Children's Services Values and Principles
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter contains the underlying values and principles for the provision of services and for recording, confidentiality and consultation. Staff in the Looked After Service should also read their relevant Statements of Purpose.
This chapter was amended in March 2019 to reflect HHJ Greensmith's comments regarding M and N (Children: Local authority gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence)  EWFC 40 (1 June 2018).It has also been reviewed and updated following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and Data Protection Act 2018.
1. Underlying Values and Principles
- The best interests of the child: All decisions made in relation to children must have, as the first and paramount consideration, the best interests of the child;
- Assessment, planning and review: Services will be provided to children on the basis of regular assessment, planning, monitoring and review. For those who are Looked After, this will continue through the transition from childhood to adulthood;
- Avoiding delay: All decisions in relation to the provision of services to children will be made promptly and within agreed time-scales, having regard to the needs of the child; the achievement of these timescales will be monitored and reviewed;
- Anti-discriminatory: children will receive services which take account of their race, culture, language, disability, sexuality, level of literacy and religion;
- Valuing the family: Children have the right, whenever possible, to be brought up within their own family, either with their parents or relatives;
- Partnership: In promoting this right, services will be provided in partnership with parents, significant people in children's lives and with other agencies to assist and support parents in meeting their children's needs within the family;
- Listening and taking action: We will promote an 'open door' culture for all children, which encourages them to express their views, wishes and feelings; and say what they think about anything which affects them. We will then do all we can to ensure their views are taken into account when decisions are made about them;
- Quality services for children: Where services are provided for children, they will be provided by skilled people, committed to meeting children's needs; in a manner which promotes their educational, physical, emotional, social and psychological needs and in an environment where they feel safe, positive and encouraged;
- Keeping children informed: Children will be provided with a range of accessible information about our services and those which they may require to improve their life chances;
- Promoting independence: We will help children to be as independent and to take as full and active a part in everyday life as possible;
- Protecting children: We understand that, on occasions, it will be necessary for limits to be placed on the actions of some children for the sake of their welfare or to protect them or others from injury or harm. Interventions used in these circumstances will be the least restrictive and disruptive;
- Resolving dissatisfaction: Where children, or others on their behalf, are dissatisfied, we will take steps to resolve their dissatisfaction and provide opportunities for them to complain if they wish;
- The appropriate looked after placement: Where children are unable to live with their birth family, they will be looked after in family based care or, where appropriate, residential care;
- Respecting privacy: Looked After Children will be treated with respect and afforded privacy;
- Permanence: We will ensure a plan exists for all Looked After Children to achieve a permanent solution for their future upbringing. Wherever possible, permanence will be secured through a return to their parents' care or a placement within their wider family but where this cannot be achieved within a time-scale appropriate to the child's needs, plans will be made for a permanent alternative family placement, which may include adoption, or, for older children, a stable placement which prepares the child for adulthood;
- Maintaining community links: Where children are looked after away from the family, they will be placed as near to their family home or community as possible unless their needs otherwise dictate;
- Promoting contact: We will promote meaningful contact between Looked After Children and their families and community of origin unless particular circumstances indicate that such contact would not be in their best interests;
- Monitoring: We will ensure that all Looked After Children receive regular and frequent visits from their social workers for the purposes of monitoring and reviewing the suitability of their placement arrangements.
2. Equal Opportunities
The department will ensure that all services are aware of their responsibilities towards both users and staff in promoting an ongoing and critical review of the services they provide.
The authority and its employees will not discriminate against or disadvantage any child or family on the grounds of colour, race, religion, language, disability, gender or sexuality. All policies, procedures and practice will reflect this intention.
3. Recording Values and Principles
Each of the following values is summarised on the page specified. Click on title required.
- Records must be kept of all children
- The design of records and forms must be approved
- Children and their families must be informed about their records
- The member of staff primarily involved should complete the record
- All relevant information about children and their families must be recorded
- Recording legal advice
- Children and their families should be involved in the recording process
- Information about children/their families should be shared with them
- Records must be kept up to date
- Records must be written clearly using plain language avoiding jargon, and avoid prejudice
- Records must be accurate and adequate
- Managers must oversee, monitor and review records
- Records should be kept securely
- Records moved to a new location must be monitored
- Records must usually be retained after closure
The Children and Families service has developed an electronic system for recording referrals, assessments, plans, reviews and general casework which all workers are required to use. Manual files are used to record non-electronic documents. Where manual files extend to more than one volume, the dates covered by each volume must be clearly recorded on the front cover.
