Note that different provisions apply to children who acquire Looked After status as a result of a remand to local authority accommodation or Youth Detention Accommodation. In relation to those children, please see Remands to local authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure, Care Planning for Young People on Remand or Youth Detention Accommodation.
In July 2018, this guidance was updated to reflect locally agreed changes to visiting requirements / timescales for Children Looked After.
1. Normal Frequency
Wherever a Child Looked After is placed, the child's social worker, or in exceptional circumstances the appropriate Through Care member of staff, must visit the child in the placement at the following intervals, subject to the exceptions Section 2, Exceptions:
- On the day the child is placed to assist in the placement process;
- Within 1 week of the start of any placement. This applies to all new placements where, for example, a child moves from one placement to another;
- Then at intervals of 28 days. In exceptional circumstances and with Team Manager approval, this can be extended to 35 days for all short term placements;
- Where permanency has been achieved and ratified, at intervals of 3 months.
For Former Relevant young people, the young person's Through Care worker will visit the young person:
- Within 1 week of a significant change in circumstances;
- Then at intervals of 8 weeks up to 3 months with Team Manager approval.
N.B. These are minimum requirements and the Child Looked After Review may recommend more frequent visits or the Looked After Review may recommend this. The frequency of visits should always be determined by the circumstances of the case and visits should be made whenever reasonably requested by the child or foster carer regardless of the status of the placement.
The child's social worker should also visit the child immediately when a complaint is received from the child or from another person concerning the standard of care the child is receiving.
Some visits should be unannounced. (The foster carers, parent, residential unit, carer or young person if living independently should be informed by the child's social worker at the time of placing that there will be occasional unannounced visits and the reason for this explained).
Meetings involving a child e.g. Child Looked After Reviews, family contact sessions, duty contact or PEP meetings do not in themselves constitute a looked after visit, unless time is taken outside of the meeting to talk with and spend time with the child.
The child's social worker should on occasion take the child out from the placement (for example for a snack or a visit to a park). This supports children and young people being seen in a variety of settings, strengthens the relationship between the child and the social worker and is also in the interests of child protection in that the child may feel more able to discuss issues that are of concern to them.
For children who are placed for adoption, see Monitoring and Supervision of Adoptive Placements Procedure.
If the child is placed with parents pending assessment, social work visits must take place at least once a week until the first Child Looked After Review, thereafter at intervals of not more than 6 weeks.
If the child is living with the parents under an Interim Care Order, visits must take place at least once a week until the first Child Looked After Review, thereafter at intervals of not more than 4 weeks.
If the child is placed with parents under a Care Order, within 1 week of the Care Order, thereafter at intervals of not more than 6 weeks.
If the child is placed with a Connected Person with temporary approval, visits must take place at least once a week until the first Child Looked After Review, thereafter at intervals of not more than 4 weeks.
If the child is in the care of the local authority but another person is responsible for the child's living arrangements (for example where a child is placed in a Young Offenders' Institution or a health care setting), they should be visited within a week of the start/any change of living arrangements, and then at intervals of not more than 6 weeks for the first year; at intervals of not more than 3 months in any subsequent year.
3. Who Should be Seen?
The overarching principle is that children must be seen on each visit. If the child is not available, return visits must be made within each subsequent 24 hour period until the child is seen. Children not seen within 5 working days of the original visit must be the subject of a strategy discussion with the Team Manager and, where relevant, the CP Co-ordinator or Independent reviewing Officer.
Wherever possible, the child must be seen in private and alone (unless the child of sufficient age and maturity and refuses or the social worker considers it inappropriate to do so).
The social worker should be aware of who else lives in the placement and they should know about changes in structure and composition as well as the relationships within the household or unit.
For children who are not able to verbally communicate their views, the social worker should ensure that observations of the child are made in their placement and also in other settings, for example, school. Information and opinion should also be gathered from other professionals about their presentation.
On some occasions, the social worker should also arrange to visit at times when all members of a household can be seen; or for children's homes, a significant number of adults and children.
Social workers must consider the balance of time spent with staff/carers and with children during a statutory visit. The social worker must prioritise their time with the child as opposed to the staff/carer. Issues raised by staff/carers can be discussed when a child is not present for example when they are at school.
Social workers should provide feedback to staff/carers regarding their visit.
The purpose of the visit is to ensure the placement continues to promote the child's welfare and in particular:
- To give the child the opportunity to express their wishes, feelings and views;
- To advise, assist and befriend the child and to ascertain who they would turn to in times of difficulty;
- To promote an effective relationship between the child and social worker with particular reference to the role of the social worker as a link with the child's history and birth family;
- To identify daily routines including getting up and going to bed, meal times (including whether the children in the placement all eat together), the arrangements for washing and whether the child is provided with privacy and support that is relevant to their stage of development;
- To identify arrangements for holiday and leisure time including playing games, access to clubs, cultural and sporting activities;
- To identify what special arrangements are made to meet any needs that arise from their culture, religious or heritage including communication, diet and skin/hair care;
- To observe the child with the staff/carer/parent and to analyse parenting styles and the promotion of the child's self esteem;
- To monitor the standard of care offered by the placement including the physical standards, house rules and behaviour management strategies;
- To identify whether there are toys or games to play with and the access that the child has to them;
- To monitor how the contact arrangements with family members and friends are working and to discover whether these are promoted within the home;
- To consider the child's sleeping arrangements such as room sharing, display of personal belongings and the physical state of the room. Has the child got clean clothes that are stored appropriately?
- To identify any areas where additional support is required;
- To evaluate whether the placement is helping to achieve the objectives of the child's Care Plan, with particular reference to whether the placement is meeting the educational, health and social development needs of the child. Where it is a long-term/permanent placement, the social worker should observe whether there are signs that the child is an integral part of the family such as whether they are included in photographs on display;
- To carry out specific casework tasks with the child, for example carrying out a programme of life story work;
- To identify whether older children are encouraged to play an increasing part in their own care such as laundry, food preparation and the purchase of food, clothes and budgeting;
- To identify the arrangements for the child to get support with school work, do homework (including where appropriate, access to a computer)and visit a library. Do the carers attend parent's evenings?
- To identify whether the child knows about the complaints procedure and the availability of advocacy services;
- To monitor that the Child Health Record is stored safely, is up to date and is accessible to the child as appropriate to the child's age and understanding;
Social workers visiting children with disabilities and/or complex health needs should also consider the following:
- Whether practices that are being employed are appropriate and do not compromise the child's safety e.g. the method of lifting a disabled child;
- Does the carer have sufficient equipment i.e. bath chair / hoist etc.?
- Who arranges the child's health appointments and who attends? For children in residential placements in particular, is there consistency of worker?
- Is there clear written information re the administration of medication?
It may not be possible for a social worker to gain all the information listed in one visit but they must try to obtain a holistic view of the placement.
When visiting children in residential settings the social worker should read the running sheets to gain an understanding of recent events and also to identify any themes highlighted in the recording for example, behaviour and staff strategies for managing situations.
The social worker should record each visit at the earliest opportunity stating clearly:
- Who was seen;
- Whether the child was seen and if not why not;
- Whether the child was seen alone;
- The child's view;
- Any comments made by the child or the staff/carers/parents;
- Any matters of concern or difficulties;
- Any observations on the child's welfare and the success of the placement;
- Any requirements for action.