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3.6.1 Contact with Parents and Siblings


Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review


This chapter was updated in March 2015 in line with the updated statutory guidance, ‘Looked-after Children: Contact with Siblings - Update to Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review’. Additional information was added in to Section 1, Approving and Planning Contact, in relation to sibling placement.


  1. Approving and Planning Contact
  2. Supervised Contact
  3. Cancellation of Contact
  4. Review of Contact Arrangements
  5. Suspension or Termination of Contact

1. Approving and Planning Contact

Also see Section 5, Suspension or Termination of Contact below.

Looked After children should be encouraged and supported to maintain contact with their parents and siblings (including half-siblings), in a manner consistent with the child's Care Plan; which, itself, must take account of any Child Protection Plan or Contact Order that may be in force. There is a presumption of continued contact between the child and their family while the child is Looked After, unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child’s welfare.

Contact between children and parents or siblings may only be permitted if previously agreed by the social worker and should be set out in the child's Placement Plan / Placement Information Record.

The purpose of the contact and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the Plan. Contact arrangements should be focused on, and shaped around, the child’s needs. The child’s welfare is the paramount consideration at all times and each child’s wishes and needs for contact should be individually considered and regularly assessed. The wishes and feelings of the child should be ascertained, wherever possible, using advocacy and communication services if necessary.

So far as it is reasonably practicable, the wishes and feelings of the parents and the child’s carers must be ascertained before a decision about contact arrangements is made.

Both direct and indirect contact arrangements should always be clearly detailed setting out how contact will take place, the venue, the frequency and how the arrangements will be evaluated and reviewed.

Where contact is extended as part of a plan to gradually return the child to the parents' care, the Procedure on Placements with Parents should be followed.

See Placement with Parents Procedure.

Parents can be assisted with travelling expenses to enable contact to go ahead. The social worker should submit a request for financial support to his or her manager, with reasons. Once the manager's approval has been given, the social worker should ask the team's administrative staff to arrange for the payments to be made or travel warrants to be issued. 

2. Supervised Contact

The need to supervise contact should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process and authorised by the social worker and his/her manager.

However, see Legal Planning Meetings and Care Proceedings in Southwark: Practice Guidance Procedure for restrictions on the team manager's authority to make initial supervised contact arrangements, where a child has been made the subject of an Emergency Protection Order and an immediate Interim Care Order is being applied for.

The primary focus of the assessment of whether supervised contact is necessary will be the safety and welfare of the child. Where supervised contact is deemed necessary, the reasons should be clearly recorded and the role of the supervisor or supervisors clearly defined.

The assessment must take account of all factors that could impact on the success of supervised contact and relevant safeguards including:

  • Any history of abuse or threats of abuse to the child, other carers or staff;
  • Previous incidents of disruption or threats to disrupt contact or failure to co-operate with conditions agreed for supervised contact;
  • Previous incidents or threats of abduction;
  • Previous incidents of coercion or inappropriate behaviour during contact;
  • The transient or unsettled lifestyle of parents, as opposed to long-standing local connections.

Where any of the above features in the risk assessment, and supervised contact is to continue, the risk assessment must state the specific measures to be put in place to minimise risks.

Where supervised contact takes place, the detailed arrangements for the contact must be set out in the Placement Plan / Placement Information Record.

In addition, there should be a written agreement with the parents, signed by them. 

The written agreement with the parents should state clearly any specific conditions relating to the contact and any expectations placed on the parents: 

  • Venue: The agreement should be clear about where the contact must take place and whether any flexibility is allowed for activity or movements within or away from the agreed location;
  • Social workers must make sure that locations chosen for contact can accommodate any restrictions set down. In more risky situations, those organising and supervising contact might want to choose locations where early and easy contact can be made with other parties or agencies such as the Police;
  • In some cases prior contact with the police should agree prearranged responses in the event of problems emerging;
  • Who will attend: The agreement should state the adults who will be allowed to attend for supervised contact and supervisors should be asked to apply that strictly;
  • The last part of the contact: Particular attention should be given to when and how visits are ended. It is probably best that all "goodbyes" take place indoors with the visitors asked to leave before supervisors return children to their placements;
  • Anticipating problems: Significant changes to Care Plans, Court proceedings and/or decisions made about the frequency of future contact are all likely to be potential tension points so extra vigilance should apply at any contacts arranged around these times.

