How should decisions about contact for a child looked after under a voluntary arrangement be made? Who should be involved in them?
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Before making contact arrangements for any looked after child, a social worker should carry out an assessment of the child’s needs. This is required by government regulations called The Care Planning Placement and Review (England) Regulations 2010 (see regulation 4(1)).
Government statutory guidance called The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review, says that:
- The assessment should identify those people in the child’s network that it will be important for the child to be in contact with (see paragraph 2.81). This may include grandparents and brothers and sisters (whether those brothers and sisters are also in the care system or not)
- 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’. It says early visits are essential, though parents may need help to cope with both their own and their child’s distress (see paragraph 2.82) and
- ‘Parents should be involved in planning for contact prior to placement wherever possible’ (see paragraph 2.82). So, parents should be involved in the process of thinking through what contact arrangements will meet the child’s needs. This is an important way in which children’s services should be working in partnership with the family.
- Then, before making decisions about contact arrangements children’s services must gather and take into account the wishes and feelings of:
- The child (bearing in mind their age and level of understanding)
- Their parents
- Anyone else with parental responsibility for them, and
- Any other relevant people (see section 22(4) and 22(5)of the Children Act 1989).
- Children should be supported to communicate their wishes and feelings with assistance from an advocate. They should be supported to communicate via a range of methods if necessary (see paragraph 2.80 of the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations: volume 2: care planning, placement and case review).