Agreement Meeting has taken place.

The primary focus of the planning and provision of contact must be the safety and welfare of each individual child.

The referral 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, carers, staff or others;
  • Previous threats to disrupt contact or failure to cooperate 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 the parents;
  • The child's behaviour and needs, including medical needs.

Where any of the above features are present, and supervised contact is to continue, specific measures must be put in place to minimise risks. Where the contact presents a high risk or risks arise following a contact session, a Risk Management Meeting will be convened, chaired by the CSW for the child.

Where risk levels change, this should be recorded and shared with all parties as soon as possible.

The Contact Supervisor will make plans to meet and introduce themselves to the child and foster carer and, where possible, the school/nursery/setting before contact begins.

Prior to the commencement of supervised contact, an agreement meeting will take place between SCS (usually the allocated Contact Supervisor), the adult(s) having contact and the child’s Social Worker.

The Supervised Contact Agreement should be attached as an appendix to any court Care Plan and should include:

  • Details of frequency, timing and structure of contact;
  • Clarity about venue and whether any flexibility is allowed for activity or movements within or away from the agreed location; If constant supervision is required, the contact needs to be set within a specific venue;
  • Where the contact is based in the community and will involve an activity, agreement regarding who will meet any costs incurred;
  • The level of supervision expected - either constant supervision where the supervisor must remain within sight / earshot of the children throughout or moderate supervision where the supervisor does not need to remain within sight / earshot at all times;
  • Understanding that the contact supervisor can offer support and advice as part of the role, and clarity that they would be contributing to any assessment;
  • Clarity regarding the transport arrangements. The expectation is that contact takes place near to where children are placed and that parent's travel. It is normally in the best interests of children if carers are able to transport them to and from contact. Any transport arranged for children should be appropriate to their needs and safety;
  • Whether staggered arrival times for parents (when contact is occurring separately) with the child or for the foster carer might be appropriate so that they do not encounter the parents due to identified risk factors;
  • Detailed expectations about punctuality and the implications of late arrival;
  • Details of the adults allowed to attend the contact. Supervisors will be expected to apply this strictly;
  • Agreement (or otherwise) regarding photography / videoing within the contact session;
  • Any agreements or restrictions on contact via text message, email, social networking sites, etc;
  • Arrangements for ending contact, for example, whether goodbyes should take place in the contact room and the parent should leave the building before the child is returned to the carer;
  • Clarification about whether the person(s) having contact are permitted to give the child food, drinks, gifts or money during contact and, if so, what and how much;
  • Where the contact is based in the community and will involve an activity, agreement regarding who will meet any costs incurred;
  • Clarity about any areas of conversation that are inappropriate and should be curtailed by the supervisor;
  • Clear ground rules about the use of language, secrecy, whispering, false promises etc;
  • The circumstances in which contact would be cancelled or terminated; for example if the child is unwell or parents do not adhere to advice from the supervisor and place the child at risk;
  • Circumstances that would result in replacement contacts being offered (see below);
  • In the event of problems emerging, the supervisors must be clear who to contact and what details they will need to share;
  • Information on how parents (etc) can provide feedback about the Supervised Contact Service.

The parents, carers and other person involved in the contact should have copies of the agreement within 10 days of the meeting taking place.

If changes are required to the contact arrangements, at least 3 working days’ notice must be given to SCS.

Significant changes to Care Plans, court proceedings and/or decisions made about the frequency of future contact are all likely to be potential tension points so extra vigilance should apply at any contacts arranged around these times.

Anyone involved in the supervision of contact should have copies of the Placement Information Record and the agreement with the parents or relevant adults.

Recording of Supervised Contact Sessions. The Contact Supervisor will provide a written summary of the contact and will ensure that it is entered on the child’s electronic record within 48 hours. The record will cover:

  • Date, Venue and time of contact, including timekeeping;
  • Who was present;
  • Role of the worker – passive observer or active in terms of role modelling;
  • Observations, such as child or parent presentation and demeanour, interaction, activities undertaken (together/separately); commentary on greetings and goodbye;
  • Any safeguarding concerns or management issues;
  • Observations against the Assessment Framework – parenting capacity, boundaries, stimulation etc;
  • Any gifts, food, etc brought to contact;
  • The SCS worker’s analysis of contact and their role – were they passive or active participants;
  • Recommendations for future contact.
The supervisor must immediately report to the social worker any concerns about the child or parents conduct during the contact. The social worker in consultation with their manager should consider the need to review the contact arrangements in light of the concerns expressed.


4. Review of Contact Arrangements

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

The effectiveness of contact, including arrangements for supervision must be reviewed at least every six months, or sooner if any incident or report identifies concerns.

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.

Where the social worker is updating the Single Assessment, contact arrangements should be reviewed to ensure they remain appropriate and effective. Where the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan or is Looked After, the contact arrangements should be reviewed by each Core Group/Conference or LAC Review, respectively. Concerns might prompt the arrangement of a meeting specifically to review the arrangements.

There is guidance, available from the Supervised Contact Service, on the issues to consider when reviewing contact. This includes who to talk to, analysing the strengths, challenges and complicating factors of existing arrangements and what to include in an effective contact plan. The social worker should discuss any proposed changes with their manager.

All assessments of, and decisions about, the level and nature of contact must be clearly recorded on the child’s electronic record and include a note of who authorised any changes.

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 must be sought where possible and legal advice must be obtained as to the need to seek any variation of the Court Order.


5. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Contact

Contact should take place in accordance with the child's Care Plan, Court Order and any Court Directions.

Contact must not be withdrawn as a sanction imposed on a child.

It should never be cancelled unless there is a very good reason, for example, it would not be safe for it to take place, or the child/ adult/sibling attending is unwell.

Wherever possible, the carer or supervisor should consult the child's social worker in advance if they consider there is a good reason to cancel a contact session. If contact is cancelled, the parent or relevant adult should be informed in advance and the reason for the decision explained. The social worker should normally arrange an alternative contact as soon as possible by arrangement with SCS where they are involved. Where it is the parent who has cancelled contact, the social worker and their manager will decide whether an alternative session will be offered.

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.

Suspending or Terminating Contact

Emergency restrictions on contact can only be made to protect the child from significant risk and must be notified to the social worker immediately.

Whilst every effort must be made to support and maintain safe and meaningful contact, there are a range of reasons why it might be postponed or cancelled, including:

  • Parents not attending, or attending sporadically, arriving late, etc;
  • Safeguarding the child from, for example, risky behaviour, undue pressure, threats, etc.

A meeting would normally be held with the adults concerned to clarify expectations and, if appropriate, consider changing the arrangements to make them more manageable to enable more consistent engagement. This could involve changing/reducing the frequency or duration of contact sessions.

Any proposal to suspend or terminate contact should be considered as part of the child's Looked After Review, unless the circumstances require an urgent decision to be made, in which case the social worker must consult their manager 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.

The reasons for the proposal must be explained to the parents and to the child, and their agreement obtained if possible. 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.

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 advice must be obtained so that any necessary court action can be initiated.

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

End