Chapter 13 Placement of Children
Relevant Regulations 27, 28, 29, 30, 34, 35 and 36 to 41
In this chapter:
2. Placement of Child with Foster Carer
3. Death or Absence of Foster Carer
4. Notification Requirements upon Placement
5. Short Break Placements with Foster Carers
6. Placement of Children in Residential Care
7. Making Emergency Placements
8. Reviewing Emergency Placements
Children should not be passive during their journey through the looked after children system. All too often, children and young people who have been in care describe being moved with little or no notice, sometimes with very limited opportunities to understand what is happening to them. The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 emphasise that, even when children have to be moved in an unplanned way, care should be taken to match their needs with the provision selected and that accurate and timely information is provided to the children's new carers as soon as possible.
Given that the placement of a child away from their family in a stranger's home is one of the most important interventions that can be made in a child's life the decisions we make regarding where a child is placed must be based upon the best available evidence, both about the child and the new carer or residential service. Once in placement, significant events and new information need to be reported in a timely way. These are the matters dealt with in this chapter.
2. Placement of child with foster carer
Matters to be considered prior to placement
Regulation 27 covers three elements relevant to the placement of a child with foster carers. These are as follows:
- any prohibitions;
- what the local authority must satisfy themselves about before placing a child with foster carers; and
- the requirement for the carer to notify them of certain events.
To some extent, the wording in this regulation is negative. The local authority must not place a child where that would be contrary to a supervision requirement or any order under Part II, Chapters 2 to 4 of the 1995 Act, or a permanence order. They must not place a child where that would return the child to the care of someone from whom he or she was removed by any order, authorisation or warrant. They must not place the child unless they are satisfied about a number of criteria in relation to the placement, as listed in regulation 27(2)(a) to (h). And they must make sure that the foster carer knows that he or she must notify them if the child dies, suffers any serious illness or injury or "absents themselves or .is taken away from the foster carer's home."
Clearly a local authority would not wish to place a child in contravention of a legal order. What is important is that the case records for the child have immediately accessible information about all orders etc. so that these can be checked prior to any placement.
Notifications once the placement is made
The duties about notifications should have been covered in the foster carer agreement, Schedule 6, para 6(d) and therefore fully explored with the carer in preparation for signing this when approved. The foster carer handbook or any other general agency material for foster carers should also include information about handling such events.
Social work staff should be prepared for responding to such notifications from foster carers. This will include both the responsibility of the child's worker for what needs to be done for the child; and also the need to make contact with parents or any one else with parental responsibilities, in terms of regulations 9 and 27(4).
Death and Serious Illness
There are particular requirements about the notification of the death of a child, regulation 9. See also Chapter 6 of this guidance. In the event of a serious illness of the child, the information about who is able to consent to medical treatment for the child will be needed by the local authority, carers and others.
All foster carers should have general information about what to do if children are abducted or run away. Some foster carers may need additional training or supports if they care for older children and adolescents where this is a more likely event or is a known pattern of individual children.
Steps to be taken prior to a planned placement
Regulation 27(2) is the provision covering what should be considered in foster carer placements which are not emergency placements, including the following:
- When considering whether a placement is in a child's best interests, local authorities should endeavour to achieve a 'matching process', especially where a placement is likely to be open-ended and may last for a significant period or has a defined purpose. It is also useful to have checklist of all the factors listed in section 17(1) to (4) of the 1995 Act, to establish the extent to which the proposed placement meets all those aspects of the child's needs.
- At the point at which a foster placement is planned and sought, it should be assumed that the alternatives of a child remaining at home under supervision or moving to kinship carers have been explored and are not appropriate. The alternatives should be re-stated here as the child moves into foster care, so that the carers know how the need for foster placement has been explained to the child and help the child understand the plan that is in place. If the plan is to ask for a supervision requirement with the proposed carers, the report for Children's Hearing should cover these matters too.
- At the point at which a foster placement is planned, the foster placement agreement, Schedule 4, should be prepared and signed by the carers and local authority. It will be helpful to have a style of a detailed foster placement agreement, which can be personalised and adapted for each child and placement.
