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1.1 Child Care Policy, Strategy and Principles

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter provides the context for all procedures.

It contains the overarching policy for the provision of services to children and families. It also sets out underlying values and principles for confidentiality and consultation.

AMENDMENT

Section 2, Confidentiality Policy, Values and Principles was revised in September 2015 to reflect the March 2015 national guidance Information Sharing Advice For Practitioners Providing Safeguarding Services To Children, Young People, Parents And Carers.


Contents

1. Child Care Policy and Strategy
  1.1 Introduction
  1.2 Policy Statement
  1.3 Additional Key Principles for Children Looked After
  1.4 Our Strategy
2. Confidentiality, Policy Values and Principles
3. Consultation Values and Principles


1. Child Care Policy and Strategy

1.1 Introduction

This policy sets out the framework within which Children's Services work with children, young people and their families. It is underpinned by a range of legislation including, but not limited to:

  • Children Acts 1989 and 2004;
  • Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000;
  • Care Standards Act 2000;
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child;
  • Human Rights Act 1998;
  • Adoption and Children Act 2002;
  • The Children and Young Person's Act 2008.

The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 and associated guidance.

The policy framework also has regard to and is consistent with a range of government guidance, particularly the Every Child Matters agenda and the principles set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015.

It is largely directed towards the work that Children's Services undertakes with Children in Need and Children Looked After which is carried out in partnership with all sectors of the Council and with other statutory, independent and voluntary sector services.

1.2 Policy Statement

In Children's Services, we will work to ensure that all children have the best chances in life to achieve their full potential. Consideration of children's welfare and best interests will always be at the centre of our work.

All children and young people have the right to have their physical and mental health safeguarded and promoted. They also have the right to live a healthy lifestyle.

All children and young people have the right to be safe and secure, protected from harm and Neglect, and to live in an environment that enables them to develop to their full physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social potential.

All children and young people have the right to the best possible education and training which meets their identified needs and equips them to live full adult lives. They also have the right to time and support to pursue appropriate leisure interests, especially children acting as young carers.

All children and young people have the right to family life wherever possible and to be supported to take part in community life. They have the right to a continuity of care wherever possible and to develop and preserve their own identities. They also have a right to information and to make choices about their lives, having regard to their age and understanding. Through this they will be enabled to make a positive contribution to the community and to society.

All children have the right to live above the poverty threshold and to be equipped with the skills and knowledge that will help them overcome socioeconomic disadvantage where necessary.

Children's Services will work to ensure the above outcomes by working to maintain children within their own families, and facilitating services to support this arrangement, wherever this is possible and consistent with the child's safety and well-being.  Where it is in the best interests of the child, respite and short term breaks will be provided to support parents in meeting their children's needs and to prevent the need for longer-term care.

1.3 Additional Key Principles for Children Looked After

These are outlined in the Hertfordshire's Children's Trust Partnership Pledge to Children and Young People who are Looked After.

Where a child cannot be cared for within his or her immediate family, we will make strenuous efforts to identify potential carers within the wider kinship network of the child who are able and willing to care for the child.

If continuing care within his/her family is not possible we will make every effort to identify suitable alternative carers, reflecting the child's ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background wherever possible and appropriate. We will seek to identify suitable local placements to provide educational and social continuity. We will promote continued constructive contact with their parents, grandparents, siblings, half siblings, families and friends.

The Hertfordshire Access to Resources Panel makes decisions according to the following principles. See Hertfordshire Access to Resources Panel (H.A.R.P) and Delegated Authority for Resource Agreement Procedure, Principles in Decision Making.

We will ensure that Permanence Plans are made for all Children Looked After within 4 months of their becoming looked after and enacted as quickly as possible. If a young person remains in care we will ensure that they are supported when they leave care at least until they are 21, to give them a positive start to independent living. We will undertake carry out our duties according to our Leaving Care Policy (see The Hertfordshire Policy Statement on the Education of Children Looked After).

We will consult with children, their parents and other significant adults about plans for their care and these plans will be subject to independent review. We will also consult about the services we provide and ensure that children have access to advocacy services that will assist them in being heard.

