Social Worker Visits to Children in Care
AMENDMENTThis chapter was reviewed and refreshed locally where required in July 2023.
1. Normal Frequency
It is good practice that when a Looked After Child is placed they should be accompanied by the social worker to the placement. Following this, the child's social worker must visit the child in the placement at the following intervals, subject to the exceptions in Section 2, Exceptions.
This applies to all new placements where, for example, a child moves from one placement to another.
If the child is placed with parents pending assessment, social work visits must take place at least once a week until the first Child in Care Review, thereafter at intervals agreed in the review but 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 in Care Review, thereafter at intervals agreed in the review but, as a minimum, four weekly until the final hearing has been completed in the care proceedings.
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 Child in Care Review, thereafter at intervals agreed in the review but, as a minimum, four weekly until the carer is approved as a foster carer.
If the child is in the care of the Local Authority but another person/organisation 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.
See also: Leaving Care and Transition Procedure, Personal Advisers in relation to Personal Adviser visits to 'Relevant' or 'Former Relevant' young people.
Where a Registration Authority notifies a local authority in respect of a children's home, a fostering agency, a voluntary adoption agency, or adoption support agency, that the Registered Manager:
- Has had their Registration withdrawn, suspended or notice of this extended;
- Has proceedings brought against them by the Registration Authority for an offence which it alleges has been committed in respect of the establishment or agency;
- Has had notice served upon them by the Registration Authority to ensure no child is further accommodated (excepting a child that is already accommodated or continues to be accommodated);
- Has served a Penalty Notice for allegations in respect of an alleged offence which the Registered Manager has then paid.
Then a visit must also be made within one week of receiving a notification made under Section 30A of the Care Standards Act 2000.
N.B. These are minimum requirements and the Child in Care Review may recommend more frequent visits.
In addition, the child's social worker should visit:
- Whenever reasonably requested to do so by 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; or
- If there is any proposal to remove the child from placement where concerns have been raised about his/her welfare.
The social worker must also visit whenever reasonably requested by the child, the carer or parent or other person responsible for the child's living arrangements.
3. Conduct of Visits - Who Should be Seen?
Statutory visits to Children in Care should be undertaken by a qualified social worker. 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).
It is important to be clear that the exceptions set out in Section 2 above apply only to the placement. Whatever the placement arrangements and irrespective of where the child is placed, the child must be seen in private and alone (unless the child is of sufficient age and maturity and refuses or the social worker considers it inappropriate to do so, having regard to the child's age and understanding). 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. On some visits the child's bedroom should be seen.
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. Where possible, let the child/young person have a say on when and where visits take place and this should be recorded.
For Disabled Children, where appropriate, the social worker should be aware of the child's communication passport. For children who are not able to communicate their views verbally, the social worker should ensure that observations of the child are made in their placement and also in other settings, for example, school or clinic. Information and opinion should also be gathered from other professionals about their presentation.
If the child has particular communication difficulties, or if he/she requires specialist communication support (e.g. a specialist advocacy service), the social worker will need to consider what specialist resources should be utilised to ensure the child is able to express his/her wishes and feelings, including a request for a visit. This should be considered at the outset and included in the child's care and placement plan.
For children whose first language is not English an interpreter or signer should be provided where appropriate.
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.
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.
Meetings involving a child e.g. Child in Care 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 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 ensure that the child understands why they are in care and ascertain their views about the plans for their future given their age and understanding;
- 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/Family Time 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 / Pathway 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;
- Key purpose of the visit;
- Whether the child was seen and if not why not;
- Whether the child was seen alone;
- The child's views, wishes and feelings, and their understanding of their Care Plan given their age and understanding. Where possible this should be recorded in their own words;
- Any comments made by the child or the staff/carers/parents;
- Any achievements by the child as well as any matters of concern or difficulties;
- Any observations on the child's welfare and the success of the placement;
- Any work undertaken with their child as well as the child's response to that work;
- Any requirements for action.
6. Consequence of Visits
If, as a result of a visit, it is the social worker's assessment that the child's welfare is not adequately Safeguarded and Promoted by the placement, the IRO must be informed and the child's case must be reviewed.