This policy which describes important principles concerning permanence and outlines options for securing permanence has been reviewed locally and rewritten In November 2015. The overall aim of the policy is to assist decision making by outlining these options and the key factors that should influence planning for individual children.
- Defining Permanence
- Policy Statement
- Forms of Permanence
- Key Issues in Permanence Planning
- Supporting Permanence
- Achieving and Supporting Permanence - a Pro-Active Care Planning Approach
1. Defining Permanence
- Permanence is a framework of emotional, physical and legal conditions that gives a child a sense of security, continuity, commitment and identity;
- The objective of planning for permanence is to ensure that children have a secure, stable and loving family to support them through childhood and beyond;
- The question "how are the child's permanence needs being met?" must be at the core of everything that is done.
Most children and young people in Derby live happy lives with little or no support or intervention from the Children & Young People's Department (CYPD). A significant number are helped through difficult times, or with their continuing needs, as a means of supporting their families to bring them up. However, for a small number of children it will be necessary to protect and safeguard their wellbeing and welfare. In these circumstances the CYPD takes a more active role in planning their lives.
In general, it is better for children and young people to be brought up in families, not least because this gives them experience upon which to draw when they become parents themselves and enables them to develop a good sense of their own identities. We will aim, wherever possible, to secure placements for children and young people within families, though sometimes their individual needs will mean another form of placement is more appropriate (e.g. residential care).
This policy describes important principles concerning permanence (See Section 3, Policy statement) and outlines options for securing permanence (See Section 4, Forms of Permanence). The importance of recruiting and assessing carers is highlighted (See Section 6, Supporting Permanence) along with some of the key considerations underpinning active and effective planning for 'permanence' (See Section 6, Supporting Permanence) and the importance of on-going support (See, Section 7, Achieving and Supporting Permanence - a Pro-Active Care Planning Approach). Each approach has its own merits and will be applicable in different circumstances. The overall aim of the policy is to assist decision making by outlining these options and the key factors that should influence planning for individual children. This policy should be used in conjunction with the Council's more detailed specific policies, guidance and procedures which underpin this document.
3. Policy Statement
In planning for permanence we will:
- Ensure that the lifelong welfare of the child or young person is always its paramount consideration;
- Wherever possible, support children and young people to live with their own parent/s or wider family. Signs of Safety methodology will be applied rigorously as a tool to enable this approach;
- Always seek a secure and permanent alternative, and pursue adoption as a preferred legal solution for all children who require a permanent safeguarding response;
- Respond positively to carers of all backgrounds, cultures, religions, sexuality and marital status to provide maximum opportunity for children and young people;
- Support children and carers before and after the permanent arrangement has been established to maximise the long-term benefits;
- Ensure all decisions relating to children living permanently away from their family will have lifelong significance. Therefore, skilled, detailed assessments, analysis and decision making will be undertaken with great care. Staff of appropriate seniority will manage these processes; and
- Ensure Independent Reviewing Officers take a proactive lead role in expediting permanence plans in a timely and child focused way.
4. Forms of Permanence
There are a range of permanent outcomes for children and young people. Choosing the 'right' option will be informed by the specific needs of the individual child, within the principles set out in this policy and the processes and decision making mechanisms outlined within operational procedures.
Permanence Options for Children
4.1 Remaining at Home
The first aim is always to support children to remain with their families as this offers the best way to secure their long term stability and permanence. Research evidence indicates that 'preservation' has a higher rate of success than 'reunification' so the emphasis is to work with families to keep them together (taking account of any risk of significant harm). This is particularly relevant for disabled children and those with complex needs where on-going or intermittent practical and financial support may be required to sustain a child remaining within the family.
In some situations where the home situation has been considered unsafe such that pre-proceedings or care proceedings have been initiated, some children may still live at home through a 'parental placement contract'. This outlines the changes necessary to ensure that the child can safely remain with their family and is carefully monitored to ensure risks are managed. If it is successful, the need for court proceedings will be prevented or care orders can be discharged and the level of intervention reduced.
