Children Act 1989: Family and Friends Care: Statutory guidance for local authorities about family and friends providing care for children who cannot live with their parents.
Family Rights Group, Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A good practice guide outlines what a viability assessment for family and friend carers should look like, what social workers should consider and how to undertake international assessments.
This chapter was last reviewed in July 2018This chapter was last updated in July 2018
- Values and Principles
- Legal Framework
- Different Situations whereby Children may be Living with Connected Persons
- Provision of Financial Support - General Principles
- Supporting Contact with Parents
- Family Group Conferences
- Complaints Procedure
- Annex A: Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options
- Annex B - Summary of Consultation Findings
- Annex C - Local Sources of Information
Children may be brought up by members of their extended families, friends or other people who are connected with them for a variety of reasons and in a variety of different arrangements.
This policy sets out the local authority's approach towards promoting and supporting the needs of such children and covers the assessments which will be carried out to determine the services required and how such services will then be provided.
In drawing up this policy, we have consulted children and young people, family and friends carers and parents. A summary of findings from these consultations, showing how their views have informed this policy, is at Annex B - Summary of Consultation Findings.The manager with overall responsibility for this policy is Hayley Read, Team Manager in the Connected Persons Team and Katherine Robinson, Operational Lead for the Fostering Service.
This policy will be regularly reviewed, and made freely and widely available.
2. Values and Principles
Consideration of children's welfare and best interests will always be at the centre of the work we do.
It is an underlying principle that children should be enabled to live within their families unless this is not consistent with their welfare. We will therefore work to maintain children within their own families, and facilitate services to support any such arrangements, wherever this is consistent with the child's safety and well-being. This principle applies to all children in need, including those who are looked after by the local authority. Where a child cannot live within his or her immediate family and the local authority is considering the need to look after the child, we will make strenuous efforts to identify potential carers within the child's network of family or friends who are able and willing to care for the child.
We will provide support for any such arrangements based on the assessed needs of the child, not simply on his or her legal status, and will seek to ensure that family and friends carers are provided with support to ensure that children do not become looked after by the local authority, or do not have to remain looked after longer than is needed. We will provide support and training in ways that are appropriate and encouraging for family and friends carers.
3. Legal Framework
The local authority has a general duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of Children in Need* living within its area and to promote the upbringing of such children by their families. The way in which we fulfil this duty is by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children's assessed needs (Section 17, Children Act 1989). This can include financial, practical or other support.It is important to note that the local authority does not have a general duty to assess all arrangements where children are living with their wider family or friends network rather than their parents but it does have a duty where it appears that services may be necessary to safeguard or promote the welfare of a Child in Need.
*A Child in Need is defined in Section 17(10) of the Children Act 1989 as a child who is disabled or who is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision of services by the local authority.
To clarify the children who may come within the definition of Children in Need, the local authority has drawn up a 'Thresholds to Children's Social Care Services' document, which is available through the Council's website.
Children in Need may live with members of their family or friends in a variety of different legal arrangements, some formal and some informal. Different court orders are available to formalise these arrangements.
Looked after children will always come within the definition of Children in Need, whether they are accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 (with parental consent) or in care subject to a Court Order whereby the local authority shares parental responsibility for the child. The local authority has a responsibility wherever possible to make arrangements for a looked after child to live with a member of the family (Section 22 of the Children Act 1989).
For a detailed summary of the meaning and implications of different legal situations, the rights of carers and parents, and the nature of decisions which connected persons will be able to make in relation to the child, please see Annex A: Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options. Section 4, Different Situations whereby Children may be Living with Connected Persons, which sets out the local authority’s powers and duties in relation to the various options.
In relation to financial support, the local authority may provide carers of children in need with such support on a regular or one-off basis, under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. This may include discretionary funding based upon a financial means test. However, the status of the placement will determine the nature and amount of the financial support and who can authorise its payment. The legal status of the child may have a bearing on the levels of financial support which may be available to carers, however. There are different legislative provisions which apply to financial support for children living with family or friends in looked after/adoption/special guardianship/Child Arrangements Order arrangements. The following sections of this policy set out the financial support that we may provide to family and friends who are caring for children in these different contexts.
4. Different Situations whereby Children may be Living with Connected Persons
4.1 Informal family and friends care arrangements
Where a child cannot be cared for within his or her immediate family, the family may make their own arrangements to care for the child within the family and friends network.
The local authority does not have a duty to assess any such informal family and friends care arrangements, unless it appears to the authority that services may be necessary to safeguard or promote the welfare of a Child in Need. In such cases, the local authority has a responsibility under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 to assess the child's needs and provide services to meet any assessed needs of the child. Following assessment, a Child in Need Plan will be drawn up and a package of support will be identified. This can comprise a variety of different types of services and support, including financial support.
