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3.5.1 Contact / Family Time with Parents, Siblings and other Significant Family and Friends

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter applies to arrangements for children looked after 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.

For arrangements for social visits and overnight stays away with friends which staff/carers may agree, see Social Visits (Including Overnight Stays) Procedure.

For guidance regarding frequency of contact within the context of permanence, see Permanence Policy and Guidance.

RELATED CHAPTER

Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure

RELATED GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015)

Please see the Resources and Forms Library for the following related documents:

  • Children’s Centres and Contact / Family Time;
  • Babies in Contact / Family Time Guidance;
  • Referral Information Required by Contact Centre;
  • Guidance for Assessment of Contact / Family Time Arrangements (triangle);
  • Sample Risk Assessment Template for Contact / Family Time;
  • Sample Written Agreement Template for Contact;
  • Preparation Guidance for Contact Supervisors;
  • Recording Template for Contact / Family Time;
  • Contact Recording Guidance - Babies and Infants;
  • Contact Recording Guidance - Primary School Age Children;
  • Contact Recording Guidance - Teenagers;
  • Foster Carer Handbook (particularly in reference to Fostering Policy Fact: Section 16).

AMENDMENT

This guidance was re-written in December 2016 and should be re-read in full. Please see the Resources and Forms Library for associated guidance and templates.


Contents

  1. Terminology and What Children and Young People Tell Us About Contact
  2. Principles
  3. Approving and Planning Contact
  4. Different Types of Contact
  5. Babies and Contact
  6. Contact with Brothers and Sisters
  7. Unsupervised, Facilitated or Supervised Contact
  8. Assessment of Contact / Family Time Arrangements
  9. What Information is Required for the Interim Care Plan, the Placement Plan, the Looked After Child Review and the Final Care Plan?
  10. Review of Contact Arrangements
  11. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Contact
  12. Recording of Contact


1. Terminology and What Children and Young People Tell Us About Contact

Looked after children and care leavers in Leeds have differing views about the language used when discussing contact, depending on their circumstances. They thought that the options ‘Contact’, ‘Family Time’, ‘Contact with family’ and ‘Family time with birth family’ could all be used depending on the child or young person’s situation.

The children and young people consulted also thought that what was most important was that the child or young person was asked what term they would prefer to be used as every child and young person’s situation is different. They felt it was more likely that a younger child would prefer staff to use the term family time / family time with birth family than contact – but the child should decide.

Throughout this chapter, the terms Contact and Contact / Family Time will be used and Social Workers and carers should consider carefully the language used with children to normalise the time they go and visit family and friends who are important to them.

When asked what changes they would like to make to being in care in Leeds the majority of children and young people said they either wanted to be back at home or see their family more often (siblings, parents, grandparents and others).

Many children and young people said they wanted to maintain relationships and keep ‘memories alive’. Some said relationships had deteriorated due to infrequent contact / family time. The majority of those asked said they wanted more face to face contact but some said they wanted to speak more on the phone. Some children and young people felt that their expectations of regular contact were not being met and that arranging for them to see their family does not always feel like it is prioritised.

Our aim is that practice about contact / family time changes to reflect the wishes and views of children and young people. To support this we have developed a set of principles to inform our practice.


2. Principles

The following set of principles should inform practice when assessing, planning for, arranging and reviewing contact arrangements:

  • There is a presumption of contact between children who are looked after and their parents, sisters and brothers, any relative, friend or other person connected with the child unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child’s welfare;
  • Contact with significant people may have been lost and consideration should be given as to how this can be re-established;
  • Where children have moved on from care givers, contact should be maintained unless this is not in the child’s interests. Sometimes, following an unplanned ending feelings are high and it is important that children and young people have an opportunity to repair damaged relationships and contact should always be considered to say goodbyes and to give the opportunity for future ongoing relationships;
  • Contact must always be for the benefit of the child and not the parent/relative or friend;
  • Contact should only be supervised where it is necessary to ensure children are safeguarded and their welfare promoted;
  • Where contact needs to be supervised then this is better if it can be undertaken by someone familiar to the child, an extended family member, friend or a key worker / care giver wherever possible;
  • The role of the foster carer in contact should be carefully considered in the planning stages of contact. All Foster Carers/ caregivers have a role to play in contact/family time. Wherever possible Foster Carers should transport and support with contact/family time arrangements, including supervision of contact/family time. This should be arranged in a planned way in consultation with the Supervising Social Worker and allocated Social Worker for the child(ren);
  • Any transport arrangements should allow plenty of time for the child or young person to enable them to arrive on time and feeling as relaxed as possible and so that the time with their family is not reduced because of transport getting them there late. Equally, any travel arrangements made for the journey back should allow the full time for contact. If transport arrives before the end of the session, there should not be the expectation that the child or young person will leave earlier than planned;
  • Contact should take place in venues that are appropriate for children and young people; given their ages and who they are meeting up with. An office building is not usually a good place to have a contact experience;
  • Contact should be fun and enjoyable for children and young people but not necessarily costly. Consideration should be given to spending money wisely. Where there are discounts on activities and locations available for contact, these should be utilised wherever possible. The allocated social worker should notify Placement Service Admin Inbox of child(ren) being placed in foster carer in order to apply for a Max Card. A Max Card can be used for discounted attractions in Leeds for activity sessions;
  • The assessment about contact / family time and the subsequent arrangements will take into consideration the ethnicity, culture and language needs (including those where English is not their first language) of children, young people and their families. Where contact / family time is to be supervised, the assessment should consider if the use of interpreters is required;
  • Children and young people have a choice about who they wish to see and have the right to change their minds about this over time;
  • Maintaining contact with sisters and brothers from both the same or different parents is reported by children to be one of their highest priorities and every effort must be made to ensure this is supported;
  • Leeds is committed to restorative (or relational) practice. Having contact with family members is consistent with our restorative principles and contact should be undertaken in line with this approach;
  • The Family Group Conference as a decision making forum can be helpful in agreeing a plan for supporting contact;
  • Contact should not be seen as a reward or punishment and should be a child’s right to have contact, unless this is not in the best interest of the child;
  • Contact should be reviewed regularly to ensure that this continues to meet children’s needs.


3. Approving and Planning Contact

Contact should be in a manner consistent with the child’s Care Plan; which, itself, must take account of any Child Protection Plan or Contact Order that may be in force.

The purpose of the contact and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the Plan. Contact arrangements should be focused on, and shaped around, the child’s needs.

The child’s welfare is the paramount consideration at all times and each child’s wishes and needs for contact should be individually considered using advocacy and communication services, if necessary. Contact can be very important in helping children develop their sense of identity and understand their lives.

The wishes and feelings of parents and the child’s care givers must be ascertained before a decision about contact arrangements is made or as far as it is reasonably practicable to do so.

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 reviewed.

Where a Children’s Centre is being considered as a possible venue for contact / family time, please look at the Children’s Centres and Contact / Family Time – Guidance. Where it is proving difficult to identify a suitable venue for contact, the Contact Coordinator should be consulted.

Where contact is extended as part of a plan to gradually return the child to the parents’ care, the Placement with Parents Procedure should be followed.

Any contact with someone who has perpetrated domestic abuse or violence must be fully assessed, putting the child’s safety and interest first, above any ‘pro-contact’ approach from the adult’s perspective. Children and women can continue to be abused within a contact arrangement whether the family are living together or not. Particular care must be given at times of separation and loss for perpetrators where risk might be heightened. It may be necessary to undertake a separate ‘person posing a risk’ assessment to inform contact (as well as care) decisions.


4. Different Types of Contact

Face to face meetings and visits (direct contact) will generally be the best way of maintaining relationships, but other means such as letters, phone calls, photograph exchanges etc. (indirect contact) should be borne in mind.

Social Workers and care givers should work together to explore how electronic media can support positive relationships for children and young people. This could include the use of social media mechanisms such as Skype or FaceTime. Children should be supported to ensure they are safe online rather than this form of contact being avoided.


5. Babies and Contact

When assessing contact / family time where babies are concerned, refer to the Babies in Contact – Guidance document.


6. Contact with Brothers and Sisters

The relationship between brothers and sisters is possibly the longest relationship that many people will have in their lives, often outlasting the relationship one has with parents, partners or friends. For this reason a strong sibling bond can be a vital support throughout life and for looked after children this kind of stability is especially important in a world where so much is out of their control.

Children of different ages can have siblings who remain at home or who are spread across multiple care placements or adopted separately. Every situation is unique, and there are numerous circumstances that may result in brothers and sisters not living together. Children should not have to experience yet another loss; by ensuring siblings have regular, high quality contact allows them to develop and maintain a healthy relationship with one another. Where children are placed with separate care givers, care givers would be supported to arrange regular contact between them. This could be visiting each other’s houses for tea or both households taking a trip to the park. These sessions should be normal everyday activities that do not require a significant cost.