Where a child has to live separately from their parents the preferred option is, to return children to a birth parent, though it is important to balance the time this might take to achieve with the child's needs for security and stability.
Where there are significant safeguarding concerns it is essential that wider family are engaged through family meetings to enable the extended family to carefully consider how it could care on a temporary (or permanent basis) for a child at risk.Key Practice Point
Assessing social workers from the earliest point of involvement with a family must collate detailed information about the extended family. This should include a genogram of at least 3 generations. This enables professionals to be aware of what alternative options may be available for a child from the earliest point and most importantly, starts to collate information about a child's birth history which will be helpful for those children who do eventually live away from their family on a permanent basis to understand and develop their sense of identity. This type of information should always be gathered in detail as part of a core assessment.
4.2 Extended Family
When it is not possible for a child to return to their birth family then the possibility of securing the child's permanence within their extended family will be comprehensively explored at the earliest stage. Research indicates that this would be a preferred option for many children and is likely to be more successful than living permanently with 'strangers'.
Identification of potential family carers is essential at a very early stage. Where there are concerns that a child may not be able to continue living with parent/s then early contact with the family can identify family members interested in supporting the child's parents in a range of ways, which may include permanent care for the child. This could avoid the necessity of a child coming into 'care' and these new arrangements can be secured legally through a Residence Order, Special Guardianship Order or, more rarely through an Adoption Order. Where care proceedings are already underway, these orders can be secured as alternatives.
The fostering team will always assist social workers to explore the use of extended family as permanent carers and on which legal route to pursue. Where a child is looked after these carers need to be approved as Connected Person foster carers through the Fostering Panel process. The Panel will need to be satisfied that all proposed Connected Persons are able to provide safe and effective care throughout all stages of childhood.Key Practice Point
Fostering social workers should always be involved from the earliest point to offer advice to the assessing social worker and potential carers to help consider the most appropriate form of permanence and the range of support available.
4.3 Fostering for Adoption
In some cases there may be strong indications at the point the child becomes looked after, or soon afterward, that the most likely outcome for the child is adoption. In such circumstances consideration should always be given to the appropriateness of placing with approved adopters on a fostering basis. Carers willing to take a child on this basis must be made aware that there is no guarantee that the placement will proceed to adoption.
Circumstances where a child who could be especially suitable for Fostering for Adoption are:
- Where the child is the sibling of a child who has already had permanency outside the family agreed through the courts and the evidence suggests there have been no changes to the family circumstances;
- Where this is the first child of the family, but there are strong indications that the birth family will be unable or unwilling to meet the child's needs;
- Where the parents are requesting that the child be placed for adoption but there are indications that they will not give formal consent; and
- If the child is already in foster care and has a plan for adoption but proceedings are on-going and the child has to move prior to proceedings being concluded.
Adoption should be the primary consideration for every child who cannot live with their birth parent or extended family. Research indicates that adoption is more successful in securing a child's permanence than long term fostering. It is the only route which secures permanence for life – all other options are age limited. The National Adoption Standards for England (2011) state that "all children whose birth family cannot provide them with a secure, stable and permanent home are entitled to have adoption considered for them". The Adoption and Children Act (ACA) 2002 defines clearly how adoption is intended to be used for children who have been looked after and recognises that for some a considerable package of support will be needed either in the short or longer term.
4.5 Special Guardianship
Special Guardianship was introduced within the Adoption & Children Act 2002and is intended to provide permanence for children where adoption is not seen as appropriate. As with the holders of Child Arrangement Orders, Special Guardians obtain parental responsibility for the child whilst parents/others already holding it continue to do so. However a Special Guardianship Order makes a child's care arrangements more legally secure than a Child Arrangement Order whilst enabling him/her to maintain stronger links with their birth families than if they were adopted. Where an SGO is in place, the Local Authority has no parental responsibility. Special Guardianship is principally intended for use by extended family members, those within any wider kinship network and for current foster carers who would wish to offer a permanent home. They last until the child is 18. Special Guardians can apply for on-going or one-off financial support (means tested) and at any stage request an assessment of need. The Council has a duty to undertake this where the child has previously been looked after or if the child were not cared for by the Special Guardians, she/he would have to be looked after.
