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- / Permanency planning
Permanence can be represented as a triangle. When these three things come together this provides the child with a sense of security, continuity commitment and identity. The overall aim of permanence can be summarised as ensuring that the child has a secure, stable and loving family to see them through childhood and beyond. A sense of urgency should exist for every child who is not in a permanent home and robust planning should start at the first contact with the child and continues until a safe, stable and permanent home is found. Permanency protects the child developmentally and creates new attachments.
Early permanency planning is essential for all Looked After children to avoid drift and ensure they have the opportunity of reaching their full potential from a safe and secure base. Achieving permanence for a child should be a key consideration from the day they become looked after.
In this context, the use of the term 'permanence' is wide, and acknowledges that permanence can be achieved through different routes - within existing or reconstituted birth families, with friends or relatives, through adoption, long-term fostering or for a minority of children, permanent care in small group homes.This procedure should be applied to all children looked after by Children and Maternity Social Care Services:
- where the care episode is part of a family support package with rehabilitation being the initial planned outcome,
- where the Care Plan is for a permanent placement outside the birth family.
What forms can permanence take?
A range of options for permanence exist, each of which can deliver good outcomes for looked after children as long as it meets the child's assessed needs.
- Return to family - for many children successful return to their family is the best outcome, providing the issues that led to the child coming into care are addressed. For most children living with their birth parents will be the best option for permanence
- Kinship care - a good option of alternative care as many of the links are already present, particularly when supported by a legal order (e.g. residence order) - this is the preferred option if a child cannot live with their birth parents and may need to include a placement out of jurisdiction
- Residence Order - this provides a level of legal permanence and can be used to support long term family placements and may need to include a placement out of jurisdiction
- Adoption - for children who cannot return to their birth or wider family, adoption offers a lifelong and legally permanent new family
- Long-term fostering - where agreed through the care planning and review process this is an option where all other options have been considered and eliminated. Historically it has proved particularly useful for older children with strong links to their birth families, who do not want or need the formality of adoption. This can sometimes lead to these foster carers applying for a residence order.
- The crucial factor is to ensure a clear plan is in place, based on the best interests of the child, with clear timescales. Birth parents should be consulted and involved in the process. They should be encouraged to contribute information about themselves, about the child's birth and early life, the birth family's views about adoption and contact and up to date information about themselves. They should be given a copy of the child's permanency report, if appropriate.The proposed permanency plan should include:
- recognition of the child's birth family, extended family and the child's need for contact.
- the child's voice should be heard throughout the process and there should be evidence that their views have been taken into account. Such contribution should be moderated by the age and understanding of the child.
- recognition of the child's racial, religious, linguistic and cultural background in promoting their sense of identity and belonging.
Permanence planning process
All children who become looked after will have been presented to the Accommodation / Resource panel .
At the first looked after review (within one month of the child being looked after) there should be consideration of developing a concurrent plan (must also consider legal timescales).
If there is no clear plan for rehabilitation then a Permanence Planning Meeting (PPM) should be convened - this will be chaired by the manager of the Looked After Children's Team and should be before the second review (or within four months of the child becoming looked after), but can be held earlier (e.g. in the case of a relinquished baby). N.B. - If there is a sibling group that may be separated then a separate meeting should be convened to explore this and the reasons, considering each child as an individual but also how they function as a sibling group. The PPM will consider the route to permanence from the options outlined above as well as any support issues that may be likely for the child, birth family and / or permanent carers. Consideration should also be given to holding a Family Meeting at this stage to explore possible kinship parents and involve the birth family as much as possible in the planning process.
Wherever possible the child and any person with parental responsibility should be given information required in a format that they can understand.
The social worker should consult other professionals involved with the child to ascertain views on any contact plans and support issues, whatever the Permanence Plan. This may be particularly useful in care proceedings, when there may be some dispute between the parties. It is important that any contact plans are made in the child's best interests, are realistic, and will not unnecessarily hinder family finding.The following also needs to be considered:
- The case should be presented to the Complex Needs Panel if there are likely to be significant funding issues (e.g. placement with external provider out of jurisdiction or continuing financial support such as Adoption Allowance)
- If the plan is for long-term fostering then the case should be presented to the Adoption and Permanence Panel for approval. Such a plan should involve a referral to the Family Placement Service for family finding and may involve an assessment of current carers.
The role of the IRO in permanence planning
At the second review, the review chair (Independent Reviewing Officer) will be responsible for ensuring that:
- a permanence plan is drawn up
- all those involved are clear about the actions needed to achieve the plan
- the timescales for achievement are clear
- the necessary resources are available
- a contingency plan is in place, in the event of the original plan not being successful
- dates are set for reviewing the plan.
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