Children Act 1989: Family and Friends Care - Statutory guidance for local authorities about family and friends providing care for children who cannot live with their parents.
Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A good practice guide (FRG) - A good practice guide on initial family and friends care assessments has been launched by Family Rights Group. The guide is a response to the lack of any minimum standards as to how such assessments, commonly called viability assessments, are conducted.
In August 2017, a link was added in Related Guidance to Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A good practice guide (FRG) - A good practice guide on initial family and friends care assessments has been launched by Family Rights Group. The guide is a response to the lack of any minimum standards as to how such assessments, commonly called viability assessments, are conducted.
- Values and Principles
- Legal Framework
- Different Situations whereby Children may be living with Family and Friend Carers
- Provision of Financial Support - General Principles
- Supporting Contact with Parents
- Family Group Conferences
- Complaints Procedure
Appendix 1: Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options
Children may be brought up by members of their extended families, friends or other people who are connected with them for a variety of reasons and in a variety of different arrangements.
This policy sets out the local authority's approach towards promoting and supporting the needs of such children and covers the assessments which will be carried out to determine the services required and how such services will then be provided.
This policy will be regularly reviewed, and made freely and widely available.
2. Values and Principles
Consideration of children's welfare and best interests will always be at the centre of the work we do.
It is an underlying principle that children should be enabled to live within their families unless this is not consistent with their welfare. We will therefore work to maintain children within their own families, and facilitate services to support any such arrangements, wherever this is consistent with the child's safety and well-being. This principle applies to all children in need, including those who are looked after by the local authority. Where a child cannot live within his or her immediate family and the local authority is considering the need to look after the child, we will make strenuous efforts to identify potential carers within the child's network of family or friends who are able and willing to care for the child.
We will provide support for any such arrangements based on the assessed needs of the child, not simply on his or her legal status, and will seek to ensure that family and friends carers are provided with support to ensure that children do not become looked after by the local authority, or do not have to remain looked after longer than is needed.
3. Legal Framework
The local authority has a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of Children in Need* living within its area and to promote the upbringing of such children by their families. The way in which we fulfil this duty is by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's assessed needs (Section 17, Children Act 1989). This can include financial, practical or other support.It is important to note that the local authority does not have a general duty to assess all arrangements where children are living with their wider family or friends network rather than their parents but it does have a duty where it appears that services may be necessary to safeguard or promote the welfare of a Child in Need.
*A Child in Need is defined in Section 17(10) of the Children Act 1989 as a child who is disabled or who is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by the local authority.
To clarify the children who may come within the definition of Children in Need, the local authority has drawn up a 'Thresholds to Children's Social Care Services' document, which is available through Sandwell Children’s Trust's website. See Multi Agency Thresholds Document.
Children in Need may live with members of their family or friends in a variety of different legal arrangements, some formal and some informal. Different court orders are available to formalise these arrangements.
Looked after children will always come within the definition of Children in Need, whether they are accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (with parental consent) or in care subject to a Court Order whereby the local authority shares parental responsibility for the child. The local authority has a responsibility wherever possible to make arrangements for a looked after child to live with a member of the family (Section 22 of the Children Act 1989).
For a detailed summary of the meaning and implications of different legal situations, the rights of carers and parents, and the nature of decisions which family and friends carers will be able to make in relation to the child, please see Appendix 1: Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options. Section 4, Different Situations whereby Children may be living with Family and Friend Carers, which sets out the local authority's powers and duties in relation to the various options.
In relation to financial support, the local authority may provide carers of children in need with such support on a regular or one-off basis, under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This may include discretionary funding based upon a financial means test. However, the status of the placement will determine the nature and amount of the financial support and who can authorise its payment. The legal status of the child may have a bearing on the levels of financial support which may be available to carers, however. There are different legislative provisions which apply to financial support for children living with family or friends in looked after/adoption/special guardianship/Child Arrangements Order arrangements. The following sections of this policy set out the financial support that we may provide to family and friends who are caring for children in these different contexts.
4. Different Situations whereby Children may be living with Family and Friends Carers
4.1 Informal family and friends care arrangements
Where a child cannot be cared for within his or her immediate family, the family may make their own arrangements to care for the child within the family and friends network.
