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.
1. Normal Frequency
Wherever a Looked After child is placed, the child's social worker must visit the child in the placement at the following intervals, subject to the exceptions in Section 2, Exceptions:
- On the day the child is placed, to assist in the placement process;
- Within one week of the start of any placement;
- Then at intervals of no more than six weeks during the first year of the placement;
- Thereafter, at intervals of not more than six weeks (or 3 months if the placement is intended to last until the child is 18);
- Where a child is in a designated long-term foster placement visits after the first year may take place at intervals of not more than six months. where the child, being of sufficient age and understanding, has agreed to be visited at this minimum frequency. A decision to move to six monthly visits must be taken by the social worker in conjunction with the Team Manager and agreed through the LAC Review process with the IRO.
N.B. These are minimum requirements and the Looked After Review may recommend more frequent visits. 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 a complaint is received from the child or from another person relating to the child concerning the standard of care they are receiving.
This applies to all new placements where, for example, a child moves from one placement to another. For children who are placed for adoption, see Monitoring and Supervision of Adoptive Placements Procedure.
Some visits should be unannounced. (The foster carers, parent or residential unit 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. Looked After Reviews, do not in themselves constitute a 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) as this can strengthen 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 him/her. However, such contacts should not replace visits to the placement and regular communication with carers must be maintained, e.g. visits to the child taking place routinely in a neutral venue. See Section 3, Who Should be Seen?
If the child is placed with parents pending assessment, social work visits must take place at least once a week until the first 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 Looked After Review, thereafter at intervals of not more than 4 weeks.
If the child is placed with parents under a Care Order, within one 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 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 Youth Offenders' Institution or a health care setting), within a week of the start/any change of living arrangements, 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?
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). If this is not possible, a further visit must be made at short notice in order that the child can be seen alone and observed with the staff/carer.
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 his or her 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 his or her 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 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;
- Visits should be written up and be available on the integrated case management system within 2 working days of the visit.
6. Quality Assurance
The social worker's Team Manager should review visits with the social worker as part of the case monitoring process that forms part of each supervision session, particularly around the timeliness of visits and note that standards for visiting are being met.
Similarly, the IRO should appraise social work visits as part of the LAC Review process and make recommendations if visits need to be made or recorded. In exceptional cases, when a visit is significantly out of timescale, this should be escalated to the Team Manager under the Issues Resolution protocol. The IRO also completes a Monitoring Form after each review that includes a section on social worker visits.
Children's Services' auditing exercises will ensure that appraisal of social work visits are included.
Weekly reports on social worker visits around the timeliness of visits are provided by the Strategic Evidence and Evaluation Team and circulated to the Children Services' Management Team. They are reviewed monthly in the Management Team Meetings.