Family Time/Contact

REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS

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

The Care Planning Standard

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter covers arrangements for children placed in our Children's Homes to have contact with their parents, anyone with Parental Responsibility who is not a parent, siblings, any relative, friend or other person connected with the child.

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 Family Time / Contact
  2. Different Types of Family Time / Contact
  3. Supervised Family Time / Contact
  4. Review of Family Time / Contact Arrangements
  5. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Family Time / Contact


1. Promoting Contact

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

NOTE: As part of the placement planning process, the social worker should consult the Registered Children’s Homes Manager to ensure that proper arrangements are in place for the child to have on going 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 who are Looked After, relationships with members of their family, previous carers, friends and others are incredibly important. Family time / 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 this 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.

Family time / 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 family time / 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 any decisions about family time / contact arrangements are made.

The purpose of the family time / contact and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the Care Plan. The child’s welfare is the paramount consideration at all times and each child’s wishes and needs for family time / 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 as a way of keeping in touch should also be considered.

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, have been implemented as set out in the Care Plan and that the child is happy with the contact – both its frequency and its quality. The IRO should inform the child that they can access Advocacy Services if they have a complaint.


2. Different Types of Family Time / Contact

Face to face meetings and visits will generally be the best way of maintaining relationships, but other means such as letters / emails, text messaging, video calls and photograph exchanges etc. should be borne in mind. Responsible authorities and carers should work together to explore how electronic media can promote 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 stay in touch with family and friends (such as  by mobile phones or other social networking sites and apps and consoles such as Xbox or PlayStation) so that staff in the home, the young person, and their social worker can have a discussion about the best way to do this safely. This should include a discussion of what the young person should do if they receive messages / calls which are upsetting or inappropriate.

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


3. Supervised Family Time / Contact

The need to supervise family time / contact should be considered by the social worker and their manager as part of the assessment and planning process. 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 family time / 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 contact begins.

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 family time / 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 end. 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 family time / 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 family time / 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.

The supervisor’s observations of the family time / contact must be clearly recorded in the child’s record and shared with the parents.

The supervisor must immediately report to the social worker any concerns about the child or parents’ conduct during the family time / contact. The social worker in consultation with their manager should consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or the contact arrangements in light of the concerns expressed.


4. Review of Family Time / Contact Arrangements

The social worker and their manager should keep family time / 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 6 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 family time / 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 Family Time / Contact

Family time / 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 family time / contact. 

If family time / contact is cancelled, the social worker or, if they are not available  staff from the home, 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 family time / 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.

Family time / contact arrangements must not be withdrawn as a sanction imposed on a child.

Emergency restrictions on family time / 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 Family Time / Contact

Any proposal to suspend or terminate the family time / 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 family time / 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 family time / 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 court 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.