Family time with birth parents or between brothers and sisters does not always have to take place with everyone attending together. Sometimes, individual contact between a child and a parent can help develop and improve relationships and a contact arrangements that may be right for one child, may not meet the needs of another, and it is therefore important to look at the individual needs of children and make an informed decision based on a clear assessment of the child’s needs and relationships with siblings and parents.

Looked after children talk about the over supervision of contact with their brothers and sisters and Social Workers need to be mindful of this. Contact between siblings needs to be assessed and appropriate levels of support or supervision put in place if required, depending on the ages and circumstances of the children.


7. Unsupervised, Facilitated or Supervised Contact

Contact/family time will be unsupervised, facilitated or supervised.

Unsupervised contact means that the contact takes place with no-one else there with a specific role to facilitate, support or supervise the contact.

Facilitated contact is where some support is provided for the contact such as a room in a Contact Centre or a Children’s Centre; and where possible, staff might greet everyone beforehand and pop in to ask if anything is needed. For Children’s Centres, this would need to have been agreed with the setting prior to arranging the booking of the room.

Supervised contact involves someone allocated to be present throughout the whole session and a written record is kept.

The Social Worker should consider whether contact will need to be supervised as part of the assessment and planning process by the Social Worker and their Team Manager. 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.

When making a referral for supervised contact / family time, the Social Worker should get in touch with the relevant area Contact Centre. The Social Worker should have the information required ready to communicate. This is set out on the Referral Information required by Contact Centre document.


8. Assessment of Contact / Family Time Arrangements

When making an assessment for contact, the Guidance for Assessment of Contact / Family Time Arrangements (triangle) document may be used. This guidance document provides detail about what to be considered about the needs and views of the Children and Young People; the impact of parents and other visiting adults; and other factors. The primary focus of the assessment of this issue will be the safety and welfare of the child. A decision needs to be made, based on an assessment, as to whether any support or supervision of family time is required.

Where supervised 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 contacts begin. A sample Risk Assessment for Contact/ Family Time template is available and this may be tailored for individual use.

This risk 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, carer givers, 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. Parent is threatening or emotionally abusive in their discourse with the child;
  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 Contact / Family Time Agreement with the parents and other 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, care givers and workers: 

  • The agreement should be clear about where the 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 are ended. It is probably best that all ‘goodbyes’ take place indoors with the visitors asked to leave before children to their placements;
  • Significant changes to Care Plans, Court proceedings and/or decisions made about the frequency of future contact are all likely to be potential tension points so extra vigilance should apply at any contacts arranged around these times.

Social Workers must make sure that locations chosen for contact can accommodate any conditions agreed. Social Workers should try to ensure that locations for contact have appropriate space and age appropriate toys and equipment.

In more risky situations, those organising and supervising contact might want to choose locations where early and easy contact can be made with other parties or agencies such as the Police. In some cases prior contact with the Police should agree prearranged responses in the event of problems emerging

The staff and care givers and any other person involved in the supervision of the contact should have copies of the written agreement and sometimes the risk assessment.

Careful consideration should be given to whether family or known persons should be identified as the contact supervisor. This is especially the case when the plan is to place the child within the family. What would need to be considered is whether this arrangement would place too much pressure on the placement and whether the contact / family time would have sufficient structure for the child and parents.

Contact supervisors should read the Preparation Guidance for Contact / Family Time Supervisors before carrying out contact.

Where possible, those supervising and or transporting the child to the contact should be known to the child and the family before the supervised contact takes place. This person should be the care giver or Foster Carer wherever possible.

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

The Supervisor should be proactive in stepping in to offer advice or support during contact where this is required due to the quality of the contact / family time that is taking place.

The supervisor must immediately report to the Social Worker any concerns or positive observations about the parents’ conduct during the contact. The Social Worker in consultation with his/her manager should consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or the contact arrangements in light of the concerns expressed.


9. What Information is Required for the Interim Care Plan, the Placement Plan, the Looked After Child Review and the Final Care Plan?

Interim Care Plan
The proposed contact arrangements only should be included in the Interim Care Plan.

Placement Plan
The proposed contact arrangements only should be included in the Placement Plan.