Extending the approval terms of Foster Carers
Part X, Emergency placements, looks at the possibility of extending the terms of approval of foster carers in an emergency. Where there is some scope for planning a foster placement, there is an expectation that this will conform to the existing terms of the carers' approval. However, a child-centred placement service needs to be responsive to the needs of children, which may mean planning a placement where it is both necessary and appropriate to alter the terms of approval of carers. For example, extending a carer's approval terms may be required to keep siblings together in placement or to enable a foster carer who already knows a specific child to provide a degree of familiarity to them.
Given that the approval terms of foster carers are determined through careful consideration and assessment, such decisions to extend approval terms should only be taken for child-centred rather than resource-led reasons.
Risk Assessment Requirement
Local authorities should have a system for risk assessing a proposed placement, including the following factors:
- any health and safety issues;
- any known risks to the child from other people about which carers should be aware; and
- any potential risks to other members of the household, the carers' community and the child themselves from the behaviour of the child or anyone with whom the child has contact.
A high number of children who are placed in foster carer have siblings. (Please see guidance on Children in the same family) The regulations are largely written in relation to an individual child. In making a placement where siblings are concerned, the following should be taken into account:
- individual needs of each child and of the sibling group as a unit;
- protective and risk factors within the group;
- longer term consequences of placing siblings together or apart;
- roles within the sibling group;
- the impact of the sibling group within the wider context of the care setting.
Welcoming the Child to the Foster Home
Schedule 4 provides a framework for the foster carer placement agreement which should also include the specific requirements of the individual child. Time should be spent on going through this carefully, if possible with the parents and if appropriate with the child, as well as with the foster carers, so that all the details are in place to facilitate the move of the child into the placement.
The foster carers should be seen as full members of the team responsible for the care of the child. As such, they should have all available information, to consider firstly their ability to meet the child's needs and any safety issues for the child or any other member of the household. They also need to begin planning for how they will support the child's wellbeing and development while in their care; and they will also need to prepare other members of the household for the arrival of the child.
Keeping Information Safe
All foster carers should have addressed issues of confidentiality as part of their preparation and assessment. They will need to identify any particular issues for the individual child being placed. Where they have written information about the child, they should be provided with the necessary means to keep this safe.
Schedule 4, paragraph 4 includes the facility to consider when it is necessary for the foster carer to obtain advance approval for the child to stay temporarily with someone else. When longer-term placements are being planned, this is an area of discretion that can help normalise a living situation for children. Overnight stays with friends, or spending a night at the weekend with extended family of the foster carers, is all part of this. Some authorities and agencies also approve family members or close friends of the carers, as regular babysitters or to help out at holiday periods. This can enrich the family experience for the child.
Moving Children On
To the extent that it has been possible to plan a placement, it will also involve a planned move on for the child. For children and young people, the process of moving, with attendant losses, can have long lasting effects. Local authorities should provide guidance and training for staff and foster carers about best practice in preparing children, the carers they are leaving and the new foster carer household for the move and in managing the transition.
3. Death or absence of foster carer
An unanticipated death or sudden absence of a foster carer will need an immediate response from the local authority. Regulation 28 is aimed at providing some breathing space in circumstances where it would be more disruptive for a child to be moved precipitously from a settled placement rather than be included in the distress of the fostering household. In a household where there are two approved carers and one remains, continuity of care may be possible. The feasibility of this will be influenced both by the attitude of the remaining carer and also by the child's circumstances, such as length of time in the placement and the child's plan.
Where there is a single approved carer, there may still be another adult able to assume a caring role, at least in the short term. This may be an adult child of the carer or another adult in the household who will be known and checked, or a member of the carer's kinship network. In such circumstances it may be necessary to carry out basic checks similar to those in emergency placements. If there is a person willing to look after the child, who knows the child, and it is in the child's best interests to remain in the household at least for an interim period, then the local authority should make an emergency placement under regulation 36. The prospective emergency carer should sign a written agreement to carry out the duties in regulation 36(3).