4.6 Child Arrangement Orders
Child Arrangement Orders (formally known as Residence Orders) ere introduced by Section 8, Children Act 1989 to encompass situations where a person gains legal 'custody' of a child. As such they can be used to secure legal permanence for a child with their extended family, others within their kinship network or their current foster carers where any one of these has been identified as the preferred option. The order gives parental responsibility (PR) to the person who obtains the order, but does not take it away from parents or others who already have it.
Where a Child Arrangement Order is in place, the Local Authority has no parental responsibility.
The order means that the child does not need to be looked after by the Council, but also that parents and others originally holding PR continue to have a role and are likely to have on-going face to face contact.
Where a Child Arrangement Order is made because a child might otherwise have been looked after by the Council or where existing foster parents obtain one, the Council may pay a Child Arrangement Order Allowance. This is always means tested (See Section 6, Supporting Permanence).
4.7 Permanent Foster Care
Permanent foster care is different from a foster placement that lasts a long time. It is ensuring, through a careful matching process, that the right family is identified and supported to care for a child through childhood and into young adulthood until the child becomes 18.
For all types of carer the Council must assess, train, approve, supervise and support carers and they must be annually reviewed against Fostering National Minimum Standards. All potential foster carers have to be recommended by a statutory panel, legally constituted with a proportion of independent members and approved by the Agency Decision Maker.
Where a relative or family friend (kinship carer) does not come forward to permanently care for a child the process of "family finding" needs to be undertaken. This is a joint activity between those professionals responsible for the child and those responsible for assessing and approving carers. All proposed matches of a child with a permanent foster carer need to be recommended by Fostering Panel and approved by the Agency Decision Maker.
As well as providing training and support to carers children also need to be prepared for a new family. This will always include help in understanding and collecting information about their "life story" and may involve some therapeutic work in helping to deal with the loss of their birth family and enabling a child to accept a new family. This work may need to be reinforced post placement from time to time.
5. Key issues in Permanence Planning
Within permanence planning there are a range of issues relating to each individual child that must always be taken into account; both in determining what form of permanence is most appropriate and achievable and in determining levels and types of support needed. These issues include the need for long term stability, the age, ethnicity, health and well-being and educational needs of the child, relationships with their family, including any siblings also requiring placement, and contact.
5.1 Long Term Stability
The overriding purpose of securing permanence for all children looked after is to provide them with long term stability. For all children where this cannot be provided within their birth family the alternative forms of permanence as described above will be considered.
Each of these options; adoption; Special Guardianship; Child Arrangements Order and permanent fostering (with both mainstream and connected person foster carers) are intended to provide long term stability. However, the differing legislation means that the parameters for securing this are different.
Adoption offers full legal security for children who need to be placed away from their wider birth family by giving full legal responsibility for a child to the adoptive parents and removing Parental Responsibility from birth parents or others who previously held it. Research shows that disruptions in adoption are less common than in long-term fostering.
Where adoption is not appropriate the other options that give some legal security to the carers i.e. Special Guardianship Orders and Child Arrangements Orders should always be fully considered. Where children are able to live permanently within their extended family (i.e. Connected Person foster placement) consideration should always be given from the outset on how to legally secure this as an alternative to a child being looked after.
Securing legal permanence with a temporary foster carer (mainstream or connected person) can be a two stage process whereby the child remains looked after and the carers approved as permanent for a specified period of enhanced support; with a view to this reducing over time and securing a legal order at the appropriate point.
