Salford Children's Services Procedures Manual Salford City Council website
Greater Manchester SCB Procedures
Greater Manchester SCB Procedures Greater Manchester SCB Procedures

3.1.7 Reunification Policy for Looked After Children

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter highlights the importance of ensuring (where this is appropriate) a child being reunited with their family, and seeks to detail the circumstances where this should be considered and the actions required.

Note Quality Assurance: This document will be reviewed at a minimum of every three years. Incremental reviews may take place as required and in light of new guidance and legislation.

RELATED CHAPTERS

Decisions to Look After and Care Planning Procedure

The Children and Families Assessment Policy and Guidance


Contents

  1. Background
  2. Children Returning Home on a Planned Basis
  3. Services to be Considered
  4. Visits to the Child
  5. Reviewing the Plan
  6. Unplanned Return to Home
  7. Ratifying the Decision
  8. Ongoing Support


1. Background

Between 2009 and 2012, 545 children ceased to be Looked After in Salford. Of those children, 165 (31%) were returned home to parents, a trend which has been increasing over time. The purpose of this policy is therefore to outline best practice and the steps which will be required to support successful future reunification.

National research suggests that almost half of children who returned home were readmitted to care (47%). Two thirds of children who returned home experienced at least one failed return and a third had oscillated in and out of care. Children who returned home are the largest single group of children who ceased to be looked after in any year.[1] Research shows that careful assessment of needs, evidence of improvement in parenting capacity, a slow and well-managed returned home and the provision of services to support children and their families were associated with a positive experience of reunification, which lasted.

For many children permanence is achieved through a successful return home. This is particularly true of children who were subject to Care Orders prior to returning home. Statute and regulations are already in place, which require Local Authorities to carefully assess any plans for reunification. Within the Placement with Parent Regulations there are established systems which support robust care planning in the statutory review framework. Furthermore, children subject to Care Orders are not discharged from care until this has been agreed at the Statutory Review and an assessment has been undertaken which positively reflects the parent’s ability to meet the needs of the child. This has not always been the case for children who were accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act.

[1] Improving permanence for Looked After Children DfE Consultation document 30 September 2013


2. Children Returning Home on a Planned Basis

For accommodated children returning home on a planned basis, the expectation will be that a Children and Families Assessment (See The Children and Families Assessment Procedure) is completed, prior to the child returning home. This will identify parental capacity to care for the child, the strengths and vulnerabilities in the child’s situation, and the support and services required to support the child returning home. The social worker will also need to consider sibling relationships and any potential impact on dynamics. A return plan should then be compiled, by the social worker, which specifies the agencies who will be involved in supporting the child and their family, along with the nature of the support being offered.


3. Services to be Considered

If the child has been accommodated for a period or periods amounting to 13 weeks, and is not already an Eligible child (as they are already entitled to such support), it is expected that visits to the home will be offered, in agreement with the person who will have care of the child. The plan should specify that the first visit will take place within two weeks of the child returning home, (within one week if the child is subject to a Care Order). This is to consider whether any modifications are required to the return plan.

The assessment will have indicated any ongoing support needs. There are a range of services which may be suitable to assist in this task. Parents may require help initially in re-establishing routines and may benefit from referral to family support. Equally, with older children, parents may need support in negotiating ground rules and boundaries, with direct work being offered to the young person, to help them re-establish themselves in the family home. Such work might be provided by the adolescent team, based within the outreach team. Children Centres will have a variety of services, which might be of help. These could include evidence based parenting programmes such as ‘Triple P’ and ‘Incredible Years’. The family's extended network can also be of great value to the child and use of the family group conferences is encouraged. Support from the Brief Intervention team can also be incorporated, particularly to support any difficulties at school.


4. Visits to the Child

It is expected that the person completing the first visit will be a social worker. They will be required to assess the parents’ capacity to continue to care safely for the child, how the child is adjusting to life with their family and whether the agreed support is adequate or further support, advice, or assistance is needed. Following the visit, a short report should be completed, which identifies:

  • The child's wishes and feelings about the return home;
  • The parent or carer's view of how the return home is progressing and any views of siblings particularly in relation to changed dynamics in the home;
  • Whether any additional support or services are required to enable the child to remain safely at home; and
  • Whether the child's welfare is being adequately safeguarded and promoted.

In the event of concern regarding the child’s welfare, the social worker should report this to their line manager, who will in turn discuss this with their Service Manager.


5. Reviewing the Plan

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Pllanning, Placement and Case Review (2015) advises that a review should be held, to consider the return plan for the child, and to ensure that all necessary preparation for the return is carried out and appropriate support and services identified. It is expected the reviews will be held prior to any planned return home.


6. Unplanned Return to Home

Children who are voluntarily accommodated can, however, be removed from care at any time by a person with Parental Responsibility and sometimes at short notice; young people aged 16 or 17 can also leave care without notice if it is to return home, but otherwise now require the permission of the Director. (Children’s Homes and Looked After Children (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2103).

Children may also return home following a placement breakdown. It is these groups who are considered to be most at risk of further periods of accommodation and for whom further planning and support needs to be identified. In these situations, a return plan should be completed, before the child returns home if possible and considered at a Review, chaired by the child’s IRO. The plan should include the arrangement for services and support to be provided prior to and on return home. The Review should be convened within 20 days of the child returning home and should consider the return plan, supports and services which might be offered and any other additional action which is felt necessary, in order to safeguard the welfare of the child.


7. Ratifying the Decision

When a child returns home, from section 20 accommodation, the decision requires the oversight of a senior manager, as is the case with Placement with Parent regulations.[2] This includes children who returned home, on an unplanned basis. As well as considering any assessments, the nominated officer, usually Head of Service, will wish to be satisfied that the child’s wishes and feelings had been considered and that appropriate consultation had taken place with the key adults in the child's life such as IRO, the child's relatives (where appropriate) and other appropriate persons such as Foster carer or registered manager of the children's home.

[2] Nominated officer is defined in the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2012 as a senior officer of the responsible authority nominated in writing by the director of childrens services for the purposes of these Regulations


8. Ongoing Support

Children who have been subject to a return plan will be considered children in need and will benefit from ongoing support. The child's IRO will liaise with colleagues in the Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Unit and ensure that a Child in Need co-ordinator is aware of the child’s situation. After the first Review, chaired by the child’s IRO, the Child in Need co-ordinator will subsequently review the return plan, at 6 weekly intervals. The review will identify outstanding tasks and the roles and responsibilities of professionals in meeting identified need. Subsequently, the frequency of reviews will be determined by progress in settling the child within the family. Decisions will also need to be made as to when it is appropriate to transfer the support being co-ordinated to a Team around the child meeting.

The support being offered to the child and their family is voluntary and families may choose not to engage at any point in the process. The CAF can however continue until such time as the child’s needs have been fully understood and intervention provided until the child’s needs can be met through universal services.

End