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Guidance on the Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009 and the Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007

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Chapter 4- The Child's Plan

relevant regulations: 4 and 5.

In this chapter:

1. Introduction: A note about the use of the term 'Child's Plan.'
2. The Contents of the Child's Plan
3. Who needs to be consulted when preparing a Child's Plan
4. Reviewing and Monitoring the Child's Plan
5. The Range and Level of Services to be provided
6. The Child's Development
7. Health
8. Education
9. Other aspects of development
10. Parental Involvement for all Looked After Children
11. Parental Responsibilities for Father and Others
12. Relevant Persons for the Children's Hearing System
13. The Local Authority's Relationship with Parents.

1. Introduction - A note about the use of the term 'Child's plan.'

The use of the term 'child's plan' in these regulations is within the context of 'looked after' children as defined in section 17(6) of the 1995 Act. However, in parts of Scotland the term 'child's plan' may have wider application than solely in relation to looked after children. Some children who become looked after may already be subject to other planned interventions, for example in relation to health or education. These may be under a different title or be brought together under the heading of a single child's plan. Please see the Scottish Government GIRFEC website for further details. Equally, when children are no longer 'looked after', other services may need to continue and these will require planning and coordination and this too may involve the creation of a plan, or the on-going use of an existing child's plan.

Regardless of whether the term the 'child's plan' is used in the specific context of these regulations, the same multiagency imperative remains, that of working together to provide a cohesive planned intervention and support to vulnerable children.

2. The Contents of the Child's Plan

The child's plan that the local authority must make for each looked after child, regardless of the particular legal status or where the child is living, should be based on the information found and made by the local authority under Regulations 3 and 4.

Requirements for those Looked After (including those living at home)

For every looked after child, including those living at home, the child's plan should set out the matters and arrangements specified in Part I of Schedule 2. The Part I matters that must be set out in the child's plan for every looked after child are:

  • The local authority's immediate and longer term plans for the child;
  • Details of the services required to meet the care, health and education needs of the child;
  • The respective responsibilities of the local authority; the child; any person with parental responsibility; any foster carer or kinship carer for the child; where the child is placed in a residential establishment, the designated manager of that establishment; and of any other relevant person.

Additional Requirements for those Looked After who are placed away from Home

For children who are being or have been placed away from home, the matters covered in Schedule 2, Part II, must also be included in the child's plan. Placement may be with a kinship carer in accordance with regulation 11; with foster carers in accordance with regulation 27; or in a residential establishment. Part II of Schedule 2 has a list of matters to be covered, namely:

  • The type of accommodation to be provided, the address and name of the person at that accommodation responsible on behalf of the local authority;
  • The contribution the child's parents or any other person will make to the child's day-to-day care;
  • Arrangements for involving the child and those contributing to the child's day-to day care in decision-making;
  • Contact arrangements between the child and any of the categories of persons in section 17(3)(b) to (d) of the 1995 Act i.e. parents; any person who is not a parent but has parental responsibilities and rights in relation to the child; and any other person whose views the local authority considers relevant. If appropriate, the reasons why contact with any of these people would not be reasonably practicable or would be inconsistent with the child's welfare (see also Section 5 of this Guidance);
  • The expected duration of the arrangements for the child and the steps which should be taken in bringing the arrangement to an end, including arrangements for the return of the child to his or her parents or other suitable person.

3. Who needs to be consulted when preparing a child's plan

As part of the preparation for the child's plan, the local authority must "so far as is reasonably practicable and consistent with the best interest of the child" consult with the people listed in regulation 5(2). The child's plan should be made in writing and include the matters listed in regulation 5(3). A copy of the plan should be given to those listed in regulation 5(4), including the child where appropriate. However, regulation 5(5) says that a copy of the plan does not need to be given to parents or others when the local authority considers that it would not be in the child's best interests, taking account of their responsibilities under section 17 of the 1995 Act or in terms of any order, warrant etc.

Through seeking the views of affected people and consulting with them as much as possible, plans should be agreed with the following parties:

  • the child or young person themselves, taking account of his or her abilities and level of understanding;
  • those who have parental responsibilities and rights for the child;
  • those who have charge of or control over the child at the time the arrangement commences; and
  • anyone else the local authority considers "appropriate", including the prospective carers if these are not the parents.

Where a child is looked after because he or she is subject to a supervision requirement or an order, authorisation or warrant made under Chapters 2, or 3 of Part II of the 1995 Act or a or a permanence order, the parents or carers will have no choice about whether or not their child is looked after. However, this should not generally preclude trying to reach agreement with parents or carers about the ways in which the plan is put into effect.

Where a young person is 16 or over, arrangements to accommodate him or her may be made directly with him or her under section 25 of the 1995 Act and parents' agreement is not required to look after the child or young person. However, in practice, except where a young person is completely estranged from his or her parents, it will normally be beneficial to the young person to include his or her parents in the decision-making. In these circumstances, care needs to be taken not to undermine the young person's right to request accommodation or breach his or her confidentiality.

Whenever practicable, the plan for the immediate arrangements for the child should be drawn up before the placement is made. Otherwise it should be drawn up as soon as practicable after the child is placed. It should be reviewed, and where necessary adjusted, at the first and at subsequent reviews and/or if the child changes placement.

Where the child remains at home, or is accommodated and placed elsewhere at the request of parents, or is placed under a supervision requirement, permanence order, warrant etc, achievement of the child's plan is most likely where there is agreement between the local authority and the parents about the main matters in the plan. A signed written agreement will generally be the best way of signifying the parents' understanding and commitment to the plan. Where placement is contrary to the wishes of the parents, every effort should be made to be open and honest in discussing the areas of disagreement. It may be helpful in some situations for the parent to record his or her agreement with some aspects of the plan but not others, rather than not agreeing the plan at all.

Where the child is of sufficient age and understanding, the child should also be a signatory of the plan. This is particularly relevant if the plan relates to a young person whose behaviour is the primary matter of concern. This may be more difficult to achieve, and sometimes inappropriate, where a child is required to live away from home on a supervision requirement.

4. Reviewing and Monitoring the Child's Plan

The initial plan will primarily address the immediate arrangements to meet the child's care needs. It may require further assessment within a time limited period, defined in local authority procedures and monitored through reviews, to complete a comprehensive assessment. This may then raise more detailed and specific matters which have to be addressed to meet the child's longer term needs. Agreement to a more substantive plan for change can usefully be accompanied by a contract between the child if appropriate, the parents, and the local authority, including expectations of the concerns to be addressed, the services to be provided and anticipated evidence of progress.

In drawing up the child's plan, consideration should be given to the following points:

  • what are the objectives of the local authority in looking after the child and is any change needed in legal status to achieve these objectives?
  • can the objectives be achieved through the provision of accommodation by voluntary agreement with parents either as a single placement or as a series of short-term respite placements?
  • is a supervision requirement or other legal order needed to achieve the objectives?
  • if the child is to be looked after under a supervision requirement or other legal order, does the child need to be looked after away from home?
  • if so, what type of placement is required?
  • how long is it planned that the child will be looked after and what arrangements have to be made for the time when the child is no longer looked after?
  • where it is agreed that the child is looked after away from home, what plans are there to restore the child to his or her immediate or extended family or, if this is not appropriate or achievable, to provide permanence in an alternative family or to provide support for the child to live independently?
  • where it is agreed that the child is looked after away from home, what arrangements need to be made for contact, health care and/or education?

The child's plan should be a clear and focused document which spells out who will be doing what, and by when, in order to meet the objectives of the placement. It should address both what is necessary to ensure appropriate care for the child and also what needs to be addressed in relation to the child's family and environment to secure a safe, sustainable and appropriate base for the child. It should outline the responsibilities of the local authority, the child, anyone with parental responsibilities for the child, and any other person the local authority consider relevant. For a child placed away from home, the responsibilities of his or her carers will be relevant. The objectives should be tangible and achievable.

The plan should be written in plain language, avoiding jargon, and convey to each party what is expected of him or her.

It should be a document that is monitored, reviewed and updated so that it remains relevant. The plan should help to ensure that the child is only looked after for as long as is necessary and beneficial for him or her.

5. The range and level of services to be provided

a: Type of placement and matching

For each child, consideration needs to be given to the type of placement and services which will meet his or her assessed needs. Wherever practicable, prior to making a placement when a child is to be placed away from home, the local authority should find out the views of the child and his or her parents about the type of placement which they feel will meet their needs. The child's extended family and friendship network should normally be the first option considered for a potential placement. This is addressed more fully in Chapter 9 of this Guidance. However, it will not always be possible to consider kinship carers in short or even long-term planning, and arrangements for and placement of a child should not be delayed because appropriate kinship carers are not available.

If a choice of placement is available, the local authority should apply their own criteria for the selection of the placement and also consider how the views of the child and their parents are taken into consideration. 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. Consequently, the decisions we make regarding where a child is placed must be based upon the best available evidence, both about the child and the foster carer or residential provider.

Local Authorities should develop their policies and procedures to ensure that the needs of the child are appropriately matched with the proposed placement, and that any gaps or shortfalls - for example, in relation to a child's religious or cultural needs - are appropriately addressed in the type of support and advice provided. Any needs arising from a child's disability or learning needs also require specific consideration at this stage. For older children in particular issues of gender and sexuality may also be relevant. The level, frequency and location of contact with family members and others will always be a particularly important area to consider at the point of placement. See also Chapter 5 of this guidance.

Once a suitable placement has been identified, wherever possible an introductory visit should be made by the child and parents as part of planning the move. If this is not possible, the child and their parents should be provided with information about the carers, e.g. through a carers' book.

Placement in Residential Care

Where the child needs placement away from home all options should be considered in light of the needs of the child, set out in the care plan. This is likely to mean placing with kinship carers, foster carers, in residential care or suitable alternative care placements.

In making a placement decision, the age of the child should be seen as one of a range of important factors which determine the best option. It is important that the right placement is chosen from the beginning and ideally this should also be a place which can offer permanence to a young person in care.

Making an effective first placement - which offers stability, safety and a nurturing environment - reduces the risk of placement breakdown. However, where a young person has experienced placement breakdowns, careful consideration of the reasons for the breakdown is required before a further placement is decided.

Some young people may express a view that they prefer residential care to foster care. This view should be carefully considered, given that an enforced placement is unlikely to work. Some young people need specialist, educational or therapeutic services provided in the place where they live. A very small number of young people will need secure residential care because of risk factors.

Before placing a child in a residential establishment, the local authority should seek and take account of the views of the child, his or her parents, other people with parental responsibilities and any other person deemed relevant by the local authority. The local authority should also be satisfied and continue to monitor that the stated functions and objectives of the establishment, as far as practicable, meet the assessed needs of the child and, where appropriate, his or her family. This is particularly important where a child has been identified as requiring specific therapeutic services.

Strategic Commissioning

The launch of the National Residential Child Care Initiative reports and the response by the Scottish Government set out a range of issues and ideas to help local authorities efficiently and effectively provide services for children in care. In particular, local authorities will want to adopt a strategic commissioning approach to the provision of services - starting with a analysis of their population and future needs, and working with partner organisations - to determine what profile of services are needed over time and to seek value-for-money arrangements with providers on this basis. Strategic commissioning has the potential to reduce the use of expensive 'spot purchasing' and to ensure sufficient capacity for the range of care placements needed is available when needed.

B: Other services

Regardless of the type of placement, or if children remain at home on home supervision, consideration should be given as to whether there are additional services which will benefit the children. In some particularly challenging placements, the provision of well planned respite may help to sustain the main placement where this is consistent with meeting the needs of the child. Children may need counselling, psychological, or psychiatric services to help overcome the effects of previous deprivation or abuse. As outlined above, children may need additional help to maintain their ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic identity, particularly if it has not been possible to achieve this fully within the placement. Children who commit offences may need to take part in programmes which discourage re-offending.

One particularly important dimension of the child's plan is working with the family. This is the child's plan and as such emphasis is on services for the child. However, part of the overall plan may be about the need for:

  • change in parental lifestyle;
  • additional support to compensate for parental vulnerabilities;
  • development of parenting abilities;
  • changes to the home environment for the child's benefit.

Some services may therefore be appropriately focused on adult needs and draw on other statutory, voluntary or independent services. Where such services are involved in the child's plan, it needs to be clear that, while subsequent decisions may take into account progress made by parents to improve their circumstances or functioning, the local authority retain the responsibility to assess whether such changes will be sufficient to allow a child to return home. T he child's well-being remaining central.

The child's plan should indicate the anticipated duration of supervision and/or placement. After a child ceases to be looked after, he or she may remain 'in need', and, along with the parents or carers, may well still require services. This is the case whether a child returns to their birth parents, is granted permanence with a carer or is adopted.

6. the Child's Development

The Regulations make a number of references to health and educational services. Much of this is about ensuring the appropriate transfer of arrangements for services. Effective intra and inter agency collaboration requires:

  • a shared understanding of the tasks, processes, principles, and roles and responsibilities outlined in national guidance and local arrangements for protecting children and meeting their needs;
  • good communication between professionals, including a common understanding of key terms, definitions and thresholds for action;
  • effective working relationships, including an ability to work in multi-disciplinary groups or teams; and
  • sound decision-making, based on information-sharing, thorough assessment, critical analysis and professional judgement; and
  • multi-agency training as an essential component in building common understanding and nurturing good working relationships.

Children who have experienced loss and separation may have complex needs requiring a co-ordinated response across a range of professional disciplines. The child's plan therefore needs to be genuinely multidisciplinary, embodying the principles of effective corporate parenting.

7. Health

Children in care are vulnerable to poor health outcomes, in part because of experiences prior to entering the care system. We know more and more about the impact of neglect and adverse experiences upon physical development, including the development of the brain. Children in care are vulnerable to mental health problems: recent research has identified that children who suffer early neglect are up to ten times more likely to have a conduct disorder; up to twelve times more likely than other children to have post traumatic stress disorder; up to three times more to suffer from significant depression. Immunisations are often overlooked by chaotic or neglectful parenting: children who come into care may never have seen a dentist. Common health conditions - such as eczema or asthma - may have been overlooked or poorly treated by birth parents.

Unfortunately, without appropriate focus on this important area, the care system can fail to address these early life inequalities - some issues linked to brain development in particular can negatively affect a child throughout their entire adult life. Children in care have been found to be more than twice as likely as other children to miss out on immunisations; medical records sometimes fail to follow a child's journey through different placements in different locations in a timely way, leaving essential information lacking for foster carers and residential providers offering day to day care.

Local authorities, as corporate parents, should act as good parents would in relation to the health care of children who are looked after by them. Children's plans should fully reflect health care needs and should include health promotion, healthy lifestyles and general surveillance and assessment of developmental progress, as well as treatment for illness and accidents. Where children are on home supervision, health care will often be an important element in their plans and local authorities should work with parents to promote and maintain children's health. It is the responsibility of local authorities, and part of carers' tasks, to educate young people to understand the importance of health care and to take increasing responsibility for their own health.

When drawing up a plan for a child placed full time away from home, local authorities should ensure that the child is provided with good health care based on a robust assessment of his/her health needs. In many local authorities, responsibility for overseeing this will be carried out by LAC nurses and procedures need to be in place to facilitate their involvement. Consideration should be given to continuity of care, and where possible, the child should retain the same GP, dentist and optician.

Local authorities and child health specialists should make arrangements for professional advice to be available to local authorities and to carers, to interpret health reports and information, assist in preparing and reviewing the arrangements for health care and assist in decisions relating to children's care. Local authorities need to decide, in consultation with local child health services, what is the best way to monitor the health of looked after children and what notifications will be required to the relevant services to achieve this. For some children, there may also be a requirement for medical examination or assessment as part of a supervision requirement.

Issues relating to Consent

Local authorities should have information and procedures about consent to medical examination and treatment of children who are placed away from home. These should be known to the child health services, parents, children and the children's carers in each case. The arrangements for medical consent should be set out in each child's plan where a child is placed away from home. These will vary according to the legal status of the child, the age and understanding of the child and whether the local authority does or does not have parental responsibilities for the child. Parents, where they have parental responsibilities and the child is placed away from home, should be asked to sign a general medical consent form, giving permission for medical and dental procedures and treatment for the child, without delay or confusion. It is helpful if this includes consent to any specifically recommended immunisations.

However, depending on the age and capacity of each child, it must be remembered that a young person under 16 has the right to consent to his or her own medical procedures and treatment, when the medical or dental practitioner considers him or her to be capable of understanding the nature and consequences of the procedure or treatment. This is in terms of section 2(4) of the Age of Legal Capacity (Scotland) Act 1991. Therefore, for an older looked after child, parental or other consent will only be necessary when the doctor considers that the child is not capable of consenting. It remains good practice to include parents and/or carers in discussions, provided the child agrees to this. Children and young people should be supported and encouraged to access health services and attend appointments with GPs, dentists and opticians.

Where a child is placed with foster or kinship carers, it is possible for the foster carer to give consent to a specific surgical, medical or dental treatment or procedure, where the child is not of sufficient age or maturity to give his or her own consent and the carer has no reason to think the parent would refuse to consent. This is a useful power in emergencies, or where the treatment or procedure is minor, or where a parent cannot be found. Foster carers should, however, be discouraged from giving consent where the treatment or procedure is major or where there is no great urgency. Parents, should as far as possible, be consulted prior to such treatment or procedures. Section 5 Children (Scotland) Act provides for situations where parents or those with parental rights and responsibilities are not available so that someone who has the care and control of the child (without these responsibilities and rights) may give consent to any surgical, medical or dental treatment.

There may be occasions when parents for religious or other reasons refuse consent to a medical treatment and the child is not of sufficient understanding to make the decision. If the local authority is of the opinion that the child would suffer significant harm if examination or treatment does not occur, and if the child is already subject to a supervision requirement, a Children's Hearing may be asked to consider a condition about medical treatment etc, and this would overrule parental non-consent. If the child is not subject to a supervision requirement, the local authority may refer the case to the Principal Reporter or seek a child assessment or child protection order. Another option is for a Health Board, NHS Trust or other organisation, or another person such as a foster or kinship carer, but not the local authority, to apply for a "specific issue order" under section 11 of the 1995 Act , to ensure that necessary medical examinations and treatments are available to the child.

Young people of 16 and over have full adult capacity and should be asked to give their own consent to medical examination or treatment. If a young person of 16 or over is not capable of consenting, this is a matter of adult legislation and will need to be dealt with under the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act 2000. As indicated above, children under 16 may also be able to give or refuse consent, depending on their capacity to understand the nature and consequences of the treatment. It is for the medical or dental practitioners to decide this. And in every case, children should be encouraged to express their views to the doctors, etc concerned. Children who are judged able to give consent cannot be medically examined or treated without their consent and this cannot be overridden by a supervision requirement or a warrant or order ( section 90 of the 1995 Act).

Health Records

An accurate and up-to-date health record should be maintained as part of the record of every child placed away from home on a full time basis. This should record medical assessments, illnesses or accidents suffered by the child, medical, operative, psychiatric, psychological, dental or ophthalmic treatment and operations received or carried out, and all immunisations. The health record should also include any form(s) indicating parental consent to treatment. The child's health needs should be monitored through the ongoing review process.

8. Education

Despite some recent improvements, the educational attainment of Looked After Children remains unacceptably low. Only a very small minority of Looked after Children, for example, enter higher education. In part, this can be explained by the difficult experiences children have often had before coming into the care system. All too often, though, the care system fails to prioritise educational attainment for children, giving little thought to disruptions to schooling when changing placements, for example, or failing to advocate for children with schools fail to meet their needs in the way that an effective and interested birth parent would. Social work departments and education departments have a shared responsibility to fulfil their statutory duties including those for looked after children and for children with additional support needs.

Children who are looked after should have the same opportunities as all other children for education, including further and higher education, and access to other opportunities for development. They should also receive additional help, encouragement and support to address special educational needs or compensate for previous disadvantage and gaps in educational provision.

Educational and wider developmental needs should normally be addressed in the child's plan. When a child becomes looked after, the first step is to establish whether there are any arrangements or provisions or a co-ordinated support plan in place under the Education (Additional Support for Learning) Scotland Act 2004, as amended by the Education (Additional Support for Learning) Scotland Act 2009. For further information on Additional Support for Learning please see the Scottish Government website.

These 2004 and 2009 Education Acts provide a single structure for children who require additional support to make the most of their education. Such support can start from very early on, just after birth if children have a disability, and cover all types of reasons why children may struggle in education, not just specific learning difficulties. Looked after children should be considered as having additional support needs solely on the basis of their looked after status, even if there are no other reasons. Social workers responsible for looked after children should be as familiar as parents with both requesting an assessment and also the various arrangements that can be made through provision of a range of supports, personal learning plans, individualised educational programmes and co-ordinated support plans. Strong links should also be formed and sustained with designated teachers for looked after children in schools, and with others in the authorities' education department responsible for additional support needs services and for looked after children. In planning for the child, local authorities should have regard to continuity of education, take a long-term view of the child's education, provide educational and developmental opportunities and support and promote potential and achievement.

Local authorities should, in most cases, act jointly with parents in relation to the education of children who are looked after on a full time basis away from home. The aim will be to ensure that the child receives the support he or she needs to achieve his or her full educational potential. When a child is subject to supervision at home, education will often be a significant element in the child's plan and the local authority should aim to work with parents to promote the child's education.

Local authorities should notify all placements to their education department or the education department of another local authority where children are placed out of their 'home' local authority area. There should be notification about all placements, except for those which are intended to last for less than 28 days. Information should reach those who need it in good time, especially schools. Special support may be needed where a change of school cannot be avoided.

Carer and Parental Responsibilities

Local authorities should ensure that the carer's responsibilities towards the child are understood by the school. Carers may exercise the parental role in relation to the school in day-to-day matters such as attending parents' evenings or receiving school reports, but there will be many cases where parents continue to play that role or where the role is shared. It is up to the social worker to clarify such arrangements with the school following discussion with all parties.

Carers have a major contribution to make to a child's educational progress and development. They are in a good position to identify the child's capabilities and any difficulties, fears and developmental needs. With the help of the carer, and through school reports and direct contact with the school, the child's educational progress must be kept under review along with other aspects of the child's welfare. Difficulties should be addressed and help provided, including, where appropriate, access to specialist services within the local authority's educational provision. If a child is excluded from school, the local authority and/or the parents should pursue all the avenues open to them to try to get the child re-instated. Also, any child, with the capacity to be his or her own legal representative, should be encouraged and supported to exercise his or her own rights to take steps, including appealing against any exclusion. If re-instatement in school proves impossible, and the child is permanently excluded, the local authority should ensure that the child receives appropriate education as soon as possible.

9. Other aspects of development

Some children can be overwhelmed by the negative experiences they have had and never fully recover, whereas others, who have experienced similarly difficult events, seem to be able to recover and move on. A growing body of research explains these differences in terms of resilience. A resilient young person seems able to overcome adversity and maintain a positive sense of their own identity.

We know that friendships and a strong, trusting relationship with at least one adult can be important protective factors that help to build resilience. We also know that encouraging children to develop particular areas of interest and promoting their talents can play a significant role in developing their self-esteem. For children used to high level of criticism or neglect this may be their first experience of being told they are good at something: foster carers and residential staff often report how the impact of this can be startling and life-changing.

Children should be encouraged and given opportunities to develop and pursue leisure interests and any special gifts they may have. They also need opportunities to share in activities with their peers and develop both their social skills and their talents to increase their self-esteem. With the child's agreement, supplementary educational opportunities could be arranged if these would help the child overcome past disadvantages, help develop a particular interest or talent or maintain his or her culture and language. Even where a child is looked after or placed for a relatively short period, the aim should be to provide opportunities for development so that the child can benefit as far as possible from the placement, and to identify the help the child may need to sustain new interests on return home.

The local authority has a responsibility to address the child's moral and spiritual needs. Where a child is placed away from home, the social worker and the child's carers should discover whether the child practised any aspect of his or her religion when he or she was at home and provide opportunities and encouragement for this to continue.

10. Parental Involvement for All Looked After Children

Inevitably there is variation in the extent to which parents and others are involved in and contribute to the care of a looked after child, particularly when the child is placed away from home. As a general rule, parents should be helped to exercise parental responsibilities and rights in close relationship with the local authority, provided this is compatible with the child's welfare. Regulation 2 defines "parent" as "either the mother or father of the child or both". The home situation of many children who become looked after may be complex and issues may emerge about a variety of matters such as:

  • the genetic parentage of a child;
  • who has parental responsibilities and rights; and
  • the day-to-day experience of parenting as perceived by the child.

11. Parental responsibilities for fathers and others

Paternity can sometimes be complex issue for Looked After Children. For example, the same child may have one person named as the genetic father (agreed or alleged), a second person who has acquired parental responsibilities and rights, and a third person who has carried out the parenting role and is known to the child as his or her 'father'. It is important to establish as much as possible about the parentage of a child as a basis for understanding and deciding:

  • practical issues about involvement in planning and access to information;
  • important relationships for the child;
  • issues around legal status and future plans where parental responsibilities and rights may be relevant; and
  • ways of helping the child understand the family circumstances, now and in the future.

A man automatically has parental responsibilities and rights for the child if:

  • he was married to the mother at the time of conception of the child or later, provided he is the genetic father; or
  • if the child's birth was registered on or after 4 May 2006 and his name is shown on the birth certificate as the father, whether he is married to the mother or not.

Otherwise, a father does not automatically have parental responsibilities and rights for the child. If he is named on the birth certificate but the birth was registered before 4 May 2006, he does not automatically have parental responsibilities and rights.

However, where a father does not automatically have parental responsibilities and rights, he can acquire them. Many fathers do this before or after a child becomes looked after. The main ways in which a father may obtain parental responsibilities and rights are:

  • marry the mother, provided he is the genetic father;
  • enter into an agreement with the mother under section 4 of the 1995 Act ("a section 4 agreement"), provided he is the genetic father;
  • obtain a court order for them under section 11 of the 1995 Act;
  • be named in the mother's will as the person who is to have parental responsibilities and rights, and she has died, section 7 of the 1995 Act.

Other people, such as grandparents, may also acquire parental responsibilities and/or rights through an order under section 11 of the 1995 Act, or by will. Sometimes a section 11 order is only about contact and/or limited responsibilities and rights. Such an order does not give full responsibilities and rights, but the father or other person must be treated as having some parental responsibilities and/or rights, and their position must be respected. In particular, if plans are being considered for permanence or adoption, a farther with contact or other limited parental responsibilities and rights will have the right to consent or not consent to adoption, and he must therefore be treated in the same way as if he had full responsibilities and rights.

Others with a close relationship with the child, even though they do not have parental responsibilities and rights, may also have a role to play, depending on the child's circumstances. This will entail exploring the nature and origins of the relationship with the child; the extent of the involvement; how the child views the person as expressed either verbally or observed through their behaviour when they meet, and the potential of the person for positive and sustained involvement with the child in the future.

12. Relevant persons for the Children's Hearing system

Being a "relevant person" for a child in the Children's Hearing system is not the same as having parental responsibilities and rights, although there is an overlap. The definition of "relevant person" is in section 93(2)(b) of the 1995 Act as amended by Schedule 2, para 9(8) of the 2007 Act. In 2010, this was extended by two judgements, Authority Reporter -v- S 2010 SLT 765 and Principal Reporter v K and others [2010] UKSC 56.

As a result of these changes, section 93(2)(b) now defines a relevant person as:

(a) any parent enjoying parental responsibilities or parental rights or a right of contact in terms of a contact order under Part I of this Act;

(b) any person in whom parental responsibilities or rights are vested by, under or by virtue of this Act; and

(c) any person who appears to be a person who ordinarily (and other than by reason only of his employment) has charge of, or control over, the child or who appears to have established family life with the child with which the decision of a children's hearing may interfere.

This suggests that a relevant person is:

  • any parent who has parental responsibilities or rights automatically under the 1995 Act, or through a section 4 agreement, or as a result of a court order made under section 11, including a contact order, or as a result of a will when the mother has died;
  • anyone who ordinarily (and other than by reason only of employment) has charge of, or control over, the child;
  • anyone who appears to have established a family life with the child, although a hearing may hold that he or she has not established this;
  • anyone, including the local authority, who has parental responsibilities or rights as a result of a permanence order under the 2007 Act.

A father, or someone else such as a grandparent, may be a "relevant person" for hearings if he has been living with the child and/or caring for a child, but not have responsibilities or rights. Foster carers who have a child placed with them for more than a short time will become relevant persons - this is a matter for the hearing system to determine. Similarly, when a child who is subject to a supervision requirement is placed with prospective adopters, they will become relevant persons.

Being a "relevant person" in the hearing system does not give parental responsibilities or rights to someone who does not otherwise have them.

13. The Local authority's relationship with parents

A positive relationship with parents is not always easy to achieve, and consensus will not be possible in every circumstance since the child's welfare must remain paramount. However, the following will increase the chances of developing a successful relationship with parents, and local authorities should develop guidelines for staff covering areas such as:

  • provision of both written and verbal information to parents at every stage of the process;
  • the maximum amount of participation by parents in decision-making that is consistent with the child's welfare, including advice and support to participate in meetings;
  • making meetings accessible and comprehensible to parents;
  • managing situations which are potentially acrimonious or where this may be difficult for children. For example, if a parent is not invited to a meeting to which it is usual to invite the parent, the reason for this should be recorded on the child's file;
  • providing a regular, consistent, and reliable service to parents which does not just focus on meetings;
  • considering ways in which parents may be able to contribute towards the child's care in practical ways.
  • being clear about the possible outcomes for the child, for example, that they may not return to the parents' care.
  • where permanence away from the birth parents is likely, working with the parents to help them understand this and to accept such an outcome during and after the care planning process.

Parents will often wish to be consulted about certain aspects of their child's care even if they do not intend to be directly involved: for example, hairstyles. It may not always be appropriate to include this level of detail in the child's plan but the social worker should ensure that the parents, carers and child, if old enough, are aware of the decisions and actions where consultation is needed.

Agreed Early Consent

When a child is looked after away from home in particular, a range of decisions will need to be made about the day to day care and support of the child or young person. There is a risk of disruption to the care environment and to the relationship between the carers, local authority and parents if consent on each issue is not clear. It is considered good practice therefore for a full list of common situations about e.g. hair cuts, dentistry treatment, ear piercings, to be considered as early as possible once the child becomes looked after and consent agreed by the parties at that stage. Where this is done by mutual consent, the parents would normally retain the right to withhold consent on a given issue subject to the overriding provisions within the Act and Regulations.