7.3.7 Friends and Family Care

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure applies to all children being brought up by extended family, friends or other Connected Persons, whatever the status of the arrangement and whether or not the children are Looked After. It was amended in October 2011 in line with the statutory guidance published by the Department for Health in March 2011.

For more detailed information in specific cases, you will need to refer to related chapters (depending on the child’s circumstances), such as Permanence Overarching Strategy; Placements with Connected Persons Procedure and Private Fostering Procedure.

RELATED GUIDANCE

For detailed information on friends and family care and local authorities’ statutory duties, see Family and Friends Care: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities.

Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A good practice guide (FRG). A good practice guide on initial family and friends care assessments has been launched by Family Rights Group. The guide is a response to the lack of any minimum standards as to how such assessments, commonly called viability assessments, are conducted.

AMENDMENT

In August 2017, a link was added in Related Guidance to Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A good practice guide (FRG). A good practice guide on initial family and friends care assessments has been launched by Family Rights Group. The guide is a response to the lack of any minimum standards as to how such assessments, commonly called viability assessments, are conducted.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Purpose and Scope of Guidance
  3. Key Objectives of Friends and Family Care
  4. Possible Advantages of Friends and Family Care
  5. Possible Disadvantages of Friends and Family Care
  6. Status of Children Placed With Friends or Family Members
  7. Planning Friends and Family Care Placements
  8. Family Group Conferences
  9. Assessment of Friends and Family Carers
  10. Checks Before Placement
  11. Financial Support for Friends and Family Carers
  12. Friends and Family Members as Permanent Carers


1. Introduction

Children may be being 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:

Local authority responsibilities will vary depending on the legal status of the child and the arrangement - see Annex - Caring for Somebody Else’s Child - Options.

Whether or not a child who is cared for by a family and friends carer should be Looked After, or whether that child’s needs should be met by providing support under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989, will be a matter to be decided by the authority on a case by case basis.


2. Purpose and Scope of Guidance

This guidance applies to children placed with a family member or friend in circumstances where the placement has been assisted or initiated by the authority and/or is supported by it, and the child would otherwise have to be Looked After, adopted or live independently.

The guidance sets out the issues that arise when Friends and Family care is considered as an option for children who are being assessed by social workers and suggests ways in which it should be assessed and, where appropriate, supported.

The guidance includes reference to the use of Family Group Conferencing.


3. Key Objectives of Friends and Family Care

  • To maintain a child or children in their own family or family network, as a better alternative to Looking After the child or children, so long as this is consistent with the local authority's duty to ensure that the child's safety and welfare are not prejudiced;
  • To minimise the local authority's role in caring for children, in so far as this is consistent with the child's best interests;
  • To provide emotional stability for children who are unable to live with their parents, in a placement where they can maintain links with family, siblings and friends; and with their racial, cultural and religious heritage;
  • To provide support services to those families caring for a child in a way that is most appropriate to their needs and to the child's needs.


4. Possible Advantages of Friends and Family Care

It enables the child to remain in the family of their birth and maintain links with the birth parents, siblings, friends and school.

It promotes a positive self-identity for the child.

Attachments may already be strong and supportive.

Separation trauma for the child is reduced.

It avoids the Looking After status for a child and having to be cared for by strangers.

It enables the promotion or maintenance of links with the child's racial, cultural and religious heritage.


5. Possible Disadvantages of Friends and Family Care

Carers are often older than traditional foster carers and may have more health problems.

Carers tend to have less of their own material resources and may suffer financial hardship.

Carers may under-report difficult behaviour presented by the child and/or be reluctant to request help. 

The contact between professionals and carers is often less frequent, issues of child protection potentially more difficult to detect therefore and, given the different relationship between the social worker and the carer, more difficult to raise.

Young people of 16 and over will not have access to services provided to those leaving the looked after service.


6. Status of Children Placed With Friends or Family Members

A child living with a family member or friend may be living there as a result of a placement arranged to avoid the need for the child to be Looked After and/or where the arrangement relates to a child who is regarded as a Child in Need, in circumstances where the placement is supported by the social worker involved with the child.

In these circumstances, the child may come within the definition of a Privately Fostered child, and if so, the Private Fostering Procedure will apply.

Where a child is to be cared for by a friend or family member, and the Department are involved in setting up or supporting the arrangements, it is important to clarify the status of the placement before the arrangements are put into place. The status will affect the procedures that apply.

In cases where the placement has already been made before the social worker becomes involved, the status of the placement should be clarified at the earliest opportunity. The determination should be part of the Single Assessment of the child. 

