Ceasing to Look After a Child
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter reflects the statutory guidance 'Ceasing to look after a child' in 'Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations' as amended by the 'Care Planning and Fostering (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations' and The Children and Social Work Act 2017, together with Working Together to Safeguard Children.
The terminology 'accommodated', 'looked after' and 'looked after child' are used interchangeably within this procedure to reflect terminology used in statutory guidance and legislation.
The local authority has a duty to ensure that when children have been Accommodated under Section 20 (Children Act 1989) and are discharged from, or leave care, that the discharge is in their best interests and that they will be safeguarded and their welfare will be promoted. Where a child has been Accommodated for 20 days or more, the decision should be made by a Nominated Officer, which will ordinarily be the operational Head of Service with responsibility for the child's care. In exceptional circumstances, for young people aged 16/17yrs the decision will be made by the Director of Children's Services and the circumstances where this applies are explained below in Section 2.2, Decision Making and Section 3.1, Assessment of Need.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was revised and updated in December 2020.
Children become accommodated via a Section 20 arrangement for many different reasons and are some of the most vulnerable children. Section 20 Accommodation can:
- Offer children and families short term support as a result of a disability (e.g. a short term break or series of breaks);
- Support a family in crisis, for example, as a result of health issues of the parent/carer and where no other family or friend is available;
- Be the first stage legal arrangement for a relinquished child (see Relinquished Children Procedure) – particularly a child under 6 weeks of age;
- Be a means of safeguarding a child as a result of Child Protection Enquiries, enabling an assessment of risk and needs prior to more formal planning;
- Ensure appropriate care to a child who presents as 'abandoned';
- Be a way of managing care and support to a child where there are concerns of significant harm as a result of them appearing to be 'beyond parental control';
- Offer the level of support and care required to an unaccompanied young person from abroad (see Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Trafficking and Modern Slavery Procedure).
When a child is Accommodated, (and it is not part of a planned series of Short Breaks), timescales should be established at the outset for the length of time the Accommodation is considered to be required, together with a plan for the child returning home.
The first looked after review should take place within 20 days and will be key, through ratification of the Care Plan in evaluating the risk, or likelihood of risk, of any significant harm; the needs of the child; further detailed multi-agency work required to support to the child and family, together with the timescales for these.
There can sometimes be concern about delay because of issues in working with either the parent or child. Equally, a parent or carer may request that the child be returned to their care ahead of the care plan, or where the concerns still exist (see Section 2.3, Circumstances Around Ceasing to Look After a Child).
2. Children Accommodated under Section 20
Where a child has been accommodated for 20 working days or more, the local authority must confirm a Care Plan for a child and the actions required to achieve the aim (as would be the case for any looked after child, regardless of their legal status. See Permanence Policy.
Any request to discharge the child from care, outside of their Care/Permanence Plan, must be carefully considered to ensure they remain safe and their welfare continues to be promoted.
As a result of accommodating the child, in most cases there will already be an assessment and a range of multi-agency information about the child and the family which will include an understanding of the child and family's needs, wishes and wants, together with an appreciation of their respective abilities to work with support services in a positive and constructive way.
Where the plan is for a child to return to the care of their family when they cease to be looked-after, there should be a robust planning and decision-making process to ensure the decision is in the best interests of the child and will safeguard and promote their welfare.
In making the decision to cease looking after a child, the authority must assess:
- The suitability of the child's proposed accommodation and maintenance when they cease to be looked-after; and
- What services and support the child might need and who they might contact for support;
- Where the child is returning home, what services and support the parent might need and who they might contact for support. If a Family Group Conference has not already been undertaken, this should be the mechanism for configuring this support;
- The local authority must also ascertain the child's wishes and feelings about the proposed plan for their care (having regard to their age and understanding), and consider them;
2.2 Decision Making
Where a child has been Looked After for 20 working days or more, the decision to cease looking after the child should not be put into effect until it has been approved by the Nominated Officer and as stated above this would ordinarily be the operational head of service.
For young people whose plan is to move into independent living, the local authority is required to take stock of the young person's preparedness for the time when s/he will no longer be looked after, which for the majority of looked after children will be when they reach legal adulthood at age 18, or immediately prior to this (for example 17½ years onwards).
Where the young person is 16/17 years and has been accommodated under Section 20, any premature/unplanned discharge from care into independence, i.e. a discharge which is not in line with the agreed timescales identified within their Pathway Plan, should not take place until the decision has been approved by the Director of Children's Services (see Section 3, Children Who are 'Eligible Children' – Transition into Adulthood).
