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1.1.6 Family and Friends Policy


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Values, Principles and Objectives
  3. Legal Framework
  4. Information About Services and Support
  5. Financial Support
  6. Accommodation
  7. Supporting Contact
  8. Family Group Conferences
  9. Support Groups
  10. Complaints

    Annex A - Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options

    Annex B - Useful Organisations and Information for Family and Friends Carers


1. Introduction

1.1 Children may be cared for 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. The precise numbers of family and friends who care for children in Southwark are not known, but as at April 2011, this authority had 36 family and friends long term foster carers, and was supporting 94 Special Guardianship Orders and 76 Residence Orders.
1.2 This policy sets out Southwark'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.
1.3 This policy has been informed by research, and in addition consultation with children and young people, family and friends carers and parents has been undertaken. Southwark has one of the longest established Child in Care Councils in the country, through which children in care are consulted on a range of issues, including their views on the quality of their care. There is a Participation Strategy and Action Plan which are updated yearly. A separate programme is run whereby care leavers are interviewed in the year after they have left care to ascertain what they felt could have been improved. The views of children and young people in care, carers and parents are obtained through statutory reviews, and these are summarised by the head of the Independent Reviewing Officer service. Additionally, the views of special guardians and those with Residence Orders/Child Arrangements Orders are obtained during the annual review process. This authority has therefore sought to obtain and consider the views of those concerned when formulating this policy.
1.4 The manager with overall responsibility for this policy is the Business Manager for the Children Looked After Service.


2. Values, Principles and Objectives

2.1 The main principle this policy seeks to promote is that children should be enabled to live with their families unless it is not consistent with their welfare. Those who cannot live with their parents should where appropriate remain with members of their extended family or friends, as this will provide a better alternative and avoid them growing up within the public care system.
2.2 Permanence forms the framework of emotional, physical and legal conditions that give a child a sense of security, continuity, commitment and identity. For most looked after children, permanence is achieved through a successful return to their birth family, where it has been possible to address the factors which led to the child becoming looked after. Where this is not possible, family and friends care will often provide an important alternative route to permanence for the child, particularly where this can be supported by a Child Arrangements Order or a Special Guardianship Order or through adoption.
2.3 Support should be based on the needs of the child rather than merely their legal status and should seek to ensure that family and friends carers (whether or not they are approved foster carers) are provided with support to ensure that children do not become, or remain longer than is needed, voluntarily accommodated by the local authority under section 20 Children Act 1989. This will include assistance with obtaining benefits to which the child or carers are entitled.
2.4 Children should be active participants and their wishes and feelings should be taken into account in all relevant processes when decisions are being made to solve problems concerning their care.


3. Legal Framework

3.1 There are different legal options which can apply when family and friends carers look after children in need and looked after children. It is necessary for carers to be clear about what the options are before they commit to it, and they may wish to obtain their own legal advice. The following gives a brief summary of the options and Southwark's policy concerning those. See also Annex A - Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options for a detailed table of the options.

 

Private fostering

3.2 This is a private arrangement made by the parents whereby the child is cared for 28 days or more by anyone who does not have Parental Responsibility, and who is not a close relative. A close relative means a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (by full blood, half blood or by marriage or civil partnership), or a step-parent. The child is not looked after by the local authority, and the parents retain Parental Responsibility.
3.3 The local authority must assess and monitor the arrangement, but the carer is not a local authority foster carer. The arrangement may be prohibited if assessed as unsuitable. A social worker will visit the child a minimum of 6 weekly in the first year, and then 12 weekly. There may be formal reviews in addition to the ongoing assessment visits. If the child is assessed as being in need of advice and support, such discretionary support and services may be provided to the child or family by the local authority under Section 17 Children Act 1989.
3.4 The carer can claim child benefit and child tax credit if these are not paid to the parents. Financial responsibility to maintain the child remains with those who have Parental Responsibility.