In a Kinship Care placement as defined within this Manual, the child is not Looked After. The placement is different from a Looking After Placement with Relatives or Friends, when, Placements with Connected Persons must be followed and, where the placement lasts more than 6 weeks, there is a requirement that the carer be approved as a foster carer for the local authority.

The child's status within the placement should be clear and explained within the relevant Children's Plan.

The issues to be determined are:

  • What are the objectives and timescales of the placement?
  • If the child is not Looked After when the arrangements are made, are the arrangements made with the parents' consent as part of a Child's Plan for the child (and therefore the child will not be regarded as Looked After)? If so, is the child privately fostered? Or has a decision been made that the child needs to be Looked After and the placement needs to be made as part of the child's Care Plan?
  • If the child is already Looked After at the time of the placement, is the placement seen as a stepping-stone to achieving the child's rehabilitation to the parents? Or is the aim for the proposed carers to become the permanent carers? In either case, there should be clarity as to whether the child will continue to be Looked After (either Accommodated or under a Care Order) after the placement is made - or will the child no longer be regarded as Looked After? This will depend on the individual circumstances of each case but should be considered as part of the Permanence Plan for the child.

N.B. Where the child is Looked After and the placement is part of the child's Care Plan, the timescales will be crucial - where the placement is likely to last longer than 6 weeks, the assessment of the carer as a foster carer must be initiated immediately. See Placements with Connected Persons.


7. Planning Friends and Family Care Placements

In order to make a determination about the suitability of a placement with family or friends when making plans for children, the following considerations may apply:

  1. What are the child's needs which require that arrangements for alternative care are required?
  2. Can it be said that the parents have agreed to the arrangement to place the child albeit with the support and assistance of the local authority? Have they the capacity to make such an agreement?
  3. Has parental consent been given specifically to avoid the need for the child to be or remain Looked After?
  4. Is it in the child's best interests to be placed with a friend or family member to prevent the need for the child to become or remain Looked After?
  5. If so, does the placement come within the definition of a Private Fostering arrangement? For the procedures in relation to Private Fostering, see Private Fostering Procedure;
  6. Is it necessary to meet the child's needs within the placement that the support for the placement is provided through a Child's Plan?
  7. Can the local authority provide sufficient support through the Child Plan? (The proposed carer's needs for financial support should not be the determining factor as to whether the child becomes Looked After - see below, Financial Support for Friends and Family Carers);
  8. What are the risks to the child, if any, through the arrangements being made as part of a Child Plan rather than as a placement under a Care Plan?
  9. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the relationship between the proposed carer and the parents? Do any of the weaknesses expose the child to risks, which may be addressed by the legal status of the placement?
  10. Should there be a Court Order to provide security to the placement? If so, is the carer able and willing to acquire parental responsibility or would it more appropriate to meet the child's needs for the local authority to acquire or retain parental responsibility?
  11. Is it an appropriate placement for the child if the proposed carers are not able and willing to acquire parental responsibility for the child? This will be particularly relevant where the placement is intended as part of a Permanence Plan;
  12. Are the proposed carers already approved as foster carers for the local authority? If not, is anything known about them which is likely to be a bar to such approval?


8. Family Group Conferences

Family Group Conferences aim to achieve the best outcomes for children through a collaborative approach. They promote the involvement of the wider family in the assessment, planning and decision-making process 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.

They should not, however, be seen or used as a substitute for a Child Protection Conference.

The timing of Family Group Conferences will depend on the circumstances of the case. They can be particularly helpful at a point when a looked after placement is being considered for a child or shortly after a looked after placement has been made (including during the course of Care Proceedings) to explore options of family support for the child and parents.

They may also be useful to identify possible permanent solutions for a looked after child at the point where rehabilitation for the child has been ruled out as an option or where Twin Track Planning is taking place.

In any case where the involvement of the wider family in meetings may be considered the best way of planning for a child in need, then this should be taken into account when the social worker and Chairperson are considering who should be invited.


9. Assessment of Friends and Family Carers

Placements of children with Friends and Family carers are often made where carers have responded to pressing circumstances and have had no prior preparation. These factors often distinguish Friends and Family care from traditional foster care and should be acknowledged when carrying out assessments.

The assessment may be seen by Friends and Family carers as threatening and intrusive and needs to be sensitive to the carer's particular circumstances.

Eligibility for services to support the placement should be based on the needs of the child and the carers, not the child's legal status. For example, there may be tensions within the family for which specialist support may be necessary, for example where contact between the child and the parents is denied or severely limited.

Friends and Family carers often see help as interference and/or assume that they should be able to manage on their own and/or worry that asking for help may be misinterpreted as an indication that they cannot cope. The availability of services needs to be explained to the carers during the assessment process.

