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6.3.1 Contact with Parents 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 and siblings.

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

RELATED GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations- Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review (June 2015).


Contents

  1. Definition and Roles
  2. Approving and Planning Contact
  3. Supervised Contact
  4. Back Up Arrangements
  5. Recording of Contact
  6. Cancellation of Contact
  7. Review of Contact Arrangements
  8. Suspension or Termination of Contact


1. Definition and Roles

There are a number of different terms used in describing contact which need to be consistently applied and understood.

1.1 Supervised Contact

This is where the parent (or other family member) and the child is accompanied by the contact worker, usually at all times, during the contact. The contact worker observes and makes notes of those observations during the contact. The contact worker only intervenes in ways which have previously been agreed, or in order to ensure the safety or welfare (emotional or physical) of those involved, and primarily the child.

The specific role of the supervisor, the degree of closeness of supervision, and the expectations of the family members will in each case be determined by the circumstances of the case and the needs of the child. This will be explained to parents and other family members, and set out in the contact agreement.

1.2 Monitored Contact

This is where the parent (or other family member) and the child are not observed continuously throughout the contact session, but are observed periodically throughout the contact session. At its lowest level, monitored contact may take the form of the contact worker, observing the beginning and end of the contact and being available but not necessarily present in the same room, during the contact, any observations or notes will be recorded using the same template as for supervised contact.

The degree of monitoring and the nature and extent of any intervention by the worker during the contact (other than that needed to ensure the safety and welfare of those involved) will again be subject to a specific planned agreement in each case.

1.3 Unsupervised Contact

This where there is no direct observation or monitoring of the contact by children’s social care staff. This may take place in two different scenarios:

  • Situations where the child is looked after and this is part of an assessed and planned process towards the rehabilitation of a child to their parents, extended family members or Connected Person;
  • Situations where the child or young person is long term Looked After, and it has been assessed as being appropriate and safe for that child or young person to have unsupervised contact with a birth parent, sibling, other relative or friend.

1.4 Contact Back Up

The contact back up worker is a person who is present within the same building as a supervised or monitored contact is taking place, who is not directly involved in supervising or monitoring the contact but is contactable by phone and available at any time to assist the person who is responsible for supervising or monitoring contact. It is not possible to be completely prescriptive about this role, but the type of assistance can range from assisting in bringing a difficult contact to an end early, ensuring that disruptive people are removed from the building (possibly involving the police in this) to temporarily assisting with supervising the contact when one of a sibling group needs to leave the room, for example to go to the toilet, to bringing something to the contact room that is needed in the contact.

The level of supervision required in each case and the types of issues arising are likely to influence the type of task required of the contact back up worker. It is often possible for one worker to back up more than one contact. Where this is unlikely to be the case this fact needs to be clearly identified and discussed in the planning and reviewing of the contact arrangement.


2. Approving and Planning Contact

Children in Care should be encouraged and supported to maintain contact with their parents, any person who holds Parental Responsibility, other significant family members (including grandparents and half siblings), Connected Persons and siblings in a manner consistent with the child’s Care Plan; which, itself, 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.

The Local Authority will often need to assess the child’s contact. This will be both in order to ensure that contact arrangements are appropriate and meet the child’s needs, and also to assist in the overall assessment and permanence planning. This, and the need to ensure that contact arrangements remain safe, implies the need in many instances to “supervise” or “monitor” contact.

Contact between children and their parents or siblings may only be permitted if previously agreed by the social worker and should be set out in the child’s Placement Plan, Care Plan and Contact Agreement.

The purpose of the contact and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the Contact Agreement. 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.

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.

When agreement is given to accommodate a child, the social worker needs to consider the child’s contact needs, and to discuss those needs with their manager. The manager and social worker will agree a provisional level of contact.

If the child is accommodated on a voluntary basis and in a planned way, these proposals will need to be discussed and agreed with relevant people within the pre-placement planning meeting.

In the case of a child being Accommodated and who is subject to Care Proceedings. The proposed plans for the child’s contact will need to be set out within the interim Care Plan which is filed in court.

In the case of a child accommodated in an emergency, either on a voluntary basis or a child subject to proceedings, then the initial proposals for the child’s contact will need to be worked out and shared with relevant parties at the earliest possible time, but wherever possible within 5 working days of the child becoming looked after.

2.1 Contact Agreement Meetings

Once contact proposals have been shared, and wherever possible agreed with the relevant parties, there needs to be a contact agreement meeting, the outcome of which needs to be recorded on the Contact Agreement form. This meeting will be chaired by the social worker (unless the social worker is newly qualified or it is a particularly contentious situation, in which case the manager will chair). The social worker, parents (or other family members or Connected Person), and where possible any support worker/s who will be involved in the contact will attend.