The local authority does not have a duty to assess any such informal family and friends care arrangements, unless it appears to the authority that services may be necessary to safeguard or promote the welfare of a Child in Need. In such cases, the local authority has a responsibility under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to assess the child's needs and provide services to meet any assessed needs of the child. The definition of a Child in need in section 17(10) of the Children Act 1989 is broad; A Child in Need is a child whose vulnerability is such that they are unlikely to reach or maintain a reasonable level of health or development, or their health or development would be significantly impaired without the provision of services by the Local Authority, or they are disabled. Where this is the case an assessment will be completed a social worker who will then consider what support might be required to enable the child's needs to be met and whether support can be provided by assisting the carer to access universal services. Following assessment, a Child in Need Plan will be drawn up and a package of support will be identified. This can comprise a variety of different types of services and support, including financial support.
Financial Support for Family and Friends - Section 17 of the Children's Act 1989 Children may be brought up by members of their extended family, friends or other people who are connected with them for a variety of reasons and in a variety of different arrangements. While most informal family and friends arrangements for the care of children are established without the involvement of Sandwell Children’s Trust, there are occasions when financial support is required to support such placements.
In exceptional circumstances the Local Authority can provide minimal, one off or very time limited financial assistance under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to support extended family members and family friends to care for children at a time of crisis or to meet a special need on the part of the child and as such prevent the child or young person from becoming Looked After by the Local Authority.
All financial support is given with the aim of setting up an arrangement that is self-sustaining in the longer term. The Local Authority must be the last resort after all other efforts to obtain financial assistance have failed. Friends and family carers will be encouraged to seek assistance from established mechanisms such as crisis loans through the benefits agency, charitable trusts / organisations and the wider network of family for assistance.
Almost all financial arrangements made by the Local Authority under section 17 are occasional (one off payments) or cease once child benefits are received by the applicant, for example. In exceptional cases where an agreement is made to provide regular financial support to prevent a child becoming Looked After, frequent reviews will take place to re-assess the child's needs and eligibility for financial support.
Threshold for support to friends and family carers of children in need to prevent the child becoming looked after; the following conditions must be met:
- The child lives within the area of the Local Authority;
- The child is a child in need within the definition of the 1989 Act;
- If friends and family carers were not available or had not offered to provide care of their own volition the child would be at risk of becoming Looked After;
- The child's parents or person with parental responsibility are prevented from providing suitable accommodation or care within the meaning of section 20 of the Children Act 1989;
- The child is not a privately fostered child. If this is the case then the procedure for private fostering must be followed;
- The child is either living with a close family member, wider family member or friend or there is a plan to make such an arrangement;
- The relevant social work manager agrees with the findings of the initial or core assessment that support should be provided.
Examples of situations of where recourse to section 17 could be considered by the Local Authority:
- Families who have no recourse to public funds and where a social work assessment has determined the need for immediate financial aid;
- Children who have been abandoned by their main carer and a relative or friend needs short term assistance to provide for the child's needs;
- Children who are being cared for by family and friends, where it has been assessed that without financial support the family / friends would not be able to care for the children.
4.2 Private fostering arrangements
A privately fostered child is a child under 16 (or 18 if disabled) who is cared for by an adult who is not a parent or close relative, where the child is to be cared for in that home for 28 days or more. Close relative is defined as 'a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether of the full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) or step-parent.' It does not include a child who is Looked After by a local authority. In a private fostering arrangement, the parent still holds parental responsibility and agrees the arrangement with the private foster carer.
The local authority has a duty to assess and monitor the welfare of all privately fostered children and the way in which they carry out these duties is set out in the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005. However, the local authority may also become involved with a child in a private fostering arrangement where the child comes within the definition of a Child in Need. In such cases, the local authority has a responsibility to provide services to meet the assessed needs of the child under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Following assessment, a Child in Need Plan will be drawn up and a package of support will be identified. As in 4.1 above, this can comprise a variety of different types of services and support, including financial support.
4.3 Family and friends foster carers – 'Connected Persons'
Where a child is looked after by the local authority, we have a responsibility wherever possible to make arrangements for the child to live with a member of the family who is approved as a foster carer (Section 22 of the Children Act 1989). Sandwell recognises that a child's needs are best met by a nurturing family and is committed to placing children who are not able to remain in their own family in an appropriate alternative family placement wherever possible. First priority will be for children to be placed with family or friends under regulation 24 of the Care Planning Regulations where this placement us deemed suitable.
The child can be placed with the family members prior to such approval, subject to an assessment of the placement, for up to 16 weeks. This temporary approval can only be extended in exceptional circumstances. In this context the carer is referred to as a Connected Person and the process of obtaining approval for the placement is set out in the Placement with Connected Persons Procedure. Where temporary approval is given to such a placement under the procedure, the carers will receive financial support on a regular basis in the form of a weekly fostering maintenance payment, This will cover the costs of caring for the child and is based on the age of the child.
