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EalingChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Decision to Look After and Care Planning

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure applies to all decisions to Look After children.

It should be read in conjunction with the Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline and Ealing Placements Policy for Looked After Children and Care Leavers.

NOTE

A child who is dealt with by a court by way of a Remand to Local Authority Accommodation or a Remand to Youth Detention Accommodation will be a Looked After Child. The care planning requirement will be amended in relation to such children - see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure.

RELATED INFORMATION

Practitioners must use this online form to tell the Child Benefit Office as soon as it is clear a child will be looked after by the local authority or care trust for 8 weeks or more. There is no need to tell the Child Benefit Office if a child is being looked after for less than 8 weeks.

Child Benefit: Local Authority or Care Trust Notification

Child Benefit Letter

RELATED GUIDANCE

ADCS/Cafcass Practice Guidance for the Use of Section 20

RELATED CHAPTER

Ceasing to Look After a Child Procedure

Relinquished Children

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated locally in October 2019. It should be re-read in its entirety.

Contents

  1. Decision to Look After Child
  2. The Care Plan
  3. Timescales for Completion of Care Plan
  4. Approval of the Care Plan
  5. Circulation of the Care Plan
  6. Other Required Plans, Documentation and Actions
  7. Becoming Looked After

1. Decision to Look After Child

1.1 The Decision

A child may not come into care without the express permission of the Director of Childern and Families and after the case has been presented to the Legal Planning Panel unless there are immediate safeguarding issues in which case the child's case must be presented to the next available Legal Planning Panel or the AROH panel if the child is 16 or 17 (see Ealing Placements Policy for Looked After Children and Care Leavers).

Outside office hours, the Emergency Duty Team can make the decision to Look After a child.

Any decision to look after a child made outside office hours will be communicated by e-mail and a notification on FWi to the relevant team by the beginning of the next working day.

1.2 Considerations before a Decision to Look After is made

The decision to look after a child will only be made where those making the decision are satisfied that:

  • Suitable appropriate alternatives have been fully considered;
  • Appropriate consideration has been given to the necessity of Accommodation, the purpose and nature of the proposed placement;
  • Whether the Accommodation provided should be via a Court Order or undertaken with Parental Consent using Section 20 (1989 Act). In considering this the local authority should:
  • Appropriate consultation has taken place;
  • However, where the circumstances constitute an emergency, opportunities for consultation may be limited e.g. where a parent/carer is not available.

Before a decision is made to look after a child, consideration should be given to making arrangements with other extended family members or friends who might be prepared to care for the child without the need for the child to come into care. In these circumstances, care must be taken where the local authority has been involved in the arrangements for the child to be cared for by a relative or friend; the child may be viewed as within the definition of Looked After and a legal view may be helpful to clarify the status of the child and the placement. See Placements with Connected Persons Procedure.

Alternatively, the child may come within the definition of Privately Fostered after 27 days, in which case the Private Fostering Procedure will apply.

Any arrangements where the child is not regarded as Looked After would have to be agreed with the parent or a person with Parental Responsibility, and the social worker must be satisfied that such an arrangement is sufficiently secure to meet the child's needs and is supported by a Child in Need Plan.

If no such arrangement can be identified or such an arrangement would not meet the child's needs, the child's social worker, with his or her team manager, should consider:

  • The child's immediate placement needs - including the child's views, the views of the parents, those with Parental Responsibility and any other person whose wishes and feelings the authority consider to be relevant - and whether a placement with a Connected Person may be possible;
  • The timescales for the child's placement;
  • A date for the child to return home or when the decision will be reviewed;
  • The actions of support and work to be included in the Care Plan to enable the necessary change for the child to return home wherever possible, see Section 1.3.1, Obtaining Parental Consent;
  • The obtaining of parental consent to look after the child and consent to medical care;
  • The contact arrangements with birth parents, siblings, extended family and friends.

Where it is considered that Care Proceedings should be initiated to secure the child's placement, see also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.

N.B. Any decision that a child should be the subject of Care Proceedings should have regard to the requirements of the Public Law Outline, and in particular the Pre-Proceedings Checklist which is set out in Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.

All decisions made should be recorded on the child's electronic record, including the reasons for reaching the decision.

1.3 Section 20 Accommodation

There are many scenarios in which Section 20 is used positively and these include situations of family support (e.g. Short Term Breaks) and where parents are unable to care for children, for whatever reason, and there are no agreed alternative family or friends to undertake this.

