SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This policy and procedure applies to all Looked After children placed in foster homes and children's homes where contact, including Overnight Stays, are planned.
- Normal Contact Arrangements
- Overnight Stays/Social Visits
- Parental Consent
- Cancellation of Contact
- Review of Contact Arrangements
1. Normal Contact Arrangements
|The following procedure applies to contact arrangements, including Overnight Stays, of more than four days.
Procedures relating to contact or Overnight Stays away of four days or less are set out in Section 2, Overnight Stays/Social Visits.
When the child's placement is made, information regarding significant relationships and friendships should be obtained when completing the Placement Plan.
The parents' views on contact with relatives and friends should be obtained. For procedures on Parental Consent, see Section 3, Parental Consent.
The Placement Plan should include the planned contact (including overnight stays) for the child with relatives and friends both at and away from the home.
Any such contact arrangements set out in the Placement Plan must be consistent with the child's Care Plan. The arrangements must also be consistent with any Contact Orders in force in favour of relatives and/or friends.
Decisions to allow contact with relatives or friends should be made having regard to an assessment of any risks which the contact may pose to the child having regard to any relevant factors, including the need for the contact to be supervised.
Although checks should not normally be required as a precondition of a child staying overnight with friends, in circumstances where it is considered necessary as a result of specific risks identified in the risk assessment, or where the child is to stay with adults regularly or frequently or for a prolonged period, checks on members of the relevant household should be made through the Disclosure and Barring Service, the Children's Services and Probation records for the relevant area.
Where an assessment identifies the need for contact with a relative or friend to be supervised, the social worker should follow the same procedure as for 'Supervised Contact with Parents', contained in Family Time / Contact Procedure.
The Placement Plan should include the parameters within which visits or stays away from the home with friends may be agreed by the carer without prior consultation with the social worker, and whether agreement to such visits requires the carer to obtain parental consent.
The guiding principle is that looked after children should as far as possible be given the same permission to take part in normal and acceptable age appropriate activities, such as staying with friends, as would reasonably be granted by parents of their peers. Judgment should depend on the assessed risks to and needs of the child. See also Delegation of Authority to Foster Carers and Residential Workers Procedure.
Where there are exceptional reasons to require carers to seek the permission of the social worker, a manager or a parent, or place specific restrictions on permitting a child to stay overnight with friends, this should be because of reasons necessary to safeguard the child's welfare. The child's wishes should be taken into account in reaching any such decision.
Any such restriction, together with the reasons, should be clearly recorded in the Placement Plan, and explained to the child. Restrictions should be reviewed regularly to ensure they remain relevant.
2. Social Visits/Overnight Stays
The following procedure applies to social visits or overnight stays away from the home, of up to four days. For normal contact arrangements e.g. over 4 days, see Section 1, Normal Contact Arrangements.
The circumstances in which these situations may arise include the following:
- Sleepovers with friends;
- Invitations to go out for the day with a friend's family where the family are unlikely to be back until late;
- Invitations to join a friend's family who are going away for a weekend;
- The foster carer's own children going to a relative or friend for up to 4 days and the child wishing to go as well;
- A relative or friend of the foster family occasionally acting as baby-sitter where the usual arrangements have broken down or are not available;
- School trips of up to 4 days away;
- A child's authorised day visit with a friend or family being extended if the child cannot return due to bad weather or a car breaking down where there are no known restrictions to an overnight stay taking place.
In order to facilitate such arrangements, it is important that the social worker and, preferably the child's parents, reach agreement at the time of the child's placement as to the circumstances in which carers can authorise short stays; and that this is set out in the Placement Plan.
As indicated in Section 1, Normal Contact Arrangements in exceptional circumstances, the Plan may state that the social worker and/or parent must always be consulted.
The more usual arrangement will be that the carer can arrange overnight and short stays without consulting the social worker or parent on each individual occasion.
Carers considering a request from a child to stay overnight with a friend should base their decision on the following factors:
- Are there any relevant restrictions in the child's Placement Plan?
- Are there any factors in the child's past experiences or behaviour to preclude overnight stays?
- Are there any grounds for concern that the child may be at significant risk in the household concerned or from the activities proposed?