In addition the child will have a placement plan which sets out the specific arrangements surrounding the child and the carers including the expectations of the foster carers and the support they can expect to receive to enable to fulfil their responsibilities for the child.
The assessment and approval process for family and friends who apply to be foster carers for a specific Looked After child will be the same as for any other foster carer except that the timescales for the assessment are different where a child is already in the placement as indicated above. In all other respects the process is the same as for any other potential foster carers and is set out in the Assessment and Approval of Foster Carer Procedure. An information pack will be available to potential foster carers about the process and they will be given the name and contact details of the social worker from the Sandwell Children’s Trust – Fostering Service allocated to carry out the assessment.
Sandwell Children’s Trust has a clear vision for Children and Young People living within the Borough, which informs the development of all our services and practice and will permeate this Handbook. We are a 'learning organisation', and have taken regular opportunities to reflect on and learn from the improvements suggested by our peers and regulatory bodies through review and inspection. This is reflected throughout the Foster Carers Handbook which will provide a clear direction for our Foster Carers and help them to deliver the highest quality services to children and their families.
Our vision is for Sandwell's children and young people to have the best start in life and for them to be nurtured and supported by those who care for them so that they will develop into healthy, socially responsible and achieving adults who, in turn, show the same level of care when raising their own families.
For those children who need our help and support, we aim to deliver the right service, at the right time. This is being achieved by taking a whole system approach to improving outcomes for children and families and through ensuring child centred practice is at the heart of what we do.
Our Foster Carers are a key part of our team and we hope that this Handbook will give you guidance on how we can help and support you to provide excellent care to our children and young people.
Expectations of a Kinship Carer
Prospective foster carers will be considered in terms of their capacity to look after children in a safe and responsible way that meets their developmental needs.
Some questions to be considered by anyone thinking about becoming a kinship carer:
- Does the child have an established relationship with you;
- Is there sufficient/ appropriate space in the house for this particular child and their belongings;
- Smoking is not usually acceptable if the child is under 5 years old;
- Your age should be considered in respect of a particular child e.g. young adults without child care experience may not be suitable and older carers may not be suitable for very young children;
- Do you have sufficient practical support;
- Are there any financial constraints/ debts;
- Does the prospective carer have good knowledge of the child;
- How many outside commitments do you have e.g. work, other caring commitments etc;
- If you work full time, it would not usually be appropriate to place a young baby as the baby will need to make good attachments with the carer.
In considering whether a relative, friend or other connected person should be approved as a foster carer, account must be taken of the needs, wishes and feelings of the child who it is proposed to place with them and the capacity of the carer to meet those particular needs. The assessment will balance the strengths of the carers arising from their position within the family network against any aspects which may make them less suitable. The carer's past experiences of parenting will be assessed as part of a fuller picture to care for the child.
Once approved as foster carers, they will be allocated a supervising social worker from the Sandwell Children’s Trust – Fostering Service to provide them with support and supervision; and they will receive fostering allowances for as long as they care for the child as a foster carer. While the child remains a looked after child, as a foster carer, they will be expected to cooperate with all the processes that are in place to ensure that the child receives appropriate care and support, for example, contributing to reviews of the child's Care Plan, cooperating with the child's social worker and promoting the child's education and health needs.
4.4 Child Arrangements Order
A Child Arrangements Order is a Court Order which sets out the arrangements as to when and with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact.
These orders replace the previous Contact Orders and Residence Orders.
A Child Arrangements Order may give parental responsibility to the person in whose favour it is made. Parental responsibility is shared with the parents.
Child Arrangements Orders may be made in private family proceedings in which the local authority is not a party nor involved in any way in the arrangements. However, a Child Arrangements Order in favour of a relative or foster carer (who was a 'Connected Person') with whom a child is placed may be an appropriate outcome as part of a permanence plan for a Child in Need or a 'Looked After' child.
The local authority may pay Child Arrangements Order Allowances to relatives or friends, unless they are a spouse or civil partner of a parent, with whom a child is living under a Child Arrangements Order. This is set out in paragraph 15 of Schedule 1 of the Children Act 1989, however this is discretionary.
See the local authority's Child Arrangements Order Allowances Policy, for details of what financial assistance may be available to holders of Child Arrangements Orders, the applicable criteria and who within the local authority will make decisions under the policy - to follow.