In Accommodating a child under Section 20, it must always be borne in mind that the local authority does not have Parental Responsibility; only the parents / those carers with Parental Responsibility can make decisions for the child. The parent/carer can remove the child from Accommodation at any time and any such request must be responded to promptly by the local authority, or it must otherwise take action through the court. (See also Ceasing to Look After a Child Procedure).

The parents/carers should be advised of any changes in the child's circumstances whilst the child is in local authority care.

It is therefore important to ensure that the parents/carers have full information about their continuing responsibilities as well as those of the local authority and that this is enshrined in the Care Plan and a written agreement.

1.3.1 Obtaining Parental Consent

A recent Court of Appeal hearing (L B Hackney v Williams & Anor [2017] EWCA Civ 26) confirmed that 'Consent' under any of the Section 20 provisions was not a statutory requirement as such. It stated that the local authority has a duty to provide accommodation for children, (subject to a parent being able to legally object and/or remove) where the person who had been caring for them was 'prevented (whether or not permanently and for whatever reason) from providing them with suitable accommodation or care'.

This, therefore, supports the local authority in its duties towards children on those occasions where 'parental consent' cannot, for a variety of reasons, be obtained at the time of a child's accommodation or parents cannot effect care of the child themselves.

Nevertheless, with regard to previous court judgments on 'consent', it reflected that they were, 'in short, good practice guidance and a description of the process that the family court expects to be followed'.

Therefore, obtaining Parental Consent as a matter of good practice remains an essential part of Accommodating a child under this part of the 1989 Act. A number of court decisions have been particularly critical of local authorities' actions with regard to consent and great care needs to be undertaken to ensure parents have the appropriate capacity to do this.

Section 20 agreements are not valid unless the parent giving consent has capacity to do so, (in cases where the father also has Parental Responsibility, the consent of both parents should be sought). The consent needs to be properly informed and fairly obtained. Willingness to consent cannot be inferred from silence, submission or acquiescence - it is a positive action.

Detailed guidance on the obtaining of parental consent was given by the High Court in the case of Re CA (A Baby) (2012):

  • The social worker must first be satisfied that the parent giving consent does not lack the mental Capacity to do so. Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a person is unable to make a decision if (s)he is unable:
    • To understand the information relevant to the decision;
    • To retain that information;
    • To use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision; or
    • To communicate his/her decision;
  • If there is doubt about Capacity, no further attempts to obtain consent should be made at that time, and advice should be sought from a manager;
  • If satisfied that the parent has Capacity, the social worker must be satisfied that the consent is fully informed:
    • Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?
    • Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
    • Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?
  • If not satisfied that the consent if fully informed, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought from a manager and legal advice sought if thought necessary;
  • If satisfied that the consent is fully informed, then it is necessary to be satisfied that the giving of such consent and the subsequent removal of the child from the parent is both fair and proportionate:
    • What is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
    • If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?
    • Is it necessary for the safety of the child for her to be removed at this time?
    • Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?

Whether a person has capacity can sometimes be difficult to determine, as some individuals have a learning disability or mental health problem but can present as being more 'able' than in fact they are. Equally, within the context of 'assessing capacity', social workers should approach with great care relying on Section 20 agreements from mothers after giving birth, (especially where there is no immediate danger to the child and where probably no order would be made).

Where there is any concern about a parent / carer's capacity, the social worker should ensure they discuss this issue with their team manager, or that the parent has information from a legal adviser or professional advice [1]. Note: In Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH (2012) EWHC2190 (Fam) it was identified that, 'every social worker obtaining consent is under a personal duty (the outcome of which may not be dictated to by others) to be satisfied that the person giving consent does not lack the capacity to do so'.

[1] Note: Unless a parent is subject to Proceedings, or Letter Before Proceedings, they will be unable to qualify for Legal Aid.

In Re N (Children) (Adoption: Jurisdiction) [2015] EWCA Civ 1112 good practice the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby sets out his view in respect of good practice in the recording of parental consent to a Section 20 agreement:

  • Wherever possible the agreement of a parent to the accommodation of their child under Section 20 should be properly recorded in writing and evidenced by the parent's signature;
  • The written document should be clear and precise as to it terms, drafted in simple and straight-forward language that the particular parent can readily understand;
  • The written document should spell out, following the language of Section 20(8), that the parent can 'remove the child' from the LA accommodation 'at any time';
  • The written document should not seek to impose any fetters on the exercise of the parent's right under s.20(8). Where the parent is not fluent in English, the written document should be translated into the parent's own language and the parent should sign the foreign language text, adding, in the parent's language, words to the effect that 'I have read this document and I agree to its terms'.
1.3.3 The use of Section 20 prior to Court Proceedings

Section 20 may, in an appropriate case, have a proper role to play as a short-term measure pending the commencement of care proceedings, but the Courts have strongly advised that this should not lead to an unnecessary delay in the issuing of proceedings and cases must not be allowed to drift, (including those cases when children are placed with relatives under a Section 20 agreement). Proceedings still need to be issued in a timely fashion.