We will intervene to reduce the risk of a young person offending and to provide alternatives to custody for the more serious offenders. Services will be provided which minimise the possibility of placement in Secure Accommodation or custody.

We will promote contact between children looked after, their families and whos who have played an important part in their lives (see Contact with Parents, Family and Friends Procedure and Supervised Contact and the Hertfordshire Contact Service Procedure).

We will support the education of children looked after. Each child will have an Personal Education Plan and each school will have an appointed and trained Designated Teacher for Children in Public Care (please see Education of Children Looked After Procedure). Every effort will be made to maintain educational stability for a looked after child. Changes of school place will only be made after careful consideration of all the circumstances and in consultation with all relevant professionals, carers and the child. Placement changes will not be made in a period running up to or during examinations, except in an emergency.

Wherever possible, for looked after children who have a Education, Health and Care Plan, the annual Statement review will be co-ordinated with the timing for their statutory child care review.

Every looked after child will have the opportunity to participate in 'out of school hours learning', including academic, cultural, sporting and leisure activities, to broaden their educational achievement and to promote confidence and self-esteem.

We will support the health of children looked after (please see Health Care Assessments and Health Care Plans Procedure). We will ensure that all looked after children are encouraged to have healthy lives and to make healthy choices, for example, by enabling each child to develop sporting and artistic skills and by encouraging each child to participate in a range of cultural and leisure activities.

Through statutory health assessments and personal health plans, we will ensure that all outstanding issues relating to the child's physical or mental health are brought to the attention of the relevant health professionals promptly.

Through statutory notification to relevant authorities, we will ensure that continuity of health care is assured wherever there is a change in the child's circumstances.

Where a child of sufficient age and understanding refuses to give consent to the assessment, their view will be respected. (please see Consent to Medical Examination and Treatment Procedure). In these circumstances, the young person will be advised of alternative avenues for health information that may be appropriate to their needs.

Working in partnership with Health, we will provide dedicated Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services to looked after children, to ensure speedy access to services and specialist expertise

Each child looked after will have an allocated social worker responsible for the overall progress of the child's care plan. S/he will know the child's history, in order to plan for the future, and will build a relationship with him or her. S/he will carry out statutory duties as set out in Statutory Visits to Children Looked After Procedure. S/he will ensure the child's achievements are celebrated and recorded and birthdays and other key festivals are recognised. S/he will work in partnership, appropriately with those with parental responsibility for the child.

1.4 Our Strategy

The strategy for Children's Services is to harness government policy and funding streams to improve performance, so that we can work with other agencies to ensure better outcomes for every child and his or her family through cost effective systems, structures and partnerships - through targeting services to prevent most children from becoming children in need or looked after, whilst concentrating specialist services on children most in need to give them the best possible life chances.

Provision of services in all cases must represent best value in relation to cost and effectiveness to maximise use of available resources. The Hertfordshire Access to Resources Panel (H.A.R.P) (see Hertfordshire Access to Resources Panel (H.A.R.P) and Delegated Authority for Resource Agreement Procedure) ensures consistency of practice regarding placement decisions. We will develop commissioning strategies to enhance the overall range of service provision.


2. Confidentiality Policy, Values and Principles

This procedures sets out the responsibility of the employee to familiarise themselves with the handling of confidential information in the context of their social work role and as an employee of the council.

RELATED GUIDANCE

Information Sharing

Each of the following values is summarised.

2.1 Children's Services Confidentiality Policy
2.2 Confidentiality Values and Principles
  2.2.1 Personal information is subject to a legal duty of confidence
  2.2.2 Disclosure of confidential information is permitted in exceptional circumstances
  2.2.3 Situations where disclosure is permitted should be shared with children involved
  2.2.4 Information should be disclosed to colleagues and other professionals/agencies on need to know basis
2.3 Freedom of Information Act 2000

2.1 Children's Services Confidentiality Policy

2.1.1 Introduction

Children's Services recognises its common law duties to safeguard the confidentiality of all personal information. Wherever disclosure of confidential information to another person or organisation is being considered it is essential to ensure that such disclosure is lawful.

All Council staff must be made aware that the DPA applies to the processing of all personal data, both in paper and electronic records. Where disclosure is proposed, and there is any doubt as to whether the DPA applies or whether only the common law of confidentiality applies, advice will always be sought, from the Council's Data Protection Officer and/or Legal Services.

