- / Procedures
- / Children living away from home
- / Looked After Children and Leaving Care
- / Permanency planning
- / Returning home
Research shows that around half of children who come into care because of abuse or neglect suffer abuse if they return home, with up to half of those returning to care.
The NSPCC further report that if children do not return to care then two thirds can also continue to face significant risk. So how do we ensure that if we have assessed that it is right for a child to return home they remain safe from harm?Three areas are identified as being key:
- Planning and preparation
- Post return support and monitoring
Assessments Some key aspects to be considered when undertaking an assessment as to whether a child should return home are:
- Have you analysed all of the previous information known about the child and their family from before and during the care episode? What was the reason for the child coming into care and has there been change?
- Have there been previous attempts to return the child home that have not been successful? If so what cause these to break down?
- What support networks are there? Is there a need for support to help the child readapt to being at home and for the parent to readapt to having the child there?
- Are there any assessment tools available which would help to measure distance travelled between the point of the child coming into care and now?
- Are your personal views influencing what you see - e.g. misplaced optimism (overestimating the parent's understanding of the concerns and ability to make changes) If the assessment identifies concerns there is a need to stop and rethink - a good venue for this debate is a LAC review (which can be called early if necessary).
Planning and preparation Clear, structured plans which involve preparation of all involved are critical to ensuring a successful reunification. Alongside this challenge of decision making in supervision is vital to ensure that there is clear evidence based decision making. Some key aspects are:
- How involved has the child been in the plan? Often plans can be adult led and thinking about practicalities, but not necessarily things which are important to the child.
- What supports are available for the child and parents? For example, if the parent has addressed their substance misuse problem, how they will supported to manage the stresses that come with parenting so that they do not relapse?
- Are there clear goals / targets / milestones in place and are the child and parents signed up to these?
Support and monitoring Often when children return home, there is an accompanying support plan. However we have to ask ourselves how realistic are support plans? Key challenges are:
- Can we (and partner agencies) provide what is being put in the plan, particularly in times of budgetary constraint?
- Does the support address parental issues that may be present such as substance misuse, domestic abuse or mental health issues?
- How long is the support planned to be in place for? Is this long enough? Support for only a couple of weeks may encompass a 'honeymoon' period, but what happens then?
- What will be the trigger for support being withdrawn - will this be based on assessment or a defined time period?
- Does the support being provided marry up with the risks and needs identified in the assessment?
- What support can be provided by the foster carers or residential placement post return home?
- Are all agencies aware of the child's return home and able to provide support with the change as well as monitoring? (e.g. education, health, adult services) Ongoing monitoring is equally important, with it being essential that initial problems are not glossed over as teething trouble. The NSPCC report (2012) identifies this issue:"There are often early signs that a return home will fail, with most concerns becoming evident within six months. These early problems are predictors of poor well-being later in a child's life."
- The Child's Care Plan should identify if returning the child home from being 'looked after' is in their best interest.
- The written evidence supporting this Care Plan needs to be available following completion of the Core Assessment, with clear recommendations made.
- This Care Plan will need to be endorsed by the Team Manager at appropriate managerial stage before any plan for a child to return home is implemented.
- Where age appropriate the child's views must be gained on what they wish to be their care arrangements and the child's best interests must be a paramount consideration in the planning process.
- It is expected that social workers will be able to obtain the wishes and views of most children, this may be demonstrated through play work, observations of behaviour etc.
- Departmental processes must have been followed for Looked After Children and for those who are at risk of significant harm the Guernsey and Alderney Child Protection Guidelines must be followed.
- Before the Department agrees to a child returning home a Return to Home LAC Review will be held which will also consider whether the child needs a Child's Plan (including when the child is considered to be 'In Need') or whether there is likely to be risk of the child suffering from significant harm - in which case a Child Protection Conference needs to be held.
- Consideration will also be given to whether there is a need to refer the matter to the Children's Convenor as there may be a need for a Care Requirement or to Court for a child care order i.e. Residence Order.
- The LAC Reviewing Officer will follow the 'Returning Home from Being LAC Agenda'.
- In the case of a young person who is moving onto Independence (aged 16 years plus) the LAC Pathway Planning will be followed.
Task Responsible Officer Record Timescale
Returning home from being 'looked after' requested or recommended
Further consideration for Return home from being 'looked after' is agreed.
Assessment undertaken ie Core Assessment, Rehabilitation Assessment, Family and Friends Assessment (nature of assessment depending on what stage in process and where the child is to move to)
Within three months
Planning meeting held to consider:
- outcome of the assessment(s)
- whether further assessment is needed.
- ensure appropriate processes have been followed ie referral to Convenor, Court.
- is plan for child to return home agreed (at this stage)
Service Manager/Manager responsible for LAC Social Work Services
Computer/minutes of meeting
Within two weeks of assessment being completed
Ensure appropriate plans are updated to reflect that the child is to return home ie Child's Plan (to include Child In Need), Child Protection Plan, and/or LAC Pathway Plan and Care Plan.
Within two weeks of planning meeting being held
When the return home is at the point where the next steps will result in the child or young person no longer being 'looked after' i.e. significant increase in contact or court/tribunal date set, the LAC Reviewing Officer will be asked to Chair a Returning Home LAC Review
LAC Reviewing Officer
Before steps that will result in child no longer being 'looked after'
Provide relevant assessments (may include Child's Plan) and Care Plan to the LAC Reviewing Officer
Prior to four working days of discharge meeting
The Returning Home LAC Review will have a fixed Agenda which will cover:
- Reasons for accommodation
- History at home
- Care experience
- Assessments undertaken
- Protective Factors
- The child's view, wishes and feelings
- Information about the child (current)
- What is different
- Why this Care Plan?
- Review the processes followed for returning the child home (including Child In Need), Child Protection planning, legal orders etc
- If the LAC Reviewing Officer is not satisfied that all necessary Assessments, Plans, Legal processes have not been met then the Review will be adjourned/Postponed and reconvened when these tasks have been completed.
- In the meantime the child will remain Looked After.
- Need to request 'Leaving Care Worker' (in the case of a young person who is moving onto independence'
- Is the Care Plan agreed?
- Refer to Assistant Director if Care Plan not agreed.
LAC Reviewing Officer
LAC Reviewing Officer to refer back to Team Manager - further Review to be convened within 10 working days. Outstanding work to be completed.
LAC Reviewing Officer
Minutes available within ten working days of meeting held
- Child protection
- Youth Offending
- Children with Disabilities