The child's case record will usually be developed from notes taken in the course of a visit or interview and these may be used directly, or as a result of such information being in a report or court statement. The Family Court, in the case of RE M and N (Children) (Local authority gathering, preserving and disclosing evidence) advised that social workers/practitioners must make contemporaneous notes which form a coherent, contemporaneous record. The notes should be legible, signed and dated and record persons present during the meeting/conversation in question. The notes should be detailed and accurately attribute descriptions, actions and views etc. In some instances, sketches/diagrams may be helpful in establishing the veracity of explanations given, e.g. with regard to how injuries were sustained, etc.
Note: These original notes might need to be disclosed in a court.
Records and forms must be designed to fit their purpose and used consistently across the organisation.
Children and their families should be told what types of information/data is contained in their case records.
In particular, they should be helped to understand what data is collected on them, how it is used, who it might be shared with and how long it will be kept for. The most common way to provide information to Data Subjects on what data is collected and how it is used is through a Privacy Notice. Privacy Notices must be easily accessible to children, young people and their families, and should be part of the induction pack given to any new staff members.
See Section 4, Confidentiality Values and Principles, below.
Information must be provided in a form that children and their families will understand - in their preferred language or method of communication. An interpreter will be provided if needed.
The practitioner primarily involved, that is by the person who directly observes or witnesses the event that is being recorded or who has participated in the meeting/conversation, must complete records.
If additional records are completed or updated by other people, it must be clear from the record which person provided the information being recorded.
Records of decisions must show who made any decision as well as the basis on which it was made.
Every child's case file must include a properly maintained chronology.
All visits, meetings or appointments made in relation to children must be recorded, stating who was present or seen, the relevant discussions which occurred, actions/decisions taken and by whom, and the reasons for decisions.
All other relevant contacts with children, their families, colleagues, professionals or other significant people must be recorded in the same way, i.e. who was present or seen, the relevant discussions, actions or decisions taken and by whom, and the reasons for decisions.
Information recorded must state the ethnic origin and disability of the Child/Young Person. When new/additional information has come to the attention of the team files must be updated within 1 working day of the information being received.
All legal advice must remain privileged and is exempt from disclosure. Therefore, all advice should be recorded on the Children and Families Assessment System using either the Legal Advice Contact Sheets (not diary sheets) or Legal Planning Meeting Notes as appropriate. Information recorded on these documents must not be disclosed to Guardians ad Litem when reviewing case files.
Children and their families must be involved in the process of gathering and recording information about them.
They should be asked to provide information, express their own views and wishes, and contribute to assessments, reports and to the formulation of plans.
Generally, they must be asked to give their agreement to the sharing of information about them with others but there are exceptions.
Information, including assessments, contained in the case record should usually be shared with the Data Subject unless:
Before sharing any information previously deemed to be confidential, the manager must take all reasonable steps to consult the originator and take account of their views and wishes.
Records should be updated from detailed notes made contemporaneously following a visit or interview; as various information becomes available or as decisions or actions are taken as soon as practicable or, at the latest, within 24 hours (see also: Section 3.1, Records Must be Kept on all Children).
Records must be written clearly and concisely, using plain language, and must not contain any expressions that might give offence to any individual or group of people on the basis of race, culture, religion, age, disability, or sexual orientation.
Use of technical or professional terms and abbreviations must be kept to a minimum; and if there is likely to be any doubt of their meaning, they must be defined or explained.
Care must be taken to ensure that information contained in records is relevant and accurate and is sufficient to meet legislative responsibilities and the requirements of these procedures.
Every effort must be made to ensure records are factually correct. If a child/young person feels that information in their record is not accurate, they have a right to request that it is rectified. Local authorities have 1 month to respond to any such requests and, if any such request is received, the authority should take reasonable steps to establish if the data is accurate and rectify the record if necessary.
Records must distinguish clearly between assessments, judgements and decisions. Records must also distinguish between first hand information and information obtained from third parties. Records must reflect the distinction between fact and opinion. Although it is admissible to record opinion, it must be recorded as such and not presented as factual.
The overall responsibility for ensuring all records are maintained appropriately rests with managers with day-to-day responsibility, delegated to other staff as appropriate.
The Manager should routinely check and date/sign samples of records to ensure they are up to date and maintained as required and, if not, that deficiencies are rectified as soon as practicable.
All records held on children must be kept securely.
Manual files should normally be stored in a locked cabinet, or a similar manner, usually in an office to which only staff/carers have access.
Manual records should not be left unattended when not in their normal location.
Accesses to electronic records are password protected. Workers will be required to change their unique passwords regularly and must not divulge their passwords to any other individual.
Where records are moved to a new location, the date of transfer should be clearly recorded.
