Family Time (Contact) with Parents / Adults and Siblings


This chapter applies to arrangements for children placed in foster and residential care to have Family Time with their parents, anyone with Parental Responsibility who is not a parent, sibling, any relative, friend or other person connected with the child.

For arrangements for social visits and overnight stays away with friends which staff/carers may agree, see Social Visits and Overnight Stays with Friends Procedure.

For guidance regarding frequency of Family Time within the context of permanence, see Permanence Planning Guidance.

NOTE: The responsible authority should review this policy (in particular the issue of sibling Family Time) with their local Children in Care Council and other Children in Care.


Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure


The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review

Childnet advice for Supporting Young People Online - Provides information about managing online Family Time between a child/young person and birth family.


Section 3, Supervised Family Time was updated in January 2023 to reflect a finding by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that the supervisor's observations of the Family Time must be clearly recorded in the child's record and shared with the parents within 3 months of the visit.

1. Approving and Planning Family Time

Kent County Council believes it is important for children to maintain and develop their relationships with close family members and friends during and after family break up, provided it is safe to do so; and that it adds to the child's sense of stability and emotional well-being.

The responsible authority has a duty to endeavour to promote Family Time  between the child and parents, siblings, anyone with Parental Responsibility who is not a parent, any relative, friend or other person connected with the child unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child's welfare. The assessment and discussions with the child will identify those people for whom it is important to maintain Family Time. This may include those (including a parent) with whom Family Time has been lost and consideration should be given as to how this could be re-established.

This should be in a manner consistent with the child's Care Plan; which, itself, must take account of any Child Protection Plan or Contact Order that may be in force. There is a presumption of continued Family Time between the child and their family while the child is Looked After, unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child's welfare.

Family Time between children and their parents, siblings or relevant others may only be permitted if previously agreed by the social worker and should be set out in the child's Placement Plan.

The purpose of the Family Time and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the Plan. Family Time Arrangements/Family Time should be focused on, and shaped around, the child's needs. The child's welfare is the paramount consideration at all times and each child's wishes and needs for Family Time should be individually considered and regularly assessed and reviewed. The wishes and feelings of the child should be ascertained, wherever possible, using advocacy and communication services if necessary. For many children, relationships with family members, previous carers, friends and others are valued. Family Time can be very important in helping children develop their sense of identity and understand their lives.

So far as it is reasonably practicable, the wishes and feelings of the parents and the child's carers must be ascertained before a decision about Family Time Arrangements/Family Time is made.

Both direct and indirect Family Time  arrangements should always be clearly detailed, setting out how Family Time will take place, the venue, the frequency and how the arrangements will be reviewed. The use of mobile communication and social media should also be considered.

Where Family Time is extended as part of a plan to gradually return the child to the parents' care, the Placement with Parents Procedure should be followed.

For foster carers providing short breaks, the foster carer must maintain Family Time as agreed in the Short Break Plan.

Maintaining Family Time with siblings from both the same or different parents is reported by children to be one of their highest priorities (The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review). It is not always possible or appropriate to place sibling groups together. Where siblings cannot be placed together it requires the active involvement of all parties to facilitate Family Time time between them.

Independent Reviewing Officers should ensure that Child in Care Reviews consider whether Family Time including sibling Family Time in Care Plans has been implemented and that the child is happy with the Family Time - both its frequency and its quality. The IRO should inform the child that they can access Advocacy Services if they have a complaint.

2. Different Types of Family Time

Face to face meetings and visits will generally be the best way of maintaining relationships, but other means such as letters, mobile communication, photograph exchanges etc. should be borne in mind. Responsible authorities and carers should work together to explore how electronic media can support positive relationships for children. Children should be supported to ensure they are safe online rather than this form of Family Time being avoided. It may be useful to encourage young people to share details of how they communicate with others (this may include mobile phones or other social networking sites, apps and consoles such as Xbox or Play Station) and an agreement reached between the young person, social worker and foster carer about how safely to do this.

How Can the Quality of Family Time be Maintained?

The parents should be prepared and sign up to a Family Time  agreement. They will need to understand the expectations, as well as the ground rules. Practical support should be provided if necessary to support them to attend Family Time sessions.

The timing of Family Time when in a carers home should be discussed and agreed in advance. Social workers must discuss the foster carers other commitments such as school runs or Family Time for other Children in Care. When planning Family Time at key celebration times such as Christmas or at a weekend awareness must be given to the carers own family particularly their birth children. There must also be guidance given on what support is available if Family Time does not go to plan such as the use of the Out of Hours service.

Although there are benefits, having a foster carer supervise Family Time for the child in their care, can be very confusing for the child. Clear guidance is needed regarding which adult will be setting the boundaries and what will happen if a child refuses to interact with their parent, preferring to stay close to their foster carer. For children with attachment difficulties this could be particularly confusing.