Even where a parent/carer's legal adviser has established an agreement regarding the use of Section 20 prior to either issuing Proceedings or progressing a timely plan and timetable of work for further assessment, these should be carefully adhered to by all parties. Any plan should be based on the child's welfare needs and avoid delay.

All such agreements should be undertaken in conjunction with the local authority's Legal Services and include a clear (written) agreement and Care Plan with the outcome considered at a Looked After Children's Review to which the parents have been invited.

Where it is highly likely that proceedings will be required to determine a factual issue, or where complex medical evidence may become involved it is better for proceedings to be issued promptly allowing the court to manage the timetable of the case and the parents to be able to access effective legal advice.

1.4 Actions required after a Decision to Look After is made

In relation to children where Care Proceedings are being considered to secure the child's placement, see also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.

In all cases, if it is agreed that the child should become Looked After, the child's social worker will draw up a draft Care Plan (see Section 2, The Care Plan) with clear timescales and a statement as to whether the child's needs would best be met in a family placement or residential care.

If a foster or residential placement is required, the relevant procedure to be followed, including the need to hold a Placement Planning Meeting, will be found in the Placement of Looked After Children Procedure (see also Ealing Placements Policy for Looked After Children and Care Leavers Guidance).

Where a decision is made to pursue a Looked After placement with a relative or friend (or the child's placement with a relative or friend is judged to be a Looked After placement), an immediate assessment of the relative/friend must be undertaken. See Placements with Connected Persons Procedure.

For secure placements, see Placements in Secure Accommodation Procedure.

In the case of siblings, wherever it is in the best interests of each individual child, they should be placed together. Where they cannot be placed together, they must be supported to understand why they cannot live together, and there should be robust plans for contact between them, so far as this is consistent with their welfare.

2. The Care Plan

See also Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure, Care Planning for Young People on Remand or Youth Detention Accommodation.

2.1 The Care Plan - Contents

In all circumstances where a decision is made to look after a child, the child must have a Care Plan completed by the social worker and signed by the relevant team manager, the contents of which:

  • The child's Placement Plan (Setting out why the placement was chosen and how the placement will contribute to meeting the child's needs);
  • The Child's Permanence Plan (Setting out the long term plans for the child's upbringing including timescales);
  • The Pathway Plan (where appropriate, for young people leaving care);
  • The child's Health Plan;
  • The Contingency Plan;
  • The child's Personal Education Plan;
  • The name of the Independent Reviewing Officer;
  • Give the date of the child's first Looked After Review (within 20 days).

Note: The Care Plan must identify if there is reason to believe that the child is a victim of trafficking or is an unaccompanied asylum seeker and has applied for, or intends to apply for, asylum.

2.1.1 The Care Plan Where the Matter is Before the Court

In addition to the above, a Care Plan should reflect that the court is required under Section 8 Children and Social Work Act 2017 amends Section 31(3B) Children Act 1989 to consider the 'permanence provisions' of the Care Plan for the child:

  1. The provisions setting out the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child - to live with a parent/family member/family friend; adoption; or other long-term care, and,
  2. The plan's provisions in relation to any of the following:
    1. The impact on the child concerned of any harm that he or she suffered or was likely to suffer;
    2. The current and future needs of the child (including needs arising out of that impact);
    3. The way in which the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child would meet those current and future needs.

2.2 The Care Plan - Process

Where there is no recent Child and Family Assessment (CFA) in relation to the child, the Care Plan must provide for a CFA to be completed.

The child's social worker is responsible for drawing up and updating the Care Plan in consultation with:

  1. The child;
  2. The child's parents and those with Parental Responsibility;
  3. Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for or looking after the child;
  4. Other members of the child's family network who are significant to the child;
  5. The child's school or the education service;
  6. The relevant health trust;
  7. The Youth Offending Service, if the child is known to them;
  8. Any other agency involved with the child's care.

The social worker should ensure that the child, those with Parental Responsibility and the carer understand the Care Plan and their role in contributing to its implementation.

One of the key functions of the Care Plan is to ensure that each child has a Permanence Plan by the time of the second Looked After Review. The Care Plan is subject to scrutiny at each Looked After Review. See Looked After Reviews Procedure.