The aim for all babies and very young children who cannot live with their birth family or under kinship arrangements within their extended family should be adoption. For older children there is no automatic cut off point beyond which adoption will not be considered. However other factors may indicate that an alternative form of permanence may be more suitable. These include:
- How long the child has lived with, and their attachment to, their birth family (including less positive forms of attachment). Adoption has the status of confirming belonging for life and some older children may not be able to accept a sense of belonging to another family to the exclusions of their birth family. Special Guardianship Orders or Residence Orders might be suitable alternatives;
- The child's own wishes and feelings;
- The level of contact with the birth family and the form it would take (e.g. direct contact). Special Guardianship Orders and Residence Orders would be an alternative;
- The complexity and range of needs of the child and what is realistic for a substitute family to undertake without continuing to formally share PR with the Council -permanent fostering might be a suitable alternative;
- A shortfall of prospective adopters interested in adopting older children.
When looking for an alternative family for a child from a black or dual heritage background, the preferred option should always be to find a family of the same ethnicity who can most readily meet the child's cultural and religious needs as well as their wider care and developmental needs. However where such a family cannot be identified it is important to consider how long it is realistic to keep looking solely for a family of the same background and at what point a transracial arrangement might be considered, with a family with high levels of understanding, experience and acceptance of multi-cultural issues. When a culturally matched adopter is not available within the Council's own resources, from other Councils or the voluntary sector, then a transracial adoption should be promoted rather than delay adoption being achieved.
5.4 Health and Disability
It is harder to find any type of secure permanence for children with complex needs and for some younger children where a clear medical prognosis is not available. Some take the view that permanent fostering is more achievable than adoption for children with on-going chronic ill health or disability because it ensures a high level of continuing support. However this does not mean that secure adoptive families will not be sought in these circumstances. The Council will be proactive in its efforts to recruit adopters for children with a wide range and level of needs. The family finding task will require a high quality assessment of needs and an outline commitment to what support will be available in order to attract suitable adopters. It is important to consider all legal options in parallel rather than sequentially.
With very young children there will be a limited range of information relating to both a child's actual or potential ability to learn and achieve. Therefore the emphasis within assessments of potential carers is on finding families who are both willing and able to promote a child's education and learning opportunities and, where appropriate, to be accepting of the possibility of a child not having high academic potential.
All looked after children may have additional educational needs as their life experiences are likely to have disrupted their learning. Additional attention, sensitively provided, can help children achieve to their true potential. All looked after children of school age have a personal education plan (PEP) drawn up between the child/ young person, carers, social worker, school and education staff to plan such support
Children's social workers are responsible for ensuring that all relevant information regarding a child's learning needs and experiences of school are shared with prospective families prior to placement. Wherever possible families should have the opportunity to discuss a child's needs with the lead professional in this area, whether this be a teacher, educational psychologist or other to advocate on behalf of a child placed with them.
Whether or not to place siblings together is a complex matter with no 'right' answer, but this requires the careful balancing of factors individual to each child. In general, siblings should be placed together unless there are strong reasons why this is not in their individual or collective best interests.
Issues to consider include:
- The level and complexity of each individual child's needs;
- The sibling group's history when in their own birth family and the roles they took on e.g. parental, protective, abusive, collusive, scapegoat;
- The extent that any siblings may have learnt "perpetrator" behaviours;
- The relationships between siblings and in larger groups the implications of some being placed together and others separately;
- The likelihood of finding a family willing and able to take on sibling groups where there is a range of differing needs;
- In larger sibling groups, several children of a similar age, potentially presenting similar challenges simultaneously may also indicate that placing together is not realistic.
Such difficult decisions require a skilled and trained workforce and Derby City Council will support its social workers to develop these skills. Before making a decision to split a sibling group a 'Together or Apart' Assessment should always be completed. In exceptional circumstances an expert independent assessment to advise on placing together or not should be sought. Where a decision is reached that siblings should be placed separately research has indicated that good quality contact can be a very positive alternative to living together.