Steps to take following immediate arrangements
Following the immediate arrangements, including an emergency placement where that is the best course of action, plans should be initiated to explore more fully the longer-term implications of the death or absence, both for other members of the carer's household and for the children in placement. This will frequently call for sensitive handling given that an immediate decision must be made about who will be the main support to the household and will monitor the situation. This person will be responsible for keeping all other relevant staff informed. Further decisions will then need to be made about the continuing placement of children within the changed household and whether this will require a fostering or kinship care assessment or a planned move for the child. If there has been an emergency placement, the local authority must review the child's case as set out in regulations 38 and 39.
4. Notification Requirements upon Placement
Regulation 29 specifies who must receive written notification of the foster placement of the child. Notifications should include "particulars of the placement." There should be procedures in place for notifying the following:
- the health board for the area where the foster carers reside;
- the carers' local authority, including the education department, if the child is being placed outwith his or her own local authority area;
- parents and any person with parental responsibilities or rights.
Notifications must be "as soon as reasonably practicable" and should be recorded. Local authority procedures should ensure that there are checks on the efficiency of their systems.
Notification to Parents
Notification to parents and/or any person with parental responsibilities is not required if they have already received a written copy of the child's plan under regulation 5 (regulation 29(2)). Whether they have received copies of the child's plan should be noted in records. Resultant non-notifications should also be recorded.
The local authority is specifically forbidden to notify parents and/or anyone with parental responsibilities or rights in the circumstances listed in regulation 29(3). These reasons include the following:
- that the local authority is of the view it would not be in the child's best interests; or
- because a permanence order, supervision requirement or other order or warrant specifies that the child's address should not be disclosed.
It will be necessary to record with reasons any circumstances where notifications are not made.
5. Short Break Placements with Foster Carers
See also Regulation 14 about short breaks with kinship carers and the guidance regarding 17. Short term placements in kinship care.
The purpose of regulation 30 is to simplify the arrangements for children who benefit from planned short term placements, sometimes called respite, short breaks or shared care placements. The regulations aim to make a distinction between two different types of short-term placement:
- those episodes of short breaks which are part of an agreed support plan to families; and
- the more unpredictable periods of short-term foster care made in response to a crisis in the birth family, reflecting a chaotic lifestyle for example.
Short Break placements to those already in the Looked After Children System
This type of provision is not only for birth families. Some children who benefit from planned short breaks may also continue to be looked after as part of a wider plan. These may be children on supervision requirements at home; or some challenging children already in foster carer, where foster carers are sustained by access to short breaks for the children.
Provision to regard episodes of short breaks care as a single placement
Many short breaks schemes were initiated especially to offer support to families caring for a child with significant disabilities or a serious health condition. Short breaks of this nature are most effective when they are based on trust and the quality of the relationship between the child's parents and the carer(s), built up over a sustained period. Regulation 30 recognises this in enabling a number of planned short-term placements to be regarded as a single placement, and so not need to be treated as a fresh period of being looked after each time.
This provision applies where no single placement lasts more than four weeks; and the total number of days in any given year do not exceed 120.
In planning and reviewing the expectations of short break services it is important that there is a recognition of the ongoing parenting role taken by the child's birth parents or those with parental responsibility. Reviews, for example, should be carried out with the minimum of bureaucracy while also ensuring that the services provided to the child are high quality and appropriately tailored to meet the child's needs.
Frequency of Review for Short Breaks
The reviews of looked after children receiving an ongoing short breaks service are covered by regulation 45(3), as follows:
- a review within three months of the child first receiving a short breaks service;
- every six months thereafter.
When children are looked after and placed away from home, residential establishments or units are one of the possible placements. The Residential Establishments - Child Care (Scotland) Regulations 1996, S I 1996/3256 remain in force, because they have not been revoked. They are now supplemented by:
- regulations 34 and 35, which are concerned with notifications about placement of children in residential establishments; and
- regulations 37 and 41, about emergency placements in residential establishments. These are covered under the guidance on Part X.
