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4.4.1 Social Worker Visits to Looked After Children

Note that different provisions apply to children who acquire Looked After status as a result of a remand to local authority accommodation or Youth Detention Accommodation. In relation to those children, please see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure, Care Planning.


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


  1. Normal Frequency
  2. Exceptions
  3. Who should be seen?
  4. Purpose
  5. Recording

1. Normal Frequency

Wherever a Looked After child is placed, including placement with parents, the child's social worker must visit the child in the placement at the following intervals, subject to the exceptions in Section 2, Exceptions.

N.B. These are minimum requirements and the Looked After Review may require more frequent visits. The frequency of visits should always be determined by the circumstances of the case and visits should be made whenever reasonably requested by the child or foster carer regardless of the status of the placement.

  • Within one week of the start of any placement;
  • Then, at intervals of not more than six weeks during the first year of the placement;
  • Thereafter, at intervals of not more than six weeks;
  • Where a child is in a placement intended to last until they reach 18, visits after the first year may take place at intervals of not more than 12 weeks but only where this has been explicitly agreed at a LAC Review. The decision must take account of the stability of the placement and the views of the child (as appropriate to their age and understanding).

The frequency of social worker visits must be discussed / agreed at each LAC review.

The child's social worker must also visit the child immediately if a complaint is received from the child about any issue, or from another person concerning the standard of care they are receiving, or if an allegation is being investigated under s47.

For children who are placed for adoption, see Monitoring and Supervision of Adoptive Placements Procedure.

Some visits should be unannounced. The foster carers, parent or residential unit should be informed by the child's social worker at the time of placing that there will be occasional unannounced visits and the reason for this explained.

Meetings involving a child, for example, Looked After Reviews, do not in themselves constitute a visit, unless substantial time is taken outside of the meeting to talk with and spend time with the child.

The child's social worker should on occasions take the child out from the placement (for example, for a snack or a visit to a park) as this can strengthen the relationship between the child and the social worker and helps safeguard the child who may feel more able to discuss issues of concern when away from the placement.

2. Exceptions

The following are, again, minimum visiting requirements:

If the child who is the subject of a Care Order is placed with parents pending assessment, social work visits must take place at least once a week until the first Looked After Review and thereafter at intervals of not more than 6 weeks.

If the child is living with the parents and is the subject of an Interim Care Order, visits must take place at least once a week until the first Looked After Review and thereafter at intervals of not more than 4 weeks.

If the child is placed with parents and is the subject of a Care Order, visits must take place within one week of the Care Order, thereafter at intervals of not more than 6 weeks.

If the child is placed with a Connected Person with temporary approval, visits must take place at least once a week until the first Looked After Review and thereafter at intervals of not more than 4 weeks until the carer has been to Fostering Panel and has been approved.

If the child is looked after by Cambridgeshire, but another agency is responsible for the child's living arrangements (for example where a child is placed in a Young Offender Institution or a health care setting), within one week of the start/any change of living arrangements, then at intervals of not more than 6 weeks for the first year and at intervals of not more than 3 months in any subsequent year (subject to agreement at a Looked After Review).

3. Who should be seen?

Wherever possible, the child must be seen in private and alone (unless the child of sufficient age and maturity and refuses or the social worker considers it inappropriate to do so). If this is not possible, a further visit must be made at short notice in order that the child can be seen alone and also observed with the staff/carer.

The social worker should be aware of who else lives in the placement and they should know about changes in structure and composition as well as the relationships within the household or unit.

For children who are not able to verbally communicate their views, the social worker should observe the child in their placement and also in other settings, for example, school. Information and opinion should also be gathered from other professionals about their presentation.

On some occasions, the social worker should also arrange to visit at times when all members of a household can be seen; or for children's homes, a significant number of adults and children. It is important to assess the child’s relationships and interaction with those they live with.

Social workers must consider the balance of time spent with staff/carers and with children during a statutory visit. The social worker must prioritise their time with the child as opposed to the adult. Issues raised by staff/carers can be discussed when a child is not present, for example when they are at school.

