Ceasing to Look After a Child/Young Person under Section 20
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter reflects the statutory guidance 'Ceasing to Look After a Child' in 'Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations' together with Working Together to Safeguard Children.
The Local Authority has a duty to ensure that when a child/young person has been Accommodated under Section 20 (Children Act, 1989) and are discharged from, or leave care, that the discharge is in their best interests and that they will be safeguarded and their welfare will be promoted. Where a child/young person has been Accommodated for 20 days or more, the decision should be made by a Nominated Officer, or Director of Children's Services if the child/young person/young person is 16/17 yrs and has been Accommodated under Section 20, before discharge.
AMENDMENTIn March 2023, this chapter was updated and should be re-read in full.
Children/young people come into the Local Authorities care on a voluntary basis under Section 20 for many different reasons and are some of the most vulnerable children/young people. Section 20 Accommodation can:
- Offer children/young people and families short term support as a result of disability (short term break);
- Support a family in crisis, for example, as a result of parental health issues and where no other family or friend is available;
- Be the first stage for a Relinquished Child – particularly a child under 6 weeks of age;
- Be a means of safeguarding a child/young person as a result of Child Protection Enquiries, enabling an assessment of risk and needs prior to longer term planning;
- Ensure appropriate care to a child/young person who presents as 'abandoned';
- Be a way of managing a child/young person where there are concerns of Significant Harm as a result of being 'beyond parental control';
- Offer the level of support and care required to a Separated Migrant Child (see Unaccompanied Migrant Children and Child Victims of Trafficking and Modern Slavery Procedure).
When a child/young person is Accommodated, (and it is not part of a planned Short Break), timescales should be established at the outset for the length of time the Accommodation is considered to be required, together with a plan for the child/young person returning home.
The first Looked After Review should take place within 20 days and will be key to evaluating the risk, or likelihood of risk, of any Significant Harm; the needs of the child/young person; further detailed multi-agency work required to support to the child/young person and family, together with the timescales for these.
There can sometimes be concerns about delay because of issues in working with either the parent or child/young person. Equally, a parent or carer may request that the child/young person be returned to their care ahead of the Care Plan, or when the concerns still exist.
2. Children/Young People Accommodated under Section 20
Where a child/young person has been Accommodated for 20 working days or more, the Local Authority must carefully consider a request for the child/young person to be discharged from care to ensure they remain safe and that their welfare continues to be promoted.
Ceasing to Look After a child/young person will normally be part of the Care Plan that will fully consider these issues.
As a result of Accommodating the child/young person, in most cases there will already be an Assessment and a range of multi-agency information about the child/young person and the family which will include an understanding of the child/young person and family's needs, wishes and wants, together with an appreciation of their respective abilities to work with support services in a positive and constructive way.
Where the plan is for a child/young person to return to the care of their family when they cease to be looked-after, there should be a robust planning and decision-making process to ensure the decision is in the best interests of the child/young person and will safeguard and promote their welfare.
In making the decision to cease looking after a child/young person, the Local Authority must assess:
- The suitability of the child/young person's proposed accommodation and maintenance when they cease to be looked-after; and
- What services and support the child/young person might need and who they might contact for support;
- Where the child/young person is returning home, what services and support the parent might need and who they might contact for support;
- The Local Authority must also ascertain the child/young person's wishes and feelings about the proposed plan for their care (having regard to their age and understanding), and consider them;
- Consideration must also be given to the wider context of the family and environmental factors.
2.2 Decision Making
Where a child/young person has been Looked After for 20 working days or more, the decision to cease looking after the child/young person should not be put into effect until it has been approved by the Nominated Officer.
Where the young person is 16/17 years and has been Accommodated under Section 20 for at least 24 hours, discharge from care should not take place until the decision has been approved by the Director of Children's Services.
In making the decision, the Nominated Officer, or where relevant, the Director of Children's Services must be satisfied that:
- The young person's wishes have been ascertained and considered;
- The decision to cease to look after the child/young person will safeguard and promote their welfare;
- The support that the child/young person and parent receive via the Children's Services Department and partner agencies will be effective in supporting the child/young person being safeguarded and promote the child/young person's well being and best interests;
- The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) has been informed.
2.3 Circumstances Around Ceasing to Look After a Child/Young Person
Circumstances around ceasing, or discharging, a child/young person from being Looked After will vary as much as the original reasons for Accommodating the child/young person, but the discharge of the child/young person from being Looked After should always be undertaken in a timely and planned way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child/young person.
A prompt return to their parent or carer will invariably be appropriate and welcomed, especially if the return is part of the child/young person's Care Plan and made possible because of the assessment that has already been undertaken, together with the ongoing involvement of the practitioner.
Where a parent or carer requests the child/young person be returned to their care outside of the Care Plan (if one has been established), the parent or carer should be asked to undertake the return in a planned or negotiated way that reflects the needs and best interests of the child/young person, (e.g. family time visit arrangements to assist the return; individual counselling, etc), and to ensure appropriate support becomes available to them or the child/young person. (Note: a lack of resources should not be a reason for delaying the child/young person returning home).