The Care Plan should include the arrangements made to meet the child's needs in relation to his or her:

  • Emotional and behavioural development;
  • The child's identity in relation to religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background;
  • Family and social relationships; arrangements for contact with sibling(s) accommodated by the authority or another local authority; details of any Section 8 Order, in relation to a Looked After Child; details of any order in relation to contact with a child in care; arrangements for contact with parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility / any other Connected Person; arrangements for the appointment of an Independent Visitor for a Looked After Child;
  • Social presentation;
  • Self-care skills.

3. Timescales for Completion

A Care Plan must be prepared prior to a child's first placement, or, if it is not practicable to do so, within 10 working days of the child's first placement.

4. Approval of the Care Plan

Any final Care Plan taken before the Court within Care Proceedings must be endorsed and signed by an Operations Manager.

All other Care Plans must be endorsed and signed by the social worker's team manager.

5. Circulation of Care Plan

The Care Plan must be circulated to the following people:

  • The child;
  • The parent(s);
  • Providers/Carers - if no Care Plan has been drawn up prior to the child's placement, the social worker must ensure that the providers/carers understand the key objectives of the plan, and how the placement will help achieve these objectives;
  • The Fostering Service, where the child is in foster care. N.B. The Care Plan should be filed in the confidential section of the foster carer's file and returned to the child's social worker when the placement ends;
  • The child's Independent Reviewing Officer.

6. Other Required Plans, Documentation and Actions

See also FWi Training Guide.

6.1 Placement Plan

The child must have a Placement Plan at the time of the placement (this includes the parent's consent to the placement (if applicable) and the child's medical treatment). It should be completed as far as possible before the child is placed, or if not reasonably practicable, within 5 working days of the start of the placement.

The information to be included in the Placement Plan will include:

  1. How on a day-to-day basis the child will be cared for and the child's welfare will be safeguarded and promoted by the appropriate person;
  2. Any arrangements for contact between the child and parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility/any other connected person, including, if appropriate, reasons why contact is not reasonably practicable or not consistent with the child's welfare; details of any Contact Order under Section 8 now Child Arrangement Orders amended 2014 or s34 of the Children Act 1989; the arrangements for notifying any changes in contact arrangements;
  3. Arrangements for the child's health (physical, emotional and mental) and dental care, including the name and address of registered medical and dental practitioners; arrangements for giving/withholding consent to medical/dental examination/treatment;
  4. Arrangements for the child's education and training, including the name and address of the child's school/other educational institution/provider and designated teacher; and if the Local Authority maintains an Education, Health and Care Needs Assessment (Statutory Assessment) Plan for the child;
  5. The arrangements for and frequency of visits by the child's social worker; and for advice, support and assistance between visits;
  6. If an Independent Visitor is appointed, the arrangements for them to visit the child;
  7. The circumstances in which the placement may be terminated;
  8. The name and contact details of the Independent Reviewing Officer, the Independent Visitor if one is appointed, the social worker who will be visiting the child, and the Personal Adviser for an Eligible Young Person.

The Placement Plan will be recorded on FWi.

Copies of the Placement Plan must be provided to the child (if of sufficient age and understanding), the parents and must be handed to the residential staff/carers before the child is placed. Where a child is placed in an in-house foster placement, one copy should also be sent to the Fostering Team.

At the time of the placement, the residential staff/carers should also be given any additional information about details of the child's day to day needs which are not covered by the previous paperwork but are important to ensure that the staff/carers are in the best possible position to help the child settle in the new placement, for example any particular fears at night-time or the child's favourite toys.

6.2 Chronology

Whenever a new placement is made or the child moves placement, the child's Chronology should be updated.

6.3 Arrangement of first Looked After Review

The child's social worker must notify the Planning and Review Officer of the placement within two working days of the child becoming looked after, so that the necessary arrangements for the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) (within five working days of the child becoming looked after wherever possible) and the child's first Looked After Review can be made. See the Looked After Reviews Procedure for the procedures relating to reviews, including the responsibility for invitations to reviews.

6.4 Health Care

Before or at the time of the placement, the social worker should request the parent to transfer the child's personal child health record. Where this is lost or not available, the social worker should ask for a replacement to be issued and ask the LAC Health Administrator to assist with providing any information to complete the record.

The social worker should also contact the Designated Nurse for LAC to arrange a Health Care Assessment before the placement or, if not reasonably practicable before the first Looked After Review (i.e. within 20 working days of the placement) so that the completion of a Health Care Plan in time for the child's first Looked After Review. See Health Care Assessments and Plan Procedure.