 

Family arrangements

3.5 This is where a close relative (see above under Private Fostering Procedure) has chosen to take on the care of the child but does not have Parental Responsibility, and the family has made their own arrangements to care for the child. The arrangement was not made by the local authority and the child is not Looked After by the local authority. The parents retain Parental Responsibility, whilst allowing the relative to do what is reasonable to safeguard or promote the child's welfare. The relative may perceive the parents to be unable to care for the child; the parents may be dead or otherwise not available (e.g. in prison); or there may be an agreement between relatives due to difficult family circumstances. No approval, monitoring or review by the local authority is necessary.
3.6 There is no entitlement to support or services from the local authority, but if the child is assessed as being a Child in Need, the local authority has discretion to assist under Section 17 Children Act 1989.
3.7 The carer can claim child benefit and child tax credit if these are not paid to the parents. Financial responsibility to maintain the child remains with those who have Parental Responsibility.
3.8 Section 20 Children Act 1989 provides that local authorities must provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who appears to them to require accommodation as a result of: (a) there being no person with Parental Responsibility for the child; (b) their being lost or having been abandoned; or (c) the person who has been caring for him being prevented (whether or not permanently, and for whatever reason) from providing them with suitable accommodation or care. If a person with Parental Responsibility for the child, who is willing and able to provide accommodation or arrange for accommodation, objects to the local authority providing accommodation, the authority should consider whether the child is suffering or is likely to suffer Significant Harm and whether it should apply to court for a protective order, such as a Care Order or Emergency Protection Order.
3.9 Whether or not a child who is cared for by a family and friends carer is Looked After by the local authority under Section 20 will be a matter to be decided by the authority on a case by case basis. It may not always be easy to determine whether a child requires accommodation from the local authority under Section 20, but it is more likely to be a Section 20 case where the authority has instigated the arrangement for the child to live with the relative or friend. It is very important to be clear as to whether the child is Looked After via Section 20, as if the child is, the carer will need to be approved as a foster carer (see below), and different support will be provided. Southwark will make it clear to the carer, the child where appropriate, and the parents whether it regards the arrangement as Section 20, and this will be recorded in writing and letters sent to those concerned. The decision will initially be made by the relevant Team Manager, who must then refer the decision immediately to the relevant Head of Service for approval or otherwise.

 

Family and friends foster care

(See Placements with Friends and Family Foster Carers (also known as Connected Persons carers) Procedure)
3.10 The child has been placed with the relative or friend by the local authority, because the person who had been caring for the child was deemed not to be providing suitable care. The child is Looked After child by the local authority, so the local authority must approve the relative or friend as a local authority foster carer, even if the arrangement is intended to be temporary. The placement may be short term, or until the child reaches adulthood.
3.11 Temporary approval of the family and friends carer as a foster carer can be made for up to 16 weeks, with one extension of 8 weeks, if the authority wants to place the child with that person but there is not time to have the carer fully assessed and approved as a foster carer first by the authority's Fostering Panel. Approval of this must be made by the Fostering Services Manager. Where these periods expire and the carer has not been approved by the Fostering Panel, the authority must remove the child from the carer and seek an alternative placement (unless a review of the decision is pending).
3.12 The child may be accommodated voluntarily under section 20 Children Act 1989 with the agreement of the parents, or may be subject to a Care Order (either interim or full). Either way, the parents retain Parental Responsibility, but if the local authority has an order it shares this with the parents and can determine the extent to which it can be exercised by others. If a child is Looked After under section 20, s/he will remain Looked After following the placement with a family and friends carer, and will remain so until the local authority considers that the child no longer requires Section 20 accommodation. Any change in the child's status must be made clear in writing to the carer, the child where appropriate, and the parents.
3.13 Key decisions concerning the child's placement, such as a decision to separate siblings, the placement of the child out of the authority's area, or a placement which will disrupt the child's Key Stage 4 education will be approved by the Business Manager for Children Looked After.
3.14 The child will have a Care Plan (which will include a Health Plan and Personal Education Plan) and a Placement Plan, which will be reviewed by the child's social worker and an Independent Reviewing Officer.
3.15 A social worker will make regular statutory supervising visits to both the child and the carer; there will be statutory reviews of the child's Care Plan (minimum 6 monthly) and annual reviews of the carer's approval.
3.16 Support may be provided to meet the child's needs, including health and education. Training and practical support may be provided to the foster carer. The young person may be entitled to leaving care support services when they become 16 or older.
3.17 Child benefit and child tax credit are not payable. The local authority will pay a weekly allowance to meet the costs of caring for the child (see later under Section 5, Financial Support).
3.18 Details of the assessment and approval process for foster carers can be found in the Fostering Service's Statement of Purpose. An information pack will be available to potential foster carers about the process, and they will be given the name and contact details of the social worker who will be allocated to carry out the assessment.
3.19 Family and friends foster carers seeking long term approval to care for a particular child will be assessed in the same way as 'stranger' foster carers, and approval by the Fostering Panel is necessary. If they also wish to be assessed to take on other children not known to them in addition to the child to whom they are connected, they will need to be assessed and approved for that by the authority, and will need to show they can comply with the requirements such as the number of rooms, willingness to take an unknown child in an emergency, and so on. Details of these requirements are available on request.