6. Placement of Children in Residential Care
Regulations 34 and 35 cover those aspects of residential care that relate to the placement of looked after children in residential establishments. They cover the two areas of notifications of placements and the information to be supplied.
Regulation 34 mirrors the similar Regulation 29 about notifications following placement with a foster carer. The same notifications, including to education and health services, are required when children are placed in residential establishments, under this regulations. See section 4 of this chapter above.
Regulation 35 sets out the information that must be provided to a residential service to enable it to provide appropriate care, in much the same way as Regulation 27 (with reference to Schedule 4) sets out the information to be provided to a foster carer.
The general principle applying to the provision of information for a residential unit is that it must be as comprehensive as that provided for a child living in any other care setting. There is the same intention that the local authority and the residential unit must work in partnership for the child's best interests. This needs to be based on a shared understanding of all the relevant issues for the child.
Risk assessment Requirement
In a similar way to placement in foster care, there should be a risk assessment where information is shared about any risk factors arising from either the child's history and behaviour or/and from the composition of the residential unit. Given that it tends to be older children in residential care, the child's views and understanding of the aims of the placement should form a central part of planning.
Behaviour Management and the emphasis upon education attainment
Regulation 35(b)(ii) highlights the reality that some children are placed in a residential unit because of their challenging or risky behaviour. Discussion of the placement should include consideration of appropriate sanctions and means of managing behaviour, and how the unit and children's social workers will plan interventions together to address children's problems. This must be balanced by a programme to support children's development, building their skills and resilience. This in turn ties in with the specific requirement in regulation 35(b)(iv) to consider children's educational needs.
7. Making Emergency placements
Regulations 36 to 41 cover the requirements when children have to be placed in an emergency. While it is the intention of the regulations to avoid as far as possible unplanned and unexpected moves for children and young people, it is accepted that some problems and difficulties cannot be foreseen by authorities.
Local authorities should monitor the number of children who are placed in an emergency, as well as those placed through planned interventions. This should help authorities in the planning of their emergency placements services.
While individual emergencies may not be foreseeable, the careful analysis of patterns of need should be used to anticipate the number and broad type of emergency placements and other support services required in any given area.
Contact and withholding child's address
Regardless of where a child is placed in an emergency, immediate arrangements should be made for him or her to have contact with those who are important to him or her and/or familiar. However, this is subject to contact being appropriate and not contrary to the terms of any court order or hearing warrant, etc. The local authority must ensure that social workers and everyone around the child are aware of any restrictions about contact for the safety of the child, and any prohibitions on disclosing the child's address.
Local authorities should ensure they have rigorous procedures to ensure that a child's address is not disclosed when that is prohibited and/or not in the child's interests.
Duty to provide information about the child
Regulation 36(5) requires the Local Authority to provide the person with whom the child is placed in an emergency with information about the child's background, health and emotional development. Although there is no corresponding duty in regulation 37 (emergency placement in residential establishment), a local authority should provide similar information to the unit at the time of the placement.
While providing the information may be difficult in some circumstances, local authority procedures at this crucial time for a child should prompt workers to make every effort to obtain as much information as possible, both to ease the transition for the child and to enable the carer or establishment to respond appropriately to the child. This may include ensuring that workers, including out-of-hours staff, have ready access to information already available about the child and his or her family; and also having procedures and systems which give as much space as possible to the social worker to concentrate on the needs of the child and communicating with parents or whoever is available with information about the child. Careful consideration should also be given to the links with siblings when emergency placements are made.
It is also vital to check if there are any important objects, items or photographs that should accompany the child.
Identifying resources in an emergency
Regulations 36 and 37 set out four placement options for consideration in an emergency:
i. an approved kinship carer, regulation 36(1)(a); or
ii. an approved foster carer, regulation 36(1)(b); or
iii. someone who is known to the child and has a pre-existing relationship with the child, regulation 36(1)(c); or
iv. a residential establishment, regulation 37(1).