In making the decision, the Nominated Officer, or where relevant, the Director of Children's Services must be satisfied that:
- The young person's wishes have been ascertained and considered;
- The decision to cease to look after the child will safeguard and promote their welfare;
- The support that the child and parent receive via the Children's Services Department and partner agencies will be effective in supporting the child being safeguarded and promote the child's well being and best interests;
- The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) has been informed.
2.3 Circumstances around Ceasing to Look After a Child
Circumstances around ceasing, or discharging, a child from being looked after will vary as much as the original reasons for accommodating the child, but the discharge of the child from being looked after should always be undertaken in a timely and planned way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child. Please see: Gloucestershire's Reunification Practice Guidance.
A prompt return to their parent or carer will invariably be appropriate and welcomed, especially if the return is part of the child's Care/Permanence Plan and made possible because of the assessment that has already been undertaken, together with the ongoing involvement of the practitioner.
Where a parent or carer requests the child be returned to their care outside of the Care/Permanence Plan, they should be encouraged to undertake the return in a planned or negotiated way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child, and in order to ensure appropriate support is made available in a timely way to them and/or the child.
However, when the local authority receives a request from parents for the child to return home immediately, (under Section 20(8)) this must be responded to because it is within the jurisdiction of parents/those with parental responsibility to do so and any delay in so doing may bring severe criticism and potentially a financial penalty from the court.
Nevertheless, where a return to a parent cannot be planned and also raises concern, (either because of the circumstances surrounding the reasons for accommodation in the first place or because it does not take into account the safeguarding and the welfare of the child), in these circumstances:
- Careful consideration should be given as to whether the request puts the child at risk of immediate significant harm. If this is the case, then the procedure for seeking an Emergency Protection Order or, where appropriate, police protection, should be instigated;
- The Single Assessment must be updated to ensure needs, in view of the return home, are assessed and appropriately responded to;
- Any care plan for reunification should be discussed and confirmed with the Team Manager and include additional oversight and recorded agreement at Head of Service/Service Manager level prior to formal ratification at a Child in Care review chaired by the IRO;
- As a result of the up-to-date Single Assessment, consideration should be given to the need to instigate pre/care proceedings given the evidence available;
- Consideration may also be given as to whether the parent's actions require the convening of an Initial Child Protection Conference;
- A Child in Need Planning Meeting may be required to formalise a support plan;
- In relation to the assessed need, determine what support services are required to support the progress of the plan; The usual notification process (PNL Process) alerting other partner agencies to the child's return home should be progressed immediately.
When a child ceases to be Looked After and returns to their parent's care it is likely to be the case that they will continue to require support as a Child In Need (see Child in Need Plans and Reviews Procedure).
A Child In Need meeting should be convened in line with Gloucestershire's Practice Standards with involvement from relevant agencies, and a plan drawn up which will promote the safeguarding, welfare and best interests of the child, with the objective of ensuring that the return to the parent or carer is safe and sustainable.
The Plan should:
- Take into account the child's needs;
- Take into account the child's views;
- Detail the parents' capacity to meet the needs of the child;
- Identify the existing family and support network, which should be ascertained and configured via a Family Group Conference (FGC) wherever possible. There must only be one plan in place and if a FGC is held and results in the formulation of a Family Plan, this is the one active plan which guides practice and intervention;
- The environmental/community factors – both positive and negative;
- Establish other agencies roles and responsibilities with respect to the Plan.
The Child in Need Plan should be subject to Review (see Child In Need Plans and Reviews Procedure, The Review Child in Need Meetings) to ensure the Plan remains relevant, appropriate and required or whether it should be 'stepped down' to early help involvement.
2.5 Children Who Move into Permanency
Some children will cease to be looked after under Section 20 but move into other permanent family placements through a Child Arrangements Order, Special Guardianship Order or Adoption. However, the same level of oversight and scrutiny and where applicable, review (as stated above in Section 2.4, Planning) will be required to ensure the plan can be sustained and the children's welfare continues to be promoted (see Permanence Planning Guidance and the Permanence Policy).
3. Children Who are 'Eligible Children' – Transition into Adulthood
See also: Leaving Care and Transition Procedure.
An Eligible Young Person is someone who is Aged 16 or 17 years and has been Looked After for a period, or periods, totalling 13 weeks which started after their 14th birthday; (this does not include a series of pre-planned short-term placements (of up to 4 weeks) where the child has returned to a parent or person with parental responsibility. An eligible child who leaves care becomes relevant and ordinarily will become former relevant at age 18 and consequently will benefit from PA support up to age of 25. However an eligible child who leaves care (as relevant child) to live with someone who holds PR will after six months (if prior to 18th Birthday) lose status as a relevant child and become a qualifying child so will not be eligible for PA support to 25, unless living arrangements with person with PR break down prior to 18th Birthday in which care they would become a Relevant child again.