A member of the admin team should check that the records have arrived at their intended destination, the return slip should be completed and processed accordingly.
All files must be retained in accordance with the Department's Retention & Destruction of Files procedure.
4. Confidentiality Values and Principles
Each of the following values is summarised on the page specified. Click on title required.
- Principles of confidentiality
- Personal information is subject to a legal duty of confidence
- Disclosure of confidential information is permitted in specific circumstances
- Freedom of Information Act 2000
The introduction of electronic case recording has resulted in much greater accessibility to individual records to those involved in a case. This does, however, increase the risk of information being used insensitively or inadvertently being disclosed to someone inappropriately.
Whilst there is no such thing as a totally safe system it is important to take appropriate measures to safeguard personal information. To help consider how best to record and store this information safely, the Children and Families Service has adopted the concept of three different levels of confidentiality. Workers must take this into account when collecting and recording information. The levels of confidentiality are:
CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION is ALL INFORMATION which Social Care and Supported Housing holds on a service user/child/young person. This information must be kept confidential to the Department, and only accessed on a need to know basis.
SENSITIVE INFORMATION is information which is of a personal and sensitive nature and therefore requires not only to be kept confidential to the Department but careful and sensitive handling by all in contact with the service user/child/young person and their records. Examples of what constitutes sensitive information include:
HIGHLY SENSITIVE INFORMATION is information which if disclosed to the wrong person could cause the service user/child/young person harm or acute distress. This information therefore needs to be kept confidential to the Department handled carefully and sensitive and restricted in its availability. Examples of highly sensitive information include:
All personal information is subject to a legal duty of confidence. The legal framework for confidentiality is contained in common law, the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Data Protection Act 1998. All staff are obliged to safeguard information held about our users and are personally responsible for any breach of this statutory responsibility.
As far as possible, a worker should seek consent before disclosing personal information, even to other care agencies. If consent is not forthcoming, information can be disclosed in circumstances when the individual's right to confidentiality is superseded by the need to comply with a statute, court order, where there is a serious risk to public health, a risk of harm to other individuals particularly children or for the prevention, detection or prosecution of crime. If disclosure is made without consent, a careful record needs to be kept of what has been disclosed. Also, only the minimum personal information necessary should be disclosed. Information should not be disclosed to a non-agency body or person without first seeking legal advice.
Workers are allowed to exchange necessary personal information with other care or health agencies when Child Protection Enquiries are being pursued under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.
For more detailed guidance, seek advice from the Social Services Data Protection Contact Officer, the Council's Data Protection and Freedom of Information Team or from the Department of Law & Administration.
The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force on 1 January 2005.
Under the Act anybody may request information from a public authority (which includes all local authorities). The Act confers two statutory rights on applicants:
The Act applies to all information whether recent or old.
The Act sets out 23 exemptions from rights of access to information. If the information is exempt, there is no right of access under the Act.
One exemption relates to personal information. This means that an application for personal information under the Act is exempt and will not therefore be dealt with under the Act. A person's right of access to such information must still be dealt with in accordance with the Data Protection Act 1998.
Another category relates to information provided in confidence where disclosure would involve an actionable breach of confidence. This would include information provided by a member of the public about a child protection issue where the provider has provided the information on the basis that anonymity will be maintained.
The Act therefore does not change the legal position into the principles of confidentiality set out in paragraphs 1 to 3 above.
5. Consultation Values and Principles
People's views should be sought and taken into account in relation to all decisions, which are likely to affect their daily life and their future.
The older and more mature the child is, the more weight can and should be given to their wishes and feelings.
Unless there are exceptional circumstances, reasonable steps must be taken in all cases to consult the parents. Exceptions will include where older children with an appropriate level of maturity specifically request that their parents are not consulted and a decision is made to respect their wishes. Detailed guidance on this is set out in Consents, Confidentiality and Information Sharing Guidance.
Consultation should take place on a regular and frequent basis with those who need to be consulted and assumptions should not be made about the inability or lack of interest of those who should be consulted.
Where people have communication difficulties of any sort, suitable means must be provided to enable them to be consulted, including arranging access to advocates or representatives who may speak on their behalf.
If consultation is not possible or is restricted for whatever reason, steps should be taken to ensure those affected are informed of decisions as soon as practicable after they are made, and an explanation for the decision given, together with the opportunity to make a comment and express their views.
If it is then felt that a different decision may have been appropriate, steps should be taken to reconsider the decision.
If decisions are made against people's wishes, they should be informed of the decision and the reasons for the decision should be explained. In these circumstances, the person should be informed of any rights they have to formally challenge the decision.