These implications of four options are outlined in more detail below.
i. Placement with approved kinship carer
This may occur where the need for such a placement has been anticipated, for example where a parent has a deteriorating condition or where a parent's mental health difficulties or substance abuse are known to create crises. The kinship carer should already be approved by the local authority, have signed the kinship care agreement in Schedule 5 and had an opportunity to discuss this fully.
In addition, the carer should have had time to consider the matters and obligations in the Schedule 4 placement agreement about the child who is already known to them. These materials should address the duties on the carer as referred to in regulation 36(3). However, special attention should be given at the time of placement to contact arrangements, especially as there may be specific requirements made by a court or hearing in the case of an emergency placement under a child protection order or hearing warrant.
ii. Placement with approved foster carer
As with an approved kinship carer, any approved foster carer will already have signed a foster carer agreement in Schedule 6. Where the local authority consider that they may want to place a child with foster carers in an emergency, they may wish to ensure that the foster carer agreement used specifically covers in principle all the carers' duties in regulation 36(3). The Schedule 4 placement agreement for a specific child may need to follow later when a child is placed in an emergency, and any more specific details about contact and social work supervisory visits can be added at that point.
However, as with all emergency placements, special attention should be given at the time of placement to contact arrangements, especially as there may be specific requirements made by a court or hearing in the case of an emergency placement under a child protection order or hearing warrant.
In some instances, to keep siblings together, or simply to identify a foster placement, it may become necessary to consider approaching foster carers about a placement which takes them beyond their terms of approval. Where this is being considered in an emergency, the team leader (or other identified person) of the family placement team should be approached first. Many foster carers find it difficult to say 'no' in an emergency, and all local authorities and registered fostering services have a duty of care to their foster carers and their families. Any approach to extend carers' terms of approval must therefore be based on knowledge of their ability to manage an extra placement.
If, by the time of the review in three working days (regulation 38(2)), it is clear that the placement is continuing, the agency decision maker or other senior manager should be informed of the extension of the carers' remit and asked to approve this. Any such request should include the following:
- an immediate risk assessment;
- any additional supports that are being provided for the carers;
- plans to monitor the impact on the carers, any children of the carers and existing children in placement, as well as the child(ren) placed in the emergency.
The social workers for children already placed should be notified. Where the extra placement in an emergency is short-term or only intended to last until a longer placement becomes available, the emergency extension of the terms of approval should cease once the child has moved on. The carers' support worker should keep in close touch with the situation and ensure the placement does not exceed a maximum period agreed at the outset. If a particular placement settles down and works well for all concerned, consideration of an alteration to the terms of the carers' approval should be addressed at the foster carers' review. Consideration should be given to bringing forward the timing of this review, to allow for objective discussion of the issues before the additional placement becomes a fait accompli.
iii. Placement with unapproved carer
An emergency carer in regulation 36(1)(c) will normally be someone who could be a kinship carer but has not yet been approved. This could be because a kinship care assessment is underway but not completed when the emergency placement is needed; or the person may only come forward at the time of the emergency. He or she may be prepared to offer short-term care but not wish to be assessed and approved as a kinship carer, although this is a matter for ongoing discussion between the person and the local authority.
As with all emergency placements, special attention should be given at the time of placement to contact arrangements, especially as there may be specific requirements made by a court or hearing in the case of an emergency placement under a child protection order or hearing warrant.
The first stage of an emergency placement with an unapproved carer concerns what should be done within the first three working days. In an emergency, the local authority should have procedures to cover:
a) steps that must be taken before the child actually moves in with the unapproved carer, including a check of local authority records; a visit to the address where the child will be placed, to establish that it is safe for the child and also who is in the household; if the need for emergency placement is about child protection, an explicit discussion about keeping the child safe in the particular context of the carer's position in the child's network.
b) the agreement that needs to be discussed with and signed by the prospective emergency carer. This should be based on the duties which the carer has under regulation 36(3).
iv. Placement in a residential establishment
Regulation 37 allows for an emergency placement in a residential establishment for a period not exceeding 3 working days. The requirements are brief and purely address the need to establish that such a placement is the most suitable way of meeting the child's needs and that full consideration was given to the possibility of placing with a carer under regulation 36. For some children or young people, placement in a residential establishment may be the most appropriate choice, based on the available information at the time or the circumstances leading to the need for a placement. Clearly residential establishments have duties towards children placed under regulation 37 comparable to those laid out for emergency carers in regulation 36. These should be established in line with the appropriate provisions for all registered and inspected units.
