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11.4.1 Contact Service

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter applies to arrangements for children placed in foster and residential care to have contact with their parents and siblings.

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

RELEVANT LEGISLATION

Children Act 1989

RELEVANT CHAPTERS

Protocol for Contact Support Workers When Children are Not Relinquished Following Supervised Contact

Contact Expenses and Payments

Protocol for Reducing Supervised Contact Arrangements

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations - Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review, June 2015

AMENDMENT

In January 2016, the Protocol for Contact Support Workers When Children are Not Relinquished Following Supervised Contact, Contact Expenses and Payments and Protocol for Reducing Supervised Contact Arrangements were added.


Contents

  1. Purpose
  2. Aim
  3. Legal Position
  4. Principles Underpinning the Criteria
  5. Criteria
  6. The ‘Core Offer’
  7. ‘Exceptionality’
  8. Referral Process
  9. Acceptance Criteria
  10. Staffing
  11. Use Of Venues
  12. Transport
  13. Training
  14. Procedures
  15. Dispute Resolution Process

    Appendix 1: Summary of Relevant Legislation

    Appendix 2: CAFCASS - Good Practice Guidance Note: Contact

    Appendix 3: LAC Process

    Appendix 4: Procedures Flowchart

    Appendix 5: Written Agreement

    Appendix 6: Contact Service Review Form


1. Purpose

The Contact Service is established to supervise contact in the short term - to enable a thorough assessment of risk to take place. When the risk has been assessed and it is clear that the risk can be managed, the Contact Service should plan to withdraw with alternative arrangements in place. It is likely that this process will run in parallel to the court process and therefore the service will contribute to the final care plan for the child. Supervised Contact will continue until the court process is concluded, an exit plan will then be considered.

Contact arrangements should replicate ‘family life’ as far as possible. This means that when the permanency plan is agreed for a child, their main carer will both transport and supervise children – unless there is an exceptional reason why this cannot happen.

Foster carers will not be expected to supervise cases that are in the court arena.

The frequency of contact should reflect the child’s changing needs and consider the importance of building a secure attachment to their permanent carer where the plan is for them to remain with the carer until adulthood.

Where there is evidence that risk continues to be high and therefore Supervised Contact continues to be necessary, cases will be reviewed with all relevant professionals on a regular basis. Where this is prolonged, consideration should be given to whether contact that is so risky is in the best interests of the child and whether this should continue. 


2. Aim

The Contact team aims to provide a service that:

  • Is child focused – the child is at the centre of the planning of all contact arrangements. All arrangements will be subject to a Written Agreement;
  • Is consistent – as far as possible, the child should experience consistency of worker, arrangements and environment;
  • Is safe – the child must feel safe and where there is evidence that the child is unhappy or the contact is ‘unsafe’, we will recommend that contact arrangements are reviewed, without delay;
  • Is structured & planned – all parties should be clear about what to expect from the Contact team;
  • Creates positive memories for the child and for their families;
  • Contributes to the plan for the child in ensuring that the contact documentation is robust enough to be admissible in court proceedings, where applicable;
  • Positive outcomes – we will work in partnership to ensure that the child has a clear, planned ‘journey’ from their initial contact until their permanency plan is agreed and contact is transferred;
  • Provides a valued and professional service with a suitably qualified workforce;
  • Incorporates feedback and continuously improves;
  • Is flexible and responsive, whilst retaining the criteria of the service model;
  • Provides efficient and effective use of all resources;
  • Provides data that is reliable and up to date to inform future planning. Greater emphasis will be placed upon planning and reviewing contact arrangements. Improved reporting through Business Objects will mean that new cases are now regularly reviewed by the management team every three months.


3. Legal Position

The Local Authority has a statutory duty to provide and promote contact – unless it is not in the best interests of the child. The legal and procedural framework that underpins the Contact Service can be quite confusing as there are references to contact in all legislation, standards and guidance relating to looked after children.

The primary law and key reference documents emphasise the need for the child to be at the centre of planning contact arrangements. The Children Act 1989 and case law (decisions of the higher courts) identifies contact as ‘a right of the child’.  Birth parents, relatives and others do not have a 'right’ to contact, although Local Authorities must provide and promote contact, providing evidence to court if they are planning to change or withdraw contact, (see Appendix 1: Summary of Relevant Legislation).

