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Salford Children's Services Procedures Manual Salford City Council website

3.7.4 Policy and Practice Guidance on Mobile 'Phones for Looked After Children


  1. Introduction
  2. Primary School Children
  3. Secondary School Children
  4. Being Healthy
  5. Staying Safe
  6. Enjoying and Achieving
  7. Make a Positive Contribution
  8. Achieve Economic Well-Being
  9. Support from Professionals
  10. Reviewing the Plan

1. Introduction

Many people are aware that children and young people in Salford now see mobile phones as an accepted - and perhaps, even necessary part of their daily lives. Responsible parents are, however, keen to ensure that they only provide a mobile to their child, if they are satisfied that this is an appropriate thing to do. As Corporate Parents, carers and professionals, we are keen to ensure that the children we look after are offered the same rights and protection that any parent would wish to offer their child. This practice guidance has therefore been written as a means of providing information and support to carers and professionals, in determining whether supporting a young person in having a mobile is appropriate.

The guidance has as its central principle the commitment to supporting all Looked After children in achieving the five outcomes. It is not a prescriptive policy, as it is recognised that there will always be situations which require a flexible, child centred response, unique to that child.

It is intended that the guidance can be used for children and young people who live in all the various care situations: in residential care, foster care or with birth family. This does not preclude strategies which may be more appropriate in one setting than another.

A wide range of people were involved in the consultation process:

  • A member of the foster care forum
  • The young people of the Chatterbox group
  • Residential key workers from a number of units
  • Consultant Paediatrician
  • Social workers in the Looked After team
  • Team manager, fostering

A review of relevant medical research was also undertaken and particular reference was made to the Stewart recommendations, published by the Department of Health (2005).

2. Primary School Children

It is possible to offer definitive guidance to children of primary school age in that there appear to be no circumstances which support provision of a mobile phone.

Equally there appear to be very few situations which would prevent a young person of 15+ from having a mobile. Even very vulnerable older young people have a need to access modern technology, with support from carers and workers.

3. Secondary School Children

It is believed that the decision to support a young person on the issue of having a mobile phone is a process, not an immediate response. As central, the supposition is that the carer will want to establish a relationship with the young person, which promotes discussion on a range of topics. The starting point for a mobile is then likely to be a request by the young person, or a discussion between them and their carer (or social worker). It is not something which should be agreed on the basis of a request by a birth relative, to support their need for contact. Rather contact is one of the areas the young person will need to discuss with their carer, in deciding if a mobile will be helpful to that young person.

In making a decision, the carer and young person will wish to explore:

  • Will a mobile support this young person in being healthy?
  • Will a mobile help this young person stay safe?
  • Will a mobile help them enjoy and achieve?
  • Will a mobile support this young person in making a positive contribution?
  • Will a mobile assist the young person in achieving economic well being?

Thus the process will involve discussions, which will have a number of themes.

4. Being Healthy

Department of Health guidance suggests that children under the age of 16 should be discouraged from using a mobile phone, for non essential calls. The carer might therefore want to explore;

  • Does this young person understand potential health risks?
  • Do they know the health benefits of texting, as opposed to calling?
  • Do they recognise the need to keep calls brief and why they are being asked to do this?

5. Staying Safe

Within this context, there are clear benefits and disadvantages to a young person having their own mobile with them. The positives might include; if the young person needs urgent help, whilst out and about, or to advise carers they are running late. Many young people are clear that having a mobile adds to their sense of security and that they feel safer, as a result of having a mobile with them. Conversely, having a mobile can place a young person at risk of mugging, 'happy slapping', bullying by text and grooming by older men. Thus, the carer might well ask, of themselves:

  • Does this young person understand 'stranger danger'? And do I know him/ her well enough to have this discussion - or have we only just met? What work has been done, and by who, to support the young person with this?
  • Will it help, if I know this young person can ring me, to say they are running late?