Many of the emergency placements in residential establishments will be of older children or young people and the duties laid out for emergency carers in regulation 36(3)(b) to (e) and (5) are relevant for residential units also. In emergency placements, there may be many gaps in information about a child or young person so there is a need to build up the assessment. The circumstances leading to the emergency placement may form a significant part of this. Obviously, young people will vary as to whether a traumatic event will lead them to talk about themselves or close off communication. The establishment will need clear information both about respect for confidentiality and also what may need to be shared with the local authority.
There is a requirement in regulation 36(5) for the local authorities to give information about the child to the carer. A residential establishment will need similar information in order to provide appropriate care for the child and this should be provided as soon as possible. If an emergency residential placement continues after the three day review, regulation 41(4) imposes various duties on the local authority, including providing information in terms of regulation 35.
8. Reviewing Emergency Placements
After every emergency placement, the child's case should be reviewed within three working days. This is required by regulation 38(2) (for placements with carers under regulation 36); and regulation 41(2) (for placements in an establishment under regulation 37). Wherever possible, the time and date of this review should be set when the child is being placed. Local authority procedures should be clear about where these reviews will be held, so that there is capacity to carry them out in the necessary time frame.
Thereafter, if the child continues in the emergency placement, his or her case must be reviewed within six weeks, under regulation 39(3), where the placement is with a carer under regulation 36. Following a child's placement in a residential establishment, a child care review must be arranged within six weeks under regulation 45(2)(a), which is part of the general review requirements.
The Role of Independent Reviewing Teams in Emergency Reviews
Many local authorities have established independent reviewing teams and the point at, and means by which, they become involved in emergency placement reviews should be clarified with them. Depending on local arrangements and service capacity, it may be more realistic for the three working day review to be held within the team of practitioners who are already dealing with the situation; and then, if the child continues in the emergency placement, the case may be referred to the independent reviewing officers to arrange the six week review required under regulation 39(3).
Where the local authority does not have independent reviewing officers or they do not become involved until after the six week review, that review of the emergency placement should be chaired by a senior social worker or team leader who has not been directly involved in the emergency admission, to establish an element of independence, especially if there are contentious matters.
Who to include in Reviews of Emergency Placements
The key people to include in reviews, in addition to the chair, are:
- the child, if old enough;
- the child's parent(s) and any other person with parental responsibility;
- the child's carers or a staff member from the residential establishment which is caring for the child;
- the child's social worker;
- a social worker from the family placement team or the manager of the residential establishment;
- any other worker who was known to be actively involved in working with the child prior to the emergency placement.
The Purpose and Matters to be covered in the Three Working Day Review
The purpose of and requirements for the three working day review are listed in regulations 38(2) and (3) and 41(2) and (3). The main functions are to cover a range of matters as follows:
- Ensuring that all the requirements in regulations 38(2) and (3) or 41(2) and (3) are met, particularly deciding "whether placement continues to be in the best interest of the child".
- Ensuring that all the practical arrangements for the care of the child have been attended to, such as immediate clothing and equipment needs, transport to school, medication and dietary requirements.
- Obtaining the views of all concerned about the impact on the child of the placement, and in particular to establish the child's views.
- Where there are ongoing child protection concerns, confirming that all relevant people know how to keep the child safe.
- Where a young person's behaviour is placing him or her at risk, considering the management of this.
- Considering whether the particular placement provided for the child is in his or her best interests, and is the most suitable possible one.
- Where the placement is with approved foster or kinship carers, checking that a Schedule 4 foster carer or kinship care placement agreement has been completed.
- Where the placement is with a carer who is not an approved one, ensuring that the initial checks have been made and information gathered for the review. This is crucial because the local authority is unlikely to have detailed information on the carer in the same way as they would for an approved one. Also, this will make it easier to reach an informed decision about continuing with the placement. If the child remains in the emergency placement, these checks and information may form the early steps of a kinship carer assessment.
- Ensuring that the local authority is fully informed about the child's legal status, and about other services and agencies which may have responsibilities towards the child and/or be involved in the child's welfare. These may include: whether there is a pre-existing child's plan or any other support plan for the child or his or her family through the Health Board, education department or any other agency; the Children's Hearing system and dates of further hearings; any ongoing police or other child protection investigations; information about any other court orders for contact or residence in existence through private law applications, including under section 11 of the 1995 Act; and any other relevant issues such as immigration status or visa requirements.
- Where the child is already subject to a supervision requirement, discussing whether a review hearing should be requested, to take account of the child's change of circumstances.
- Where there is a child protection order, ensuring that everyone is aware of dates of hearings and the rights to seek a review of the order.
- Where it is clear that the child continues to require the placement, discussing plans for ongoing contact, where this is appropriate and safe.
- Establishing whether the information required under regulation 3 has been gathered, and whether a comprehensive assessment for the child has been completed under regulation 4 (leading to the child's plan under regulation 5). If there is a child's plan, this should be up-dated in light of the need for the emergency placement. If this has not been started or completed, and the child continues to be placed, there must be discussion about how the work should be initiated and carried out, including what should be done by the time of the six week review. This is in line with the duties in regulation 38(4).
- Explaining the purpose of the assessment and the plan to the child, as appropriate given his or her age, and to the parents. Particular attention should be paid in this to those families where children may have experienced various brief periods of placement and returning home quickly, with the assessment and planning process often interrupted.
- Identifying any support services that may already be in place and need to be transferred to the child's placement, and/or any new services that are required.
- Establishing whether there are any further options to pursue within the child's network, if the child has not been placed with kinship carers or someone otherwise known to him or her.
- If possible, identifying the arrangements for the six week review. A six week review of a continuing emergency placement with carers is required under regulation 39(3). A six week review of a continuing emergency placement in a residential establishment is required under regulation 45(2).
- Ensuring that everyone is clear about the duties on the local authority when the decision is for the placement to continue, and who is responsible for these. For a placement with carers, the duties are in regulation 38(4), to obtain information, make an assessment and a child's plan (see para 11 above); and regulation 40, notifications of the placement to certain agencies and people. For placement in a residential establishment, the duties are in regulation 41(4). These refer not only to obtaining information, making an assessment and making a child's plan, but also to regulations 34 and 35, about notifications and provision of information.
The Purpose and Matters to be covered in the Six week Review
If the three day review has led the local authority to continue an emergency placement with carers (regulation 39(3)) says there must be another review within six weeks of the original date of placement. Similarly, if the three day review has led the local authority to continue an emergency placement in a residential establishment (regulation 45(2)(a)) says there must be another review within six weeks of the original date of placement.
The six week review has to look at the matters listed in regulations 38(3) or 45(5) respectively. The issues covered above in relation to the three working days reviews will continue to be relevant. If the child continues to be looked after and placed after the six week review, further reviews will be required in due course under regulation 45(3) for carer placements, or regulation 45(2) for residential placements, within three months and then a further six months.
Extension of Emergency Placements with carers
If the three working day review has led the local authority to continue an emergency placement with carers, regulation 39(1) says that the placement may continue for up to 12 weeks from the original date. Regulation 39(2) only allows the placement to continue for more than 12 weeks in certain circumstances. If the child is with an approved kinship carer, all the placement requirements for kinship care in regulation 11 must be met. If the child is with an approved foster carer, all the placement requirements for foster care in regulation 27 must be met.