The Council will always record its reasons for deciding not to observe any duty of confidence it owes to a person who is the subject of information disclosed.

E-mail messages sent via the Internet can be intercepted, read and changed relatively easily. Consequently, Council staff will not use the Internet to pass on personal identifiable information about service users unless a secure or encrypted connection is in place.

2.1.2 Staff Obligations and Quick Must Do's

The Council's conditions of employment, issued as part of every employee's contract, detail the obligations placed upon the Council staff.

Staff employed with the Council will come into contact with confidential information/data relating to the work of the Council, its service users and other staff. Staff are bound by their conditions of service to respect the confidentiality of any information that they may come into contact with and under no circumstances should such information be divulged or passed to any persons or organisation in any form unless such disclosure is authorised under this policy.

Any unauthorised disclosure of confidential information by Council staff may result in disciplinary action. Staff may also face prosecution under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Where Council staff misuse confidential information, e.g. disclose their password to someone else or use someone else's password to gain access to systems, they could face disciplinary action that could lead to dismissal. They may also be prosecuted under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Managers must ensure that confidentiality is discussed with all new employees, as part of their induction. It is recommended that staff acknowledge that they have taken note of the contents of this policy. All staff who use LCS must sign the LCS Confidentiality Agreement CSF0026F1.

Volunteers and work experience students must also have their role in maintaining confidentiality made clear by the member of staff responsible for them and must be aware of and adhere to this policy.

Quick Must Do’s

  1. Staff must undertake the iLearn Module;
  2. Staff must use the Secure Print facility for all confidential information;
  3. Staff must use appropriate communication methods for personal and sensitive information, this includes:
    • Winzip password protected, and password given by another form of communication than that used to send document;
    • Gcsx mail which is secure with some government agencies e.g. Probation.
  4. Do not use USB (memory) sticks or personal computers for confidential information;
  5. Read and understand ICT Acceptable Use Policy;
  6. Safeguard laptops ensuring they are kept hidden from view e.g. in a parked car hidden by the shelf in the boot, not left in parked car away from HCC premises, not in view from windows/doors in your home;
  7. Hard copies of client paperwork - only a minimum should be taken off the premises to enable work, it should not be stored in the same bag as the laptop, ensure it is kept locked and out of view in your home.

2.1.3 Commercial Confidentiality

Some Council staff may have access to commercial information, agreements or contracts. This information must be treated as confidential and only discussed/disclosed where this forms part of the employee's remit within the organisation. Staff should consult their manager if they are in any doubt.

2.1.4 Research, Audit and Monitoring

Access to confidential information or anonymous data may be sought for research, audit or monitoring purposes, either by other Council areas or by outside organisations or public bodies.

Internal requests related to research projects must be approved and a formal submission will be required.

All external requests or enquiries may need to be directed to the Data Protection Officer for clarification or Legal Services for their approval.

2.1.5 Press Interest, Police and Legal Enquiries

All media enquiries should be referred to the Chief Executive via the press office.

The Police do not have automatic rights to personal information held by the Council about service users. The matter should always be referred to a manager and/or the Data Protection Officer/Legal Services.

Any requests for access to confidential information held by the Council for the purpose of any legal proceedings must be referred to the Council's Legal Services. A Court Order is required in order to release such information for legal proceedings. Verbal or written requests from lawyers are not sufficient. Staff should also seek advice from their manager and, where advised, the Data Protection Officer to ensure that correct action is taken.

2.2 Confidentiality Values and Principles

The following guidance should be read along with the publication Information Sharing Advice For Practitioners Providing Safeguarding Services To Children, Young People, Parents And Carers (March 2015).

2.2.1 Personal information is subject to a legal duty of confidence

Personal information held about children is subject to a legal duty of confidence and should not normally be disclosed without the consent of the subject. The exceptions to this are set out in Section 2.2.2, Disclosure of confidential information is permitted in exceptional circumstances.

The legal framework for confidentiality is contained in the common law duty of confidence, the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Data Protection Act 1998.

