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Salford Children's Services Procedures Manual Salford City Council website

1.4.6 Working Agreements and Safety Plans in Child in Need, Child Protection and Looked After Child Cases

This chapter was added to the manual in November 2018.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Before Using a Safety Plan or Working Agreement
  3. Good Practice When Using a Safety Plan or Working Agreement
  4. Reviewing a Safety Plan or Working Agreement
  5. Multi-agency involvement and accountability
  6. Ending a Safety Plan or Working Agreement


1. Introduction

Working agreements are frequently used by social workers in their work with children and families. Serious Case Reviews / Child Safeguarding Practice Review, Local Government Association peer reviews, Joint Targeted Area Inspections and legal judgments have all criticised the over-use of working agreements and reliance upon them as a reassurance of a child’s safety. In many cases, it will be more appropriate to use a safety plan with a family, and this should always be considered before a working agreement is discussed. However, used appropriately in partnership with parents, carers and other significant individuals, in the context of multi-agency planning, working agreements can be an effective tool for enhancing working relationships and reducing the risk of harm.

In order to be effective, safety plans and working agreements must be carefully drawn up, appropriately shared, monitored and reviewed. The following practice guidance explains the purpose of working agreements and aims to support social workers in Safeguarding practice.

The following types of written agreement are most commonly used in Salford:

  • Working agreements which set out expectations of parents/carers/family members and the local authority, as part of Child in Need, Child Protection or Looked After Children planning (see appendix for template - to follow);
  • Agreements or contracts of expectations as part of Public Law Outline (PLO), agreed between the local authority, parents, and their legal representatives.

The Working agreement is not a legal document but can be provided in supporting evidence if a care application is made to the court.

The Working agreement should not substitute the agreement/contract of expectations required in the PLO process as this is a legal document. Agreements or contracts of expectations are used in Salford as a standard part of the PLO process. A letter of expectations is drafted by the child’s social worker, in consultation with their manager and legal team. This is then sent to parents and their legal representative and amended as required before being agreed and signed at the PLO meeting.

Working agreements should not be a routine part of Child in Need, Child Protection, or Looked After Child planning. They should be used in specific circumstances for a specific purpose and should not simply replicate some or all of the contents of a child’s plan, as this can be confusing for both parents and professionals.

Working agreements are intended to provide clarity about the way that the local authority and the parents/carers/family members will work together. They can be used alongside Child Safety Plans, Interim Safeguarding Measures and Child Protection Plans to ensure there is an effective and transparent working relationship. However Working agreements should not on their own be regarded as a child protection measure/plan or tool.


2. Before Using a Safety Plan or Working Agreement

  • Consider what the most appropriate tool is to manage the presenting risk. It should always be considered whether a safety plan is a more appropriate tool to use than a working agreement. For example, a safety plan is likely to be the more appropriate tool to use to safeguard a child and non-abusing parent from domestic abuse. A working agreement could potentially place an inappropriate burden of policing the actions of the perpetrator on the non-abusing parent. Coercive control, and the impact that this may have on the non-abusing parent should be considered when agreeing a plan. Management advice should be sought if there is any doubt regarding the most appropriate tool.
  • Ideally, the contents of what will go in to a safety plan or working agreement should be discussed and agreed with the persons being asked to enter into the agreement. They should be given time to seek independent advice, e.g. from a solicitor, friend or family member. Family members should be aware that they can challenge and ask for amendments to the content without being viewed as uncooperative, for example if they feel an aspect of the suggested agreement is unrealistic. This will increase the likelihood of ownership of and compliance with the plan or agreement. In some situations, for example emergencies where it is necessary to record how newly identified needs and risks will be managed in the short term, it is accepted that prior discussion may not be possible.
  • The person must have the capacity to enter into and consent to the plan or agreement. Legal advice should be sought if there is any doubt about a person’s capacity. (See also Mental Capacity Guidance). 
  • If the social worker has concerns that a person does not understand the plan or agreement, or does not recognise the risks, they should seek management advice before asking the person to sign.
  • The person must freely consent to entering into the agreement. Individuals should not be coerced into or feel under duress in signing an agreement or agreeing a plan, particularly if this involves consequences that may be perceived as threats (for example that legal advice will be sought). An agreement signed under such circumstances gives a dangerous illusion of compliance, and is unlikely to be adhered to. If a person does not agree to the terms of a working agreement or cannot agree a safety plan, and the content cannot be negotiated, they should not be persuaded to sign the document. However if the individual has been unwilling or unable to enter into this agreement with the local authority the rationale MUST be recorded as a management oversight of this decision.


