Procedure where the Local Authority is Ceasing to Look After a Child
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTERThe 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 promoted. Where a child has been accommodated for 20 days or more, the decision should be made by the Service Director or Director of Children's Services if the child/young person is 16/17 years and has been accommodated under Section 20, before discharge.
Children become accommodated through Section 20 for many different reasons and some are the most vulnerable children. Section 20 can:
- Offer children and families short term support as a result of disability (Short term break);
- Support a family in crisis, as a result of health issues of the carer and where no other family or friend is available;
- Be the first stage for a Relinquished Child – 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 a child where there are concerns of significant Harm as a result of appearing to be "beyond parental control";
- Offer a level of support and care required to an unaccompanied young person from abroad.
When a child is accommodated, timescales should be established at the outset for the length of time the period of 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 working days, and will be key to evaluating the risk, or likelihood of risk, of any significant harm; the needs of the child; further detailed multi-agency work required to support the child and family; together with the timescales for these.
2. Children Accommodated under Section 20
Where a child is accommodated for 20 working days or more, the local authority must carefully consider a request for the child to be discharged from care to ensure they remain safe and their welfare continues to be promoted.Ceasing to look after a child will normally be part of the Care Plan that will fully consider these issues.
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, 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 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 Social Worker 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;
- 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;
- Consideration must also be given to the wider context of the family and environmental factors.
4. 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 Service Director (Children's Services).
Where the child/young person is 16/17 years and has been accommodated under Section 20, discharge from care should not take place until the decision has been approved by the Director of Children's Services.
In making the decision, the Service Director, 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 Children's Services and partner agencies will be effective in supporting the child being safeguarded and promote the child's wellbeing and best interests;
- The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) has been consulted.
5. 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.
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 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 Plan (if one has been established), the parent or carer should be asked to undertake the return in a planned or negotiated way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child, (e.g. contact arrangements to assist the return; individual counselling, etc), and to ensure appropriate support becomes available to them or the child. (Note: a lack of resources should not be a reason for delaying the child returning home).
However, when the local authority receives a request for the child to return home immediately, under Section 20(8) this must be responded to; any delay in so doing may bring severe criticism, and possible financial penalty, from a court.
Nevertheless, where a return to a parent/carer cannot be planned and also raises concern (either because of the circumstances surrounding the original reasons for accommodation or because it does not safeguard or promote the welfare of the child);
- 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 Powers should be invoked;
- The Service Director's agreement should be sought;
- Where a review has been undertaken, the IRO's opinion should be sought;
- A Working Agreement with the parent or carer should be sought;
- Consider whether an urgent request and commissioning of a resource(s) or service for the child or parent /carer support should be sought e.g. Early Support, 'Relate' or Drug/alcohol advisory service etc.;
- Other partner agencies, such as Schools, Education Department and Health should be advised of the change of circumstances;
- A Child in Need Planning Meeting should be promptly arranged.
Consideration may also be given as to whether the parent / carer's actions require the convening of an Initial or, (if the child is already subject to a Child Protection Plan), a Review Child Protection Conference (if the Child Protection Plan does not give such guidance). Please refer to the West Yorkshire Consortium Safeguarding Procedures.
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. These Children are entitled to support in their school or early years setting through the school's Designated Teacher who must have a plan that promotes and monitors their educational attainment.
Where a child who is not already considered to be a Child In Need but ceases to be Looked After and is not already the subject of a Child Protection Plan, they will become a Child In Need.
A Child In Need meeting should be convened wherever possible and appropriate, with 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 successful.
The Plan should:
- Take into account the child's needs;
- Take into account the child's views;
- The parents' capacity to meet the needs of the child;
- The existing family and support network;
- The environmental/community factors – both positive and negative;
- Acknowledge the child's changed legal status;
- Establish other agencies roles and responsibilities with respect to the Plan.
7. Children who are "Eligible Children" – Transition into Adulthood
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 young person has returned to a parent or person with Parental Responsibility;
- Ended after they reached the age of 16 years.
Eligible young people are entitled to the same level of support as every other Looked after Child, during this important part of their development and transition.
In relation to an Eligible young person, 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;
- Where the child is still being Looked After, the allocated Social Worker will carry out the role of the Personal Advisor until a Personal Adviser is allocated when the young person is 17 years old.
8. Assessment of Need
The Assessment underpins the young person's current Care Plan as the starting point for developing the Pathway Plan. The Plan should be in place not more than 3 months after the young person's 16th birthday or after they become eligible, if later than 16 years. It should not require significant additional work if the young person is settled with an up to date Care Plan.
This assessment of needs must take into account the following:
- The wishes and feelings of the young person;
- Their 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, the Social Worker in addition should evaluate and consider, (including the information from above), the degree to which the young person is able to live independently and the need for their continuing need for support and accommodation.
Following the completion of the assessment of need, the Social Worker should complete the Pathway Pan 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.
9. Decision Making
For young people with Eligible status, discharge from care should not take place until the Director of Children's' Services has approved it.
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 a 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 wellbeing and best interests;
- The IRO has been informed;
- That as an Eligible child, there is an assessment of need (covering all the relevant areas); a Pathway Plan (detailing all the issues in Schedule 8 of the 2010 Regulations) and a Personal Advisor has been appointed.