Placement Endings

1. Overview

Placements end in a variety of ways. The ending should, as far as possible, be the outcome of a planned process. This may result in:

  • A move to another placement;
  • Return to the child's family;
  • Return to the child's family but continuing support and advice are needed and the child may return for future periods of respite care;
  • Leaving the placement for independent life as part of the transition to adulthood and independent living.

The aim should be to achieve a planned ending to a placement with careful preparation and transition. Consideration should always be given to facilitating ongoing links between children and their former-carers, either through visits, telephone calls or letters.

As far as is reasonably practicable Social Workers should avoid unplanned endings, although where a child is accommodated a parent may remove the child without notice (subject to appropriate planning and safeguards).

When a placement ends the child's Social Worker must:

  • Ensure that the child, parent/s, those with parental responsibility and any others whose views had been sought prior to or during placement are notified if not involved in the plan (subject to their wishes and feelings and their 'Capacity' – 16 & 17 year olds);
  • Ensure that any placement has formal confirmation with the unit, foster carer or agency that the placement has ended;
  • Ensure that the record is updated and notify the Placement Service to prevent unnecessary expenditure;
  • Consider with the Team Manager and IRO whether a CLA review should be held to formally end the placement and/or consider other support services.

2. Planned and Unplanned Placement Moves

  • Children need to be told they are moving as far in advance as possible and definitely before the transport arrives to move them. Where possible, details of planned placement moves should be shared with the child at least a week in advance of the move. There may be exceptions to this which would need to be discussed with the relevant Head of Service;
  • It is most important that the child is given every opportunity to prepare for and understand the reasons for the placement/placement move. In preparing for the move it is important that the child has an understanding of the expected duration of the intended placement;
  • All details available about the new placement should be given when the child is told about the move including where possible names of the new carers /household make-up/names of staff on duty when they arrive/what the house looks like etc. Wherever possible and appropriate the child should be given the opportunity to visit the proposed placement prior to the formal move. Our Fostering Service will provide profiles of our in-house carers and these should ideally be shared with the child as part of the pre-move preparations;
  • All placement options (identified by the Brokerage Accommodation Team) (BAT) need to be based on a comprehensive assessment of the child's needs and their welfare and this assessment reflected in the placement recommendation. Where more than one placement recommendation is advanced by BAT then, where appropriate the choice should be discussed with the child and other relevant person/s before a final decision is made;
  • If the move is unplanned / undertaken in an emergency it is still required that the child will, where appropriate, be provided with information about the proposed placement including, where available, photographs of the carers / setting. See above re in-house carer profiles;
  • Where possible and appropriate the child must be informed / assured that suitable transport arrangements are in place for, for example, school, existing contact arrangements, medical / therapeutic commitments. It is expected that such arrangements will be shared with the child prior to the start of the placement. Confirmation / clarification of such arrangements to be discussed at the Placement Planning Meeting. It is good practice to ensure that, within 24 hours of the placement, the child has details of contact arrangements with his / her siblings and any other significant persons;
  • If it is not possible or appropriate to prepare the child in this way then the reasons for this decision must be recorded on LCS and endorsed (signed-off) by a manager;
  • Placement Planning Meetings will be held prior to or (no later than) five days after the placement change in line with current guidance;
  • A person known to the child should accompany them to the new placement. This should be the social worker and where this is not possible a carer/safe family member. Where escorts are required due to risks of transporting a child who is distressed this should always include a known person or the driver should be known to the child;
  • In circumstances where a child aged 16 or 17 moves to a placement deemed 'Other Arrangements' a review of the care / pathway plan should take place prior to the final agreement being given to the move. The new care / pathway plan should set out all of the new arrangements for ensuring the placement meets the child's needs;
  • In exceptional circumstances (a breakdown at a weekend/late evening) the Out of Hours Service (OOHS) need to obtain as much information regarding the new placement as possible to give to the child and ascertain if there is any known adult to facilitate the move;
  • Where a child is recovered by the police from a missing episode to be taken to a new placement the police /OOHS need to be aware that a person known to the child should be involved in the move if at all possible. Social worker to provide details to OOHS;
  • If there is a need to move at a weekend and this is known on the preceding Friday OOHS should be informed if there is a named carer who could accompany the child to their new placement.

In any move, planned or emergency, a child's possessions must be treated with the utmost respect and arrangements for their transport must reflect this. See Placement of Children Looked After, Placement Planning for service provision, recording and timescale expectations.

3. Reunification

A plan for reunification must be based on a Child and Family Assessment and an assessment of the family/parent. A permanence planning meeting needs to have considered and agreed the plan of reunification. The IRO should be advised immediately if the plan is likely to become reunification.

Parents with mental health issues, substance abuse or disabilities must have support from relevant agencies identified through the assessments.

The plan for reunification needs to be agreed at a CLA review following the Permanence Planning Meeting (see Permanence Planning Procedure).

Once the children returns to live with a person with Parental Responsibility, they cease to be Looked After (S20) and the period of care must be ended on LCS subject to the requirements of Regulation 39.

All key agencies need to be notified of the reunification and that the child is no longer Looked After.

Please also see Children Who Cease to be Subject to Section 20.

4. Ceasing to be Looked After

In some circumstances children and young people's legal status may change without a change of placement (e.g. discharge of a Care Order, young person reaching 18, a decision that a young person is no longer to be regarded as accommodated).