Social workers should provide feedback to staff/carers regarding their visit highlighting any concerns but also making them aware if the child has been distressed or unsettled by the visit.

4. Purpose

The Care Planning Regulations explain that the purpose of the visit is to ensure the placement continues to promote the child's welfare and in particular, to:

  • Give the child the opportunity to express his or her wishes, feelings and views;
  • Advise, assist and befriend the child and ascertain who they would turn to in times of difficulty;
  • Promote an effective relationship between the child and social worker with particular reference to their role as a link with the child's history and birth family;
  • Identify daily routines including getting up and going to bed, meal times (including whether the children/adults all eat together), the arrangements for washing and whether the child is afforded privacy and support appropriate to their stage of development;
  • Identify arrangements for holiday and leisure time including playing games, access to clubs, cultural and sporting activities;
  • Identify what special arrangements are made to meet any needs that arise from their culture, religious or heritage including communication, diet and skin/hair care;
  • Observe the child with the staff/carer/parent and to analyse parenting styles and the promotion of the child's self-esteem;
  • Monitor the standard of care offered by the placement including physical standards, house rules and behaviour management strategies;
  • Identify whether there are age-appropriate toys/games to play with and the access that the child has to them;
  • Monitor how contact arrangements with family members and friends are working and ensure these are promoted within the home;
  • Ensure sleeping arrangements are suitable, such as room sharing, display of personal belongings and the physical state of the room. Whether the child has clean clothes, etc;
  • Identify any areas where additional support is required;
  • Evaluate whether the placement is helping to achieve the objectives of the Care Plan, particularly educational, health and social development needs. The social worker should look for signs that the child is an integral part of the family (eg their inclusion in photographs on display);
  • Carry out specific casework tasks with the child, for example life story work;
  • Identify whether older children are encouraged to take increasing responsibility for their own care (eg laundry, food preparation and the purchase of food, clothes and budgeting);
  • Identify arrangements for the child to get support with school work, homework (including where appropriate, access to a computer) and visit a library. Whether carers attend parent's evenings and are engaged with the school;
  • Confirm that the child knows about the complaints procedure and the availability of advocacy services;
  • Ensure that the child’s emotional and physical health needs are met, including dental and optician checks.

Social workers visiting children with disabilities and/or complex health needs should also consider the following:

  • Whether practices that are being employed are appropriate and do not compromise the child's safety e.g. the method of lifting a disabled child;
  • Whether the carer has sufficient equipment (e.g. bath chair / hoist, etc);
  • Who arranges the child's health appointments and who will attend. For children in residential placements in particular, whether there is consistency of worker;
  • That there is clear written information regarding the administration of medication.

It may not be possible for a social worker to gain all the information listed in one visit but they must try to obtain a holistic view of the placement.

When visiting children in residential settings the social worker should read the case recording to gain an understanding of recent events and also to identify any themes highlighted in the recording, for example challenging behaviour and staff strategies for managing situations.

5. Recording

To ensure that time is well spent and direct work is most effective, it is important to have a plan for what is to be accomplished by each visit. It is also essential that visits are recorded clearly and concisely. There is a template for recording visits on ICS that will also help with their planning. It is not a new exemplar, but a format for recording within the existing exemplar box on ICS to which guidance notes/prompts have been added.

The template comprises five key elements for all visits:

  • Purpose of visit
    • Progressing the requirements of the Care/ Pathway Plan (inc permanence);
    • That accommodation seen (any issues/concern); Placement suitability;
    • Relationships with carers; Family contact; Social relationships;
    • Education, Health (inc emotional wellbeing), wider welfare; Additional needs, EHC Plan, Care Package, etc;
    • Life Story Work/ progressing child’s understanding of reasons for LAC.
  • Observations/significant recent events / discussion (inc carer/keyworker update);
  • Analysis/Reflections (risks, protective factors, complicating factors);
  • Child’s voice/views;
  • Future actions (by family/carer/social worker) to progress plan.
All visits must be recorded within five days of the visit taking place.