2.2.2 Disclosure of confidential information is permitted in exceptional circumstances

Whilst the general principle is that information obtained about children must be shared with them and not with others, there are exceptions. The public interest in Child Protection overrides the public interest in maintaining confidentiality and the law permits the disclosure of confidential information necessary to safeguard a child or children. Effective information-sharing underpins integrated working and is a vital element of both early intervention and safeguarding.

Disclosure should be justifiable in each case, for example to provide information to professionals from other agencies working with the child, and where possible and appropriate, the agreement of the person concerned should be obtained.

Those working with children must make it clear that confidentiality may not be maintained if the disclosure of information is necessary in the interests of the child. Even in these circumstances, disclosure will be appropriate for the purpose and only to the extent necessary to achieve that purpose.

There may also be situations where third parties have a statutory right of access to the information or where a Court Order requires that access be given.

The circumstances in which information held in records on children and families can and should be disclosed and shared with others with or without consent are set out in the following sections.

In all other cases, where third parties such as advocates, solicitors or external researchers request access to information, this should only be given if written consent is given by the person concerned or if a Court Order requires it.

2.2.3 Situations where disclosure is permitted should be shared with children involved

Children should be informed of the circumstances in which information about them will be shared with others. It should be made clear that in each case the information passed on will only be what is relevant and on a 'need to know' basis.

2.2.4 Information should be disclosed to colleagues and other professionals/agencies on a need to know basis

Sharing information promptly with others working with the same child, or who may need to know, is invariably the key to safeguarding the child's interests.

Therefore, relevant information about children must be shared with colleagues, other professionals or agencies that may have a role to play in their care.

However, the general principle is that information may only be shared on a 'need to know' basis.

For example:

  • Where professionals are undertaking a Section 47 Enquiry in relation to a child;
  • Where the Police are investigating a criminal offence or require information to help them find an absent, missing or absconded child;
  • Where information is requested in the furtherance of an inquiry or tribunal, or for the purposes of a Serious Case Review.

In such circumstances the person to whom the information relates should be informed that records have been requested unless to do so would prejudice the purpose of the request.

Any objections they have should be considered before responding to the person making the request.

Where information or records are passed to others it should be noted and confirmed in writing.

Information may also be disclosed to persons who have a statutory right of access to the information, for example:

  • Where the Court directs that records be produced or a Children's Guardian is appointed;
  • Where information is requested by Inspectors of the Regulatory Authority (who have specific statutory powers that permit access to records).

Where information is requested by telephone or electronically, great care must be taken to ensure that the recipient is entitled to receive the information requested. Where there is any doubt the information may not be provided without the approval of a manager.

2.3 Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force on 1 January 2005.

Under the Act anybody may request information in writing or via e-mail from a public authority (which includes all local authorities) and must receive a response within 20 working days. The Act confers two statutory rights on applicants:

  • To be informed in writing whether or not the public authority holds the information requested; and if so;
  • To have that information communicated to him/her.

The Act applies to all information whether recent or old.

The Act sets out 23 exemptions from rights of access to information. If the information is exempt, there is no right of access under the Act.

One exemption relates to personal information. This means that an application for personal information under the Act is exempt and will not therefore be dealt with under the Act. A person's right of access to such information must still be dealt with in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998. The procedure is set out in the Access to Records Procedure.

Another category relates to information provided in confidence where disclosure would involve an actionable breach of confidence. This would include information provided by a member of the public about a child protection issue where the provider has provided the information on the basis that anonymity will be maintained.

The Act therefore does not change the legal position into the principles of confidentiality set out in Section 2.2, Confidentiality Values and Principles.


3. Consultation Values and Principles

3.1 Consultation with children and their families/carers about services to the child
3.2 Consultation with children regarding service planning
3.3 Management Consultation
3.4 Legal Consultation

3.1 Consultation with children and their families/carers about services to the child

Everyone involved in the receipt and delivery of services should be involved in decisions, which may affect them.

This includes children, their advocates, their parents, other significant family members and those charged with providing the service; including managers, staff, carers and professionals or colleagues from other agencies.

This means that people's views should be sought and taken into account in relation to all decisions, which are likely to affect their daily life and their future.