Eligible Children are entitled to the same level of support as every other Looked After Child, during this important part of their development and transition (see Leaving Care and Transition Procedure).
In relation to an Eligible child, from their 16th birthday, the local authority must:
- Carry out an assessment of needs with a view to determining what advice, assistance and support it would be appropriate to provide while looking after them and after it ceases to look after them;
- Prepare a Pathway Plan and review it regularly.
3.1 Assessment of Need
The assessment underpins the young person's current Care/Permanence Plan as the starting point for developing the Pathway Plan. The assessment should take place not more than 3 months after the young person's 16th birthday or after they become eligible, if later than 16 years in the event it has not already been recently updated to take into account the needs of the young person moving through their transition to independence. It should not require significant additional work if the young person is settled with an up to date Care/Permanence Plan.
This assessment of needs must take into account the following:
- The wishes and feelings of the young person;
- The views of parents or other person with Parental Responsibility;
- The young person's health (including their physical, emotional and mental health) and development;
- The young person's continuing need for education, training or employment;
- The support that will be offered by their parents, friends and that all other connected persons will be able to give;
- The financial resources available to the young person, together with an assessment of their financial capability to manage their own finances;
- The extent to which the young person possesses the practical and other skills they will need to manage more independent living;
- The young person's need for continuing care, support and accommodation;
- The view of the educational establishment the young person attends and, if they have an education, health and care plan, the views of the authority that maintains the Care Plan (if different);
- The views of the IRO;
- The views of the Personal Adviser;
- The views of any person providing health care to the young person;
- The views any other person the local authority or young person feel is relevant.
Where the young person is seeking to discharge themselves from care and live independently prior to their 18th birthday and outside the timescales identified within their Pathway Plan, in addition to the above, the social worker should evaluate and consider, the degree to which the young person is able to live independently and the need for their continuing need for support and accommodation. These are the situations whereby authorisation must be sought from the Director of Children's Services (see Resource Library for the template) because it should be the exception, rather than the norm, that young people leave care and become 'Relevant' care leavers. Most young people will continue to require a level of support which will be delivered on a day-to-day basis by their foster carers or residential workers.
Following the completion of the assessment of need, the social worker should complete the Pathway Plan as soon as possible. The Pathway Plan should detail: which services will be provided; who will provide these services; what actions the social worker themselves need to undertake to secure such support; details of the support and involvement from family and other Connected Persons; timescales with regard to all of these. It is more than a 'statement of intent, it is a living document'.
The Pathway Plan must include what outcomes are to be achieved be with regard to the young person.
The Pathway Plan must specify the name of the Personal Adviser and detail the arrangements for visiting the young person. It should cover:
- Details of the young person's accommodation when they cease to be Looked After, and how this will be suitable in view of their assessed needs;
- The plans and arrangements for the young person's continuing education and training;
- What support the young person will require to enable them to develop and sustain appropriate family and social relationships;
- How the young person will be supported to build and develop their independent living skills;
- The financial support to be provided to enable the young person to meet accommodation and personal living costs;
- How the authority will assist the young person in obtaining employment or other purposeful activity when they cease to be looked after, taking into account their aspirations, skills and educational potential;
- The young person's financial capabilities and money management capacity, along with strategies to develop skills in this area;
- How the young person's physical, emotional and mental health needs will be met.
The Pathway Plan should identify a contingency plan, (should the Pathway Plan not effectively meet the young person's needs).
The Pathway Plan must be reviewed:
- When the young person requests; or
- If the Personal Adviser considers it necessary; or
- At least once every 6 months.
The Plan should be adjusted accordingly with the young person's achievements, needs and maturity.
3.3 Decision Making
For young people eligible for care leaver's services and support, any premature discharge from care into an independent living arrangement (i.e. a move which contradicts the timescales identified within the Care/Pathway Plan) should not take place until the Director of Children's Services has approved it (see Sections 2.3, Circumstances Around Ceasing to Look After a Child and Section 3.1, Assessment of Need). Please complete the appropriate template seeking this authorisation. See: DCS Approval to cease looking after children aged 16/17 who have been Accommodated under Section 20.
In making the decision, the Director of Children's Services must be satisfied that:
- The young person's wishes and feelings have been ascertained and given due consideration;
- The decision to cease to look after the young person will safeguard and promote their welfare;
- The support that the young person receives via Children's Services and partner agencies, will be effective in safeguarding them and promoting their best interests;
- The IRO has been consulted for their views and in the event of any disagreement with any proposed action, the rationale for decisions are made clear and captured on the young person's case record;
- As an Eligible young person, there is an up-to-date assessment of need which underpins, the Pathway Plan (detailing all the issues in Schedule 8 of the 2010 Regulations) and that a Personal Advisor has been appointed.