5.7 Contact within Adoption
- Sibling Contact
Where siblings are not being placed together then careful consideration of the level, type and purpose of contact is essential. Where some siblings may not be being placed for adoption and will continue to have direct contact with birth or extended family, or where arrangements are different from siblings being adopted, the potential implications of this differential must be carefully weighed up.
Where siblings are placed with different adopters then very careful preparation with their new families needs to start from the outset (pre-match) to ensure adopters understand and are willing to facilitate good quality contact that will meet the needs of their children. This needs to be a 'must do' when prospective adopters are being considered. For larger sibling groups this may include meeting up in pairs or small sibling groups as well as all together.
As well as meeting up to have a good time together the main purpose of the sibling contacts is to ensure strong bonds are developed/maintained that will last into adulthood. Where there are differing views amongst a sibling group about levels of contact it is important to consider other ways to "keep the door open". This could include sending video or e-mails and using social networking media as well as the more common form of letters and cards.
In some sibling situations children may need a more "therapeutic" form of contact to share thoughts and fears about their histories and memories and find reassurance that each other is okay.
- Birth Parent Contact
Birth parent contact can take the form of indirect contact, known as Letterbox Contact or direct, face to face contact. Within adoption it is not common for direct contact to be established from the outset and most adopters find the thought of this very challenging. However, consideration about any contact must always be child focused and adopters encouraged to work with such plans where appropriate. Where face to face contact is envisaged adopters must always have full information and retain control over the process.
Key Practice Point
Effective awareness raising and training on the benefits of promoting a healthy understanding of a child's history and on-going contact must be part of the assessment process for every prospective adopter. Assessing social workers can find ways to help adopters to recognise and appreciate the potential benefits when handled well. This is increasingly the case with the development of social networking websites which means that adopted children find their own way back into contact with their birth family. It is always better to discuss this and how to manage it including considering on-going direct contact throughout for some children from the outset. Wherever indirect contact is established this may be used to sow seeds for direct contact later on as and when a child chooses (as a teenager for example) and it is judged as safe to pursue.
- Contact with wider family e.g. Grandparents
Indirect contact can easily be arranged through the letterbox process where direct contact is considered inappropriate. Planning should consider what contact/relationships the grandparents (or other relatives) have with birth parents and an assessment of their ability not to reveal information about or to the children that could expose them or the adoptive family to any risk from the birth parents. Where a parent has a history of being parented poorly it cannot be assumed grandparents should not have direct contact, however their ability to understand and respond to the child's needs should be carefully assessed.
5.8 Contact within Permanent Fostering
The reasons for considering permanent fostering as preferable to adoption is largely related to an older child who is attached to his/her birth family. It is therefore anticipated that face to face contact with that family, be it parents, grandparents, siblings or others, is more likely to take place on a regular basis. The Council will continue to share parental responsibility with birthparents and will be actively involved in promoting safe and positive contact. This will be monitored through the statutory review process. Some children subject to Care Orders may have their contact arrangements with family members stipulated in a Court Order. Where this is the case, the arrangements cannot be changed (without all party agreement) without reference to the court.
Permanent foster carers will be trained and supported in helping children and young people to experience contact positively and to voice their wishes and feelings about contact. The frequency of contact must be balanced against the needs and wishes of the child, the wishes of family members, and the impact of contact on the child and on the foster family.
5.9 Contact in Child Arrangements and Special Guardianship Orders
Any contact between a child and his/her family under these orders will usually be initially agreed as part of a care plan put before the Court and thereafter managed by the holder of the Child Arrangement Order or Special Guardianship Order. Special Guardians can ask for an assessment of need by the Council which could include the need for advice/assistance regarding contact.
6. Supporting Permanence
All forms of permanence require support to ensure they are effective and long lasting. This may involve the establishment of informal support mechanisms.
(For example drawing in other family members to support a kinship arrangement) or require longer term practical or financial support.