And to the young person;

  • 'If you have a random text, what would you do?'
  • 'If you were getting cyber bullied, what would you do?'
  • 'Who would you want to give your number to?'
  • 'How would a mobile keep you safe?'
  • 'How would you keep yourself - and the mobile safe?'

Grooming via mobiles is becoming an issue particularly for young people living in residential care. When a carer becomes aware that this may be happening, they are advised to contact The Missing from Care Team, Greater Manchester Police, who can advise on strategies the Police and carers can use to keep that young person safe.

6. Enjoying and Achieving

Every young person has the right to fulfil their potential, both academically and emotionally. Looked After children have the right to have aspirations, dreams and hopes and to not face discrimination, through being Looked After. They must not feel 'different' to their peers. Thus one of the issues facing a carer might be to examine their own beliefs;

  • Why am I supporting/ refusing to support a young person with this request? Can I explain it, to myself, and to them?
  • Will I be setting them up, as being different to their peers?
  • By refusing to support them, am I reducing their opportunity to get involved in out of school activities and friendships?

Conversely, a carer might have to explore their young person's ability to act in a sufficiently mature, responsible way. Examples might include:

  • Will this young person be able to ensure they switch the phone off at night (or allow me to take it, for re charging, overnight), so they (and others!) have uninterrupted sleep?
  • Does this young person accept they need to switch off their phone in lessons?

There can be an issue of birth parents/ family ringing their young person, at times, or in ways, which are not helpful to that young person. An example might be if the adult is ringing for their comfort, to meet their own needs, or under the influence of substances. This can be a source of additional, unhelpful pressure. Carers need to consider if this could be a potential difficulty and how to address this, with the young person they are looking after. In these circumstances, it will be necessary to involve the child's social worker. Their role will be to point out the Local Authority policy to the relative and explain that mobiles can be withdrawn, temporarily or permanently, if it is felt that the continuing use is not in that child's best interest.

7. Make a Positive Contribution

Having a mobile can support a young person, in developing a full, active and positive social life. This can build confidence and support the young person in not only feeling a 'full member' of the community but also contribute to their developing aspirations for the future. Carers need to consider how this factor could influence decision making.

8. Achieve Economic Well-Being

Running a mobile can be an expensive business! Carers will want to establish if the young person has thought about how they will ensure they have the means to be in credit, with their phone. Some carers (particularly in residential settings) may wish to support the young person financially, by offering credit as an incentive, within a behaviour support plan. Examples might include;

  • A top up of credit, for school attendance
  • A top up of credit, as part of a reward based behaviour support plan
  • As part of the agreement that the young person will hand in their phone at night.

9. Support from Professionals

This guidance relies on ongoing dialogue between carers and young people. It also suggests the need to use judgement and a degree of assessment skills. Within this context, discussion with the child's social worker and supervising social worker/ line manager is actively encouraged. Mobile phones are only one aspect of the complex task of parenting and a general approach of team work is supported.

Some situations may remain grey/ uncertain as to risk. A carer may want to support obtaining a mobile but have certain doubts. Some suggestions which may assist are:

  • Choosing a mobile which does not allow internet access, or has the capability to block certain sites. O2 is one provider who is prepared to block undesirable sites. By ringing 02 61818 on pay as you go or monthly contract phones, this facility can be set up. This matches current policy on Local Authority policy on computers, though it is possible that this will be revised in time.
  • Some mobiles are able to offer access to specified telephone numbers only, thus offering some ability by carers to monitor/limit a young person's usage.

10. Reviewing the Plan

Central to this guidance, there is an implicit belief that carers and young people will be able to communicate and explain their thinking to each other, thus reaching agreement on the way forward. For various reasons, this is not always achievable. If informal agreement cannot be reached, there are a number of strategies which can be considered;

  • A written agreement between young person, carer and if needed, the social worker, which outlines the basis on which the mobile has been provided and the circumstances which might lead to its confiscation
  • A progress meeting to discuss the issue, in the context of other problems also being apparent
  • Access to Salford Children's Rights and complaints procedure