In these circumstances the Social Worker must notify the following persons in writing of the changes:

  • The child (having regard to age and understanding);
  • Any persons with parental responsibility;
  • The child's GP.

In so far as is possible, the Social Worker must ensure that the child and their parents fully understand the implications of the change of status.

It is implicit in legislation that young people should remain CLA until their 18th birthday if not returning home.

In accordance with the Permanence, Long Term Foster Placements and Ceasing to Look After a Child Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities, March 2015, in making a decision to cease to look after a child under Section 20, the responsible authority must assess:

  • Whether the proposed arrangements for the child's accommodation and maintenance when they cease to be looked after are suitable;
  • What services and support the child, and where the child is returning home, the parent, might need when they cease to be looked after (i.e. transfer to parental financial support where a return to a parent is approved).

Any decision made to cease to look after a child (subject to Section 20) cannot be put into effect until it has been approved by a Nominated Officer for under 16's  and for 16 and 17 year olds the decision needs to be approved by the Director of Hertfordshire Children's Services, with the exception of children who are looked after for a short period of time (for under 16's who are LAC for less than 20 working days or for 16 and 17 year olds looked after for less than 24 hours, Team Managers in conjunction with the IRO ensure approval is appropriate) (e.g. parental family illness, family crisis; however, it must be made clear that the decision to cease to look after is in their best interest and that arrangements in place will safeguard and promote the child's welfare.

Following cessation of the Section 20 status and a young person becomes a relevant care leaver future planning should follow the pathway planning process.

If a child / young person is subject of a section 31 (Care Order), the child / young person cannot cease to be LAC until discharged from the Court process.

Please also see Children Who Cease to be Subject to Section 20.

5. Discharging Children from Accommodation where Placements are not being Used

Where a child accommodated under s20 is failing to make use of a foster or residential placement, careful consideration must be given to a change of placement and / or discharging the child from accommodation, if the child has absented themselves for more than one week or absents themselves for several days over several weeks.

In instances where a child or young person has been looked after for at least 24 hours and they are absent / not using the placement every effort should be made to keep them as a looked after child, as they are still vulnerable children and young people. The social worker should discuss the benefits of remaining in placement (e.g. housing, emotional and financial support, etc…) and inform the child / young person that they will have a place and support available to them kept open. Children and young people should also be informed that even though their views, wishes and feelings are taken into account, the Council may not agree with their decision, as they may be putting themselves at risk without support / placement.

If the child / young person is not in contact then there should be evidence that attempted contact was made (frequency / flexible approaches). Considerations should this occur:

  • Initiate a strategy discussion to agree plan of action, including how long to keep current placement open / offer of a new placement when required and what the process will be should the child/ young person return;
  • Initiate the missing from care or home protocol if required;
  • If the child / young person is an unaccompanied asylum seeker / migrant / separated child / young person see section under Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children  and Safeguarding Children from Abroad.

Before the agreed timeframe has passed to keep the current placement open, the child's Social Worker must seek the agreement of their Team Manager and give the child and their parent(s) written notice that they are to be discharged if they continue to absent themselves from the placement.

Where the child still fails to stay in the placement, they should be discharged from accommodation via a CLA review and written confirmation of discharge must be sent to the child and parent(s).

Consideration should be given to keeping a placement offer open for such a time that the young person is able to engage / re-engage with the need for a supportive placement.

Please also see Children Who Cease to be Subject to Section 20.

6. Children Who Cease to be Subject of Section 20, including 16 and 17 year olds

Where the child leaves S20 accommodation in a planned way, the plan for reunification and the contingency plan must be made available to the IRO, plus the CP chair for children also subject to a Child Protection Plan, before the child returns home or leaves placement for an alternative arrangement such as in the case of a 16 or 17 year old. The IRO and CP Chair (where relevant) must comment on the content of the plan within 72 hours of receipt. Any areas of concern must be notified to the Team Manager and the Nominated Officer immediately.

Once the decision has been made to cease CLA status for children and young people who have been looked after for at least 20 working days, practitioners must complete the Ceasing to be Looked After Regulation 39 Checklist – for under 16's (Hertfordshire Guidance Document) and Ceasing to be Looked After Regulation 39 Checklist – for 16 & 17 year olds (Hertfordshire Guidance Document) to seek authorisation to cease CLA from senior management.

For under 16's the checklist and accompanying documentation is sent to the Nominated Officer and for 16 and 17 year olds the checklist must be sent to the Director of Children's Services.

In instances where the Section 20 period is less than 20 working days for under 16's, the Nominated Officer does not need to formally agree to the cessation of the Section 20; however, Team Managers in consultation with the IRO should use the checklist to ensure all risks are identified and mitigated. For 16 and 17 year olds, the Director of Children's Services need to be made aware in all instances of cessation of Section 20.

If the child or young person leaves a placement before the decision to cease CLA has been made, practitioners should complete the Need to Know Notification Form.

The IRO chairs the first Pathway Plan review meeting within a maximum of 28 days of S20 accommodation ceasing, whether this has been planned or unplanned.

For 16 and 17 year olds, the IRO chairs the first Pathway Plan review meeting when the young person becomes a relevant care leaver.

Where the IRO and the Team Manager agree that an independent review of the actions and decisions from the last CLA review would be beneficial to the young person, the IRO can be asked to chair the first Pathway Plan review post 18.