SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This practice guidance provides detail on the work of the Looked After Children Exit Team who work to support the successful transition of children from the care system to the care of their parents, carers or Connected Persons.
- Purpose of the Team
- Process of Referring Work to the LAC Exit Team
- Assessment Process
- Consultation with Children and Young People
- Team Principles
- Precursors to Placement of a Child in Care with Parents
- Three Stage Process of Reunification
- Unplanned Reunifications
- Prioritising Children and Young People for Reunification
- Placement of a Child in Care with Parents
- Failed Reunions
- Factors which Best Predict Reunification Stability (Farmer et al 2011)
- Dispute Resolution
- Monitoring Team Activity
1. Purpose of the Team
The primary purpose of the team is to support the successful transition of children from the care system to the care of their parents, carers or Connected Persons. This may be achieved in three ways:
- Placement of a voluntarily accommodated child (Section 20) with his/her parent or relative;
- Placement of a Looked After Child with his/ her parent under the 'Placement with Parent Regulations' (see Section 11, Placement of a Child in Care with Parents);
- Assessment leading to a long term foster carer gaining a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order (SGO) for the child.
2. Process of Referring Work to the LAC Exit Team
A referral for an assessment of reunification or notification that a foster carer wishes to apply to the court for a CAO or SGO in respect to a child in their care should be forwarded to the team manager and must include the view of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). Referrals may be made by social workers, IROs, residential care workers, fostering workers, the chair of the accommodation panel or by young people themselves.
3. Assessment Process
On receipt of a referral for an assessment of the viability of reunification, the team manager will consider the referral along with the latest Care Plan and consider the child's Liquid Logic file. If the prospect of reunification appears to be reasonable, the team manager will prioritise the case for allocation for assessment to a LAC Exit team social worker. Assessments of accommodated children should be completed within one month, depending on worker availability but Placement with Parent Assessments for children subject to a Care Order may take longer dependent upon the acquisition of references.
Where the LAC Exit team manager considers the prospect of a successful reunification to be reasonable, an entry under 'management decision' will be made on Liquid Logic, giving anticipated timescales for the assessment and who and when the case will be allocated to. Where the team manager considers the prospect of a successful reunification to be poor, an entry under 'management decision' will be made on Liquid Logic, giving reasons why an assessment will not take place.
Assessments will cease if at any time information becomes available that would deem the prospect of reunification to be poor. The social worker will discuss the termination of the assessment with the manager and write the rationale under 'management decision' in Liquid Logic. A discussion will take place between the assessing social worker and the key social worker about who is the most suitable to inform the child and his/her parent(s).
Assessments will be completed using the Framework for Assessment for Children in Need and their Families (Single Assessment). The reasons for the child being in care will always be included and how parent(s) have addressed anything in their lifestyles which were pivotal in those reasons. Social workers undertaking assessment activity will record this on the child's Liquid Logic file.
On the completion of an assessment which is positive, the child's IRO will be consulted about the proposed change in care plan. A review will be needed if this represents a significant change to the Care Plan. This should be booked at the earliest opportunity so as to not cause delay. The assessing social worker will present their assessment and proposed support plan to the review. Transfer of key social worker will take place following the completion of the single assessment at the discretion of the Exit Team Manager and Referring Team Manager (see Transfer of Cases Protocol).
A child is looked after by a local authority if s/he is in their care by reason of a care order or is being provided with accommodation under Section 20 of the 1989 Act for more than 24 hours with the agreement of the parents, or of the child if s/he is aged 16 or over (Section 22(1) and (2) of the 1989 Act).
Although a Care Order gives the local authority Parental Responsibility for the child, any person who is a parent or guardian also retains their Parental Responsibility and may continue to exercise it to the extent that their actions are not incompatible with the Care Order (as set out in Section 2(8) and Section 33(3)(b) of the 1989 Act).
This protocol relates to both Looked After and Accommodated children.
5. Consultation with Children and Young People
Before making any decision about a Looked After Child returning to their parents, the assessing social worker will ascertain the wishes and feelings of that child in accordance with Section 22 (4) of the Children Act, 1989 and in accordance with Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The social worker will give consideration to those views, having regard to the child's age and understanding.
6. Team Principles
- The safety and welfare of a child will be the prime consideration in any decision to reunify him/her with his/ her parents;
- Time is a crucial element in work with a child and any changes to their living arrangements should not be subject to any unnecessary delay;
- Parents should be expected and enabled to retain their responsibilities and to remain as closely involved as is consistent with their child's welfare (even if that child cannot live at home either temporarily or permanently);
- If a child has to live apart from their family, both they and their parents should be given adequate information and help to consider alternatives and contribute to the making of an informed choice about the most appropriate form of Care Plan;
- Continuity of relationships is important and attachments should be respected, sustained and developed;
- A change of home, carer, social worker or school almost always carries some risk to a child's development and welfare;
- All children need to develop their own identity, including self-confidence and a sense of self-worth;
- Everyone is capable of changing their life styles and adopting new ones which may be compatible with caring for a child even if that child is the subject of a Care Order as a result of suffering Significant Harm.
