SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
A written agreement is a partnership document which aims to clarify the detail of and sign up to a plan or a particular aspect of a plan. Written agreements should be used as an exception, and should only be in place until the conclusion of a C&F assessment or until the next CIN/CP/CLA meeting when the agreement should be incorporated within CIN/CP/Care Plan. To be effective, a written agreement must be properly drawn up in conjunction with family members, shared, tracked and reviewed, and have a Contingency Plan in place.
In October 2020, this guidance was reviewed and updated to clarify best practice around the use of written agreements, including when they can be used, the importance of developing them in conjunction with parents / carers, and ensuring they fully understand what is expected of them and always including a Contingency Plan.
- Written Agreements
- Reasons to use a Written Agreement
- Good Practice Standards when using Written Agreements
- Appendix 1: Example of Written Agreement
- Appendix 2: Interim LCS Process for Written Agreements until LCS is Updated
We work with children and families in order to keep children safe, give information, advice, support and enable families to make the best possible decisions about their child/ren's future.
It is best practice that parents and carers attend and participate in Child in Need (CIN) meetings, Child Protection (CP) conferences and core group meetings.
As part of this best practice, Assessments, CIN and CP plans should incorporate agreements and expectations both of the parent/s and of services that will be provided to support the family and address the issues covered in the plan.
The families we work with should expect us to work in cooperation with them, help them to understand why we are involved and offer them support through our social workers/adult workers (where applicable) to manage their behaviours that impact on their child/ren's wellbeing and safety.
Plans should provide family members and professionals with clarity about the detail of what they have agreed or are being required to do, including:
- The aim or goal of work/actions to be undertaken;
- What they can expect from us;
- The timescales for work/actions;
- Contingency plan(s).
Written agreements can be useful, but in order to be effective, they must be properly drawn up in conjunction with family members, shared, tracked and reviewed. The following practice guidance explains the purpose of written agreements and lays out standards to be applied when drawing up and using written agreements.
For specific information around the use of a pre-proceedings letter, meetings and schedule of expectations arising from a pre proceedings care planning meetings you should refer to Care Planning Protocol (within the Children Act 1989, Adoption and Children Act and Revised Public Law Outline 2013).
2. Written Agreements
A written agreement is a partnership document which aims to clarify the detail of and sign up to a plan or a particular aspect of a plan. Written agreements should be used as an exception, and should only be in place until the conclusion of a C&F assessment or until the next CIN/CP/CLA meeting when the agreement should be incorporated within CIN/CP/Care Plan.
Written agreements may also be used when an emergency situation arises in a CIN or CP case until the plan can be reviewed and updated.
3. Reasons to use a Written Agreement
When a Written Agreement is used it Should:
- Ensure family members and professionals have a shared understanding of the expectations of the parent / carer, and that the parent / carer understands why they are expected to behave in a certain way;
- Provide family members and professionals with clarity about the detail, aim or goal of the work / planned actions that have been agreed;
- Ensure the parent / carer and professionals are aware of the Contingency Plan (e.g. reconvene the Core Group or Conference, seek a Legal Planning Meeting or initiate legal action);
- Ensure that family members and professionals are clear about the duration of the undertaking (i.e. until issues can be incorporated into a CIN, CP or Care Plan).
When Not to use a Written Agreement:
- To coerce / pressure a parent / carer to behave in ways they are reluctant or refusing to do e.g:
- Where a child is Section 20 or about to become Section 20 to stop a parent / carer removing their child from care (we do not hold Parental Responsibility);
- To specify that a child must live with a particular relative;
- To insist that Family Time / contact between a parent / carer must be supervised.
- As an attempt to put controls around a situation which has been out of control. Remember, it is only a piece of paper;
- To reassure concerned professionals and managers that a concerning situation is being appropriately addressed;
- Because a previous written agreement has been reneged upon;
- To delay other actions being taken such as seeking an EPO;
- Because other attempts at control (legal orders, child protection planning) have been sought but not obtained. In these circumstances, a written agreement could provide a dangerous illusion of compliance;
- As a long term way of managing concerns.
4. Good Practice Standards when using Written Agreements
Motivational interviewing should be used when working with parents/carers to reach agreements about the content of the undertaking.
Written agreements should be clear, concise and not too long. They should be written in a language that the parent / carer understands.
Written agreements should only be agreed when it can be demonstrated that this course of action is based on a clear risk assessment and that the risks are manageable.
Unannounced visits should be made to 'spot check' that such agreements are being adhered to.
Changes cannot be made to written agreements without prior discussion and agreement from the Practice/Team Manager and relevant multi agencies.
At the earliest opportunity the agreed actions within the written agreement should be incorporated into CIN, CP or Care plans.
Breaches of the written agreements must be taken very seriously. The effectiveness of agreements is seriously undermined if families breach them repeatedly.
Contingencies should be clearly explained to the parent / carer and can include a decision to end the agreement, reconvene the Core Group or Conference, seek a legal planning meeting or initiate legal action.
Where a decision has been made to end the written agreement, or it is no longer required, this decision should be communicated in writing to parents / carer and all the agencies involved with the family.