The carers and any other person involved in the supervision of the contact should have copies of the Placement Plan / Placement Information Record and the agreement with the parents.

Where possible, those supervising the contact should be known to the child and the family before the supervised contact takes place. 

In the event of problems emerging, the supervisors must be clear whom to contact (including 'reserve options') and what details they will need to share. The supervisor's observations of the contact must be clearly recorded in the child's file and shared with the parents. 

The supervisor must immediately report to the social worker any concerns about the parents' conduct during the contact. The social worker in consultation with his/her manager will then consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or the contact arrangements.

See Section 4, Review of Contact Arrangements.

See Section 5, Suspension or Termination of Contact.

3. Cancellation of Contact

Where contact does not take place in accordance with the child's Placement Plan / Placement Information Record, there must be a good reason, for example that the child is too ill to attend. Wherever possible, the staff/carer should consult the child's social worker in advance if they consider there is a good reason to cancel the contact.

If contact is cancelled, the social worker or, if the social worker is not available, the staff/carer must ensure that the child and, as far as practicable, the parent is informed in advance and that the reason for the decision is explained. The social worker or staff/carer should arrange an alternative contact. 

If contact does not take place and consultation has not been possible with the social worker, the staff/carer must inform the child's social worker as soon as possible and confirm in writing the decision to cancel and the reason.

See below for Section 5, Suspension or Termination of Contract.

Contact arrangements must not be withdrawn as a Sanction imposed on a child.

See Sanctions Procedure.

4. Review of Contact Arrangements

The social worker and his/her manager should keep contact arrangements, including the continuing need for supervision, under regular review.

Any significant reactions that the child has to contact should be reported to the child's social worker by those observing contact arrangements, for example foster carers, residential staff and/or supervisors of contact.

The contact arrangements should also be reviewed at the child's Looked After Reviews and in Placement Plan Reviews.

The risk assessment in relation to the arrangements for supervising contact must be reviewed at least every six months, or sooner, if any incident or report identifies concerns.

Where the child is subject to a Child Protection Plan, the contact arrangements should also be reviewed as required in the plan.

Where a Contact Order is in force and it is considered that the contact arrangements set out in the Order should be altered, the agreement of the child and the parents should be sought and legal advice should be obtained as to the need to seek a variation of the Court Order.

5. Suspension or Termination of Contact

Emergency restrictions on contact can only be made to protect the child from significant risk and must be notified to the placing authority (child's social worker) within 24 hours.

Where it is considered that the child's contact with the parents should be suspended or terminated, the social worker must be consulted and legal advice should be obtained.

Any such proposal should be made in the context of the overall aims and objectives of the Care Plan.

Any proposal to suspend or terminate the contact should be considered as part of the child's Looked After Review, unless the circumstances require an urgent decision to be made.

Even where it not possible to hold a Looked After Review because of the urgency of the situation, the reasons for the proposal must be explained to the parents and to the child, and their agreement obtained if possible. 

Where the proposal is to suspend the contact, the length and purpose of the suspension together with the basis upon which contact will be reinstated must be made clear.

The approval of the Designated Manager (Contact with Parents & Siblings) should be obtained to any proposal to suspend or terminate contact.

Written confirmation of the decision made, together with the reasons, must be sent to the parents, child (depending on age) and any other relevant person (for example Advocate, Independent Visitor or Children's Guardian). Staff/carers and other agencies involved with the child's care must also be informed.

Where the child is the subject of an Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order or Care Order, an application to the Court for authority to terminate the contact will always be necessary if contact is to be suspended for more than 7 days. 

As soon as such a decision is made, Legal Services should be contacted as a matter of urgency so that the necessary Court action can be initiated.