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Kinship Assessment Guide – Section 4 – Undertaking international viability assessments

Section 4. Undertaking international viability assessments

This section discusses the practical steps that will need to be taken, and the factors considered, when a potential carer lives in another country.

Conducting a viability assessment when the potential carer is living abroad (or there is some other international element that must be considered) can be particularly challenging. Nevertheless, it is important that potential carers living abroad are afforded the same opportunity for assessment as in domestic assessments (although local authorities will inevitably have to take into account the resources practically available).

Obtaining information from other countries is time consuming and there are no statutory timescales that can be imposed on a foreign country or embassy. It is therefore essential that all international assessments are given priority as they may take much longer to complete and impact on the 26-week timescale in care proceedings.

Ideally, the assessor will visit the potential carer; in most cases this is unlikely to be practical, however. The local authority will therefore need to determine the most appropriate means of communicating with the potential carer. Video calls should be undertaken where possible, for example via Skype or FaceTime. (Telephone calls as a means of undertaking the assessment should be a last resort). When arranging calls, remember to take time differences into account. It may be difficult for a potential carer to provide thoughtful answers in the middle of the night or to speak openly if they are at work. Interpreters should always be used when English is not the potential carer’s first language.

Another factor to bear in mind is that any need for on-going financial support for a potential carer living abroad may prove practically difficult unless they have a UK bank account. International money transfers take some time and involve administrative costs, so it is worth considering how this and any other barriers could be addressed early on.

Carolyn Housman talks about the international perspective

4.1 International treaties and cooperation

It is important to establish whether the potential carer’s country of residence is in contractual agreement with the UK through The Hague Convention 1996*, which relates to the recognition and enforcement of court decisions between countries, as well as measures for the protection of children across borders. The status table to find out whether a country is a signatory to this agreement can be found here.

*The UK has now left the European Union and therefore Brussels IIa no longer applies in any care proceedings issued after 31 December 2020.

Where a country is a signatory to The Hague Convention 1996, it means there are systems in place for requesting information, and to register and enforce any orders made in the UK. Practitioners who were previously familiar with the Brussels IIa agreement should ensure they also are familiar with the The Hague Convention 1996 because although the agreements are similar, there are certain matters that are covered by one and not the other.

The assessor should ensure that as much information about the potential carer, local resources, and legal requirements for assessments and procedures for registering orders is requested as early as possible through the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit (ICACU). The ICACU’s application form and guidance to making an application can be found here.

Most countries have a Central Authority designated to facilitate the implementation and operation of international treaties and law. (In England and Wales, this is the ICACU). Central Authorities can provide necessary information to inform the assessment, such as whether the child can be relocated legally to that country, information about the potential carer and suggested wording for court orders to assist in placement of the child abroad. Even if the potential carer’s country of residence is not covered by the Hague Convention 1996, it is still important to contact the country’s embassy or Central Authority for information about the potential carer and what they can do to assist with the assessment.

It is also important to consider how police checks and health checks can be undertaken and how long these will take. The ICACU and Central Authority in the relevant country are likely to be able to provide information about this. It is also possible to request international police checks directly from the UK Central Authority for the Exchange of Criminal Records (UKCA-ECR).13

4.2 Factors to consider in international viability assessments

The factors discussed in Section 3 also apply when conducting an international viability assessment, but a number of additional factors will need to be taken into consideration when potential carers are living abroad. These include:

  • The local child welfare system, including social work and other family support
  • The financial and demographic profile of the local area (in order to contextualise a potential carer’s financial circumstances against the cost of living) and what financial support is available locally
  • The education and health resources available, whether these meet the specific current and future needs of the child and whether there is a cost
  • The potential carer’s legal and immigration status in their country of residence
  • Any immigration issues that the child might face and whether they could be naturalised in the country to which they may move (as that could affect their long-term welfare)
  • The political situation in the region and/or country and the potential effect on the child
  • Whether there are any specific risks to a particular gender, sexuality, religion or ethnicity in the relevant region or country
  • Any potential risk to the social worker in travelling to the relevant country to undertake an assessment. (It is always necessary to consider whether a British registered social worker can undertake assessments there legally and safely, and/or whether there is an appropriate local resource that could be utilised. It is also important to consider whether there may be any specific risk (relating to the social worker’s gender, religion, ethnicity, disability, or sexuality, for example) or whether it may be necessary to find a specialist Independent Social Worker).

There may be logistical challenges relating to all of these considerations. For example, it may be that the child will experience a change in culture and environment, language, and religious practice, as well as potential separation from his or her other family and current carers by a great distance (see also 4:3 below). The impact of these potential changes, coupled with the change in carers, should be considered along with the potential carer’s ability to recognise the likely challenges ahead. It will be important to explore the potential carer’s understanding of the impact that a move abroad may have on the child and how they will seek to mitigate that impact.

4.3 Contact

As part of this process, an important question to consider is the ability of the potential carer to promote contact from abroad with the child’s family and connections in the UK, and to do so safely. Consideration should be given to any practical difficulties, particularly if long-distance travel is required – for example, financial constraints on travel and the ability of the child to travel alone, which will depend on their age and maturity.

Consideration will also need to be given to how the potential carer will manage contact with the child’s parents if the child is moving away from the country where either parent resides. It will also be essential to consider the impact of separation from any sibling, should this be the case. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are a number of methods of contact including video calls, telephone calls, electronic messaging and correspondence by post.

The local authority should also consider what language and/or cultural/religious support could be provided to the child during the assessment process to prepare the child for transition, should the final assessment of the potential carer prove positive.


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