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4.5.2 Social Visits and Overnight Stays

SCOPE OF THIS PROCEDURE

This document relates to Looked After Children and the planning and approval of social visits and overnight stays with friends.

For the procedure relating to contact with family members and those with parental responsibility see: Contact with Parents/Adults and Siblings Procedure.

RELATED GUIDANCE

National Minimum Standard 9 (Fostering Services) - Promoting and Supporting Contact

RELATED CHAPTERS

Delegation of Authority to Foster Carers and Residential Workers Procedure

Holidays and School Trips Within and Outside the UK Procedure

AMENDMENT

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


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Social Visits/Overnight Stays
  3. Parental Consent


1. Introduction

Looked after children say that problems obtaining parents’ and local authorities’ consent to everyday activities can make them feel different from their peers, causing them embarrassment and upset. It is therefore very important to agree upfront who can make which decisions about a looked after child, and that this is understood by all key parties and reviewed regularly.

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Services.

Decisions on social visits and overnight stays should normally be delegated to foster carers and residential care staff. The arrangements for such decisions should be written into the Placement Information Record in line with the Care Plan, taking account of any relevant court directives.

When the child's placement is made or changed, information regarding significant relationships and friendships must be obtained and shared with the new carers.

The parents’ views on social visits and overnight stays with friends should also be obtained, see Section 3, Parental Consent.

The Placement Information Record should include the parameters within which visits or stays away from the home with friends may be agreed by the carer without prior consultation with the social worker and also whether agreement to such visits requires the carer to obtain parental consent. The PIR may state that the social worker and/or parent must always be consulted.

The guiding principle is that looked after children should, as far as possible, be given the same permission to take part in normal and acceptable age appropriate activities, such as staying with friends, as would reasonably be granted by the parents of their peers. Judgment should depend on the assessed risks to and needs of, the individual child. See also Delegation of Authority to Foster Carers and Residential Workers Procedure.


2. Social Visits/Overnight Stays

The delegation of authority to approve a child making social visits to friends should be set out in the Placement Information Record which must be consistent with the child’s Care Plan. The arrangements must also be consistent with any Contact Orders in favour of (or preventing contact with) relatives or friends.

Overnight stays with friends are a regular part of most children's experience and often occur at short notice. It is neither practicable nor desirable to carry out police and other formal checks on the adults resident in the friend’s household, unless there are particular reasons for concern.

Although agency checks are not normally required as a precondition of a child staying overnight with friends, in circumstances where it is considered necessary as a result of specific risks identified in the risk assessment, or where the child is to stay with adults regularly, frequently or for a prolonged period, checks on members of the relevant household should be made through the Disclosure and Barring Service, Children's Services and Probation.

Where carers are required to seek the permission of the social worker, a manager or a parent, or specific restrictions on permitting a child to stay overnight with friends are applied, this should be the exception rather than the rule and be in response to particular concerns for the child’s welfare. The child’s wishes should be taken into account in reaching any such decision.

Any such restriction, together with the reasons, must be clearly recorded in the Placement Information Record and explained to the child, where age-appropriate. Restrictions should be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain relevant and proportionate.

In the majority of cases, it will be sensible for decision making about sleepovers to be delegated to the carer who will be best placed to know, or find out about, the friend and their family and monitor the impact of sleepover visits.

Carers considering a request from a child to stay overnight with a friend should base their decision on the following:

  • Wishes and views of the child, their age and understanding;
  • Any relevant restrictions in the child’s PIR;
  • Any factors in the child’s past experiences or behaviour that might preclude overnight stays;
  • Purpose, duration, venue;
  • Who proposed the overnight stay; how well the ‘hosts’ are known to the child and the carer;
  • Any perceived risk in the household concerned or from the activities proposed;
  • The supervision to be provided, including whether the child would be staying with another child(ren), or staying solely with an adult.

Where the carer is planning to agree to the child’s stays away, they must first establish the name of the adult who will be responsible for the child, the means of contacting them and the child during the visit/stay and arrangements for the child’s return. There should be clarity about the sleeping arrangements and who else will be present.

Prior to the child’s stay away, the carer should arrange to meet the adult who will have responsibility for the child unless they are already known, in which case arrangements can be made by phone.

The arrangements for supervising or caring for the child must not compromise the safety of the child or that of any one else and the carer should ensure:

  • Arrangements are confirmed with the parent/adult who will have responsibility during the visit;
  • That the carer and parent have contact numbers for each other;
  • That the child has access to a mobile phone and the carer’s number;
  • Clear arrangements for the child returning home;
  • That the child understands what to do should they want to return home earlier than planned.

In all cases, discussions should be held with the child, dependent on his or her age, as to what, if any, information should be shared with other adults to enable them to look after the child appropriately.

This might include:

  • Any specific health care needs of the child;
  • Any established routines for the child;
  • Any behavioural issues which might lead to difficulties during the visit if not properly understood by the ‘host’.

Any decision to share such information should be on a ‘need to know’ basis and recorded.

If the child refuses to allow appropriate information to be shared, then they must be made aware that this could affect the decision to allow the stay away from home.

The decision, and the arrangements agreed, should be recorded in full in the child’s record.

With older teenagers, there can be risks to their safety and wellbeing as they explore and test greater levels of independence. This applies to young people living at home as well as to those who are looked after and it is inevitable that in some cases, despite the care taken, things may not go as planned. It is therefore particularly important that young people have clear contact arrangements and are supported/encouraged to seek assistance if they are in difficulty.

Even where it has been agreed that the social worker does not have to be consulted in making these arrangements, they must still be informed as soon as practicable afterwards (within 1 working day) and it is their responsibility to inform the parents where appropriate.


3. Parental Consent

Wherever possible, parents’ views and consent to contact with relatives and friends, including any overnight stays away from home, should be obtained by the social worker at the time of the placement.

These views should be recorded, including an indication of whether the parent wishes to be notified, or their consent obtained, every time an overnight stay takes place and if so, whether such consultation and prior consent is required before the contact can go ahead.

It must also be clearly recorded if parents do not consent to any continuing relationships/friendships or short stays away from the home, along with their reasons for this.

If it is considered that contact is appropriate/positive despite the parents’ views, legal advice may be required and any decision to allow such contact needs to be clearly recorded, together with the reasons, and explained to the parents.

End