Foster carers should be informed by the social worker what items are needed for Family Time e.g. changing bag with nappies, clothes etc and what is required in terms of food/milk. Foster carers will be asked to pass on the child's routine especially for babies as to when they are next due a feed.

When Family Time is supervised by social workers/assistants, foster carers should facilitate the transporting of children to and from Family Time wherever possible. Social workers should be aware of the carers other commitments such as school runs or facilitating after school clubs for other children. Transportation of the child should be carefully planned, including who will meet them on arrival and on return, if they are not accompanied by the foster carer.

3. Supervised Family Time

The need to supervise Family Time should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process by the social worker and his/her manager. It is the responsibility of the child's social worker to ensure that the person(s) supervising Family Time is appropriately skilled and experienced to do so.

The primary focus of the assessment of this issue will be the safety and welfare of the child.

If the Family Time arrangement forms part of a parenting assessment or is to be used as evidence in court, and it is to take place in the foster carer's home, then the foster carer must be trained on the supervision and recording of Family Time. Discussion with the foster carers fostering social worker within the Fostering Team will enable a decision to be made on whether the foster carer has the skills needed to record observations within a Family Time session.

It is important that there is a Risk Assessment, and a Family Time Agreement is completed prior to Family Time taking place.

This assessment must take account of all factors that could impact on the success of supervised Family Time and relevant safeguards including:

  1. Any history of abuse or threats of abuse to the child, carers, staff or others;
  2. Previous threats to disrupt Family Time or failure to cooperate with conditions agreed for supervised Family Time;
  3. Previous incidents or threats of abduction;
  4. Previous incidents of coercion or inappropriate behaviour during Family Time;
  5. The transient or unsettled lifestyle of the parents;
  6. The child's behaviour and needs, including medical needs.

Where any of the above features in the Risk Assessment, and supervised Family Time is to continue, the Risk Assessment must state the specific measures to be put in place to minimise risks. The assessment must then be approved and signed by the social worker's team manager.

Where supervised Family Time takes place, the detailed arrangements for the supervision must be set out in the Placement Plan.

In addition, the Family Time Agreement with the parents and other relevant parties regarding having supervised Family Time, should be signed by them, stating clearly any specific conditions relating to the Family Time and any expectations placed on them:

  • The agreement should be clear about where the Family Time (Contact) must take place and whether any flexibility is allowed for activity or movements within or away from the agreed location;
  • It should be clear about whether the person(s) having Family Time are permitted to give the child food, drinks, gifts or money during Family Time;
  • It should be clear that mobile phone use is not permitted during Family Time). If photographs are permitted, it should be agreed what device they are taken on and if there is a limit to the number that can be taken during the Family Time session;
  • It should state clearly the circumstances in which Family Time will be terminated;
  • The Contact Agreement should state the adults who will be allowed to attend for supervised Family Time and supervisors should be asked to apply that strictly;
  • Particular attention should be given to when and how visits are ended. It may be more appropriate that all "goodbyes" take place indoors with the visitors asked to leave before supervisors return children to their placements or carers;
  • Significant changes to Care Plans, court proceedings and/or decisions made about the frequency of future Family Time are all likely to be potential tension points so extra vigilance should apply at any Family Time arranged around these times.

The staff/carers and any other person involved in the supervision of the Family Time should have copies of the Placement Plan and the agreement with the parents.

Where possible, those supervising the Family Time should be known to the child and the family before the supervised Family Time takes place.

In the event of problems emerging, the supervisors must be clear who to Family Time and what details they will need to share.

The supervisor's observations of the Family Time must be clearly recorded in the child's record and shared with the parents within 3 months of the visit (Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman finding).

The supervisor must immediately report to the social worker any concerns about the child or parents' conduct during the Family Time. The social worker in consultation with their manager should consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or the Family Time Arrangements in light of the concerns expressed.

See Section 4, Review of Family Time Arrangements.

4. Review of Family Time Arrangements

The social worker and their manager should keep Family Time Arrangements, including the continuing need for supervision, under regular review.

The risk assessment in relation to the arrangements for supervising Family Time must be reviewed at least every six months, or sooner if any incident or report identifies concerns.

Where the child is the subject of a Child Protection Plan, the Family Time Arrangements should also be reviewed as required in the Child Protection Plan.

Any significant reactions that the child has to Family Time should be reported to the child's social worker by those observing Family Time Arrangements, for example foster carers, residential staff and/or supervisors of Family Time.

The Family Time Arrangements should also be reviewed in any Placement Planning Meeting and at the child's Looked After Review.