In addition, the social worker should inform the carer of any medication the child is taking, and ensure that a supply of medication is provided in a clearly labelled bottle with the child's name, required dosage and the time the medication is to be given - see Administration of Medication Procedure.

6.5 Personal Education Plan (PEP)

The social worker should also liaise with the Designated Teacher so that a Personal Education Plan (PEP) can be completed as part of the Care Plan before the child becomes looked after (or within 10 working days in the case of an Emergency Placement) and be available in time for the first Looked After Review. See Education of Looked After and Previously Looked After Children Procedure.

6.6 Provision of Information

The child's social worker must provide the child and parents with written information about the placement.

The child and parents must also be provided with information about the complaints process and the availability of advocates.

6.7 Changes in Legal Status

Any changes in a child's legal status as a result of court proceedings must be recorded on the child's electronic record.

7. Becoming Looked After

7.1 Introduction

In all contacts between Children's Social Care (CSC) and families, the primary consideration is the welfare of the child and there is an assumption that for most children their welfare will be best secured through services that enable the child to remain safely living in their own family

Only when there is clear evidence that this is not the case and that becoming looked after will be a positive advantage should entry into the looked system be considered. Evidence may be obtained from one or more of the following:

  • Outcome of CFA;
  • Information / view from the child and their parents;
  • Outcome from any Family Meeting;
  • Review of Child Protection Plan outcome of Strategy Meeting;
  • Chronology of Children's Social Care intervention;
  • View from partner agencies.

Whist it is recognised that requests may arise at any time from social workers for children to become looked after via voluntary agreement with the parents or via statutory intervention by the Local Authority, it is expected the day to day case management arrangements in Children's Social Care will mean the allocated social worker and their managers will be aware of those instances where there is possibility the child may need to become looked after.

7.2 Routes into Care

Disabled Children who are in receipt of a series of short breaks longer than 24 hours but no longer than four weeks at a time and less than 120 days in year are deemed to be looked after. Agreement for these children to become looked after is made by DCT Team Manager.

An Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking child under the age of 18 who has made a claim for asylum and entered the UK without a parent, adult relative of adult house hold member will be assessed by the Children's Asylum Team. Following a same day Child and Family Assessment of the child / young person the Team Manager can agree for the child to become looked after under Section 20.

Young people remanded to Local Authority accommodation with or without a secure requirement by the Youth Court are also deemed to be looked after under Section 20 of the Children Act (1989). Should advice be received of a remand from the Youth Justice Service, the child should be allocated a social worker.

Child remanded in custody will be designated looked after until release or sentence.

Children subject to police protection. Where a police constable has reasonable grounds to believe a child would otherwise suffer Significant Harm they may remove and seek to accommodate the child or ensure the child remains in his or her current location. Should the child be placed in regulated placement then the child will become looked after. This protection can last up to 72 hours and will in most instances be used outside working hours.

The Operational Manager can authorise the seeking of an Emergency Protection Order (EPO) from the Court. EPOs give Parental Responsibility and the right to remove a child and last for up to 8 days with a possible extension of a further 7 days. The Operational Manager must be satisfied that the child is likely to suffer Significant Harm if not removed immediately to a care placement or to remain in their current location (e.g. hospital). Agreement to proceed with an application for an EPO can be as a result of a Legal Gateway Meeting and agreed by an Operations Manager.

Should the social worker wish to the child to remain looked after following expiry of the remand to local authority accommodation, police protection or emergency protection order the social worker will need to present the case to AROH Panel if child is aged 15 or over or Legal Planning Panel if child is 0-14 years.

In all other cases where a social worker wishes to request that a child becomes looked after, the social worker must ensure the following:

  • There is a completed initial or CFA;
  • Attempts have been made to hold a family meeting;
  • The views of partner agencies have been sought;
  • The views of the parent(s) / carer(s) and child have been sought;
  • All other means for the child to be cared for in their kith / kin network have been explored and exhausted;
  • All support to ensuring the child can remain safe in their parents care have been explored and exhausted.

7.3 How a Child Becomes Looked After

If, at any stage during a CFA or during a child's plan the social worker and her/his line manager and other relevant agencies (e.g. health or education) conclude that a child may be experiencing Significant Harm or at risk of Significant Harm the social worker should discuss the case with the Team Manager.

7.4 What Happens after it has been Agreed that a Child will Become Looked After?

Once an agreement has been made, the social worker will remain responsible for the welfare of the child until the first review meeting and must follow the CLA procedures from this point onwards. The procedures cover arrangements and timescales for the initial planning meeting (in order to establish a Care Plan and for the first review meeting.