Parental responsibility remains with the birth parents, but the carer may do what is reasonable to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
4.2 Private fostering arrangements
A privately fostered child is a child under 16 (or 18 if disabled) who is cared for by an adult who is not a parent or close relative, where the child is to be cared for in that home for 28 days or more. Close relative is defined as 'a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether of the full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) or step-parent.' It does not include a child who is Looked After by a local authority. In a private fostering arrangement, the parent still holds parental responsibility and agrees the decision-making arrangements with the private foster carer.
The local authority has a duty to assess and monitor the welfare of all privately fostered children and the way in which they carry out these duties is set out in the Children (Private Arrangements for Fostering) Regulations 2005. However, the local authority may also become involved with a child in a private fostering arrangement where the child comes within the definition of a Child in Need. In such cases, the local authority has a responsibility to provide services to meet the assessed needs of the child under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. Following assessment, a Child in Need Plan will be drawn up and a package of support will be identified. As in 4.1 above, this can comprise a variety of different types of services and support, including financial support.
4.3 Connected Persons Foster Carers
Where a child is looked after by the local authority, we have a responsibility wherever possible to make arrangements for the child to live with a member of the family who is approved as a foster carer (Section 22 of the Children Act 1989).
The child can be placed with the family members prior to full approval as a connected persons foster carer, subject to an assessment of the placement, for up to 16 weeks (The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations, 2010, Regulation 24). During this time the local authority must make immediate arrangements for the connected persons carers to be fully assessed subject to The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011.
This temporary approval can only be extended in exceptional circumstances for a further period of eight weeks (The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations, 2010, Regulation 25).
In this context the carer is referred to as a connected person foster carer and the process of obtaining approval for the placement is set out in the The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011.
Where temporary approval is given, the carers will receive financial support on a regular basis in line with the current fostering allowances.
The fostering allowances and fees are reviewed annually.
In addition the child will have a placement plan (The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations, 2010) which sets out the specific arrangements surrounding the child and the carers including the expectations of the foster carers and the support they can expect to receive to enable to fulfil their responsibilities for the child.
The assessment and approval process for connected persons who apply to be foster carers for a specific Looked After child will be the same as for any other foster carer except that the timescales for the assessment are different where a child is already in the placement as indicated above. In all other respects the process is the same as for any other potential foster carer and is set out in the assessment and approval of foster carer procedure.
An information pack will be available to potential connected persons foster carers about the process and they will be given the name and contact details of the social worker from the fostering service allocated to carry out the assessment.
Once approved as connected persons foster carers, they will be allocated a supervising social worker from the fostering service to provide them with support and supervision and they will receive fostering allowances and fees for as long as they care for the child as a foster carer.
While the child remains a looked after child, as a foster carer, they will be expected to co-operate with all the processes that are in place to ensure that the child receives appropriate care and support, for example, contributing to reviews of the child's care plan, cooperating with the child's social worker and promoting the child's education and health needs.Authority for day-to-day decision making about the child should be delegated to the carer(s)and this will be set out in the placement plan.
4.4 Child Arrangement Order
A Child Arrangement Order is a court order which sets out the arrangements as to when and with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact.
These orders replace the previous Contact Orders and Residence Orders.
A Child Arrangement Order lasts until a young person in sixteen years old. Parental responsibility is shared with the parents.
A Child Arrangement Order may be made in private family proceedings in which the local authority is not a party nor involved in any way in the arrangements. However, a Child Arrangement Order in favour of a relative or foster carer (who was a 'connected person') with whom a child is placed may be an appropriate outcome as part of a permanence plan for a Child in Need or a 'Looked After' child.
The local authority do not ordinarily offer financial support to Child Arrangement Order arrangements. In exceptional circumstances a request for financial support can be made to the finance panel which is convened monthly. The social workers involved will present the case to the finance panel which is chaired by senior managers within the local authority and a decision will be made regarding the request for financial support.
4.5 Special Guardianship Order
A Special Guardianship Order provides children with permanence and lasts until the child/ren are eighteen years old.
Family and friends of child/ren may apply for a Special Guardianship Order after caring for the child for one year. As Special Guardians, they will have the majority of parental responsibility however there are a number of decisions that the Special Guardians cannot make which are namely; changing the child’s name, placing the child for adoption, granting parental responsibility to another person, granting the child permission to marry under the age of eighteen and consenting for certain medical procedures.
A Special Guardianship Order enables the Special Guardians to exercise parental responsibility and make day to day decisions for the child/ren in their care.