Looked After Child Review
By the time of the first looked after child review, assessment and analysis for contact must be carried out. The prompts for assessment and analysis are set out in the Assessment for Contact / Family Time document and should be included in the ‘Care Plan/Social Worker Report for a Review’ document on Mosaic in the ‘Review of Contact / Family Time arrangements’ box.

Final Care Plan
The proposed contact arrangements should be included in the Final Care Plan.

Any detail relating to the assessment and analysis for contact should be included in the Final Statement. This might be the Social Work Evidence Template (SWET) – Final Statement.


10. Review of Contact Arrangements

The social worker and their Team Manager should keep 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 six months, or sooner, if any incident or report identifies concerns.

Any significant reactions that the child has to contact should be reported to the child's Social Worker by those observing contact arrangements, for example foster carers, residential staff 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.


11. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Contact

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 or the child is not wishing to attend. Contact should take place in accordance with the child’s Placement Plan, Court Order and any Court Directions.

Sometimes some Foster Carers and Social Workers think that because contact can upset a particular child or young person, they feel that they should reduce it or cancel it altogether; yet many times the child or young person would like contact to continue regardless. In each case, the child or young person should be consulted before any decision like this is made that affects them.

Wherever possible, the care giver should consult the child’s Social Worker in advance if they consider there is a good reason to cancel the contact. 

If contact is cancelled, the Social Worker or, if the Social Worker is not available, the care giver must ensure that the child and, as far as practicable, the parent or other adult is informed in advance and that the reason for the decision is explained. The Social Worker or staff/care giver should arrange an alternative contact if appropriate; if the child is not wishing to attend another session will not be rearranged.

If contact does not take place and consultation has not been possible with the Social Worker, the care giver must inform the child’s Social Worker as soon as possible and confirm in writing the decision to cancel and the reason.

N.B. Contact arrangements must not be withdrawn as a Sanction imposed on a child.

Emergency restrictions on 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.

Any proposal to suspend or terminate the 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 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 OrderInterim Care Order or full Care Order, an application to the Court for authority to terminate the 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 curt 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/carers and other agencies involved with the child’s care must also be informed.


12. Recording of Contact

When should contact be recorded and what is the purpose of recording?

  • Aid decision making in the courts during care proceedings and for other assessments by providing a summary and analysis about the rationale for the Contact / Family Time proposal and explain why the proposal is in the child’s best interest. This kind of recording should entail detailed observations. Under these circumstances, a copy must be provided to the parents;
  • Provide a record for the child or the parent(s) about the time spent together; a record of shared memories.

Where contact is unsupervised or facilitated - a summary of any key observations of the contact experience and any issues arising from it that come to the Social Worker’s attention should be recorded. This might include feedback from care givers about the child’s mood, behaviour and presentation before or following contact.

Who should record contact?

Contact / Family Time should be recorded by the person who is supervising or observing. This may include a social work practitioner, a Contact / Family Time Centre worker, or a care giver.

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

Quality of recording

It is important as with any other recording about a child and their family that the person recording adheres to the following principles:

  • They must be clear about why they are doing it – the purpose;
  • They must be clear about who is going to read it – who is the audience. At a minimum this will be the child and their parent(s) but may also include the Family Court judge and other legal professionals, and other social work practitioners and Team Manager;
  • Language should be accessible and able to be read by the child (and grown up child) and their family;
  • The recording should be clear and concise;
  • The recording should be analytical, not just descriptive;
  • If English is not the first language of someone reading the recording, this must be translated into the relevant language for each person;
  • A strengths based approach should be adopted rather than merely seeking to record deficits - the recording should provide a balance between what was good and what could have been better;
  • The parents are informed that the Contact / Family Time is being recorded;
  • The parents have a right to have a copy of the recording as soon as it has been written up. This will enable the parent to know what has been recorded and that there would be no surprises about what has been recorded when the information is presented to Court.

Template for recording

All recording must be carried out on the Recording Template for Contact / Family Time. Contact Recording Guidance sheets are also available for supervising and record contact with Infants, Primary school age children and Teenagers.

These practice guidance sheets set out what should be recorded during care proceedings and for assessment and for post proceedings and where contact is unsupervised or facilitated. The recording will include:

  • How the child was before contact - were there any noticeable behavioural changes, concerns or feelings?
  • Whether the contact went as planned, who was involved, timing, place and activities;
  • What happened during contact - greetings, farewells, physical contact, behaviours, tasks, conversations, nonverbal communication, feelings, surprises;
  • What happened after contact - child’s behaviours and feelings;
  • Areas of progress and areas of concern.

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