Supervised Contact and the Hertfordshire Contact Service
AMENDMENTSection 3, Criteria for Referral to Hertfordshire Contact Service was amended in September 2019 with regards to frequency of contact for infants.
- Hertfordshire County Council will promote, encourage and facilitate contact between looked after children, their families of origin and others who have played an important part in their lives;
- Courts and Local Authorities must see contact issues as an integral part of the overall child care planning, review and safeguarding process;
- Within the care planning (see Care Planning Guidance) and review process, (see Looked After Reviews Procedure) contact arrangements must be explicit and also differentiate between contact which is working towards reunification and contact to maintain family links whilst working towards permanency elsewhere;
- Care planning will establish arrangements for contact, which meet the child's needs and promote their best interests;
- Where it is deemed necessary for contact to be supervised, the reason for supervision and the arrangements for recording and reporting of contact will be carefully considered and clearly recorded;
- Hertfordshire County Council will ensure that every effort is made for Children Looked After to maintain links with their family or origin, through face to face contact or alternative indirect contact where direct contact is not possible or appropriate.
2. Purpose of Supervised Contact
- The primary purpose of all contact is to promote and maintain the relationship between the child and parent/relative whilst the child is placed with alternative carers;
- Supervised Contact takes place when a child is Looked After / Accommodated or in Care Proceedings. A supervisor is present during the contact period between the child and parent(s) / relative;
- Supervised contact may take place: where the plan is for reunification, plan for permanency, care/adoption proceedings or sibling contact;
- The Adoption and Children Act 2002 places a duty on Local Authorities to provide contact;
- The Children Act 1989 places a duty on Local Authorities, unless it is not reasonably practical or consistent with the child's welfare, to promote contact between children who are looked after and their parents. The following factors will apply:
- Provide a safe environment where contact can take place;
- Provide an opportunity for observation of the contact between the child/parent/relative;
- Contribute evidence and information to an overall assessment of the child/parent/relative relationship;
- Provide a structured period of time for a specific activity or play opportunity between a parent/relative and child.
3. Criteria for Referral to Hertfordshire Contact Service
The Hertfordshire Contact Service will only supervise contact for a child when this is court ordered or under specific circumstances for children accommodated under Section 20 within the levels set out below:
|Under 1*||Up to 3 days a week||2 hours per session|
|1 year up and to and including pre-school||Up to 3 days a week||1.5 hour per session|
|Primary school||Up to 2 days a week||1.5 hour per session|
|Secondary school||Up to 1 days a week||1.5 hour per session|
|When FCO obtained or Long term care||Up to 4 times a year||1.5 hours or 3 hours in the community|
*See paragraph below regarding Supervised Contact and Attachment Considerations for Infants Looked After.
Any requests for increased levels of contact within the court arena (length and or frequency) need to be robustly challenged. It is important to ensure that practitioners emphasise that all contact needs to be in the child's interests and promote as much stability as possible.
Higher levels of contact can undermine a placement. This can also prevent a child from settling and adapting to new routines and take advantage of new opportunities. For infants in particular, research suggests that supervised contact should not be in excess of 2 hours a day for more than 3 days a week. This is due to the complexities related to small children and developing attachment. Research has evidenced that in some cases supervised contact may become problematic; for instance, setting up too frequent contact sessions for infants who have only recently been placed with a foster carer and have not had time to bond with them or where contact is of poor quality (i.e. parents not turning up) which can cause further trauma and attachment issues. To read more about how frequent and poor quality contact may impact infants and small children, please see PGN entitled CS0500 Supervised Contact - Level of Contact for Infant.
However, if the court orders contact at levels above those recommended we are obligated to provide this. It is therefore important when recommending contact levels that the social worker clearly evidences the reasons for their proposals.
If there are 2 parents who require separate contact arrangements the guidance above applies to each parent again where this is felt to be in the child's interests.
Contact Service Provision
A Child Who is Receiving a Service Under S17
The contact service will not consider any requests for contact under s17.
A Child Aged 14 Years and Upwards
Contact will only be supervised when there is an immediate risk of physical emotional and/or sexual harm, or when the young person has a significant disability or lacks mental capacity.
A Child Who is Accommodated Under S20
A child who is accommodated under S20 is not expected to need supervised contact.
However, in exceptional circumstances referrals to the contact service will be accepted when authorised by the relevant Service Manager after gaining agreement from the relevant Head of Service. For example, if the child is the subject of ongoing care proceedings or the risk of contact with certain family members is deemed such as to warrant the supervision and there is no supervision option within the family unit.
Contact Sessions Requiring 2 Contact Workers
This requires Service Manager authorisation following completion of a risk assessment.
Children Not Looked After, But Where the Local Authority has a Supervision Order or Contact Order
A maximum of 12 weeks supervised contact will be offered, in line with guidelines from the date of the first contact. Any contact arranged after the 12 weeks will not be provided by the contact service.
Assessment of Family Members Prior to Supervised Contact
A contact worker will always consider and observe how a family member is presenting when they arrive at the contact venue. The contact worker will make a judgement at this point as to whether they are presenting in a way that would make the contact unsafe for the child. There is therefore no need for there to be a request of contact service to meet the family member for 15 / 30 mins prior to the session.
