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5.3.1 Contact with Parents and Siblings - Policy and Protocol for Contact Team

REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS

See also Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 Regulation 14, and Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011, 9.

POLICY STATEMENT AND AIM

Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council - Children's Services and education, Contact Team will promote and facilitate contact between looked after children with their families. This will be arranged in accordance with their assessed needs and best interests, whilst ensuring their safety and wellbeing.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in February 2016 following a review to reflect current practice.


Contents

1. Guiding Principles
2. Planning Contact
3. Contact Arrangements
4. Protocol for Contact between Looked After Children and their Families
  4.1 Guiding Principles and Criteria
  4.2 Referral
  4.3 Initial Planning Meeting
  4.4 Frequency of Contacts
  4.5 Ongoing Contacts
  4.6 Ongoing Planning Meetings
  4.7 Missed and Replacement Contacts


1. Guiding Principles

For the majority of children, the aim from the outset of their placement will be to reunite them with their family provided that it is safe and practical to do so. Developing and maintaining close links between children and their family is essential in trying to meet this objective.

The local authority has a duty to promote contact and there is a legal presumption (under Section 34 Children Act 1989) of reasonable contact between children in care and their families.

Evidence from research and practice concludes that for most children who are separated from their parents, siblings, or other close relatives, it is in their best interests to have some level of contact with their family. This continues to be the case throughout a child's time in care, other than in cases where the local authority is granted permission to place for adoption.

Even though there is a duty to promote contact, children have the right to be protected from harmful contact. Contact will only be refused when there is clear evidence that it prevents the authority from safeguarding the child's welfare. For children subject to an Interim Care Order or a full Care Order, the local authority can only suspend contact for a limited period (up to a maximum of 7 days) in an emergency. After that period of time, contact can only be prevented by a court order (Section 34(4), Children Act 1989).

Should parents fail to attend contact, every effort will be made to continue to promote contact whilst prioritising the needs and best interests of the child.


2. Planning Contact

Children, young people and their family should be involved in all decisions relating to contact and their wishes and feelings taken into account.

Contact is an integral part of care planning and must be considered at every stage of the process.

Contact should be compatible with the child's needs taking into account their age, ethnicity, culture, religion and disability.

The planning of contact relates to the care planning for a child and there should be assessment and analysis of:

  • What is the purpose of contact and why is it important for this child and family?
  • Who should the child have contact with?
  • What level of supervision is required to promote the contact?
  • What frequency of contact is required to maintain the child's links with their family?

The contact plan should be recorded and reviewed (if applicable) in:

  • Court statements and/or reports.


3. Contact Arrangements

Arrangements for contact should be made in line with the Contact Team Protocol.

The responsibility for implementing the contact plan lies with the Contact Team in conjunction with the child's social worker and includes:

  • Who will be involved in the contact visits;
  • Frequency and duration of the contact;
  • Arrangements for supervision and recording of contacts;
  • Any restraints, limits or expectations;
  • Support arrangements for child and family members;
  • Completing a risk assessment;
  • Completing a written agreement and ensuring all parties agree and sign it;
  • Arrangements for monitoring the contact plan.

The responsibility for managing the contact arrangements lies with the Contact Team and includes:

  • Ensuring there is a suitable venue available;
  • Co-ordinating transport arrangements;
  • Providing a written report of each contact session and inputting this on the child's record;
  • Ensuring any significant information is forwarded to the social worker at the earliest opportunity;
  • Ensuring the contact agreement is adhered to and any failure to do this is reported to the social worker the earliest opportunity.


4. Protocol for Contact between Looked After Children and their Families

RELEVANT LEGISLATION


4.1 Guiding Principles and Criteria
4.2 Referral
4.3 Initial Planning Meeting
4.4 Frequency of Contacts
4.5 Ongoing Contacts
4.6 Ongoing Planning Meetings
4.7 Missed and Replacement Contacts

4.1 Guiding Principles and Criteria

Whilst not minimising the rights and feelings of the parents, consideration for contact arrangements should be made with the needs of the child as the priority.

The Local Authority has a duty to facilitate contact for children Looked After with their families. Whilst the Contact Team will endeavour to manage any contact arrangements it is the shared responsibility of the Contact Team and social worker team to ensure that contact needs are met.

The Contact Team provide a service of supervised contact for children who are Looked After and who are subject to ongoing care proceedings. Any requests for supervised contact for the team outside this criterion needs to be discussed and agreed with the senior manager of the Contact Team.

4.2 Referral

The social worker should forward information as requested by the responsible Family Support Team Leader. This information is later forwarded to the supervisor of the contacts to give them details of the family and contact requirements it is therefore important that this information is detailed and accurate.

When considering requests for contact, the social worker should be mindful about requests for transport. Wherever possible, foster carers should transport, especially at the end of the contact. Contact can be an emotional time for a child and it is important that visits are positive and causes minimum distress. A familiar and caring person should be of comfort to the child.

The venue of the contact should be as close to the child's placement as possible to avoid them travelling an unnecessarily long distance.

When completing the referral, the social worker should be mindful about the level of supervision requested - monitored, observed, assessed or intervention.

  • Monitored - loosely supervised and intervention only as is necessary as to ensure the child's well-being;

  • Observed - where there are concerns that a child may be at risk during contact. The supervisor will be vigilant in their observations and will make notes in the contact regarding the concerns;
  • Assessed - where the contact is observed and recorded in a structured format to provide information to the social worker for the purpose of analysis and assessment;
  • Intervention - where contact sessions are used to engage with families for the purpose of development and change, such as parenting skills and child development.

