Contact with parents

With all children in care, the presumption is that there should be contact with their parents. This however needs to be monitored carefully to ensure that it is in the best interests of the child and regularly reviewed.

Contact is a key issue for children. They often spend a lot of time thinking about their relationship with their family and are often distressed by the thought of contact. Many children think about their families every day.

SCIE, 2012 Contact with parents is often crucial for children, however it may be because they do not want to have contact.  It is therefore important that throughout the child being in care, their views are listened to and taken on board.Contact arrangements should be carefully planned, even to the level of ensuring appropriate transport and supervision arrangements are in place. Thought must also be given to what support is available for the child after contact, either to offload how good it has been or address any difficulties that may arise.Parents must be informed that to turn up to contact under the influence of drugs or alcohol will cause the scheduled contact to not go ahead. Legal aspects: There should be no restriction of reasonable contact with people with parental responsibility if the child is voluntarily accommodated unless they agree.In the case of an emergency child protection order contact can only be restricted, without agreement from the parent, by direction of the Court.A s17 contact order will be discharged on the making of a community parenting order .

Deciding and reviewing the level of contact With all children in care, the presumption is that there should be contact with their parents and reasonable contact must be allowed unless there is a court order to the contrary. Arrangements for contact must consider:

  • The age of the child - e.g. the younger the child, generally the presumption is that there should be more contact in order to aid building or maintaining attachment. The older the child, the more likely they are to 'vote with their feet' in terms of who they want to have contact with and when.
  • The views of the child - for older children it is easy to say whether they want to have contact with their parents or not. For younger children their view may be seen more in their behaviour (e.g. do they want to go to the contact venue, do they have problems with their behaviour when they know contact is coming?)
  • Observations of contact to date - how does it go? What is the parent / child interaction like? If observations suggest that contact is not going well then consideration must be given as to whether it should continue at its current level, if at all?
  • A criticism often levelled at social workers is that the contact arrangements are not altered, especially reduced, when evidence from contact shows that things are either going well or not so well. Either way contact should be regularly reviewed and, if going well look at whether it can increase, if not going so well look at whether it should be reduced.The department has the power to vary any s.50 order by agreement with the person in relation to whom the order was made and with the child.  In these circumstances the view of any other person with parental responsibility should also be sought and considered and these people would have the right to take the matter to the tribunal if they did not agree.

The paperwork Contact arrangements should be clearly set out in the LAC documentation.  This should include:

  • the purpose of contact
  • dates and times of contact
  • if face to face contact, details about the venue, who will get the child to the venue, whether the contact will be supervised, how long the session will be
  • how each contact will end - endings are crucial times for children and therefore the aim should be to ensure that they are positive
  • how often contact will be reviewed and arrangements for calling an earlier review
  • If the case is in proceedings then plans for contact will also need to be set out in the care plan submitted to the court and any proposed changes must be discussed with the department's legal representative beforehand.It may also be necessary to draw up a specific contract in relation to contact, setting out expectations of the parents (e.g. not attending contact under the influence of alcohol, to be at the contact centre 15 minutes early to ensure attendance otherwise contact will be cancelled, to not swear when speaking to their child)

Supervised contact It may be felt that supervision of contact is required to either assist with assessment and planning or to ensure the safety of the child, however the presumption is that contact between children and their parents or the wider family network should normally take place without the need for supervision.Where contact would be more natural and appropriate this could take place:

  • at the child's foster placement,
  • at a family member's home, or
  • may be activity based.
  • Supervisors should be aware of what they are being asked to do and a risk assessment should be completed to consider all known information about the parents and their behaviour.  Such risk assessments should have clear plans as to what the response will be in case of emergency.In situations where the contact supervisor believes that there is potential for a violent or emotionally abusive incident to arise at contact, the cause for concern should be raised calmly and politely with the family member. If necessary, a time-out period may be offered.The contact supervisor should only terminate contact if they believe that the child is placed at risk.

How do I arrange a supervised contact? A supervised contact referral form must be completed, a copy of which can be found at the bottom of this page.

Supervised contact procedure

TaskResponsible officerRecordTimescale
Complete contact referral form and supervised contact agreementSocial workerContact reportAs appropriate
Allocate the supervisionTeam manager family partnershipComputerAs appropriate
Where possible hold a meeting to introduce the supervisor, parents and social worker.Social workerMinutes on computerIn enough time for parents to consider their position
Supervise contactContact supervisorComputerAs appropriate
Write up observations on running recordContact supervisorComputerWithin 24 hours of contact
Pass on recording to case holding social workerContact supervisorComputerWithin 48 hours of contact

Formal reviews of contact Whilst the social worker should keep contact under constant review, arrangements should be formally reviewed as part of the Looked After Review process.There may however be the need to have specific contact reviews in the interim if the situation changes and impacts on the current arrangements.

Restriction of contact For children who are voluntarily accommodated then there will be a need to negotiate with the parents about levels of contact and, should contact not be considered in the best interests of the child then legal advice will need to be sought as to whether a court order is required.Where a child is on a community parenting order , anyone or the department may apply, under s50 , for an order for contact (or for contact to be restricted) with any named person.Where it is necessary to restrict the contact arrangements for a child on a community parenting order or interim order, contact can be suspended for no more than seven days.  If the department decides to deny contact in this way they must inform:

  • the child
  • parents without parental responsibility
  • anybody with parental responsibility
  • the child's testamentary guardian (if appropriate)
  • anyone who was entitled to have the child living with them under a court order
  • any person who had the child living with them, or had contact with the child under a care requirement condition,
  • any other person whose wishes and feelings the department considers to be relevant.
  • At the end of the seven day period contact must be reinstated unless an application has been made to court for the contact to be varied or ended.Any decision to stop contact must be fully explained to the parents and child (if appropriate), as well as what would need to change for the contact to be reinstated.


No.ActionResponsible personTimescale
1.Contact arrangements to be agreedParents / Social workerOn placement
2.Contact arrangements to be recorded in LAC documentationSocial workerWithin 5 working days of placement being made
3.Request to be made for supervised contact if required to include reasons for supervision and requirements of supervisorSocial workerWithin 5 working days of placement being made
4.Contact arrangements to be reviewed as part of Looked After Review processIROFirst Looked After Review
5.Regular updates to be given to social workerContact supervisors where involvedAs required
6.Contact review to be held if necessary and contact to be reviewed at every Looked After ReviewSocial worker / IROAs required
7.If contact is not felt to be safe for the child urgent review to be held with view to reducing or stopping contactSocial workerAs required
8.If contact is to be stopped, this must be discussed with unit manager, the Independent Reviewing Officer, legal representative and Children's Guardian where appropriateSocial worker and their managerAs required