6.1 Range of support services
The Council, in partnership with other agencies, provides a range of family support services to enable children to live safely within their own families. Where a child cannot live either temporarily or permanently with birth parents then their family and friends network are often best placed to provide care.
The Council will undertake assessments and provide support to secure, permanent legal arrangements for the most appropriate form of 'kinship' care.
Wherever possible the Council will endeavour to achieve this without the need for the child to become looked after.
Where there is a plan to secure a looked after child's permanence by a
Child Arrangement Order or Special Guardianship Order the Council will assess prospective carers. It will provide a report to the court stating whether it is in agreement with the proposal and specifying how any support needs will be met. All Special Guardians of children previously looked after can also apply for an assessment of needs at any later point. Any request for provision of such support will be prioritised against available resources.
For all adopters of looked after children the Council will assess the needs of both the child being placed and the adopters and their family. It will draw up an adoption support plan to be considered by the Adoption Panel when the match is being proposed. Additionally adoption support can include a financial element which is not decided by the panel. It is always means tested and certain eligibility criteria applied (see 5.2, Age).
Where appropriate adoption support should be a multi-agency plan. Where additional needs arise at any future point the Council can be asked to re-assess and may provide additional resources.
The range of support available within adoption varies according to levels of need. All adopters are offered access to informal support that includes regular newsletters, local support groups, family days and access to training opportunities. Where there are very complex needs services provided could include access to a range of therapeutic interventions including, play therapy, psychology and family therapy as well as social work support.
6.2 Financial support for Adoption, Special Guardianship and Child Arrangement Orders
The legislation within the Adoption and Children Act 2002 allows Councils to take on a more flexible approach to providing financial support in adoption and Special Guardianship situations. This means that adopters and Special Guardians can apply for an assessment of need, which may include financial need, at any point pre- or post-order. The allocation of any on-going allowance will always be subject to a means test.
In Derby both prospective and actual adopters can apply for an on-going allowance which would be means tested. However unless there is evidence that a child has complex needs that are likely to require additional funding throughout childhood the local authority will usually offer one-off or time-limited payments for specific purposes. This might include support with the costs of a therapeutic service at a particular point of difficulty, facilitating direct contact, to allow one adoptive parent to remain at home with a child for an extended settling in period (over and above any statutory entitlement)
Applications for all forms of financial support within adoption will be subject to a financial assessment of the carers and require management approval. The local authority will consider paying on-going allowances to Special Guardians and holders of Child Arrangement Orders, where a child would otherwise have been looked after. These allowances are usually paid until a child is 18 and in some circumstances allowances can continue to an adopted child is 21 if they remain in full time higher education.
Where foster carers become adopters or Special Guardians, the Council will continue to pay fostering allowances and remuneration at the level being received minus any welfare benefits and tax credits received for 2 years. Any further on-going payment will be subject to a means test. All on-going allowances are subject to an annual financial change of circumstances review.
7. Achieving and Supporting Permanence - a Pro-Active Care Planning Approach
It is essential that all staff responsible for achieving permanence plans for children in care are familiar with internal procedures and comply with statutory timescales.
Achieving and supporting permanence for a child in care is an on-going process that needs to be undertaken in a transparent, timely and rigorous way by skilled and experienced social work practitioners.
Good assessments, clear plans, careful decision making and sufficient resources are required in order to meet the long term needs of individual children who cannot live at home.
The procedures describe in detail the relevant timelines with key decision making points and provide good practice guidance on how and when these should be made. They outline key factors that need to be taken into account at each point.
7.1 Sustaining Permanence
A support plan should always be in place at the point that a child is placed with a permanent family. Thereafter the Council has a duty to assess the support needs of adoptive families and Special Guardians, should they request it, and to ensure services are provided as indicated as necessary within the assessment.
Every effort should be made to support placements particularly at difficult stages e.g. education transition points. If there are indications that the placement could disrupt and the child be returned to the care of the local authority then a proactive approach should be taken. There should always be a meeting with key agencies and the family to identify what is required to prevent placement breakdown.