SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter reflects the statutory guidance 'Ceasing to look after a child' in 'Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations (2015)' as amended by the 'Care Planning and Fostering (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2015' together with Working Together to Safeguard Children.
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, or Director of Children's Services if the child/young person is 16/17 years and has been Accommodated under Section 20, before discharge.
RELEVANT GUIDANCEWorking Together to Safeguard Children, Assessing need and providing help
Children become accommodated through section 20 for many different reasons and are some of the most vulnerable children. Section 20 Accommodation can:
When a child is Accommodated, (and it is not part of a planned Short Break), 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 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 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).
Where a child has been 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 that 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, 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:
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.
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. (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:
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 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:
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).
Where a child who is not already considered to be a Child In Need but ceases to be Looked After, the child will become a Child In Need, (see Child in Need Procedure Procedure).
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:
The Child in Need Plan should be subject to Review (see Child In Need Plans and Reviews Procedure, Reviews of Child in Need Status) to ensure the Plan remains relevant, appropriate and required or whether it should be 'stepped down' to a CAF Plan.
See also Leaving Care and Transition Procedure.
An Eligible Young Person is someone who is:
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:
The Assessment underpins the young person's current Care 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 s/he becomes 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:
Where the young person is seeking to discharge him/herself 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 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:
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:
The Plan should be adjusted accordingly with the young person's achievements, needs and maturity.
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:
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 where they are in Education and Training.
In the event a child may have become Looked After for a short period, fewer than 20 days, such as in a family crisis, it is not necessary for the Nominated Officer to approve their return home in these circumstances. However, the social worker and team manager must be satisfied that the return is (or remains) in the child's best interests and the arrangements will (continue to) safeguard and promote the child's welfare.
Nevertheless, 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 a Child Protection Plan (see Child Protection Enquiries (Section 47)) or be a Child In Need, (see Child in Need Procedure).
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, and prior to placing a child in an adoptive placement, the child may be placed in a fostering placement under Section 20. In these circumstances, consent for the child to be placed for adoption and for an adoption order to be made can be withdrawn, and consent 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).
Where a parent withdraws consent and the child is placed under Section 20, as part of the assessment raised in Section 2.1 careful consideration should be given to:
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.
Note: where the child has been Accommodated for more than 20 days, then the permission of the Nominated Officer is required for the child to be returned to the parent's care and due consideration be given to the Review decisions. (See Section 2, Children Accommodated under Section 20).
As with all changing circumstances, the practitioner should: