Contact arrangements for children during care proceedings
2 minute read
Whatever the care arrangements for a child during care proceedings, this must be set out in an interim care plan. The arrangements for who a child spends time and is in contact with must also be detailed in the plan (see schedule 2 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010). These arrangements are often called contact arrangements.
An interim care plan is a temporary care plan prepared by children’s services for care proceedings. It is the plan for the child until the court makes final decisions about their long-term care arrangements.
An interim care plan must:
- Set out where the child will live and who with
- How the child’s needs will be met
- Detail how the child should be in touch with and spend time with while the care proceedings. And how this will happen.
The social worker’s statement prepared for the start of the care proceedings should explain more about the interim plans. Including the reasons why children’s services think the care and contact arrangements are best for the child. The Family Court must approve the interim plan for a child before it can be put in place/into action.
Click on the dropdowns below to find out more about contact during care proceedings:
What should influence what arrangements are put in place for contact during care proceedings?
The arrangements for contact will depend on the precise situation. And on the child’s assessed needs. Many different things may be relevant to working out what is right for the child and family.
- Where the child lives during the care proceedings, including whether this is with other family members or with unrelated carers
- Whether they live with their brothers and sisters or are placed separately
- Any challenges or difficulties their parent is facing and whether help and support is yet in place
- The child’s wishes and feelings
- The views of parents and other family members.
And the precise duties that children’s services have in relation to contact will vary depending on whether during the proceedings:
- The child is looked after in the care system under an interim care order,
- The child is looked after under a voluntary arrangement
- Or is not looked after.
What is supervised contact? What is supported contact?
Contact between children and their parents can often be supervised during care proceedings. This is because if it is thought a child has suffered harm or is likely in the care of their parents then they may need help or to be observed by a practitioner when they spend time with their children.
There are different ways contact may be supervised. This may be by a professional supervisor in a contact centre. Or the parents may be able to take the child out into the community, but the supervisor will come with them. Or other family members may oversee contact.
Sometimes contact is less formally supervised but is supported. This means contact is less closely monitored, but that there might be someone in the same room to help out.
If there is someone supervising contact, they will usually take notes of what has happened during the session. These notes should be:
- Sent to children’s services
- Shared with the solicitors for each of the people involved in the care proceedings (the parties). This includes the parents’ solicitor.
This means those involved in the proceedings can respond to any concerns raised in the notes. And highlight positive things that happen in contact between the child and their parent.
If a child is looked after in the care system, including during care proceedings the precise duties that children’s services have in relation to contact will vary depending on whether during the proceedings:
- The child is looked after in the care system under an interim care order,
- The child is looked after under a voluntary arrangement
Government statutory guidance called The children Act 1989 guidance and regulations: Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review reminds children’s services of the importance of maintaining relationships including as soon as children become looked after. It says:
‘The first weeks that a child is looked after in the care system are likely to be crucial to the success of the relationship between the parent, the social worker and the child’s carers, and to the level of successful future contact between the parents and the child’ (see paragraph 2.82 in the guidance).
What duties do children’s services have in relation to contact if a child is looked after under an interim care order?
If a child is looked after under an interim care order during care proceedings children’s services must allow reasonable contact with:
- The parents
- Anyone else with parental responsibility for the child. This includes:
- Guardians and special guardians
- Any person who was named in a child arrangements order in place immediately before the interim care order was made as a person that the child lives
- A step-parent with parental responsibility.
This duty to allow reasonable contact is set out in section 34 of the Children Act 1989.
Can children’s services stop contact?
Children’s services cannot stop contact between a parent and the child where an interim care order is in place unless they have the court’s permission to do this. But they may suspend (temporarily stop) contact for up to seven days. But they can only do this in an urgent situation. And even then, only if it necessary ‘to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare’. This means they can only do so if it is necessary to make sure the child is kept safe and well (see section 34(6) of the Children Act 1989).
If children’s services use this power to suspend contact, they must:
- Immediately explain in writing why contact is suspended and for how long
- Inform the parents that this decision can be challenged in the Family Court
- Send a written notice to the parents and the child’s independent reviewing officer telling them about the decision
- Tell the child in writing too. Unless this would not be appropriate because of their age.
What if a child is looked after under section 20 voluntary arrangements during care proceedings?
In this situation the arrangements should be agreed with the parent or other person with parental responsibility who has agreed to the voluntary arrangement.
It is always important to remember that when a voluntary arrangement is in place children’s services do not have parental responsibility for the child. They should work in partnership with children and families to agree the best contact arrangements. Government statutory guidance called ‘The children Act 1989 guidance and regulations: Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review’ reminds children’s services of this. It says where a child is in a voluntary arrangement, contact is ‘a matter for negotiation and agreement between the responsible authority, the child, parents and others seeking contact’ (see paragraph 2.99).
See our Children looked after under a voluntary arrangement (section 20) page for more information about contact for children looked after in this way.
What if a child is not looked after in the care system during proceedings?
Some children may be subject to care proceedings, but not looked after in the care system. Examples include a grandparent or aunt caring for the child under a child arrangements order.
