Contact with Parents, Carers and Siblings and Visits to the Children’s Home

REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS

The Children’s Views, Wishes and Feelings Standard
Regulation 7

The Care Planning Standard

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter relates to contact with Parents and siblings, not to contact (or overnight stays) with relatives and friends - see Social Visits (Including Overnight Stays) Procedure.

Read in conjunction with Hull Children and Families Service Online Procedures, Contact Procedures and Guidance.

RELEVANT CHAPTER

Social Visits (Including Overnight Stays) Procedure

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

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


Contents

  1. Promoting Contact
  2. Different Types of Contact
  3. Supervised Contact
  4. Review of Contact Arrangements
  5. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Contact
  6. Social and Family Visits to Children and Young People


1. Promoting Contact

Also see: Section 5, Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Contact.

NOTE: As part of the placement planning process, the social worker should consult the home’s manager to ensure that proper arrangements are in place for the child to have contact with their family and significant others; particularly when the child is placed at a distance away from their family home. No contact may be permitted between children and their parents, friends or relatives (which include grandparents and half siblings) without the approval of the social worker, and must be consistent with arrangements outlined in the child's Care Plan.

For many children, relationships with members of their family, previous carers, friends and others are incredibly important. Contact can help children and young people develop their sense of identity and better understand their lives, as well as helping to support successful placements.

One of the key principles of the Children Act 1989 is the presumption that there should be continued contact between the child and their family while the child is in the care of the local authority (unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child’s welfare). The responsible authority has a duty to endeavour to promote contact between the child and:

  • Their parents;
  • Any person who is not a parent but who has Parental Responsibility for the child; and
  • Any relative, friend or other person connected with the child.

Contact arrangements should be focused on, and shaped around, the child’s needs. The social worker should, as part of the assessment process, identify those people who the child wants to maintain contact with.

Arrangements for contact will be set out in the child's Care Plan, and must take account of any Child Protection Plan or Contact Order that may be in force.

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.

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 and reviewed. The wishes and feelings of the child should be ascertained, wherever possible, using advocacy and communication services if necessary.

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 evaluated and reviewed. The use of mobile communication should also be considered.

Payment made be made to family members to meet the cost of visits to the child. Such assistance should always be made available where it would make contact easy.

Maintaining contact with siblings from both the same or different parents who cannot be placed together should be prioritised. Independent Reviewing Officers should ensure that Looked After Reviews consider whether contact arrangements including sibling contact in Care Plans has been implemented and that the child is happy with the contact - both its frequency and its quality. The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) should inform the child that they can access Advocacy Services if they have a complaint.


2. Different Types of Contact

Face to face meetings and visits will generally be the best way of maintaining relationships, but other means such as letters, mobile communication, photograph exchanges etc. should be borne in mind. Responsible authorities and carers should work together to explore how electronic media can support positive relationships for children. Children should be supported to ensure they are safe online rather than this form of contact being avoided. It may be useful to encourage young people to share details of how they communicate with others (including for example by mobile phones or other social networking sites and apps and consoles such as Xbox or Play Station) and advice offered on what the young person should do if they receive a message which inappropriate or upsetting.

See also: Staying in Touch, the Safe Use of the Internet, Social Media and Taking Photographs Procedure.


3. Supervised Contact

The need to supervise contact should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process by the social worker and their 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, the reasons should be clearly recorded and the role of the supervisor or supervisors 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, staff or others;
  2. Previous 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;
  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 Placement Plan.

In addition, there should be a written agreement with the parents and other relevant parties having supervised contact, signed by them, which should state clearly any specific conditions relating to the contact and any expectations placed on the parents or relevant parties: 

  • 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 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.

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 may be more appropriate that all “goodbyes” take place indoors.

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 and any other person involved in the supervision of the contact should have copies of the Placement Plan and the agreement with the parents or relevant adults.

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 and what details they will need to share.

Concerns During Contact - Should staff have any concerns about their own, the child's or other people's safety during contact they should inform/consult the Home Manager or on call manager. If this is not possible, staff should take what reasonable steps they can to reduce or prevent any risk or, in exceptional circumstances, they should notify the police.

If the police are called to assist with the management of a contact it is deemed to be a notifiable event and should be reported to the Designated Manager (Police Incident), the Regulatory Authority and others, see Notification of Serious Events Procedure.

The Placing Authority must be notified within 24 hours if staff have assessed that restriction of contact is necessary in the interests of the child to safeguard them.

Recording of Contact - Staff observations of the contact must be clearly recorded in daily records.

Any concerns about the contact should be discussed with the Home Manager, who may decide to consult the social worker. As necessary, future arrangements must be amended as a result of such consultations, and set out in the Placement Plan.


4. Review of Contact Arrangements

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

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.

Any significant reactions that the child has to contact should be reported to the child's social worker by those observing contact arrangements 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.

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. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Contact

Contact should never be cancelled unless there is a very good reason, e.g. it is deemed that it would not be safe for it to take place or the child / adult / sibling attending is too unwell for it to take place. 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 must ensure that the child and, as far as practicable, the parent or relevant adult is informed in advance and that the reason for the decision is explained. The social worker or staff should arrange an alternative contact.

If contact does not take place and consultation has not been possible with the social worker, the staff must inform the child’s social worker as soon as possible and confirm in writing the decision to cancel and the reason.

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

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.

5.1 Suspending or Terminating Contact

Any proposal to suspend or terminate the contact should be considered as part of the child’s Looked After Review, unless the circumstances require an urgent decision to be made, in which case the social worker must be consulted and legal advice should be obtained.

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 Looked After 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 curt application, together with the reasons, must be sent to the parents/relevant parties, child (depending on age) and any other relevant person (for example the child's Advocate, an Independent Visitor or Children’s Guardian). Staff and other agencies involved with the child’s care must also be informed.


6. Social and Family Visits to Children and Young People

All visitors to the home who are visiting children must sign the visitors' book on arrival.

Those visiting in an official capacity must show their identity badge.

When visitors leave the building they should sign out giving the time they leave the home.

All family visitors to the children's home will be given written information about visiting the child at the Home, including information about the home, its address and telephone number and advice on how to arrange visits.

Visitors must be told about the rules that cover visiting children at the home and acceptable behaviour when visiting:

  • They must not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs when visiting;
  • All children's homes have a no smoking policy;
  • They must refrain from using bad language;
  • Disruptive behaviour on the part of the visitor is not acceptable.

Care staff must be aware of the safety and welfare issues affecting all the children living in the home, especially when visits to an individual child or young person is being arranged or takes place.

Staff must be aware that some children may be vulnerable to abuse by their visitors and in this situation the child's care plan should indicate that these visits are to be supervised.

If the person visiting is under the influence of alcohol or other substances or is behaving in an aggressive and threatening manner towards staff they can be justifiably refused right of entry to the Home.

Visiting arrangements for children and young people living at the home should be discussed at the first planning meeting.

Information about visiting children living at the home must be provided for potential visitors i.e. family and friends.

A room will be available for the family visit to take place with some privacy, where there are concerns about the visitor's possible behaviour the visit will be supervised by staff.

All family members, particularly brothers and sisters are to be encouraged to stay in contact with the child who is living at the home.

Family visitors should be made welcome by staff, encouraging them to keep in touch with the child who is resident at the home.

Where there are serious concerns about the child's contact with family or other visitors, arrangements should be made for visits to take place outside of the children's home. This decision must be made in consultation with the child's social worker.

When a visit has to be cancelled the visitor must be told by staff and arrange another time for the visit to take place.