 

Child Arrangement and Special Guardianship Order

3.20 The child may be at risk of becoming Looked After by the local authority, or may have been Looked After, and their foster carer or other relative or friend applies for an order. Application to court can be made without the support of parents or the local authority. Relatives may apply without seeking the court's permission first for an order after the child has lived with them for one year; if less than a year, or the child is not living with them yet, the court's permission is required.
3.21 Parental Responsibility is shared with the parents, but a special guardian may exercise it to the exclusion of all others with Parental Responsibility. Sometimes special guardianship is referred to as 'residence order plus'.
3.22 No approval by the local authority is required, but the court must have an assessment report from the local authority before making a Special Guardianship Order, and sometimes requires a report before making a Child Arrangements Order.
3.23 Child benefit and child tax credit are payable, if not being paid to the parent. Financial support from the local authority is discretionary (see Section 5, Financial Support), but there is an entitlement to an assessment in special guardianship for support services and financial support if the child was Looked After by the authority prior to the order being made.
3.24 Where a child is or was Looked After by the local authority immediately before the order is made, an assessment for support services will be made on request. There is no automatic right to this if the child was not Looked After, but if the assessment is refused, written reasons will be given and representations can be made as to why it should be made. Support services which may be offered, and which will depend on assessed need, include counselling and advice; assistance regarding contact; therapeutic input for the child; and training for the carer. The list not exhaustive, and services may be time-limited, for instance, to help the child settle in with a new carer.

 

Adoption

3.25 If the local authority decides that a child they are looking after should be placed for adoption they can do so either with the parents' consent or under a Placement Order. Foster carers can apply for an adoption order after the child has lived with them for one year. Other informal carers can apply if the child has lived with them for three years.
3.26 Parental Responsibility transfers to the adopters and is no longer held by the birth parents. The child remains part of the adoptive family for the rest of his/her life.
3.27 If the child is Looked After by a local authority, the adoption agency, which may be the local authority, assesses and approves the prospective adopters. The court will make the adoption order. If the child is not Looked After by the local authority, notice of intention to adopt must be given to the authority who then carry out an assessment and report to the court.
3.28 Child benefit and child tax credit are payable. There is an entitlement to assessment for financial support if the child was Looked After by the local authority prior to the order. Support services may also be offered if a need is assessed and it is felt necessary, such as assistance with contact, and counselling. Further details are available from the Adoption Service.


4. Information About Services and Support

4.1 Guidance and information about local services and support is available on request. This will include information concerning day care providers, children's centres, schools, health services, leisure facilities, youth support services, and counselling services, to name but a few.
4.2 Southwark seeks to support the promotion of good information about the full range of services for children, young people and families in the area, and to highlight the availability of advice from independent organisations. Annex B - Useful Organisations and Information for Family and Friends Carers provides a list of useful national organisations, and information regarding a wide range of local resources is available on the Southwark Council website's Family Information Service.


5. Financial Support

 

Family arrangements

5.1 The local authority has discretion to make one-off or regular payments under section 17 Children Act 1989 to safeguard or promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need, and so as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families.
5.2

This authority's eligibility criteria for such financial support are as follows:

  1. Where the child comes to live with the carer as a result of a child protection investigation (known also as a 'section 47 investigation');
  2. Where the child comes to live with the carer as part of his/her Child Protection Plan; or
  3. Where the child comes to live with the carer to avoid the child being Looked After by the local authority, and there is professional evidence (e.g. social work, health or educational) of the impairment of the parents' ability to care for the child.
5.3 A request for an assessment should be made to the Referral and Assessment Service or to the relevant Family Support Team if the child already has a social worker in a Family Support Team. Details of the child and carer's finances will need to be provided, as consideration will be given to the carer's ability to financially support the child's needs, which should be without local authority support where possible. Carers will be expected to apply for child benefit for the child or to obtain this from the parent, who remains financially responsible for their child. Carers must also ensure that they are claiming all other welfare benefits to which they and/or the child are entitled. This authority can refer the carer to the appropriate organisation to assist with this.
5.4

There are 3 categories of payment by this authority which may be considered, and one or more may be applicable in any case:

  1. Subsistence crisis (one-off) payments

    These are to be used to overcome a crisis, following assessment by the authority.
  2. Setting-up

    These are to cover the initial costs of having a child come to live with the family and friends carer, such as for clothing, furniture or bedding. Payment may be subject to conditions, such as repayment in certain circumstances.
  3. Weekly living contribution

    Where financial support is to be provided regularly, a written agreement will be drawn up detailing the level and duration of the support, how payments will be made, and the mechanism for review.
5.5 The decision to offer financial support will be made by the relevant Team Manager, but where this is to provide on-going support for more than 28 days, the decision will be made by the relevant Head of Service.