The ‘Good Practice Guidance Note ADCS/CAFCASS-2013’ also emphasises the need for contact to be in the best interests of the child and in particular; the level of contact must be based upon observation of the contact and the need to adjust the plan if contact is detrimental to the child. This is fundamental to the new service model, (see Appendix 2: CAFCASS - Good Practice Guidance Note: Contact).


4. Principles Underpinning the Criteria

There are a number of key principles that underpin the criteria:

  1. All contact must be in ‘the best interests of the child’;
  2. Contact will take place as near to where the child is living or near to their school as possible;
  3. The role of the Contact worker is to supervise Contact in order to provide evidence to inform the child/young person’s care plan;
  4. The supervision of contact is time limited and reviewed at regular intervals;
  5. There must be a clear rationale for requesting Supervised Contact;
  6. Contact should only be supervised.by a Contact worker (CSW) when there is evidence that this is necessary and for a specific purpose;
  7. Contact will transfer to the main ‘care giver’ at the earliest opportunity and in line with the permanency plan for the child;
  8. All contact is subject of an agreed Contact Plan;
  9. The social worker will be involved in the supervision of Contact and the frequency will be determined within the Contact Plan;
  10. The Contact Plan will be agreed prior to the commencement of contact and a Written Agreement put in place;
  11. The Written Agreement will be the contract between the social worker and the family but will be facilitated by the Contact Service;
  12. The Written Agreement will be subject to regular review and will outline clearly the expectations of parents within contact;
  13. Any breach of the Written Agreement will result in consequences that will be clearly outlined in the contract;
  14. Contact may be stopped when it is evident that it is detrimental to the child;
  15. Transport will only be provided when there is no other option. It is an expectation that children will be transported to contact by their carer – if this is not possible a clear and valid reason must be given;
  16. When children are placed within an IFA placement, transport will be provided as part of the contract – unless specifically agreed otherwise in the IPA;
  17. All contact will take place within a Contact Centre. Activity based contact will only be supported when there is a clear rationale for this. If activity based contact is appropriate, it will be assumed that this is low risk and therefore not within the remit of the ‘core offer’;
  18. It is expected that alternatives will be considered and in formulating the final care plan and permanency plan for the child, long term arrangements for contact will be agreed. These will be consistent with the Contact Service model;
  19. Provides consistency with other key processes, in particular; permanency planning and the LAC process. On-going contact will be reviewed as part of the LAC Review process and arrangements will be in accordance with the new service model;
  20. Where there is any dispute or disagreement, the relevant Contact Service Manager should be informed and the dispute process will be followed. Please see Section 15, Dispute Resolution Process;
  21. Should there be a requirement for Supervised Contact to be re-instated after the closure of the case, a new referral will be necessary;
  22. Contact requests will have been approved by the Team Manager before a referral is made;
  23. Contact Plans/arrangements submitted to court as part of any proceedings will have been provisionally agreed with the relevant Team Leader in the Contact Service beforehand. There should be an on-going dialogue throughout the duration of the proceedings.


5. Criteria

In order to manage potential changes in demand over time, it is necessary to distinguish between the ‘core’ and ‘additional’ services that may be provided. It is also important not to exclude a particular case as the dynamics and circumstances may necessitate that contact must be supervised or require an assessment.

The court process will run concurrently with the Contact Service intervention.


6. The ‘Core Offer’

‘To provide Supervised Contact to children and young people who are looked after by the Local Authority to inform their permanency plan and until this is agreed’.

‘Priority will be given to cases within the court arena and where there is a requirement to provide evidence to contribute to the proceedings’.

‘Contact will be supervised where there continues to be evidence of ‘significant risk’ to a child/young person and where no other alternative is appropriate.


7. ‘Exceptionality’

The Contact Service will also provide additional services, where there is an exception to the ‘core offer’. Where the criteria are not met, but there is evidence to support the need for contact to be supervised, the service may:

  • ‘Provide Supervised Contact for a time limited period to children who may be at risk’;
  • Assess contact for a time limited period and provide a report to inform the future plan for the child with regard to contact arrangements;
  • Where all other options for supervising contact have been explored;
  • These arrangements will be regularly reviewed and will remain child-specific and centred.


