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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 6 - The Death of a Looked After Child

Relevant Regulation: 6

In this chapter:

1. Introduction
2. Notifying the Scottish Ministers
3. Notifying Parents and other Relevant Persons
4. Arrangements for the Funeral
5. Support of Staff and Carers involved with the Child and Family

1. Introduction

Under regulation 6 , a local authority is required to notify the Scottish Ministers immediately in the event of the death of a child who is looked after by them. Also, they must, so far as is reasonably practicable, notify every parent of the child and every person who has any parental responsibilities or parental rights in relation to the child, except where the child is living with such a person.

2. Notifying the Scottish Ministers

If any looked after child or young person dies (whether he or she was living at home or was placed away from home) the local authority looking after the child must notify the Scottish Ministers (formerly the Secretary of State). This is done by advising the Social Work Inspection Agency, SWIA, whose contact details are:

SWIA,

Ladywell House,
Ladywell Road,
Edinburgh,
EH12 7TB

Telephone: 0131-244 4735
Fax: 0131-244 5496
Website: www.swia.gov.uk

When a child looked after by them dies, the local authority should contact SWIAwithin one working day, by telephone, fax or email. They should give SWIA the following information:

  • the name of the child;
  • his or her date of birth;
  • the legal circumstances in which he or she was being looked after and where; and
  • brief details of the cause and circumstances of his or her death, if known.

This information should be confirmed immediately in writing and a copy of the death certificate should be forwarded as soon as it is available. Within 28 days, the local authority should send SWIA a detailed report and supporting information. It may not always be possible to supply complete information at this point if, for instance, a police investigation is still being carried out and/or criminal proceedings are outstanding. However, as full a report as possible should be supplied, with a supplementary report sent in as soon as the additional information is available.

Reports will be acknowledged in writing. The local authority may be asked for supplementary information, including information from other agencies involved with the child. The Scottish Ministers will, through SWIA or any other relevant agency or body, advise the local authority about their conclusions and indicate what, if any, further action they will take or require the local authority to take. The Scottish Ministers may take steps to:

  • examine the arrangements made for the child's welfare during the time he or she was looked after;
  • assess whether action taken or not taken by the local authority may have contributed to the child's death;
  • identify lessons which need to be drawn to the attention of the local authority immediately concerned and/or other authorities or other statutory agencies;
  • review legislation, policy, guidance, advice or practice in the light of a particular case or any trends emerging from deaths of children being looked after.

Local authorities should also be aware of their duties to notify "without delay" the Scottish Commission for the Regulation of Care, the Care Commission, about the death of any service user, including a looked after child. This is in regulation 21 of the Regulation of Care (Requirements as to Care Services) (Scotland) Regulations 2002, S.S.I. 2002/114.

Please note, these functions will be taken over by the new Social Care and Social Work Inspection Service ( SCSWIS) from April 2011 who will be based at Compass House , 11 Riverside Drive, Dundee, DD1 4NY.

3. Notifying parents and other relevant persons

This will obviously require sensitivity and should be addressed as soon and as openly as possible. Where the address of the parents is not known, other statutory agencies may be able to assist in identifying or finding them or other persons concerned; and it may also be appropriate to seek the help of other agencies in notifying the persons concerned where they live some distance outwith the local authority area. It may not be possible to enlist the help of authorities outwith the UK. If a person to be notified has been identified but is living outside the UK, the local authority may have to give the information about the child's death in writing, although this is not an ideal way to communicate it. Where the person is a UK citizen living abroad, the British Consulate in the country concerned may be able to assist.

4. Arrangements for the funeral

Where parents retain their parental responsibilities, they have responsibility for all the funeral arrangements unless they delegate that to the local authority or cannot be found. Support and assistance should be provided to parents to help them make arrangements and give other help which may be required, including bereavement counselling. It may be helpful for support to be provided by someone who has been through a similar bereavement.

Where the local authority has parental responsibilities and rights through a permanence order, they should discuss who is to make the funeral arrangements with the parents, and anyone else with responsibilities or rights under the order. Again, support and assistance should be provided to parents and others, including bereavement counselling.

The local authority may arrange for the child's body to be buried or cremated. Generally, however, the local authority should help those with parental responsibilities to take responsibility for arranging the funeral and burial or cremation. Where parents or persons with parental responsibilities cannot be found, efforts to find them should not delay the funeral.

The funeral should be conducted in accordance with the child's religious persuasion. Where parents or persons with parental responsibilities cannot be found but there is information about a child's religious and cultural heritage, advice should be sought immediately from that community to ensure compliance with any requirements. Local authorities are not authorised to cremate a child's body where this does not accord with the practice of the child's religious persuasion.

Sections 28 and 29(2) of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 as amended by the 1995 Act enable local authorities to:

  • cause to be buried or, unless it is not in accordance with the practice of the child's religious persuasion, cremated, the body of any deceased child who immediately before his or her death was being looked after by the local authority;
  • recover from the estate of the deceased person or from any person liable to maintain him or her immediately before his death expenses incurred in connection with the burial or cremation;
  • make payments to the parents, relatives or other persons connected with a child who had been looked after by the local authority for purposes of any of those persons attending the child's funeral if it appears to the local authority that those persons would not otherwise be able to attend without undue hardship and the circumstances warrant the making of such payments.

The local authority may recover from any parent of the child, including through summary recovery as a civil debt, any expenses they have incurred through the burial or cremation of a child who was under 16 when he or she died. Whilst many parents will wish to take responsibility for, or contribute towards the costs of the burial or cremation, some may be unwilling or unable to do so. This issue should be handled with particular sensitivity.

The local authority may make payments to any person who has parental responsibilities for the child, or any relative, friend or any other person connected with the child, to pay travelling, subsistence or other expenses incurred in attending the child's funeral, where it appears that the person concerned could not otherwise attend the child's funeral without undue financial hardship and that the circumstances warrant the making of the payment. This provision might apply where the child has been placed a long way from home and the carers and the other children in the placement wish to travel to the funeral, or where the child's family are living on a very restricted budget and have no capacity to cover unforeseen expenses. These payments are not recoverable by the local authority.

Where the child has been looked after away from home, particularly if he or she has been in a long-term family placement, the carers may feel distressed that they are not able to organise the funeral. Depending on the cause of death, sometimes feelings of anger are expressed by parents or carers that more could have been done to prevent the death. Where appropriate, details should be provided in the report to the Scottish Ministers about how such issues have been dealt with if they have emerged.

Information should also be provided in the report to Scottish Ministers about any bereavement counselling that has been made available to parents, carers, siblings, other children in the placement, and to any other persons for whom it may be needed.

5. Support of staff and carers involved with the child and family

Staff and foster families who have been closely involved with a child who dies while being looked after, or who make the funeral arrangements or provide bereavement counselling, may need support to come to terms with the events. Authorities should make this available where necessary.

The Fostering Network may be able to put foster carers in touch with other foster carers whose foster children have died.

Where necessary, authorities should also provide support to staff and others about dealing with the media.