In this situation, the legal duties which are in place in relation to contact for looked after children would not apply. Instead, arrangements about contact may be agreed between the parent and the person who is caring for the child.
But those arrangements should still be:
- Agreed with the children’s services
- Included in the child’s care plan
- Approved by the court dealing with the proceedings.
Note if a relative in caring for a child under a care order or under a voluntary arrangement (under section 20 of the Children Act 1989) they will be a kinship foster carer and the child will be a looked after child. See our Kinship carers page for more information about this and other ways relatives and friends may care for children.
Will the wider family and friends network still be able to have contact with a looked after child during care proceedings?
The law says, unless it is not in the child’s best interests, children’s services must promote contact between a child who is looked after under a court order and:
- Their parents
- Anyone else who has parental responsibility for them, and
- Any relative, friend or other person connected with them
when a child is looked after under a court order.
Government statutory guidance called The children Act 1989 guidance and regulations: Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review reminds children’s services of the importance of maintaining relationships between children and their wider family and friends network.
- ‘In discussions with the child during the assessment and as part of wider considerations, it will be important to identify all those people in the child’s network with whom it is important to maintain contact. They may not always be blood relatives of the child’ (paragraph 2.81)
- ‘Grandparents and other relatives can provide a sense of family history and continuity where the child cannot live with his/her birth parents yet contact may easily be lost if the child becomes looked after’ (paragraph 2.84).
So, if a child is looked after in the care system during care proceedings it is important that their family know about this guidance. And what legal duties children’s services departments have in relation to contact.
The precise duties will depend on whether the child is looked after under a voluntary arrangement or under a court order.
- Children in care under a court order page
- Children looked after in the care system under voluntary arrangements (section 20) page for more information.
Can parents get help with the costs of contact, such as transport, during care proceedings?
Where a child is looked after in the care system children’s services may help parents with the costs of contact. This may be paying for travel. It may be helping with other expenses, such as meals out and activities.
But this will only happen where children’s services believe:
- The visits could not otherwise be made without ‘undue financial hardship’
- The circumstances justify the payment (see schedule 2, paragraph 16 of the Children Act 1989).
This simply means children’s services can help with these expenses, but they do not have to.
Parents can talk to the child’s social worker about what help they need with contact costs. And find out what costs children’s services can cover.
But the plans for contact should be set out in the interim care plan for the child. This plan will have been looked at by the court when care proceedings started. The interim plan for the child, including contact arrangements, has to be approved by the court before it can be put into action.
The court will expect to be told if there are problems with the contact taking place. A parent can raise any difficulties with their solicitor. The solicitor will then be able to write to, or speak with, the lawyer for children’s services.
What if contact can’t happen without a parent being given some financial help?
If this is the case and there are no other sensible options, then the parent may want to consider making a complaint.
The following guidance may help with this:
- Parents and carers have a right to complain where they are concerned children’s services or a social worker have not done the right thing for their child or family. A complaint can still be made during care proceedings. But children services may decide not to look at the complaint if the same issue will be investigated and decided by the court (See Regulation 8 of the Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure Regulations 2006 and Getting the best from complaints, 2006 at paragraph 2.5.2). And it can be harder to work with social workers after a complaint has been made however. This may especially be the case if the child still has the same social worker.
So it may be worth discussing things with one of our specialist advisers before making a complaint by:
- Posting a question on our Advice Forum to receive advice from one of our expert advisers
- Calling our specialist legal and practice advice line on 0808 801 0366 (the advice line is open Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 3 pm excluding bank holidays).
See our Complaints page for information and advice about the children’s services complaints process.
If a parent is not happy with the amount of contact they are having with their child during care proceedings, what can they do?
Arrangements for contact will vary depending on the precise situation but should always meet the child’s assessed needs.
But if a parent is not happy with contact arrangements these are some practical tips that may help:
1. Talk to their child’s social worker
The court approved interim care plan for a child during care proceedings must include arrangements for contact. The plan, including the parts about contact, must be kept under regular review. Sharing with the social worker any concerns or questions about contact is important. A parent can ask to talk things through, they do not have to wait for the social worker to ask them for their views about contact. Or wait for the next time there is a meeting with the social worker planned.
2. Raise their concerns with the independent reviewing officer
The independent reviewing officer is a social worker. Their role to make sure that children’s services are meeting a looked after child’s needs. Concerns can be raised with the independent reviewing officer at any time. Things don’t have to await the next looked after child review. A parent can contact the independent reviewing officer directly. The child’s social worker will have their contact details if these have not already been shared.
3. Seek advice from their solicitor
The solicitor will be able to advise them. And can raise concerns with the court if necessary. Whether contact arrangements are changed within proceedings may depend on the progress or outcome of parenting or other assessments. Someone carrying out a parenting or expert assessment may be asked their opinion about what the best arrangements for contact are.
4. Parents may discuss contact arrangements with the children’s guardian
Parents should discuss this with their solicitor first, as their solicitor may think the best approach is for them to talk to the children’s solicitor.