A written risk assessment must be completed and recorded within the Contact Agreement form, before supervised contacts begin. Any issues arising from the risk assessment must be discussed in the Agreement meeting.

This assessment must take account of all factors that could impact on the success of supervised contact and relevant safeguards including:

  1. Any history of abuse or threats of abuse to the child, carers or staff;
  2. Previous incidents of disruption or threats to disrupt contact or failure to cooperate with conditions agreed for supervised contact;
  3. Previous incidents or threats of abduction;
  4. Previous incidents of coercion or inappropriate behaviour during contact;
  5. The transient or unsettled lifestyle of the parents, as opposed to long-standing local connections;
  6. The child’s behaviour and needs, including medical needs;
  7. Any particular physical or medical needs of the parents or other family members.

Where any of the above features in the risk assessment, and supervised contact is to continue, the risk assessment must state the specific measures to be put in place to minimise risks.

Amongst other things the agreement sets out details around frequency and duration of sessions, expectations and boundaries around roles and behaviours, including the circumstances in which the contact supervisor will be expected to intervene. It will also set out expectations of the parents in terms of the planning activities and the provision of food and snacks.

The agreement also covers the explicit purpose of the contact and the extent and purpose of any supervision, or monitoring of this. It also addresses specific issues around any venue used.

If known from the outset, the contact agreement can also address specific areas of support or assessment which will take place within contact sessions, although the initial stages of a supervised contact arrangement may be non directive and primarily observational.

It is expected that the contact agreement will take place at some point prior to the first Children and Young People in Care Review, in order for the specific contact plans to be shared and discussed at this meeting.

It is also expected that if the contact is taking place in a Children’s Centre and is supervised, that the arrangements for this are shared with the manager with responsibility for co-ordinating contact within the Service Unit which covers that Children’s Centre.

Any back up arrangements for the contact will be provided by the Service Unit who cover the Children’s Centre where the contact is taking place. The nature and extent of back up required, where known, needs to be discussed with the Service Unit providing the back up at the time that the contact is arranged.

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

For foster carers providing short breaks, the foster carer must maintain contact as agreed in the short break plan.


3. Supervised Contact

The need to supervise contact should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process by the social worker and his/her manager. It is the responsibility of the manager to ensure that the person(s) supervising contact is appropriately skilled and experienced to do so.

The primary focus of the assessment of this issue will be the safety and welfare of the child.

Where supervised contact is deemed necessary, the reasons should be clearly recorded and the role of the supervisor or supervisors clearly defined (see Section 2.1, Contact Agreement Meetings).

In more risky situations, those organising and supervising contact might want to choose locations where early and easy contact can be made with other parties or agencies such as the Police.

In some cases prior contact with the Police should agree prearranged responses in the event of problems emerging.

  • The agreement should state the adults who will be allowed to attend for supervised contact and supervisors should be asked to apply that strictly;
  • Particular attention should be given to when and how visits are ended. It is usually best that all “goodbyes” take place indoors with the visitors asked to leave before supervisors return children to their placements;
  • 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.

The staff/carers and any other person involved in the supervision of the contact should have copies of the Care Plan and the Contact Agreement with the parents.

Where possible, those supervising the contact should be known to the child and the family before the supervised contact takes place

In the event of problems emerging, the supervisors must be clear who to contact (including ‘reserve options’) and what details they will need to share. 

The supervisor’s observations of the contact must be clearly recorded in the child’s record and shared with the parents as part of agreed feedback arrangements (see Section 5, Recording of Contact).

The supervisor must immediately report to the social worker any concerns about the parents’ conduct during the contact. The social worker in consultation with his/her manager should consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or the contact arrangements in light of the concerns expressed.

See Section 7, Review of Contact.

See Section 8, Suspension and Termination of Contact.


4. Back Up Arrangements

Each Service Unit is expected to provide a rota of staff within their Service Unit who are available for contact back up for any of the contacts, from whichever Service Unit, that are taking place in their Children’s Centre. Any contacts taking place in other venues where back up is required will require separate back up arrangements to be made, on a contact by contact, or case by case, basis.

The expectation of the back up worker within the Children’s Centres is that they notify the person supervising the contacts prior to the start of contact that they are the back up worker, and that they also notify the contact supervisor of their extension number. They need to remain within the building and available to be contacted by phone for the duration of any contacts taking place during their allotted period as back up worker.


5. Recording of Contact

A written record of all Supervised and Monitored contact sessions must be made and placed in the child’s electronic case record, in accordance with the Recording Standards, and using the standard contact recording proforma.

It is essential that contact case notes are identified as such using the following from the Mosaic case note drop down lists:

  • Contact Type: Contact;
  • Contact Sub-Type: Supervised Contact;
  • Providing Contact Notes for Court.

It should be assumed by all people involved in contact for Children in Care within care proceedings that their contact notes are likely to be filed in court. They can be requested at any stage within the course of a case, but invariably are asked for towards the end of proceedings.

Mosaic case notes always show the child’s current address on each page when printed. It is often inappropriate to share this address with parents where Care Proceedings are on-going. Mosaic also tends to print out in a format that is unfit for filing in care proceedings. In order to avoid spending considerable unproductive time reformatting and removing addresses, at a critical point within the life of a care proceedings case, social workers must set up a shared folder in the child’s name called ‘Contact’ in the open cases folder for their practice unit’s area on the ‘S Drive’. All case notes dealing with contact sessions and the Contact Agreement Record and Review and the “Contact Attendance Record” (see below), should then be stored in this folder as well as being entered into the Mosaic record. It is essential that documents are attached to the Mosaic record as this is the Child’s Record which the local authority are legally obliged to maintain. The ‘S Drive’ should be regarded as a working record.

If  the contact notes are requested by the court the social worker will take responsibility for ensuring that the case notes, as stored in the relevant folder on the S Drive, are printed out in date order and sent to legal services for distribution to the relevant parties in the proceedings. The social worker will also ensure that the contact attendance record is also printed out at the same time and sent with the case notes.

5.1 Contact Attendance Record

The purpose of this record is to be able to provide at a glance information about a parent’s (or any other relatives), or child’s attendance at contact, and any reasons for non attendance. The other purpose of this record is that it can also be used as a quick cross reference point to the full contact notes for any major changes or significant events during contact.

This record can then be filed in court at the conclusion of proceedings setting out a full schedule of contacts attended or otherwise, as is generally expected by the court.

On the completion of a contact session the person supervising that contact will, as soon as possible, record:

  • The details of those who attended/or did not, and the reasons for non-attendance, if any given. If notice was not given that a person would not be attending or no explanation was given, that should also be recorded;
  • If a person was late arriving then the amount of time by which they were late, and again any explanation or non explanation should be recorded;
  • If a contact was cancelled by us that should be recorded with a reason for this. If the contact was re-arranged for another date that should also be noted;
  • A brief note should also be made of any major significant event which may have taken place during contact.

As the Contact Attendance Record is a running record, it should be stored in a suitable location on the S Drive that is known to all workers involved in the supervision or monitoring of contact.


6. Cancellation of Contact

Contact should never be cancelled unless there is a very good reason, for example it is deemed that it would not be safe for it to take place or the child is too unwell for it to take place.  Contact should take place in accordance with the child’s Care Plan, Court Order and any Court Directions. 

Wherever possible, the staff/carer should consult the child’s social worker in advance if they consider there is a good reason to cancel the contact.

If contact is cancelled, the social worker must ensure that the child and, as far as practicable, the parent is informed in advance and that the reason for the decision is explained. The social worker should ensure that an alternative contact is arranged. 

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.

See Section 5, Suspension and Termination of Contact. 

NB Contact arrangements must not be withdrawn as a Sanction imposed on a child.


7. Review of Contact Arrangements

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

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.

The contact arrangements should also be reviewed in any Placement Planning Meeting and at the child’s Children and Young People in Care Review. If there are significant changes needed in contact arrangements (for example where the purpose or level of contact, or type of contact or assessment in contact may need to be reconsidered), then it is likely that a formal contact review meeting with the family will be required. The outcomes of this meeting will need to be recorded on the Contact Agreement Review Record.

The IRO should always be consulted directly when there are any significant changes to contact arrangements. If the case is in Care Proceedings, it is also necessary to consult the Children’s Guardian and to invite them to any agreement or review meetings which take place.

Any contact arrangements which are agreed as a result of new friendships formed during the child’s placement should be included in the Placement Plan.

The risk assessment in relation to the arrangements for supervising contact must be reviewed at least every six months, or sooner, if any incident or report identifies concerns.

Where the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the contact arrangements should also be reviewed as required in the Child Protection Plan.

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 should be sought and legal advice should be obtained as to the need to seek a variation of the Court Order.


8. Suspension or Termination of Contact

Emergency restrictions on contact can only be made to protect the child from significant risk and must be notified to the placing authority (child’s social worker) within 24 hours.

Where it is considered that the child’s contact with the parents should be suspended or terminated, the social worker must be consulted and legal advice should be obtained.

Any proposal to suspend or terminate the contact should be considered as part of the child’s Children and Young People in Care Review, unless the circumstances require an urgent decision to be made. Any such proposal should be made in the context of the overall aims and objectives of the Care Plan.

Even where it is not possible to hold a Children and Young People in Care Review because of the urgency of the situation, 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 full 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 Services should be contacted as a matter of urgency so that the 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, child (depending on age) 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