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2.2.5 Written Agreements

AMENDMENT

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


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Written Agreements
  3. Preparing a Written Agreement
  4. Recommendations on Contents

    Appendix 1: Model Written Agreement


1. Introduction

The Child H Serious Case Review (SCR) which reported in March 2015 identified some issues with the use of written agreements which had been relied upon in that case. This guidance is aimed at supporting staff in the appropriate use of written agreements and to avoid drift towards their inappropriate or dangerous use.


2. Written Agreements

Written agreements should only be used in emergencies and for short periods (hours/days) and when the practitioner judges that the person concerned is likely to comply, even if they are reluctant to do so.

They can be helpful in making explicit the expectations of key people in a child’s situation, pending the formulation of a Family Plan but should be replaced as soon as possible with a more comprehensive plan that has been discussed and agreed with the parents and the professional network.

They are most likely to be useful during s47 investigations or crisis intervention when there is no immediate opportunity to create or review a child and family plan.

Examples might include:

  • A relative who has temporarily assumed care of a child agreeing not to allow unsupervised contact with a parent (but see Placement with Connected Persons Procedure) for situations where the local authority has required that the child be away from the family home);
  • Arrangements for a grandparent to supervise contact between a child and parent;
  • Parental agreement to take the child for key medical appointments;
  • A parent living temporarily away from the family home (though care must be taken to avoid making unrealistic expectations of the parent with whom the child remains, especially where they have been the victim of domestic abuse).

Written agreements can be used to:

  • Provide family members and professionals with clarity about the detail of what they have agreed or are being required to do;
  • Crystallise what has already been agreed or particular aspects of it;
  • Clarify the aim or goal of work/planned actions;
  • Clarify timescales for work/planned actions;
  • Ensure clarity about the consequences of success and failure of planned actions;
  • Clarify contingency plans.

Written agreements must not be used:

  • As a replacement for a Child and Family Plan/CIN plan/CP plan, other than as a very temporary measure;
  • To coerce individuals to behave in ways which they are reluctant/refusing to; (Coercion is sometimes required and appropriate but should be pursued in other, more effective, ways);
  • As an attempt to put controls around a situation which has not been properly managed;
  • To reassure concerned professionals and managers that a concerning situation is being appropriately addressed, if this is its only purpose;
  • Simply because a previous written agreement has been reneged upon (though this does not preclude the possibility of making a fresh commitment through a new agreement);
  • Because other attempts at control (legal orders, child protection planning) have been sought but not obtained. In these circumstances, a written agreement could provide a misleading, even dangerous, illusion of compliance or control.


3. Preparing a Written Agreement

  • Discussion of all aspects of what might go into the agreement should be undertaken with all participants before anything is committed to paper. If possible, it is important not to start with a ‘complete’ draft drawn up by a professional because this may reduce ‘ownership’ by service users;
  • The worker must explain and discuss why a written agreement could help in the current situation;
  • It is important to explore the participants' willingness, confidence in and capacity to deliver the proposed agreement: Do they want to do it? Do they think it will work? Do they have the resources to make it work?
  • Decide what all participants are committing to, not just family members; include any input/support which professionals are going to provide as well as expectations of family members;
  • Be clear about both individual and collective/shared responsibilities;
  • The social worker will provide a copy of the agreement to parents and involved professionals within 24 hours;
  • The worker must arrange a multiagency meeting within the next five working days so that the TAC/CIN/CP plan can be put in place to replace the written agreement.


4. Recommendations on Contents

Effective written agreements are:

  • Written in ‘plain English’ without jargon or acronyms;
  • ‘SMART’ such that all elements are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-limited;
  • Balanced, so that they clarify everyone’s full undertakings, including the professionals;
  • Clear about the overall aim/goal;
  • Consistent with, and usually based upon, other existing plans e.g. CP Plans, Care Plans, etc;
  • Clear about the consequences of failure to deliver, for family members and professionals;
  • Clear about contingencies and what would trigger urgent action;
  • Clear about when they will be reviewed and replaced by a more enduring and comprehensive Family Plan.
Written agreements can only be effective if the consequences of both compliance and non-compliance are specified, they are monitored rigorously and any breaches dealt with quickly and in accordance with the agreement.


Appendix 1: Model Written Agreement

Agreement between Mr John Smith, Ms Jane Smith and Cambridgeshire County Council

Purpose of agreement:

To ensure that Billy Smith is kept safe whilst the child protection investigation is completed

Reason for agreement:

An allegation has been made that John hurt Billy. This has to be properly investigated and, until this has happened it is not appropriate for John to live in the family home.

John Smith will:

  • Live away from home until the investigation has been concluded;
  • Live temporarily with his parents at (address) and will notify the social worker if this changes for any reason;
  • Not visit the family home, or attempt to have contact with Billy, unless this is supervised by a person (other than Jane) who has been agreed by the social worker.

Jane Smith will:

  • Remain living in the family home and have full care and responsibility for Billy;
  • Not allow any contact between Billy and John, unless this has been agreed in advance by the social worker and is supervised;
  • Immediately inform the social worker of any concerns or issues regarding Billy’s welfare;
  • Take Billy to (medical centre) for examination on (date, time);
  • Ensure that Billy continues to attend Nursery.

Mike Johns, Social Worker, will:

  • Make arrangements for Billy’s medical and attend with Jane;
  • Contact the Nursery to explain what is happening and that John is not to have contact with Billy;
  • Liaise with the Police to ensure the investigation is concluded as quickly as possible;
  • Arrange a meeting with the parents and key professionals as soon as possible to agree a plan going forward to replace this agreement.

Contingency Plan:

If this agreement is not kept to, Children’s Services will consider how best to protect Billy whilst the investigation is concluded. This could involve seeking the agreement of a court for him to live away from his parents’ care.

Duration:

This agreement will remain in place until the investigation is concluded. The social worker will keep parents informed of progress and the expected timescale.

Independent advice and support:

It is recommended to John and Jane that they consider taking legal advice about this situation.

They are welcome to bring a supporter to future meetings where this agreement is discussed.

Signed:

_________________________ John Smith  Date________________
_________________________ Jane Smith Date________________
_________________________ Social Worker Date________________
_________________________ Consultant SW  Date________________

End