Special Guardianship Orders may be made in private family proceedings and the local authority may not be a party to any such arrangements. However, a Special Guardianship Order in favour of a relative or foster carer (who was a 'connected person') with whom a child is living may be an appropriate outcome as part of a permanence plan for a Child in Need or a 'Looked After' child.
Where the child was Looked After immediately prior to the making of the Special Guardianship Order, the local authority has a responsibility to assess the support needs of the child, parents and Special Guardians, including the need for financial support.
The assessed support needs will be set out in a Special Guardianship Support Plan.
See also the Applications for Special Guardianship Orders Procedure, for details of what financial assistance may be available to holders of Special Guardianship Orders, the applicable criteria and who within the local authority will make decisions under the policy.
4.6 Adoption Order
Adoption is the process by which all parental rights and responsibilities for a child are permanently transferred to an adoptive parent by a court. As a result the child legally becomes part of the adoptive family.
An Adoption Order in favour of a relative or foster carer (who was a 'connected person') with whom a child is living may be an appropriate outcome as part of a permanence plan for a Child in Need or a 'Looked After' child.
Local authorities must make arrangements, as part of their adoption service, for the provision of a range of adoption support services. They then have to undertake assessments of the need for adoption support services at the request of the adopted child, adoptive parents and their families, as well as birth relatives. The support required is then set out in an adoption support plan and this may include financial support.
5. Provision of Financial Support - General Principles
There are three categories of payment, which may be considered. One or more of these may be applicable, depending on the particular circumstances of the case:
- Subsistence crisis (one-off) payments
These should be used to overcome a crisis, following the best assessment that can be achieved in the circumstances;
These are for such items as clothing, furniture, or bedding. The social worker must be satisfied that the carers' financial position justifies the payment through a financial assessment. Assistance may be given subject to conditions, including repayment in certain situations. However, in most situations, it will be inappropriate for the Department to seek to recover money provided under these circumstances;
- Weekly living contribution
It is possible for the local authority to make regular payments where family members or friends care for a child whether or not the child is not Looked After. Where regular payments are to be made, relative carers should be assisted to maximise their Income/Benefit as regular payments may adversely affect an individual's claim to income support.
In all cases where regular financial support is agreed, a written agreement will be drawn up detailing the level and duration of the financial support that is to be provided, and the mechanism for review.
The following criteria will be applied to all such payments:
- The purpose of the payments must be to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
- As part of the assessment, a view should be taken as to whether the carers need financial support based on their reasonable requirements in taking on the care of the child;
- There are no other legitimate sources of finance;
- Payments will be paid to the carer, not the parents;
- The payment would not place any person in a fraudulent position.
The local authority will support children and families to access suitable accommodation if this is an assessed need of the family.
7. Supporting Contact with Parents
The authority is under a duty to promote contact for all Children in Need, although this differs depending on whether or not the child is Looked After.
Where the child is not Looked After, we are required to promote contact between the child and his/her family 'where it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard and promote his or her welfare'. As part of the support arrangements, it may be identified that specific assistance is required to ensure that any such contact can be managed safely. If necessary, information will be made available to connected persons about local contact centres and family mediation services, and how to make use of their services.
Where a child is Looked After, we are required to endeavour to promote contact between the child and his or her family 'unless it is not practicable or consistent with the child's welfare'. The overall objective of the contact arrangements will be included in the child's care plan and the specific arrangements will be set out in the child's placement plan - see Making Contact Work.
8. Family Group Conferences
Family Group Conferences are meetings held between professionals and family members, which aim to achieve the best outcomes for children. They promote the involvement of the wider family to achieve a resolution of difficulties for Children in Need, and may help to identify short-term and/or permanent solutions for children within the family network.
We will offer a Family Group Conference or other form of family meeting at an early stage. If a child becomes Looked After, perhaps following an emergency, without a Family Group Conference having been held, then (where appropriate) we will arrange one as soon as possible.
The process is set out in the Family Group Conference Service Procedure.
9. Complaints Procedure
Where a family or friends carer is not satisfied with the level of support provided to enable them to care for the child, then they have access to the local authority's complaints process. Our aim would be to resolve any such dissatisfaction without the need for a formal investigation but where an informal resolution is not possible, then a formal investigation will be arranged.
The timescales and process are set out in the Complaints and Representations Procedure.
Children’s complaints officer
Address: Customer Service Centre
Tel: 08085 834 333
Annex A: Caring For Somebody Else's Child - Options
Annex B - Summary of Consultation Findings
Annex C - Local Sources of Information
The Fostering Network
The Family Rights Group
Tel: 0300 123 7015
The Citizens Advice Bureau
Tel: 02476 223 284