8. Referral Process

  • All referrals will be made through Framework;
  • A risk assessment is incorporated within the referral form. The social worker is responsible for ensuring that all known risk factors are considered;
  • If transport is required, evidence will be needed to support this request;
  • All referrals are considered by the Team Leaders which will provide a more timely and efficient response;
  • Urgent requests will be responded to if there is a supplementary request to the Team Leaders via a telephone call and will be considered by the Team Leaders within 24 hours;
  • Where a referral is not accepted the social worker will be notified of the reason within 5 working days of the referral being received.


9. Acceptance Criteria

The Contact Service will consider each referral on the following criteria:

  • All referrals that fall within the ‘core offer’ will be accepted and given priority in allocation;
  • Each referral must be consistent with the principles of the new service model;
  • All contacts will be reviewed within the timeframe of the LAC Review process (see Appendix 3: LAC Process);
  • In addition to the consideration of contact arrangements within the LAC Review process, all contact arrangements will be reviewed by the Contact Service at 3 monthly intervals. The outcome of this process with regard to individual children/young people will feed into the plan for the child and be considered within the next LAC Review;
  • Additional services will require a clear rationale. The rational will be based upon the ‘risk’ to the child and allocation will be determined on the basis of capacity within the service;
  • We will consider ‘supported contact’ where we are able to provide a room only – but with the support of staff in the building, if required in an emergency.


10. Staffing

The role of the Contact Support Worker (CSW) has changed significantly. The post of Contact Co-ordinator has been removed and this post provides a business support function. CSWs arrange their own contacts using mobile technology.

Click here to view the new Contact Service Structure.

This provides a number of significant benefits:

  • CSW team numbers now vary in size and reflect the geographical demand for Supervised Contact sessions in each area;
  • There will always be one member of staff at each venue as cover in case of emergencies, to greet new families and to upload their supervision notes;
  • Staff will complete 2½ - 3 sessions each per day on a caseload model, which equates to 1,260 – 1,512 sessions per month. This ensures that the service has enough flexibility built in to be able to cope with any potential increase in demand in LAC numbers and reduces reliance on relief staff;
  • Relief staff will be allocated to a specific venue but may be expected to work across the service, where necessary;
  • A pool of casual staff will be retained for use in emergencies;
  • Service delivery hours have been extended to Monday – Friday, 8.30am - 7pm and some weekend working will be required;
  • The job description has been revised and now reflects what is required of the CSW;
  • Staff working patterns now reflect the needs of the service;
  • Mobilisation: all CSWs have been provided with a mobile tablet. This enables staff to record their observations of contact and upload them immediately to Framework. Social workers, who have case responsibility, will now have instant access to these records for the purpose of care planning and applications to court as they will be uploaded to the case file within 24 hours of the contact session. The second stage of this process will enable Team Leaders to electronically access all workers timetables and oversee their commitments.


11. Use Of Venues

Venues

The Contact service is split into three areas; north, central and south. The Contact Service has secured exclusive use of specific venues across the county which are staffed. This ensures that the Contact Service has control over the use of venues in terms of scheduling and ensuring rooms are age appropriate, safe and clean for children.This will provide a number of significant benefits:

  • Children can access sessions outside of school times without being restricted by external venue opening times which will reduce the time pressures on staff;
  • Increased safety for Contact Support Workers (CSWs);
  • Fit for purpose and age appropriate accommodation;
  • Ability to control infection and keep rooms clean;
  • Control over booking contact rooms;
  • Reduction in changes and cancellations outside the service’s control;
  • Increased consistency of worker for the child, which contributes to safeguarding priorities and best outcomes for the child;
  • Reduction in CSW travel time will lead to increased capacity to supervise more sessions and upload notes in a timely manner;
  • A reduction in mileage spend by CSWs travelling between venues;
  • The service will have extra capacity and flexibility to deal with any increase in referrals or in case of staff absence;
  • Enables the team to implement the core offer and ensure that contact is appropriately supervised and risk is minimised.

All contact that is within the court arena and/or still subject to assessment will remain in a venue.  The only exceptions to this may be:

  • Where there is no outside space to play and there is a park nearby;
  • Where the plan for the child is rehabilitation;
  • Where there is a transition plan for the child’s contact to be managed by their carer.

This decision will be made by the relevant Team leader and subject to a risk assessment.

If an alternative venue is required, this needs to be clearly stated on the referral form, with the reasons for the request.