- All contact outside of the above remit will need to be supervised within the area teams;
- When a child is accommodated, immediate plans for contact must be clearly agreed and recorded in the Placement Plan Part 1 and Part 2. Consideration should be given by the social work team to any assistance which a parent may need to maintain contact including financial and practical support;
- Contact arrangements must also be summarised in the Care Plan;
- Foster Carers will be required to transport children to and from contact venues and contact activities. This must be agreed as part of the placement arrangements. Hertfordshire Contact Service will only transport children in exceptional circumstances, following consultation and agreement with a Contact Service manager;
- Contact arrangements must be considered at each statutory review and should be monitored and reviewed regularly so that changes in circumstances are recorded, difficulties are identified and arrangements adjusted accordingly;
- Parents must be fully involved in planning contact arrangements. The views of the child must be sought according to their age and understanding. The views of the carer should be sought in order to ensure that all aspects of the child's welfare are considered.
4. Referral Process
- A referral form must be completed and sent via email or fax to Hertfordshire Contact Service.
A Service Request Form (SRF) available on LCS, must be passed to the Brokerage Team who will pass the Request on the appropriate Contact Team.
- The referral should detail the reason for supervised contact and frequency. Referrers may be contacted by Hertfordshire Contact Service if further information is necessary;
- The form must explain in detail any risks that any parties involved in contact may present to the child or other children or to members of staff and detail a risk management plan. Contact Supervisors sometimes work in isolation in the community and careful planning needs to be undertaken to safeguard them in their work and to safeguard other service users;
- Hertfordshire Contact Service requires 24 hours notice in order to arrange a contact;
- Hertfordshire Contact Service will arrange supervised contact and send confirmation of contact to the referrer within 2 working days;
- If Hertfordshire Contact Service is unable to provide the service immediately the expectation will be that the area teams will provide cover for that contact in the interim. There may also be ad hoc and exceptional circumstances where the Contact Service commissions Manpower to supply contact supervisors;
- Supervised Contact can be booked for up to 12 weeks only;
- Contact arrangements will be reviewed at 12 weeks. The review process will include the allocated social worker, a manager from the contact service and the contact worker. Feedback and information from the child, parents and carers, contact reports, statutory reviews and assessments will be considered at the contact review;
- The outcome of the review will include decisions on options for supervising future contacts i.e. family member, whether a Family Group Meeting should be held, to commission further supervised contact or to end supervised contact provided by Hertfordshire Contact Service;
- Contact sessions will be booked in 1½ hour slots or 2 hour slots for infants.
5. Room Bookings
- Hertfordshire Contact Service will book contact venues if the contact is to be held within Hertfordshire. The referrer must provide information on the most suitable venue / area for contact to take place so that the arrangements meet the needs of the child and family;
- The area team must book the venue if the contact is to be held outside of Hertfordshire. The referral must state the name, address and post code of the venue. (Protocol under development).
6. Changes to Existing Contact Arrangements
- The allocated Social Worker/area team will advise Hertfordshire Contact Service via email or fax if there are changes to contact arrangements e.g. pick up points, schedule or change of placement;
- The allocated social worker for the child must take responsibility for working out revised contact arrangements and informing the parents and seeking managerial agreement, commensurate with the change being instigated.
- Hertfordshire Contact Service requires 24 hours notice from the allocated Social Worker/area team to cancel a contact arrangement and/or a room booking;
- The Hertfordshire Contact Service will inform all parties of the cancellation;
- See also Section 10, Refusal or Suspension of Contact.
8. Contact Expenses
- There will be no activities payments for activities e.g. McDonald's, cinema, bowling, swimming, theatre, picnics etc. made to family members. This must not be circumvented by teams under any circumstances;
- CSF will pay contact costs for parents who are in receipt of state benefits only (including NASS payments). Parents who are in employment will need to pay their own travel costs.
CSF will pay public transport costs or petrol costs at 14p per mile only to parents in receipt of benefits and this will be paid via Central Placement Service (CPS) to ensure consistency.
Long distance travel will be via coach. Hotel and subsistence costs for parents will not be payable except on severe hardship grounds, agreed in advance by CPS. Wherever possible, travel warrants will not be used and staff must contact CPS so the cheapest fares can be booked in advance.
No taxis will be used to transport parents to and from contact except on medical/disability grounds on receipt of a letter from the parent's GP. Taxis, where needed, can only be arranged via CPS.
Parents who are in employment will need to pay their own travel costs;
- Social Work Teams will arrange and fund travel warrants and taxis;
- Area Teams must not hire separate venues for contact but must book a space in one of the venues for all supervised contact outside the child's placement.
9. Contact Reports and Information Sharing
- Contact supervisors are required to complete full and clear contact reports. Contact reports will be attached to the child's record on LCS or emailed direct to the allocated social worker within 3 working days.
10. Refusal or Suspension of Contact
- The Children Act 1989 Section 34.4 provides for the Local Authority or the child to apply to the Family Proceedings Court for an order refusing contact with a child who is subject of a care order;
- There is also provision in the Children Act 1989 Section 34.6 for contact with a child subject to a care order to be suspended for 7 days where this action is urgently required to safeguard or promote the child's welfare;
- There may be occasions where contacts have to be cancelled at short notice. Social workers have authority to cancel scheduled contact and Hertfordshire Contact Service may cancel a contact following consultation with the allocated social worker/area team. The reason for the cancellation must be clearly documented in the child's record on LCS;
- As of December 2015, the Contact Service is no longer required to complete an assessment on each occasion as to whether the presentation of the parent(s) suggests that they should be refused contact on the day and the reason for refusal must be clearly documented in the child's record on LCS to inform the allocated social worker / area team.
11. Issues, Complaints and Compliments
- Issues, complaints and compliments should be sent to Contact Service managers.
- Hertfordshire County Council is committed to openness and equality, treating all children and families with dignity and respect. No child or family will be discriminated against because of their disability, colour, ethnic or national origins, race, gender, sexual orientation, and political or religious beliefs. Services will be developed to ensure that minority groups have equal access to services that promote children remaining in their families and which provide alternative care for those children who become looked after.