 

Fostering allowances

5.6 All foster carers who have been approved by Southwark's Fostering Panel, be they family and friends carers, or carers who do not previously know the child, are paid the same weekly allowance to meet the costs of caring for the child. This is not means-tested, and is at the National Fostering Network prevailing rate applicable to the age of the child. They cannot claim child benefit or child tax credit. Enhancements to meet any special needs of the child can be paid. Fostering allowances are reviewed annually. Remuneration fees are not paid to Southwark foster carers. Further details are contained in the Fostering Service's Statement of Purpose.
5.7 Any foster carer can ask to be assessed to care for any child who may be placed with them by the local authority, not just a child known to them. To obtain approval the carer will need to meet certain criteria in addition to a general ability to care for any child, such as that they have sufficient rooms in their home to properly accommodate the child, that they will agree to accept emergency placements, and that they will undertake certain training. Foster carers who are so approved will receive an additional sum, details of which are available from the Fostering Service, to reflect this component of their approval. This is also payable to all family and friends foster carers who are approved in this way.
5.8 Family and friends foster carers who are approved to care for a child on a temporary basis will receive a fostering allowance of the National Fostering Network rate less child benefit and child tax credit. As and when they are approved fully as longer term foster carers by the Fostering Panel, they will then receive the same rate plus child benefit and child tax credit, in line with all Southwark foster carers.

 

Residence Order/Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship allowances

5.9 The local authority has discretion to pay financial support to a family and friends carer, unless they are a spouse or civil partner of a parent, with whom the child is living under a Residence Child Arrangements Order.
5.10 This discretion extends to financial payments to a special guardian or prospective special guardian, however where a child was Looked After immediately prior to the special guardianship order being made, on request the local authority must assess the financial support needs of the child and special guardians, and make payments where it is considered necessary to ensure that the carer is able to care for the child. These payments may be one-off to assist with the purchase of essential items such as furniture and bedding, or may be weekly on-going support.
5.11

The eligibility criteria for such financial support are as follows:

  1. Where the Residence or Special Guardianship Order arises out of Care Proceedings; or
  2. Where the residence or special guardianship order follows the child being accommodated under Section 20; or
  3. Where the child comes to live with the carer as a result of a child protection investigation (known as a 'section 47 investigation'); or
  4. Where the child comes to live with the carer as part of his/her Child Protection Plan; or
  5. Where the child comes to live with the carer to avoid the child being Looked After by the local authority, and there is professional evidence (e.g. social work, health or educational) of the impairment of the parents' ability to care for the child.
5.12 The rates for allowances for Residence Orders/ Child Arrangements Orders or Special Guardianship Orders are the same. Both are means-tested and the carer can apply for child benefit and child tax credit. Southwark uses the government recommended Standard Means Test Model for calculating the allowance to be paid. The 'maximum rate' used in the Means Test Model is the current National Fostering Network rate, less child benefit and child tax credit.
5.13 The expectation is that the financial support will cover all the child's requirements, including for birthdays and holidays, and it will be for the carer to manage that appropriately.
5.14 As stated above, the payment of support is discretionary. Following consideration of the eligibility criteria, and then where appropriate the means-testing calculation, the decision as to whether financial support will be offered is made by the relevant Head of Service. Where it is to be paid, a written agreement must be entered into, and this will be reviewed annually. Financial support may be paid in advance of the order being made where the authority considers it is necessary to facilitate the arrangements for the carer to become the legal carer of the child.
5.15 The authority may agree to assist with the legal costs of the family and friends carer obtaining advice and possibly representation to enable them to apply for a Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order, where it considers it appropriate to do so. This will generally only be where the carer cannot obtain public funding. The decision to pay will be made by the Service Manager involved with the child's case, but will never exceed the current rates for public funding, and will only be payable if prior written agreement has been given.