However, when the Local Authority receives a request for the child/young person to return home immediately, (under Section 20(8)) this must be responded to; any delay in so doing may bring severe criticism, and possible financial penalty, from a court.
Nevertheless, where a return to a parent/carer cannot be planned and also raises concern, (either because of the circumstances surrounding the reasons for Accommodation in the first place or because it does not take into account the safeguarding and the welfare of the child/young person), in these circumstances:
- Careful consideration should be given as to whether the request puts the child/young person at risk of immediate Significant Harm. If this is the case, then the procedure for seeking an Emergency Protection Order (or, where appropriate, Police Protection) should be invoked;
- The relevant Service Manager's view should be sought;
- Where a review has been undertaken, the IRO's opinion should be sought;
- An agreed plan with the parent or carer should be sought;
- Consider whether an urgent request and commissioning of a resource(s) or service for the child/young person or parent /carer support should be sought e.g. 'Relate' or Drug/alcohol advisory service etc.
- Other partner agencies, such as Schools, Education Department and Health should be advised of the change of circumstances;
- A Child/young person in Need Planning Meeting should be promptly arranged.
Consideration may also be given as to whether the parent / carer's actions require the convening of an Initial or, (if the child/young person is already subject to a Child/young person Protection Plan), a Review Child/young person Protection Conference (if the Child/young person Protection Plan does not give such guidance).
Where a child/young person who is not already considered to be a Child In Need but ceases to be Looked After, the child/young person will become a Child In Need, (see Hertfordshire Multi-Agency Children in Need Protocol and Procedures). For 16 / 17 year olds, they will move onto a Pathway Plan.
A Child In Need meeting (or Pathway Plan meeting for 16/17 year olds) should be convened wherever possible and appropriate, with relevant agencies, and a Plan drawn up which will promote the safeguarding, welfare and best interests of the child/young person, with the objective of ensuring that the return to the parent or carer is successful.
The Plan should:
- Take in to account the child/young person's needs;
- Take into account the child/young person's views;
- The parents' capacity to meet the needs of the child/young person;
- The existing family and support network;
- The environmental/community factors - both positive and negative;
- Acknowledge the child/young person's changed legal status;
- Establish other agencies roles and responsibilities with respect to the Plan.
The Child in Need Plan should be subject to Review to ensure the Plan remains relevant, appropriate and required or whether it a Families First Plan is more appropriate.
3. Children/Young People Who are 'Eligible Children' - Transition into Adulthood
An Eligible Young Person is someone who is:
- Aged 16 or 17, have been Looked After for a period or periods totalling at least 13 weeks starting after their 14th birthday and ending at least one day after their 16th birthday, and are still in care. (This total does not include a series of pre-planned short-term placements of up to four weeks where the child/young person has returned to the parent). There is a duty to support these young people up to the age of 18, wherever they are living.
Eligible young people are entitled to the same level of support as every other Looked After Child/young person, during this important part of their development and transition (see Care Leavers and Transition to Adulthood Procedure).
In relation to an Eligible young person, from their 16th birthday, the Local Authority must:
- Carry out an assessment of needs with a view to determining what advice, assistance and support it would be appropriate to provide while looking after them and after it ceases to look after them;
- Prepare a Pathway Plan and review it regularly.
3.1 Assessment of Need
The Assessment of Need underpins the young person's current Care Plan as the starting point for developing the Pathway Plan. The Assessment should take place not more than 3 months after the young person's 16th birthday or after they become eligible, if later than 16 yrs. It should not require significant additional work if the young person is settled with an up to date Care Plan.This Assessment of Need must take into account the following:
- The wishes and feelings of the young person;
- Their parents or other person with Parental Responsibility;
- The young person's health (including their physical, emotional and mental health) and development;
- The young person's continuing need for education, training or employment;
- The support that will be offered by their parents, friends and that all other Connected Persons will be able to give;
- The financial resources available to the young person, together with an assessment of their financial capability to manage their own finances;
- The extent to which the young person possesses the practical and other skills they will need to manage more independent living;
- The young person's need for continuing care, support and accommodation;
- The view of the educational establishment the young person attends and, if they have an Education, Health and Care Plan, the views of the Local Authority that maintains the Care Plan (if different);
- The views of the IRO;
- The views of the Leaving Care Personal Adviser;
- The views of any person providing health care to the young person;
- The views any other person the Local Authority or young person feel is relevant.
Where the young person is seeking to discharge themself from care and live independently, the social worker in addition should evaluate and consider, (including the information from above), the degree to which the young person is able to live independently and the need for their continuing need for support and accommodation.
Following the completion of the assessment of need, the social worker will complete the Pathway Plan as soon as possible. The Pathway Plan details: which services will be provided; who will provide these services; what actions the social worker themselves need to undertake to secure such support; details of the support and involvement from family and other Connected Persons; timescales with regard to all of these. It is more than a 'statement of intent, it is a living document'.
The Pathway Plan must include what outcomes are to be achieved with regard to the young person.