Where a Contact Order is in force and it is considered that the Family Time Arrangements set out in the Order should be altered, the agreement of the child and the parents should be sought and legal advice should be obtained as to the need to seek a variation of the Court Order.

5. Family Time in the Foster Carers Home/Contact Centre

When considering Family Time in the foster carers home the following should be given consideration:

  • Is enough currently known about the birth family, and their response to removal of the children to ensure Family Time will be safe. Until an assessment is concluded Family Time will have to take place in a contact centre;
  • Does the parent or relative pose any risk to the foster carers or children within the placement? Where there is a history of aggression, whether physical or verbal the foster carers should not be expected to manage this risk within their own home. The foster home needs to be a safe place for the child and exposing them to aggression or the risk of further abuse in this environment will be extremely damaging to them;
  • Can the foster carer give the child adequate support and supervision, if there are other children to care for, or other demands on their time? Can a second person be on hand to assist?
  • Who else is being cared for within the foster carers home? Where other Children in Care are in placement consideration needs to be given to confidentiality and the impact upon them of another child's parents coming into their home environment;
  • If the foster carer has other children in the household, consideration must be given to the timing of Family Time and the impact it may have on the household? For example, if Family Time is to be after school and the foster carers home has only one living area, where will other children play/do homework/have tea whilst Family Time is taking place?

When foster carers are involved in Family Time Arrangements in contact centres, social workers/assistants should be aware of any risks to the foster carer and ensure that they are safely out of the Family Time venue, giving consideration to staggered leaving times for the parents and foster carers to ensure the carers are not followed. Goodbyes for children should be done in the Family Time venue and never within car park areas or when trying to get children into the car.

Social workers should be prepared to seek to end Family Time with abusive family members to safeguard the child.

Family Time Centres

The impact of the setting on the child and on the parent needs to be considered i.e. is it appropriate to the child's age and needs; the parents' and child's culture; the parents level of understanding?

Key questions:

  • Is the environment welcoming and comfortable to children and adults?
  • Is the environment culturally sensitive?
  • Is outdoor and indoors play equipment available?
  • Who is the best person to communicate with the child about Family Time, and to listen to any worries afterwards?
  • What arrangements are made if Family Time has to be cancelled due to parent, escort or supervisor not being present?
  • How will cancellation of Family Time be explained to the child, and their carer?
  • Is the Family Time supervisor able to contain and diffuse bad feelings or troubling behaviours (Re: L, Court of Appeal in Slade 2002)?
  • Does the Family Time enable the child to resolve issues with the parent, or for the parent to apologise? (Re: L, Court of Appeal in Slade 2002)?

6. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Family Time

Family Time should never be cancelled unless there is a very good reason, e.g. it is deemed that it would not be safe for it to take place or the child / adult / sibling attending is too unwell for it to take place. Family Time should take place in accordance with the child's Placement Plan, Court Order and any Court Directions.

Wherever possible, the staff/carer should consult the child's social worker in advance if they consider there is a good reason to cancel the Family Time.

If Family Time is cancelled, the social worker or, if the social worker is not available, the staff/carer must ensure that the child and, as far as practicable, the parent or relevant adult is informed in advance and that the reason for the decision is explained. The social worker or staff/carer should arrange an alternative Family Time.

If Family Time does not take place and consultation has not been possible with the social worker, the staff/carer must inform the child's social worker as soon as possible and confirm in writing the decision to cancel and the reason.

N.B. Family Time Arrangements must not be withdrawn as a sanction imposed on a child.

Emergency restrictions on Family Time can only be made to protect the child from significant risk and must be notified to the Placing Authority (child's social worker) within 24 hours.

6.1 Suspending or Terminating Family Time

Any proposal to suspend or terminate the Family Time should be considered as part of the child's Looked After Review, unless the circumstances require an urgent decision to be made, in which case the social worker must be consulted and legal advice should be obtained.

Any such proposal should be made in the context of the overall aims and objectives of the Care Plan.

Even where it is not possible to hold a Child in Care Review because of the urgency of the situation, the reasons for the proposal must be explained to the parents and to the child, and their agreement obtained if possible.

Where the proposal is to suspend the Family Time, the length and purpose of the suspension together with the basis upon which Family Time will be reinstated must be made clear.

Where the child is the subject of an Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order or full Care Order, an application to the Court for authority to terminate the Family Time will always be necessary if Family Time is to be suspended for more than 7 days. As soon as such a decision is made, Legal Services should be contacted as a matter of urgency so that the necessary court action can be initiated.

Written confirmation of the decision made and, where relevant, the intended court application, together with the reasons, must be sent to the parents/relevant parties, child (depending on age) and any other relevant person (for example the child's advocate, an Independent Visitor or Children's Guardian). Staff/carers and other agencies involved with the child's care must also be informed.