- Is the child staying with another child or children, rather than staying solely with an adult?
- The age and level of understanding of the child;
- What is the purpose and length of the overnight stay?
- Whose idea was the overnight stay?
- How well is the friend or family known to the child?
Where the carer proposes to agree to the child's stays away, before allowing them to go ahead, certain enquiries must be made by the carer; for example the name of the adult who will be responsible for the child, the means of contacting the adult and the child during the visit/stay and the arrangements for the child's return. There should be clarity about the sleeping arrangements and what the arrangements are.
Prior to the child's stay away, the carer should arrange to meet the adult who will have responsibility for the child unless he or she is already known in which case the prior arrangements can be made over the telephone.
The arrangements for supervising or caring for the child must not compromise the safety of the child or of any one else; and the following considerations should apply:
- Have the arrangements been confirmed with the parent of the friend or the adult who will have responsibility during the visit?
- What are the arrangements for the child returning to the home?
- Is there a contact number for the household in which the child will stay?
- Is the child aware of what to do if he or she wants to return to the home earlier than planned?
- Does the child have a contact number for the carers where they can be reached at any time?
- Does the child have access to a mobile phone?
In all cases, discussions should be held with the child, dependent on his or her age, as to what, if any, information should be shared with other adults to enable them to look after the child appropriately.
This might include:
- Any specific health care needs of the child;
- Any established routines for the child;
- Any behaviour management problems which, if the adult is unaware of, could lead to difficulties during the visit, for example the child may be over familiar with adults or over assertive with younger children.
Any decision to share information should be on a 'need to know' basis and recorded.
If the child refuses to allow appropriate information to be shared, then he or she needs to be made aware that this could affect the decision to allow the child to stay away from home.
If satisfied that it is appropriate to allow the child's stay away, a decision to allow it to go ahead may be made. If not, it may not be allowed.
The decision and the arrangements agreed should be recorded in full in the child's Daily Record where the child is placed in foster care.
Even if it has been agreed that the social worker does not have to be consulted in making these arrangements, s/he must still be informed as soon as practicable afterwards (within 1 working day) and the social worker should inform the parents as appropriate.
With older teenagers, there is greater risk to their safety and wellbeing as they explore and test greater levels of independence. This applies to young people living at home as well as to those who are looked after by a Local Authority and it is inevitable that in some cases, despite the care taken, things will go wrong.
It is the intention of this procedure to protect children and young people and to carry out our duty as reasonable and responsible parents. It is also intended to enable carers and social workers to demonstrate that if something goes wrong, they have taken all reasonable precautions to protect the child and young person.
3. Parental Consent
Wherever possible, parents' views and consent to contact with relatives and friends including any overnight stays away from the home should be obtained at the time of the placement.
These views should be recorded including an indication of whether the parent wishes to be notified or their consent obtained every time an overnight stay takes place and if so, whether such consultation and prior consent is required before the contact can go ahead.
It should also be clearly recorded if parents do not consent to any continuing relationships or short stays away from the home, and the reasons for their lack of consent should be obtained.
If it is considered that contact is appropriate despite the parents' views, legal advice may be required and any decision to allow such contact needs to be clearly recorded together with reasons and explained to the parents.
4. Cancellation of Contact
Where contact does not take place in accordance with the Plan, there must be a good reason, for example that the child is too ill to attend. Wherever possible, the 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 carer must ensure as far as practicable that the relatives or friends are informed in advance and that the reason for the decision is explained. The social worker or carer should also arrange an alternative contact.
If contact does not take place and consultation has not been possible with the social worker, the carer must inform the child's social worker as soon as possible (within 1 working day) and confirm in writing the decision to cancel and the reason.
Contact arrangements must not be withdrawn as a sanction imposed on a child.
5. Review of Contact Arrangements
All contacts with relatives, friends and neighbours should be discussed at relevant meetings e.g. Looked After Reviews.
Any contact arrangements, which are agreed as a result of new friendships formed during the child's placement, should be included in the Care Plan, when it is reviewed.
The reasons for any change in the contact arrangements must be clearly recorded.
Where contact arrangements are contained within a Contact Order, legal advice should be obtained before the changes are implemented. An application to the Court will be required where the changes are not agreed.