The responsible Family Support Team Leader will ensure the request meets the criteria, in that the child is Looked After and subject to on-going care proceedings, and will subsequently discuss the request with the social worker.

In addition to the information needed, the social worker should also complete a risk assessment. The assessment should be clear as to any identified risk and what is expected of the contact supervisor in order to manage the risk. This should include what action to take and at what stage intervention should be taken to stop the contact.

4.3 Initial Planning Meeting

A planning meeting should take place before any contact is agreed. No regular contacts will be arranged until a planning meeting has taken place. If needed it may be possible to offer a one off emergency contact until the planning meeting can be arranged.

Prior to a planning meeting, a discussion should take place to consider permanence plans and how contact relates to this.

Prior to a planning meeting the manager will identify whether there is availability of the team to regularly cover the contact. If the Contact Team are unable to offer a supervisor at that time, the team, in conjunction with the social worker will attempt to find alternative cover.

Where possible a contact planning meeting should be incorporated into, or held following another meeting, e.g. placement planning meeting or CLA review. This is to keep the number of meetings to a minimum.

The planning meeting should:

  • Enable the parents to discuss any wishes or concerns;
  • Inform parents what is expected of them in contact;
  • Explain to parents what specific issues the contact supervisor will be asked to observe;
  • Clarify practical arrangements;
  • Complete and sign a written agreement confirming contact details and expectations.

The parents should also be informed that notes will be taken within the contact which they can read and sign at the end of contact, (there may be exceptions to this and each case will be considered individually).

4.4 Frequency of Contacts

Each request for contact will be considered on an individual basis and takes into account:

  • The child's wishes and feelings;
  • The Care Plan for the child;
  • The assessed level of risk to the child;
  • Clear evidence and analysis of the child's assessed needs.

In order to offer contacts to a maximum number of families the Contact Team will offer a baseline level of contacts.

Babies/pre-school children 3 x weekly
Primary school children   2 x weekly
Secondary school children 1 x weekly

Any request for contact above this level will need to be facilitated by another source, e.g. social worker, child support officer or approved family member.

The Contact Team are unable to offer supervised contacts on anything less than a once weekly basis unless this coincides with another contact on the alternate week.

4.5 Ongoing Contacts

On-going contact will be monitored by the Contact Team manager via supervision with the contact officer. An overall summary of each contact will be completed and this will be put onto Protocol.

The responsible Family Support Team Leader or the allocated Contact Officer should be invited to the CLA review meeting for each child. Information will be requested from the contact officer and will be forwarded to the social worker. The manager and/or contact officer will attend where possible.

Any requests to vary the contact from the regular arrangements need to be made to the responsible Family Support Team Leader and/or contact co-ordinator and not to the contact officer. This is essential to assist the Contact Team to run as efficiently as possible.

4.6 Ongoing Planning Meetings

The social worker should arrange and undertake a planning meeting on a 4 - 6 week basis for each case. Contact should be reviewed in these meetings and the manager of the Contact Team should be invited. If the manager or contact officer is unable to attend then information will be provided to the social worker. The Contact Team should be informed of the outcome of the meeting and minutes sent.

Particular attention should be given to the contact plan whenever the Care Plan is significantly changed or there is a considerable change of circumstances. Any significant changes to contact should be made within a planning meeting where all professionals involved with the child should be invited.

Discussion should take place with the Contact Team manager prior to the social worker making any changes to the contact arrangements:

  • When making changes to frequency of contact, either increase or reduction;
  • Before a court hearing when contact is to be considered.

4.7 Missed and Replacement Contacts

There are a number of occasions when contacts may not take place. Any requests to replace these contacts will be considered on an individual basis given the circumstances of the family at the time. However due to the contact officers working to full capacity it is rare that there is availability. Any offer to replace a missed contact will be agreed in the best interest of the child and not solely at the request of the parent.

With regard to missed contacts, the following principle will apply:

  • Should contact not take place due to a Bank Holiday, illness of the child or parent, an appointment of the child or parent and a meeting or court hearing for parents, the Contact Team will unfortunately be unable to replace this missed contact unless there is a cancellation of another contact. It is possible that this could only be offered at short notice;
  • Should contact be cancelled due to the Contact Team not having available staff, attempts will be made to offer a replacement contact within the same week. If there is no staff availability within the week, a replacement will not be offered unless it is evidenced to be in the child's best interest or not to replace it would be detrimental to the child's relationship with their family. (The majority of children, especially young children, would not be aware that a replacement contact too far ahead in the future was replacing a previous one missed).

Good practice would suggest that the social worker should observe contact occasionally throughout the duration of proceedings this will assist with assessment and enables knowledgeable information to be given in reports, statements and evidence in court. The social worker will be informed of any contact that cannot be covered by the team to enable this opportunity to be taken.

The Contact Team should be informed if a parent cannot attend for any reason. Should a parent not attend contact on three consecutive occasions with no explanation then no further contact will take place until a discussion has taken place with the social worker.

Should contact take place a number of times per week and the parent misses the same day consecutively (e.g. every Monday), on three occasions with no explanation, no further contact will take place on that day until a discussion has taken place with the social worker.

The Contact Team will hold the contact for a further 7 days however if the parent has still not responded the contact time may be considered available to offer to another family.

End