3. Good Practice When Using a Safety Plan or Working Agreement

  • Consider the specific purpose of the safety plan or working agreement. It should be clear in highlighting “this is the issue; this is what needs to be done”.
  • A safety plan should always consider and, where possible, state the role of the wider family and friends.
  • Safety plans and working agreements should be aligned with and used in conjunction with the child’s plan. The use of a safety plan or working agreement should assist in the monitoring of outcomes for the child via the child’s plan.
  • Working agreements should evidence accountability for all parties involved, including the local authority. Parents/carers/young people /family members should be clear about how to complain if they feel that the local authority or other parties are not adhering to the agreement.
  • A safety plan will generally be a personalised document to support the individual in how to manage presenting issues. It may be necessary to complete a number of safety plans with adults and children in the house on an individual basis.
  • A written agreement may involve expectations for a number of individuals. All parties involved with the agreement, and all persons with parental responsibility, should be asked to contribute to, and sign the working agreement. If the agreement is not shared with a parent or person with parental responsibility (for example if they cannot be located, or if sharing the agreement would place the child at further risk), the rationale for this should be clearly recorded on the agreement with management oversight.
  • The language used in the safety plan or written agreement should be simple, and jargon should be avoided. This ensures that all family members and agencies are clear as to the expectation of all parties, and consequences of breaching the agreement.
  • If a child or parent is unable to follow an agreed safety plan, there is an expectation that the relevant worker should review plan with them to understand the reasons for this. It may then be possible to consider additional support that can be provided, or different strategies to achieve the goal. It will also inform the evidence base of the parent’s capacity to meet the needs of the child safely.
  • With working agreements, a statement of likely consequences of breaching the agreement should be discussed and understood before the agreement is entered into, and be recorded clearly on the document.
  • The safety plan or working agreement (signed by all parties and a team manager), should be stored on the child’s file.
  • The safety plan or working agreement should be shared with all agencies involved with the involved family. This ensures that all agencies have an understanding of the expectations for the family, and the likely consequences of these expectations not being adhered to. The date and details of when and how the agreement has been shared should be recorded on the child’s file.
  • Working agreements should be time limited and reviewed to support evidence based practice. They may change, or come to an end, for example after completion of an assessment, when the case is transferred to another team, or when the child’s plan is reviewed.
  • Safety plans may not be time limited, as if the presenting issue continues, the safety plan may represent an ongoing approach to managing this. However, reviewing a safety plan is equally important to measure its effectiveness and determine whether changes need to be made.


4. Reviewing a Safety Plan or Working Agreement

In order to ensure accountability, compliance and effectiveness in safeguarding the child, safety plans and working agreements should be regularly reviewed. The starting point for any review should always be with the family members involved, but must also encompass a multi-agency view. Safety plans and working agreements should be formally reviewed and the date of this clearly recorded:

  • During Child In Need reviews, Child Protection conferences and LAC reviews. It should be recorded in the minutes of the meeting that the plan or agreement has been reviewed, and any amendments noted, in the context of the meeting’s risk analysis;
  • During any formal family meeting, such as a Family Group Conference;
  • When an assessment has been completed. It may be appropriate to amend or end the plan or agreement, once further information has been gathered and once all agencies that are involved with the family have been consulted. The change(s) should be ratified at the first multi-agency meeting (whether CIN, CP or LAC) after the change has taken place;
  • Following significant events, where amendments to the plan or agreement may be necessary to clarify expectations;
  • Prior to case closure and subject to consultation with all agencies those have been involved with the family at the multi-agency meeting.

Compliance or otherwise with the plan or agreement should be discussed:

  • With the parent/carer during home visits;
  • With the child/young person in an age and development appropriate way;
  • During multi-agency meetings;
  • During supervision.

All reviews of the safety plan or working agreement should be documented on the child’s file, considering progress, effectiveness and compliance. Failures of the safety plan and breaches of the agreement, and action taken as a result should be recorded.


5. Multi-agency involvement and accountability

Most working agreements will be an agreement between the local authority and the family, however the agreement should be shared with all members of the multi-agency group, to ensure all professionals are aware of the expectations for both the family and the local authority. Similarly, while safety plans belong to the individual, multi-agencies partners should be aware of the contents, so they can support the individual to follow the plan and share any concerns they may have if it is ineffective. All professionals involved with a family are responsible for the monitoring of compliance with a working agreement and effectiveness of a safety plan, and reviewing the agreement within the multi-agency forum.

There will be some occasions where it is appropriate to include actions relating to other agencies in a working agreement e.g. attendance at health appointments or school, or engagement with other professionals.


6. Ending a Safety Plan or Working Agreement

Working agreements between parents and the local authority end when the case is closed. In some circumstances, there may be expectations of parents or other involved parties that continue when there is no longer social work involvement with the family. In these circumstances, a closure letter should be given to parents, setting out these expectations. This should be shared with multi-agency partners, and uploaded to the child’s file. It should be made clear on the closure record, how these expectations will be monitored by step down/universal services.

When a case is stepped down from social work involvement to Early Help, a Team Around the Family (TAF) agreement will be put in place. This is how families consent to the TAF process. There will also be a transfer record including a smart action plan indicating the work required to be undertaken. This sets out how the service will work with the family, and a contingency plan outlining what action should be taken if the family decide not to work with Early Help Service.

 It is the responsibility of both the social worker and Early Help Service to ensure that any expectations contained in the transfer plan follow the principles of the working agreement policy. It is the social worker’s responsibility to ensure the family sign the TAF agreement, and Early Help will then review this as part of the TAF process. 

Safety plans may continue beyond case closure, as they may represent a continuing way of life for a family, wider family and friends or individual. If a safety plan does continue beyond case closure, universal services should be made aware of this.

End