7. Precursors to Placement of a Child in Care with Parents
A child in long term care will not be reunified with their parents or Connected Person before:
- A full Assessment of their family is completed which concludes that such a placement is compatible with their welfare;
- A plan outlining the support being offered by the local authority and partner agencies has been drawn up in consultation with the child and his/her parents/ proposed carers;
- Arrangements for the child's schooling are in place;
- The child's IRO has been consulted and if required a Looked After Review has been held (see Looked After Reviews Procedure);
- The ADM has agreed to the child being placed with parent if she/he is subject to a Care Order.
8. Three Stage Process of Reunification
Derby will operate a three stage model of reunifying children with their parents.
Stage 1 (4 - 7 weeks)
Assessment and preparation work while the child remains in care. This may include engagement of the social worker with the child and his/her parents to address any ambivalence or barriers to reunification and periods of extended contact. This may be extended to hold a Looked After Review if this is required
Stage 2 (3 - 6 months)
Intensive input to the family immediately following the child's return home. This may involve direct work for up to 15 hours a week. This may include:
- Parenting training;
- Family communication building;
- Teaching/ modelling behaviour management;
- Life skills training;
- Self management skills;
- School interventions;
- Safety planning;
- Advocacy services;
- Engaging children with locality services;
- Discharge of Care Order (this may take longer than 6 months).
Stage 3 (2-4 weeks)
Step down; transfer of child and family to locality services.
9. Unplanned Reunifications
Sometimes older children take it upon themselves to return to their families of origin without the situation being assessed properly. In these situations, children will be supported to remain with their parents if they can be kept safe and there is a reasonable chance of gaining permanence for them. The LAC Exit team will conduct these assessments if they have the capacity to do so otherwise they will be completed by the child's key social worker.
The IRO will need to be informed and a Looked After Review held if this becomes the plan for the child, unless the child is discharged from care.
10. Prioritising Children and Young People for Reunification
The following groups of children will be prioritised for consideration of reunification:
- Children expressing a persistent wish to return home who do not have a plan for adoption;
- Children who do not have a plan for adoption, are not in a stable placement and whose parents are expressing a strong and persistent desire to have them returned to their care;
- Young people in unstable placements who have reasonably positive relationships with their parents;
- Foster carers wishing to obtain a Special Guardianship Order or Child Arrangements Order.
11. Placement of a Child in Care with Parents
The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations, 2010 set out the requirements to be followed when a child subject to a care order is being placed back with a parent (see Placement with Parents Procedure). A child who is Looked After by a local authority but is not in their care is outside the scope of the regulations because s/he is Accommodated by agreement with the parents and if the period of accommodation ends by virtue of the child returning to parents, the child ceases to be looked after by the responsible authority.
The local authority will consider carefully whether a placement in accordance with the 2010 Regulations is the most appropriate way to discharge their responsibilities under Section 22C(2). Where it is decided that such a placement is the most appropriate way to discharge their duty under Section 22, the responsible authority should reconsider whether the Care Order is still required. It may be that the responsible authority and the parent agree that an application to discharge the Care Order is appropriate. But such an agreement must include both the level of support and supervision by the responsible authority and co-operation by the parent, with commitment from all involved to working together in the child's best interests. If such agreement can be reached and the court makes an order to discharge of the Care Order then the child will no longer be looked after and the 2010 Regulations will not apply.
If it appears that a successful application to court could be made to discharge a Care Order at the second Looked After Review post reunification, the LAC Exit Team will continue to hold key worker responsibility, applying to the court for the discharge of the Order. If it is not considered the right time at the second review but the placement with parent is still supported, the case will transfer to the appropriate Locality social care team. This transfer will take place according to the Transfer of Cases Protocol.
12. Failed Reunions
Where a reunification breaks down and there does not appear to be a realistic prospect of it succeeding, the case will transfer back to the Child in Care Service, according to the Transfer of Cases Protocol.
13. Factors which Best Predict Reunification Stability (Farmer et al 2011)
- Child not been physically abused;
- No history of oscillating in and out of care;
- Adequate preparation of child and parents;
- Exceptional support provided by the carers;
- Pressure (indicating motivation) from the parents for child to return;
- Good assessment.
- Changes to the household since the child had lived there;
- Involvement of another agency or professional in the supervision of the child and their family;
- Adequate support;
- No concerns about poor parenting.
14. Dispute Resolution
Where there is disagreement between the LAC Exit Team social worker and the child's Independent Reviewing Officer about the Care Plan changing, the agreed dispute resolution process should be followed (see Dispute Resolution Flowchart).
15. Monitoring Team Activity
The Team Manager will collate data on the activity of the team on the attached form. S/he will provide quarterly performance reports.