4.5 Special Guardianship Order
Special Guardianship offers a further option for children needing permanent care outside their birth family. It can offer greater security without absolute severance from the birth family as in adoption.
Relatives may apply for a Special Guardianship Order after caring for the child for one year. As Special Guardians, they will have parental responsibility for the child which, while it is still shared with the parents, can be exercised with greater autonomy on day-to-day matters than where there is a Child Arrangements Order.
Special Guardianship Orders may be made in private family proceedings and the local authority may not be a party to any such arrangements. However, a Special Guardianship Order in favour of a relative or foster carer (who was a 'Connected Person') with whom a child is living may be an appropriate outcome as part of a permanence plan for a Child in Need or a 'Looked After' child.
Where the child was Looked After immediately prior to the making of the Special Guardianship Order, the local authority has a responsibility to assess the support needs of the child, parents and Special Guardians, including the need for financial support.
4.6 Adoption Order
Adoption is the process by which all parental rights and responsibilities for a child are permanently transferred to an adoptive parent by a court. As a result the child legally becomes part of the adoptive family.
An Adoption Order in favour of a relative or foster carer (who was a 'Connected Person') with whom a child is living may be an appropriate outcome as part of a permanence plan for a Child in Need or a 'Looked After' child.
Local authorities must make arrangements, as part of their adoption service, for the provision of a range of adoption support services. They then have to undertake assessments of the need for adoption support services at the request of the adopted child, adoptive parents and their families, as well as birth relatives. The support required is then set out in an Adoption Support Plan and this may include financial support.
5. Provision of Financial Support - General Principles
There are three categories of payment, which may be considered. One or more of these may be applicable, depending on the particular circumstances of the case:
- Subsistence crisis (one-off) payments
These should be used to overcome a crisis, following the best assessment that can be achieved in the circumstances;
These are for such items as clothing, furniture, or bedding. The social worker must be satisfied that the carers' financial position justifies the payment through a financial assessment. Assistance may be given subject to conditions, including repayment in certain situations. However, in most situations, it will be inappropriate for the Department to seek to recover money provided under these circumstances;
- Weekly living contribution
It is possible for the local authority to make regular payments where family members or friends care for a child whether or not the child is not Looked After. Where regular payments are to be made, relative carers should be assisted to maximise their Income/Benefit as regular payments may adversely affect an individual's claim to income support.
In all cases where regular financial support is agreed, a written agreement will be drawn up detailing the level and duration of the financial support that is to be provided, and the mechanism for review.
The following criteria will be applied to all such payments:
- The purpose of the payments must be to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
- As part of the assessment, a view should be taken as to whether the carers need financial support based on their reasonable requirements in taking on the care of the child;
- There are no other legitimate sources of finance;
- Payments will be paid to the carer, not the parents;
- The payment would not place any person in a fraudulent position.
The authority works with landlords to ensure that, whenever possible, family and friends carers living in social housing are given appropriate priority to move to more suitable accommodation if this will prevent the need for a child to become looked after.
7. Supporting Contact with Parents
The authority is under a duty to promote contact for all Children in Need, although this differs depending on whether or not the child is Looked After.
Where the child is not Looked After, we are required to promote contact between the child and his/her family 'where it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard and promote his or her welfare'. As part of the support arrangements, it may be identified that specific assistance is required to ensure that any such contact can be managed safely. If necessary, information will be made available to family and friends carers about local contact centres and family mediation services, and how to make use of their services.
Where a child is Looked After, we are required to endeavour to promote contact between the child and his or her family 'unless it is not practicable or consistent with the child's welfare'. The overall objective of the contact arrangements will be included in the child's Care Plan and the specific arrangements will be set out in the child's Placement Plan - see Contact with Parents and Siblings Procedure.
8. Family Group Conferences
Family Group Conferences are meetings held between professionals and family members, which aim to achieve the best outcomes for children. They promote the involvement of the wider family to achieve a resolution of difficulties for Children in Need, and may help to identify short-term and/or permanent solutions for children within the family network.
We will offer a Family Group Conference or other form of family meeting at an early stage. If a child becomes Looked After, perhaps following an emergency, without a Family Group Conference having been held, then (where appropriate) we will arrange one as soon as possible.
9. Complaints Procedure
Where a family or friends carer is not satisfied with the level of support provided to enable them to care for the child, then they have access to the local authority's complaints process. Our aim would be to resolve any such dissatisfaction without the need for a formal investigation but where an informal resolution is not possible, then a formal investigation will be arranged.
The timescales and process are set out in the Complaints and Representations Procedure.