 

Adoption financial support

5.16 The local authority has discretion to pay financial support to a family and friends carer who adopts the child they are caring for. Such support is only payable where it is necessary to ensure that the adoptive parent can look after the child. Where the child was placed with the carer for adoption by this authority, there is an entitlement to be assessed.
5.17 It is a requirement that there must be some particular condition relating to the child's health or development, or circumstances making it hard to place the child for adoption. Where the child needs special care, the condition must be serious and long-term. Further details are available from the Adoption Service. Payments may be one-off to assist with particular items, or may be weekly on-going support.
5.18 An assessment for financial support will include a means test of the financial circumstances of the adoptive parent, although there are some circumstances where means are disregarded. The adoptive parent can claim child benefit and child tax credit. The 'maximum payment' to be applied in the means test is the National Fostering Rate prevailing rate applicable to the age of the child, less child benefit and child tax credit, plus any enhancement assessed for the child. This is then applied to the means test to determine what, if anything, should be paid.
5.19 The expectation is that the financial support will cover all the child's requirements, including for birthdays and holidays, and it will be for the carer to manage that appropriately.
5.20 As stated above, the payment of support is discretionary. Following consideration of the child's needs, and then where appropriate the means-testing calculation, the decision as to whether financial support will be offered is made by the Service Manager for the Adoption Service. Where it is to be paid, a written agreement must be entered into, and this will be reviewed annually. Financial support may be paid in advance of the order being made where the authority considers it is necessary to facilitate the arrangements for the carer to become the child's adopter.
5.21 The authority may agree to assist with the legal costs of the family and friends carer obtaining advice and possibly representation to enable them to apply for an adoption order, where it considers it appropriate to do so. This will generally only be where the child has been placed with the carer for adoption by the authority, where the carer cannot obtain public funding, and where the proceedings are contested. The decision to pay will be made by the Service Manager for the Adoption Service, but will never exceed the current rates for public funding, and will only be payable if prior written agreement has been given.


6. Accommodation

6.1 This authority will work with landlords to ensure that whenever possible family and friends carers living in social housing are given appropriate priority to move to more suitable accommodation if this will prevent the need for a child to become looked after.


7. Supporting Contact

7.1 This authority is under a duty to promote contact for all children in need, although there are differences in the way that duty is expressed depending on whether or not the child is looked after.
7.2 Where a child is not looked after by this authority, we will promote contact between the child and his/her family where it is necessary to do so in order to safeguard and promote his/her welfare. Specific assistance may be identified by this authority as required to ensure that any such contact can be managed safely. Information is also available to family and friends carers about local contact centres and family mediation services, and how to make use of their services. Details are available on the Southwark website's Family Information Service.
7.3 Where a child is Looked After, we must endeavour to promote contact between the child and his/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.


8. Family Group Conferences

8.1 Family Group Conferences (FGCs) are decision making and planning meetings in which the wider family group makes plans and decisions for children in need to safeguard and promote their welfare. The child should be involved in the process, although may not be present at the meeting, and the family plan should take account of any stipulations raised by this authority.
8.2 This authority will offer and facilitate FGCs or other forms of family meeting at an early stage when there are concerns about a child who may not be able to live with his/her parents. These meetings are to promote the involvement of the wider family to achieve a resolution of difficulties, and offer a way of ensuring that all resources within the family's wider social networks have been engaged for the benefit of the child. The child's social worker will provide information as to the process for arranging an FGC.


9. Support Groups

9.1 This authority recognises that family and friends carers may sometimes find that getting together with others in a similar position can be an invaluable source of support. Groups can help to combat the isolation which many carers feel when they take on the role, particularly when they are dealing with the complex needs of vulnerable children for which they had not planned. Support groups can be particularly important for carers and others who are not in receipt of services from the local authority.
9.2 This authority works with other agencies voluntary organisations to find ways to encourage peer support and access to support groups. There are varieties of national support groups: they may be specifically for grandparents, or just informal family and friends carers, or mixed groups. This authority provides support groups for certain groups. Information about existing groups is available on request from either the supervising social worker or the family and friends social worker. Advice about how to set up a new group is available from organisations such as Family Rights Group and The Grandparents Association. See Annex B - Useful Organisations and Information for Family and Friends Carers for contact details.


10. Complaints

10.1 Where family and friends carers, children and young people, and other relevant people are not satisfied with the service they have received from this authority, they may make a complaint via this authority's Children's Services' complaints process. This authority aims to resolve any such dissatisfaction without the need for a formal investigation, but where this is not possible, a formal investigation will be arranged. Details of the complaints procedure are available on request.


Appendices

Click here to view Annex A - Caring for Somebody Else's Child - Options

Click here to view Annex B - Useful Organisations and Information for Family and Friends Carers

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