When working with children:

  • You must presume the children/young people can contribute - regardless of age and ability (it is the adult's responsibility to find a way). See Mental Capacity Act Procedure;
  • Be clear with the child about the type of information you want - and why you want it.

Choose a way of hearing from the child that is relevant and meaningful to them - there are many tools available on the CS&SS Participation hub.

  • Which can be downloaded;
  • Keep informing and explaining things to the child throughout;
  • All children regardless of their age or needs have the right to have their views taken into account. Often, an older child will have more of a say about things, but really it is about risk. A younger child may have a greater say about a lower risk decision- so you need to make an informed decision about how much influence the child will have;
  • Make sure the child's views, wishes and feelings are understood and given serious consideration- too often they are gathered and then ignored!;
  • Record what the child says, suggests and feels. Make sure others are aware. Finally, feedback to the child the decisions and how they were listened to;
  • The principle that young people should individually receive correspondence addressed to them should be followed unless there are good reasons for not doing so. Anyone with responsibility for corresponding with a young person should discuss with him/her the means by which this should be received, whether paper or electronic;
  • Even when the parent/carers live at the same address individual correspondence should be sent to the young person. This might mean putting 2 envelopes with identical contents in the same outer envelope, or sending two letters to the same address;
  • The young person may wish to keep copies of key documents, such as, the minutes of child protection conferences, Pathway Plans so they can refer back to them;
  • No third party information should be shared with the young person without the permission of the person it concerns. The confidentiality of others and data protection responsibilities should be taken into account. The same applies to legally restricted information.

Unless there are exceptional circumstances, reasonable steps must be taken in all cases to consult the parents. Exceptions will include where a child is placed for adoption and where older children with an appropriate level of maturity specifically request that their parents are not consulted and a decision is made to respect their wishes.

Consultation should take place on a regular and frequent basis with those who need to be consulted and assumptions should not be made about the inability or lack of interest of those who should be consulted. Care should be taken not to exclude parent/carers in any information they need to be aware of their role.

Where people have communication difficulties of any sort, suitable means must be provided to enable them to be consulted, including arranging access to advocates or representatives who may speak on their behalf.

Consultation should be undertaken in a creative manner. This should include consideration of emailing or texting.

If consultation is not possible or is restricted for whatever reason, steps should be taken to ensure those affected are informed of decisions as soon as practicable after they are made, and an explanation for the decision given, together with the opportunity to make a comment and express their views.

If it is then felt that a different decision may have been appropriate, steps should be taken to reconsider the decision.

If decisions are made against people's wishes, they should be informed of the decision and the reasons for the decision should be explained. In these circumstances, the person should be informed of any rights they have to formally challenge the decision, and of the availability of the Complaints or Grievance Procedure (see Complaints, Compliments and Representations Procedure)

Children should also be informed of their right to appoint an advocate, (see Advocacy for Children and Young People Making a Complaint Procedure) and if an advocate is appointed, he or she must be consulted in accordance with the principles set out in this section.

3.2 Consultation with children regarding service planning

We will ensure that children's individual views are collated anonymously to inform service planning and learning and development programmes for staff, and inform them about how things have changed as a result of their comments.

We will encourage children and young people to participate in service planning in several ways, through individual feedback, focus groups and consultation events.

We will routinely train, support and invite young people to participate in recruitment of staff to key childcare posts relating to looked after children

3.3 Management Consultation

Unless otherwise stated in specific procedures in this manual, it is assumed that people working in this organisation will take reasonable steps to keep their managers informed of their actions; and will consult and seek their approval where they do not have decision making responsibility delegated to them.

In order to facilitate this, managers must ensure that effective lines of communication are established and maintained.

If procedures in this manual require that managers are informed within specified timescales or their approval is sought before actions are taken, this must be complied with.

3.4 Legal Consultation

It is assumed that, in following these procedures, social workers and/or their managers will seek legal advice as appropriate before taking any action and/or making decisions, which will or may change the legal status of a child or decisions which do not have parental consent. This is particularly so in cases where emergency action is being considered.

In order to facilitate this, managers must ensure that effective lines of communication are established and maintained between Children's Services and the Council's Legal Advisers, and that workers are aware of who may authorise contact, who may have contact and how contact should be made.

End