A number of processes within Luton have identified that there are inconsistencies in the content, quality and effectiveness of written agreements being given to families.
These are often used to outline the expectations of Children’s Social Workers in relation to keeping children safe and enabling them to remain in the care of family members, including parents.
There is a need to introduce a standardised approach to these agreements, in terms of style, content and use.
There is potential for the over use of these agreements, often with non – specific reasons and which do not identify timescales, review dates and sometimes without signatures.
The following guidance is intended to assist practitioners in drawing up such agreements, in the exceptional circumstances in which these become necessary:
- Written agreements should only be used exceptionally and not as a routine approach to risk management or with over reliance on their worth;
- The need for an agreement should always be discussed in advance with a team manager, who should also sign it before it is given to parents;
- Examples of use, though not exclusive, could be when a parent is being asked to keep an alleged perpetrator of abuse or domestic violence away from the home, an individual is being asked to supervise contact where a person poses a risk or as part of Section 47 investigations;
- Written agreements should not be used to list a whole set of requirements that should be contained within a child’s plan of any description. They do not replace a robust and SMART plan;
- Written agreements are not legal documents but can provide supporting evidence if applications are later made to the Court;
- They are not a substitute for the PLO process / letter before proceedings (which is a legal document);
- They do not convey Parental Responsibility;
- Written agreements are a statement of the Local Authority’s concerns and advice to a parent / carer; they are not a contract and therefore there is no requirement for parents to sign their agreement;
- The grounds for concern should be outlined at the start, specifically identifying the risk of harm that has been identified;
- There should be clarity about what is being asked for under the “what the Local Authority expects” section. Expected actions should be brief, clear, measureable and specific;
- The consequences of not keeping to the agreement should follow the wording in the template;
- A clear review date should be set and this should, where possible be incorporated into an existing forum such as CIN meeting, Core Group Meeting or within a specified timeframe (i.e. a month);
- Timescales should be reasonably short as work should be on going to alleviate the position or escalate intervention where required;
- A written agreement should not be used at the close of a case as it needs to be reviewed and ended;
- The agreement should be signed by a Team Manager to give it the correct weight and authority;
- The written agreement should be handed personally to the parent or carer with an explanation of why this has been deemed necessary;
- A copy should be retained on the child’s electronic file.