The Pathway Plan must specify the name of the Leaving Care Personal Adviser and detail the arrangements for visiting the young person. It should cover:
- Details of the young person's accommodation when they cease to be Looked After, and how this will be suitable in view of their assessed needs;
- The plans and arrangements for the young person's continuing education and training;
- What support the young person will require to enable them to develop and sustain appropriate family and social relationships;
- How the young person will be supported to build and develop their independent living skills;
- The financial support to be provided to enable the young person to meet accommodation and personal living costs;
- How the Authority will assist the young person in obtaining employment or other purposeful activity when they cease to be looked after, taking into account their aspirations, skills and educational potential;
- The young person's financial capabilities and money management capacity, along with strategies to develop skills in this area;
- How the young person's physical, emotional and mental health needs will be met.
The Pathway Plan will identify a Contingency Plan (should the Pathway Plan not effectively meet the young person's needs).
The Pathway Plan must be reviewed:
- When the young person requests; or
- If the Leaving Care Personal Adviser considers it necessary; or
- At least once every 6 months.
The Plan should be adjusted accordingly with the young person's achievements, needs and maturity.
3.3 Decision Making
For young people with Eligible status, discharge from care should not take place until the Director of Children's Services has approved it.
In making the decision, the Director of Children's Services must be satisfied that:
- The young person's wishes and feelings have been ascertained and given due consideration;
- The decision to cease to look after the young person will safeguard and promote their welfare;
- The support that the young person and parent receive via the Children's Services Department and partner agencies, will be effective in supporting the young person being safeguarded and promote the young person's well being and best interests;
- The IRO has been informed;
- That as an Eligible young person, there is an assessment of need (covering all the relevant areas); a Pathway Plan (detailing all the issues in Schedule 8 of the 2010 Regulations) and a Leaving Care Personal Advisor has been appointed.
An Eligible young person will have the status and entitlements of a 'care leaver'. As such, they will be able to receive ongoing support, advice and encouragement to maximise their potential and will benefit from having direct support from their Leaving Care Personal Adviser up to the age of 25 yrs where they are in Education and Training.
4. Children/Young People who are Looked After for Short Periods (Fewer than 20 days) Including Short Term Breaks
In the event a child/young person aged 0-15 who has been accommodated for less than 20 days, such as in a family crisis, it is not necessary for the Nominated Officer to approve their return home in these circumstances. However, the relevant Service Manager must be satisfied that the return is (or remains) in the child/young person's best interests and the arrangements will (continue to) safeguard and promote the child/young person's welfare. For 16/ 17 year olds who have been accommodated for less than 20 days the relevant Head of Service will need to approve their return home. This is also the case for young people aged 16 / 17 who have been accommodated for less than 24 hours. The Executive Director (Statutory DCS) needs to approve all 16-17 year olds who have been accommodated for over 24 hours to return home. See Delegated Authority to Foster Carers.
Nevertheless, there will be situations where such circumstances create concern with respect to the child/young person's vulnerability and where it is appropriate to consider whether the child/young person should be made the subject of a Child Protection Plan or be a Child In Need.
4.1 Short Term Breaks
The process for ceasing to look after a child/young person should also apply to Short Term Breaks (where the child/young person is considered to be Accommodated in these circumstances), unless the child/young person is subject to Regulation 48 (1989 Act, The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010).
In these instances the child/young person will already be a Child in Need and the Children's Social Services Department and partner agencies will have a considerable level of understanding with respect to the child/young person and the parent or carers with a good level of communication between the practitioners and the family/child/young person.
Nevertheless, the practitioner and team manager should always remain alert and sensitive to changes within the family's circumstances.
(See also Short Breaks Procedure).
4.2 Relinquished Children
5. Administration / Process Issues
As with all changing circumstances, the practitioner should:
- Ensure that a Child in Need Plan is drawn up and distributed to all relevant professionals/agencies involved;
- Establish an agreed plan with the Parent or Carer where relevant;
- Ensure the child/young person is appropriately supported through the transitional phase, including any emotional support, ensuring belongings, mementos, information and other discussions with the parent or carer;
- Ensure that the parent or carer is appropriately supported through the transitional phase;
- Where education has been an issue for a child or young person, and they have necessarily had to change school, ensure their transition back to their education setting is supported by the setting, the family and promoted with the child or young person;
- Ensure that all partner agencies are made aware of the change of legal status of the child/young person, particularly the school or nursery; the Health Visitor and GP;
- Where the placement has been out of the Local Authority, the Local Authority where the child/young person was placed should be informed of the move of the child/young person;
- Where there has been another Integrated Care Board (ICB) involved the ICB should be promptly advised of the child/young person's move so that the medical documents can be transferred. The child/young person's home ICB should also be informed of the change so that the child/young person's Health Plan can be progressed without delay;
- Ensure that the Placement Team is informed, and where the provider is an independent provider, that notice is given as soon as possible and within the commissioning/contractual arrangements;
- Inform the IRO;
- Ensure that the electronic record is updated to amend the status and address details etc.
- Ensure that School and Health records are effectively transferred (where appropriate) to support a smooth transition of information.