If the child is with an unapproved carer, the placement under this regulation will not be able to continue after the 12 week period unless he or she has been approved as a kinship carer by that time (regulation 39(2)(c)(ii)). The local authority also have to be satisfied that the placement is in the child's best interest and that the placement requirements for kinship care in regulation 11 are met. However, if a Children's Hearing make a supervision requirement or vary an existing one and name the unapproved carer as the place where the child is to live, the placement could continue on that basis. The local authority report recommending this would have to set out that this is in the best interest of the child and that the terms of regulation 36 were met, under regulation 7(2)(d).
Suitability of placement in longer-term planning
Emergency placements are at the other end of the spectrum from the careful matching in adoption or permanent placements. For all looked after children placed by local authorities, there are the systems for the review of children's plans and needs, regulations 44 and 45. Where children are placed with kinship carers, one of the key themes throughout is intertwining the threads of the children's needs with the ability of the kinship carers to respond to those needs. For other children who are placed by local authorities, there are also the annual reviews of foster carers and the inspections of fostering services and residential establishments. Of course there are overlaps and sharing of information, but the regulations for emergency placements highlight the importance of asking at an early stage whether this resource (possibly the best option at a time of crisis) continues to be suitable for a longer placement. It is important to acknowledge this issue early on in placement, so that the child and carers are not left in an uncomfortable limbo and that active plans are made to seek a more appropriate placement in a positive manner.
Considerations to be made when assessing the long-term viability of emergency provision
There are various issues to consider for longer-term planning, of which the following are examples.
- Type of Provision (Family Placement or Residential Care)
Efforts are usually made to find foster placements for younger children, while adolescents may be more likely to be placed in a residential establishment. This may be based on limited knowledge of individual children and young people, with restricted time to discuss the options with them. Further assessment may indicate that, for some young children, a family is a difficult environment to which they can find it hard to adapt and they will instead require the space a specialist residential placement may offer. On the other hand, some teenagers may flourish given individual attention in a family placement. Views of the most suitable type of placement may therefore be influenced by greater knowledge of the individual.
- Purpose of the Residential Unit
There are particular challenges for residential establishments, especially if they have a broadly defined remit, to cater for a mix of incoming children and young people while trying to provide stability for longer term residents.
- Siblings - Together of Apart
Many children are accommodated as sibling groups. For larger groups, the dilemma often starts when they are accommodated in an emergency. Is it more important to keep them together, even if this means residential care for very young children? Or would it be better to split them up, so that the little ones have a more manageable family experience? If children require long-term care, or eventually plans for permanence or adoption are made, such arrangements at the outset of placements may have a significant impact on all the plans thereafter. This calls for early attention to sibling relationships, including contact arrangements between separated siblings in their own right, apart from contact with parents.
Attention also needs to be paid to those situations where sibling relationships are so distorted as to put certain children at risk, especially if they share a bedroom. At the same time, there are other siblings whose relationship has been adversely affected by dynamics within their birth family and who need to learn together about healthier ways of interacting. Where siblings have been split in an emergency, and it is clear that the aim should be to reunite them while they continue to need placement, there needs to be an active plan to achieve this.
- Cultural and Religious Identity
Some children may have particular needs arising from their ethnicity, religion or culture but which cannot be immediately met in an emergency. Support to them and education of their carers may be of immediate help, but attention must be given to finding more suitable alternatives if long-term arrangements are likely. This is better for the children and their welfare than leaving them in a less well-suited placement, and then facing further dilemmas about uprooting them from foster carers with whom attachments have been formed.
- Sustainability of Placement
Foster carers may be very willing to help out in an emergency but then find that a placement is lasting longer than anticipated. This may cause the equilibrium of the household to be unsettled, with ongoing stress for themselves, their own children, other children in placement and the incoming child. Foster carer support workers need to be alert to these situations and help carers contribute to early reviews, so that placements which may not be sustainable are identified early and ended in a planned way, minimising the negative consequences for the child and family.
Strategic consideration of emergency provision
Although careful matching of placements may not be realistic in an emergency, local authorities constantly need to review their number and range of resources, and those they may call on from registered fostering providers. This is to enable them increase their potential to offer children placements which meet their needs as fully as possible in emergency, temporary situations.