An Eligible child will have the status and entitlements of a 'care leaver'. As such, they will be able to receive ongoing support, advice and encouragement to maximise their potential and will benefit from having direct support from their Personal Adviser up to the age of 25 years.
4. Children who are Looked After for Short Periods (Fewer than 20 days) Including Short Term Breaks
In the event a child may have become Looked After for a short period, fewer than 20 days, such as in a family crisis, the social worker and team manager must be satisfied that the return home is (or remains) in the child's best interests and the arrangements will (continue to) safeguard and promote the child's welfare. Heads of Service will have had oversight and have approved the entry to care, and must also assure themselves, through oversight on a child's case record, that the return home remains appropriate and is progressed within agreed timescales.
There will be situations where such circumstances create concern with respect to the child's vulnerability and where it is appropriate to consider whether the child should have be the subject of a Child Protection Plan (see Child Protection Enquiries (Section 47)) or be a Child In Need (see Child in Need Plans and Reviews).
4.1 Short Term Breaks
The process for ceasing to look after a child should also apply to Short Term Breaks (where the Child is considered to be Accommodated in these circumstances), unless the Child is subject to Regulation 48 (1989 Act, The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010).
In these instances the child will already be a Child in Need and the Children's Services Department and partner agencies will have a considerable level of understanding with respect to the child and the parent or carers with a good level of communication between the practitioners and the family/child.
Nevertheless, the practitioner and team manager should always remain alert and sensitive to changes within the family's circumstances.
(See also: Short Breaks Procedure).
In particular, where children are relinquished at birth, consent for adoption from the birth mother cannot be sought where the child is under 6 weeks of age, unless there is a Placement Order (see Sections 18 – 20 Adoption and Children Act 2002).Therefore, prior to placing a child in an adoptive placement, the child may be placed in a fostering placement under Section 20 Children Act 1989. In these circumstances, consent for the child to be placed for adoption may be withdrawn by the parent and alternative arrangements made for the child (see Family and Friends Care Policy).
Where a parent withdraws consent to the child’s continuing Accommodation (Section 20(8) Children Act 1989), as part of the assessment raised in Section 2.1, Assessment careful consideration should additionally be given to:
- The circumstances with regard to the reasons for the child being relinquished;
- Any previous personal history of the parent or family;
- The period of time elapsed between the child being relinquished and the parent's change of mind; and,
- The reasons for the parent's change of mind;
- The contact / interest expressed by the parent during their separation;
- Issues of bonding by the parent;
- Preparation for caring for the child;
- Proposed caring environment / home circumstances and support for the parent.
This list is not exhaustive and the information provided as part of the Accommodation and relinquishing procedure will be key in identifying whether safeguarding processes should be invoked.
The social worker and team manager should determine whether the child should be considered as a Child In Need (if the child has been accommodated for fewer than 20 days), but irrespective of this, there should be clear communication and liaison with GP and health visiting services in respect of the circumstances of the child.
5. Administration / Process Issues
As with all changing circumstances, the practitioner should:
- Ensure that a Child in Need Plan is drawn up and distributed to all relevant professionals/agencies involved;
- Establish a Working Agreement with the Parent or Carer where relevant;
- Ensure the child is appropriately supported through the transitional phase, including any emotional support, ensuring belongings, mementos, information and other discussions with the parent or carer;
- Ensure that the parent or carer is appropriately supported through the transitional phase;
- Where education has been an issue for a child or young person, and they have necessarily had to change school, ensure their transition back to their education setting is supported by the setting, the family and promoted with the child or young person;
- Ensure that all partner agencies are made aware of the change of legal status of the child, particularly the school or nursery, the Health Visitor and GP;
- Where the placement has been out of the local authority, the local authority where the child was placed should be informed of the move of the child;
- Where there has been another Integrated Care Board (ICB) involved the ICB should be promptly advised of the child's move so that the medical documents can be transferred. The Child's home ICB should also be informed of the change so that the child's Health Plan can be progressed without delay;
- Ensure that the Placement Team is informed, and where the provider is an independent provider, that notice is given as soon as possible and within the commissioning/contractual arrangements;
- Inform the IRO;
- Ensure that the electronic record is updated to amend the status and address details etc.
- Ensure that School and Health records are effectively transferred (where appropriate) to support a smooth transition of information.