Click here to view Final Contact Venues - Operational September 2014


12. Transport

Historically staff have been required to transport children across large geographical areas. This has been a very costly and inefficient use of resources. Travel time seriously limits CSW capacity to supervise more than two sessions on average and record supervision notes onto Framework in a timely manner.

As far as possible, we are seeking to ‘replicate family life’ and, as far as possible, foster carers will transport children to contact. This would replicate what would happen within any family and therefore will generally be in the best interests of the child. This is particularly so when the permanency plan has been agreed and they are in foster care until adulthood. However, there will inevitably be some exceptions and we will consider these on an individual basis.

Where a foster carer is unable to transport a child, we will seek to provide a volunteer driver. We are anticipating that the volunteer will be a named driver and will be consistent throughout the duration of the contact arrangements.

This service will be delivered in partnership with: the Bassetlaw Action Group in the North of the County and Nottingham City for the South. This is a pilot and will be subject to review.


13. Training

Training for CSW’s has been reviewed: core skills training has been delivered to all staff by the management team and we can now be confident that staff are equipped to perform their duties.  Further training is planned. All CSWs will now require QCF level 3 (previously NVQ level 3 (Child Care) as the minimum entry qualification. All current CSWs will complete this qualification over the forthcoming year. This will ensure that we have a suitably qualified workforce.


14. Procedures

A comprehensive manual of procedures will be maintained by the Contact Service.

The procedure for contact is summarised in the flowchart (see Appendix 4: Procedures Flowchart).

There are a number of key principles underpinning the procedure as follows:

  • All contact arrangements will be subject to an on-going risk assessment by the Team Leaders;
  • A Working Agreement (see Appendix 5: Written Agreement) will be in place prior to the commencement of contact;
  • Where necessary, a meeting will be arranged to discuss the Working Agreement. This may not always be necessary as the Agreement can be signed by all parties without the need for a meeting;
  • Contact will be arranged as soon as possible following receipt of the referral however until arrangements are finalised, alternative arrangements may need to be made by the social worker;
  • The Contact Service should be invited to attend the child’s LAC Review;
  • The child’s Permanency plan should be agreed by the 2nd LAC Review and endorsed by the Permanency panel. The contact arrangements should be scrutinised with a view to an exit plan being implemented by the 3rd LAC Review;
  • The Working Agreement will include the implications for any breach of the Agreement;
  • When there have been three breaches of the Agreement, or any serious concern – contact will be suspended temporarily and the social worker informed immediately;
  • A meeting will be arranged within 3 working days to review the contact arrangements and consider whether it is necessary to return to court;
  • Where the child is subject to care proceedings or is subject to a Care Order an application to the court for authority to terminate the Contact will be necessary if Contact is to be terminated for more than 7 days and therefore there should be no delay in this process as the social worker will be required to contact legal services as a matter of urgency in these circumstances;
  • Where necessary, a LAC Review should be arranged.


15. Dispute Resolution Process

In the first instance, issues, concerns and disputes should be addressed with the relevant Team Leader in order to seek a mutually agreeable solution.

If necessary, this should be brought to the attention of the Service Manager within the Contact Service.

Where the concern or dispute relates to a review of contact arrangements, the following process will be followed:

  • Team Leader will seek a resolution, in the first instance;
  • Where there continues to be a dispute, the social worker will be asked to complete a Contact Service review form (see Appendix 6: Contact Service Review Form) and return this in the first instance to the Team Leader;
  • The Management Team will consider the review form and propose a provisional plan;
  • A meeting will be arranged to discuss the plan. Where the decision has been made that the case no longer fits the criteria – the plan will propose an exit strategy;
  • Where the decision has been made that there is ‘exceptionality’ the plan will include a review date;
  • Moving forward, all plans will include a clear review process;
  • If necessary, we will undertake a formal assessment and provide a report with clear recommendations at the end of the review period to inform future arrangements;
  • Where a resolution is not possible, the issue should be addressed by the CSM of the Contact Service and the CSM for the child to seek an agreement on how to move the case forward.

Where the above process does not resolve the concern/issue/dispute, the matter will be referred to the Group Manager (Access to Resources).


Appendices

Appendix 1: Summary of Relevant Legislation

Appendix 2: CAFCASS - Good Practice Guidance Note: Contact

Appendix 3: LAC Process

Appendix 4: Procedures Flowchart

Appendix 5: Written Agreement

Appendix 6: Contact Service Review Form

End