South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures
South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures

5.3.1 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 and Overnight Stays with Friends Procedure.

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

RELATED GUIDANCE

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

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in May 2015. The update emphasises the importance of ascertaining the wishes of the child and the family before arranging contact.


Contents

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

1. 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.


2. 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 child’s social worker 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, a contact agreement meeting will be held involving all the relevant parties and the agreements made recorded on a contact agreement form. The purpose of the contacts should be clearly recorded and the level agreed commensurate with the indicative guide. The role of the supervisor or supervisors must be clearly defined.

A written risk assessment must be completed before supervised contacts begin.

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.

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. The assessment must then be approved and signed by the social worker's team manager.

Where supervised contact takes place, the detailed arrangements for the supervision must be set out in the contact agreement form which will be agreed and signed by the parents.

  • The agreement should be clear about where the contact must take place and whether any flexibility is allowed for activity or movements within or away from the agreed location;
  • It should state clearly what time participants are expected to arrive for the contact;
  • It should state clearly whether mobile phones are permitted within the contact session;
  • It should also be clear about whether the person(s) having contact are permitted to give the child food, drinks, gifts or money during contact;
  • It should state clearly the circumstances in which contact will be terminated.

Social workers must make sure that locations chosen for contact can accommodate any restrictions set down. 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.

  • 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 probably best that all “goodbyes” take place indoors with the participants waiting in the venue until the child/children have left (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 contact agreement form.

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 whilst in proceedings.

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 4, Review of Contact

See Section 5, Suspension and Termination of Contact


3. 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, or Parents (participants) of contact consistently do not adhere to the Contact Agreement. Contact should take place in accordance with the child’s Placement 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 or, if the social worker is not available, the staff/carer 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. Consideration may be given to rearranging a cancelled contact but this cannot be guaranteed. (The social worker or staff/carer should arrange an alternative contact when this is agreed). 

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.


4. Review of Contact Arrangements

The social worker and his/her manager should keep contact arrangements, including the continuing need for supervision, under regular review and ensure that at all times that the level of contact is commensurate with the child's needs and the stated purpose of contact.

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 Looked After Review.

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/Placement Information Record.

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 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.


5. Suspension or Termination of Contact

Even though there is a duty to promote contact, children have the right to be protected from harmful contact. Supervised contact must only be suspended when there is clear evidence that it prevents the safeguarding of the child's welfare.

The Local Authority can only refuse contact in circumstances whereby they are satisfied that it is necessary to safeguard the child. This can only be for seven days without an order of the court and the Local Authority has to made application and be heard by the court within seven days of such refusal.

If the Local Authority are to refuse supervised contact legal advice must be immediately sought from the Legal Team and recorded on the case record when refusal of supervised contact is being considered. Only a Team Manager (Family Support Service or Children in Care service) can authorise the refusal of Supervised Contact. Written approval from the Head of Service must be made before making an application to the Court to refuse supervised contact in the longer term.

The child's Social Worker is responsible for convening a meeting as soon as possible after the supervised contact has been refused. The meeting is to be attended by the social worker, their Team Manager, the parents and the Family Support Worker. The purpose of this meeting will be to find a resolution and ensure that where parents or family members need help, or access to resources, in order to maintain contact with the child, an assessment is carried out to identify how and what level of assistance can be provided.

Supervised Contact may also be suspended, refused or varied when there is agreement with the person in relation to whom the order is made, for example the parents, and provided that the child, being of sufficient age and understanding, also agrees.

Notification of those affected

Upon the supervised contact being suspended or where an application is made to the Court to refuse contact and a Court order is granted, the child's social worker must notify within five working days:

  • The child, unless it would not be appropriate to do so having regard to the child's age and understanding;
  • The child's parents (if not the person with whom the agreement has been made);
  • The child's guardian;
  • The person in whose favour a Residence Order was in force immediately before the Care Order was made;
  • Any other person whose wishes and feelings are considered to be relevant; and
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer.

The notification must include:

  • The decision;
  • The date of the decision;
  • The reasons for the decision;
  • The duration of the new arrangement;
  • The remedies available in the case of dissatisfaction.

End