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3.1.2 Decision to Look After, Care and Placement Planning

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure applies to all decisions to look after children.

For children who may be the subject of Care Proceedings, it should also be read in conjunction with the Children and Families and Legal Services Protocol 2013 and Flowchart for Panel Processes for Children and Families.

See also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.

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 CHAPTER

Ceasing to Look After a Child Procedure

RELATED GUIDANCE

ADCS/Cafcass Practice Guidance for the Use of Section 20

AMENDMENT

This chapter was amended in October 2017 to reflect the outcome of an Appeal Court hearing (2017) with respect to ‘consent’. The court recognised that the term ‘consent’ itself was not used in Section 20. However, it described previous court observations as ‘good practice guidance’, emphasising its judgment should not alter the content or effect of these. (See Section 1.3.1, Obtaining Parental Consent).


Contents

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


1. Decision to Look After Child

1.1

The Decision

A child may not come into care without the express permission of a Service Manager on the recommendation of a team manager/assistant team manager.

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 facilitating arrangements between the parents and other extended family members or friends who might be prepared to care for the child without the need for the child to become Looked After. In these circumstances, care must be taken as, where the local authority has been involved in the arrangements for the child to be cared for by relatives, 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.

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

In any event, any such arrangements 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's 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 planned 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 paragraph 1.3.1 Obtaining Parental Consent to Look After a Child;
  • The obtaining of parental consent to look after the child and consent to medical care;
  • Any impact on educational arrangements;

  • 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, a Legal Planning Meeting should be requested by the child's social worker - see Children and Families and Legal Services Protocol 2013.

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 - see Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline Procedure.

All decisions made should be recorded; they should be signed, dated and placed on file, including the reasons for reaching the decision. (See also Section 1.3.2, Recording Parental Consent.)

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. Hillingdon Pathways to Short Breaks Procedure) 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 born 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.

The London Borough of Hillingdon devised a S20 consent form and it is a requirement for our Social workers to go through the form with each parent/carer who has PR to ensure they understand  it before giving their consent and signing the form (see Documents Library).

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.

1.3.2 Recording Parental Consent

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. The ADCS/Cafcass Practice Guidance for the Use of Section 20 seeks to clarify good practice in this area.

Even where a parent/carer’s legal advisor 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, a Legal Planning Meeting should be convened. 

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 social worker will then request a placement from the Placement Team. The relevant procedure to be followed, including the need to hold a Placement Planning Meeting, will be found in the Placements in Foster Care Procedure or the Placements in Residential Care Procedure.

Where a decision is made to pursue a Looked After placement with a Connected Person (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 by the social worker. See Immediate Placements with Family and Friends (under Regulation 24 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010) and their Approval as Foster Carers 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 Section 8, Care Planning for Young People on Remand of Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure.

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 include:

  • 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 child’s Personal Education Plan;
  • The contingency plan;
  • The date of the child's first Looked After Review (within 20 working days);
  • The name of the Independent Reviewing Officer.

Where there is no recent Assessment in relation to the child, the Care Plan must provide for an Assessment 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. 

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

The Care Plan must be drawn up as soon as the need for the child to come into care has been identified 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 a Designated Manager (Care Plan).

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


5. Circulation of the 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 Team, where the child is in an in-house foster placement. 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 Residential Service, where the child is in an in-house residential placement;
  • The child’s Independent Reviewing Officer.


6. Other Required Plans, Documentation and Actions

6.1

Placement Plan

The child must have a Placement Plan at the time of the placement or, if not reasonably practicable, within 5 working days of the start of the placement. (This includes the parent’s consent to the placement (if applicable) and the child’s medical treatment). The Placement Plan should include the following information and who has the authority to make what decisions in relation to the child - see Delegation of Authority to Foster Carers and Residential Worker Procedure:

  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 Child Arrangements Order; 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; the Local Authority maintaining any Education, Health and Care Plan;
  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 the Placement Plan on the child’s electronic database.

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. One copy should also be placed on the child’s file and, in the case of a child placed with an in-house foster carer, one copy sent to the Fostering Team – to be kept in the confidential section of the foster carer's file and returned at the end of the placement.

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 Placement Plan 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.

In an out of hours placement, a copy of the Placement Plan (completed as far as possible) should be handed to the child’s carer when the child is placed and the Emergency Duty Team social worker should fax a copy to the relevant social work team by the beginning of the next working day. The Emergency Duty Team social worker must also inform the Placement Team of the placement on the next working day - see Emergency Placements Procedure.

6.2

Chronology and Case Summary

Whenever a new placement is made or the child moves placement, the child's Chronology and Case Summary at the start of the Case Notes records on ICS should be updated.

It is essential that Case Summaries are maintained and regularly updated, this will ensure there is a shared understanding of key events in a child's life and their journey whilst being looked after by the local authority.

6.3

Arrangement of First Looked After Review

The child's social worker must notify the Review Coordinator at the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service of the placement, so that the necessary arrangements for the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) (within 5 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.

The social worker should also explain the consultation process with the child and ensure their experiences, wishes and feelings are recorded in advance of their first and subsequent LAC 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 Coordinator to assist with providing any information to complete the record.

The BAAF Medical Consent forms must be completed when a child comes into care as part of the entry documentation - many parents refuse later on if they are used as part of care proceedings. A separate form should be completed by the birth parent(s), dated and signed by the social worker. There are two places for them to sign - one for their medical information and one for the child. A copy of this form should be kept on the child's file and the original sent to the Designated Doctor for Looked After Children. Note that an older child/young person can sign for themselves if they are 'Fraser competent'.

If birth mother does not consent the manager can sign the consent form if there is an ICO or care order in place, so that the forms (BAAF M and B) can be sent to the hospital of birth for information but in these cases any information about the birth mother cannot be shared with  social care. The information on the B form relating to the child can be shared.

The social worker should contact the LAC Health Coordinator to arrange a Health Assessment and the completion of a Health Action Plan before the placement or, if not reasonably practicable, in time for the child’s first Looked After Review - see Health Care Assessments and Plans 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 for All Looked After Children Procedure.

6.5

Personal Education Plan (PEP)

The social worker should also liaise with the child's school and the LACE Team as appropriate so that a Personal Education Plan (PEP) can be completed as part of the Care Plan – before the placement or if not practicable, within 10 working days of the placement and in time for the first Looked After Review - see Education of Looked After Children (including Personal Education Plans) Procedure.

6.6

Provision of information

The child’s social worker must provide the child and parents with written information about the placement, the LAC Review and complaints processes 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 case record.

End