In addition the availability of financial support and the nature of such support should be made clear to Friends and Family carers from the outset. The best possible information ensures that families are aware of what the options are.


10. Checks Before Placement

It is good practice, where the Department is assisting a parent to make arrangements to place a child with a friend or relative (and the child therefore will not be Looked After), that Criminal Records.

Bureau and other standard checks be carried out in respect of the proposed carers. 

Where Private Fostering arrangements have been made, the procedures set out in on Private Fostering must be followed by the child's social worker. 

For all arrangements, the following is a full list of matters to be considered, details of which must be recorded.

  • Age;
  • Health;
  • Personality;
  • Marital status and particulars of any previous marriages;
  • Criminal convictions and results of any applications to adopt, child mind, or foster;
  • Past and present employment, leisure activities and interests;
  • Previous experience of looking after children, and capacity to care for this child;
  • Details of children of the household, whether living there or not;
  • Religious, cultural, racial and linguistic factors;
  • Details of living standards and accommodation of the household.

All arrangements to live with friends or family should be planned in advance as far as possible. However, emergency arrangements are sometimes inevitable, but these can only take place if:

  • The carers have been interviewed;
  • The accommodation has been inspected;
  • Information has been obtained about other persons living in the household;
  • For the assessment of Connected Persons, see Placements with Connected Persons Procedure.

Family support services (e.g. social work support, other agency support) should also be used to help and stabilise children who are living with their extended family or with friends.

For Financial Support to Placements, see below.

For checks required before placements of Looked After Children with friends and family members, see Placements with Connected Persons.


11. Financial Support for Friends and Family Carers 

Financial support can be given to a placement with a friend or family member whether or not the child is Looked After. However, the status of the placement will determine the nature and amount of the financial support and who can authorise its payment.

Where the placement is made under a Child's Plan (and the child therefore is not Looked After), payments can be made up to the financial limits agreed from time to time by the Department. However, it must be remembered that the local authority is not an income support or maintenance agency and the parents continue to have prime responsibility for their child's maintenance.

Carers should be assisted to maximise their Income/Benefit. The main aim of any financial support from the Department should be to assist in setting up arrangements for the placement, which will be self-sustaining in the long run. For example, emergency care provided by relatives or friends can be supported if necessary by short-term subsistence crisis payments.

Regular payments will adversely affect an individual's claim to income support.

There are three categories of payment, which may be considered:

1. Subsistence crisis (one-off) payments

These should be used to overcome a crisis, following the best assessment that can be achieved in the circumstances. 

2. Setting-up:

These are for such items as clothing, furniture, or bedding. The social worker must be satisfied that the carers' financial position justifies the payment, although there is no requirement to complete cumbersome detailed financial assessments.

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.

3. Weekly living contribution

Where family members or friends care for a child and the child is not Looked After, such payments should be seen as a short-term measure for a set number of weeks while more appropriate permanent arrangements are made. 

The following criteria should be applied to such payments:

  • The purpose of the payments must be to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child;
  • A worker should be actively involved with the family at least for the duration of the payments;
  • 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.

(N.B. Where the placement is of a Looked After child, the friend or family member will be regarded as a foster carer and will receive payments at the basic fostering rate as for other approved foster carers. 

Following assessment and formal approval as a foster carer, payment will continue for as long as the approval continues and the foster carer will receive support and supervision from the Fostering Service. 

The child will continue to be the responsibility of the child's social worker.)


12. Friends and Family Members as Permanent Carers

Where a child is placed with a friend or family member, whether or not the child is Looked After, and the placement is intended as a permanent placement, it should be borne in mind that the placement should be secured legally.

There will be a number of options depending on the needs of the particular child, for example, the appropriateness of a Child Arrangements Order or an Adoption Order should be considered. It will be exceptional for the child's needs to be served by remaining the subject of a Care Order.

For further guidance on this, see Permanence Overarching Strategy, which includes a section on Child Arrangements Orders and Child Arrangements Order Allowances.

Placements with relatives and friends should be considered in all cases as a way of promoting contact between the child and parents and maintaining family links in a familiar setting.

The fact of the relationship is not sufficient on its own to assess a placement as suitable.

There may be contra-indicators, which negate the advantages of such a placement for example:

  1. Where difficult family relationships are likely to rule out the possibility of helpful contact between the child and parents;
  2. Where there is evidence to suggest that the child may be at risk if placed with the wider family;
  3. Where the child's wishes are not in favour of such a placement;
  4. Where the assessment indicates that the carers will require a level of support that cannot be provided by the local authority within the time-scale needed.

End