13 Permanent Placement Away From Home
'However adverse a home, the child lives in familiar surroundings and is looked after, however inadequately, by familiar people. Being taken from it means the collapse of a world he has accepted and trusted as the only one he knows. The younger the child, the greater the distress at being removed to an unfamiliar environment. The more limited his understanding of verbal explanations, the greater is his likely bewilderment and the more difficult the task of restoring his sense of security; also he may feel that it was his naughtiness which led to his being sent away.'
(Pringle MK, The Needs of Children 3rd edition, London, Hutchinson 1986 p133)
The right to be brought up in a loving family is enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This right is further endorsed by the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, and the European Convention on Human Rights. The need to be brought up in a stable secure environment is essential for all children and for most children this will be their biological family.
For some children alternative families have to be found. In general, children for whom a return home is not going to be possible should be the subject of an application for a permanence order or an adoption order at court. The legal process is explained in the section on Law and Procedure and the resources that are needed are covered in the section on Roles, Responsibilities and Resources.
Various elements of the legislation allow panel members to have some influence on permanence and long term planning decisions for children [see Legislation and Procedures]. When an application regarding permanence is about to be lodged at court, regarding children who are subject to a compulsory supervision order, a hearing will be asked to provide a report for the court. When considering the long term care of the child, the influence of, and attachment to, the natural family cannot be ignored.
The general principles - that the child's welfare is the paramount consideration, that the views of the child should be sought and taken into consideration and that no order should be made unless it is better for the child that it is made - apply also to decisions taken for the long term care of the children. This means that for some children the ties will be broken but, for others, contact with their natural family will to a greater or lesser extent, continue. This will affect not only children but also those who take responsibility for them in the future.
When considering giving such advice some understanding of loss of attachment and permanency is needed.
European Convention on Human Rights
Under Article 8 everyone has the right to respect for private and family life. This means that when hearings are making decisions regarding the long term care of children, although the welfare of the child is their paramount consideration, they must also have respect for, (and record) the views of the relevant persons.
Attachment is defined as:
"An affectionate bond between two individuals that endures through space and time and so serves to join them emotionally." (Kennell)
Attachment Helps Children To:
- attain full intellectual potential
- sort out what s/he perceives
- think logically
- develop a conscience
- become self reliant
- cope with stress and frustration
- handle fear and worry
- develop future relationships
- reduce jealousy.
Role of the Family
The need to be brought up in a stable secure environment is essential for all children. Children have the right to stay with their parents whenever possible (and safe for them to do so); to have contact with both parents; to have their culture, race, religion and language considered. For some children this care and security will be provided in a new / substitute family.
The family provides children with:
- a primary caretaker for the child
- care from specific adults to whom the child can become attached
- continuous contact with these adults on a day to day basis
- continuous but changing relationships with a small number of individuals
- safety and security
- stimulation and encouragement for growth
- reasonable expectations / experience in identifying and expressing emotions
- support in times of stress.
BUT THESE CAN BE PROVIDED BY PEOPLE OTHER THAN THE CHILD'S NATURAL FAMILY
These are the things that should be available to a child moving to a new home - but the need to know "who am I, and where do I come from?" should never be neglected or ignored no matter how hard this is for the adults involved with the child. Panel members may have to explore these issues with the social worker when providing a report for the court.
Issues surrounding attachment are discussed in part 3 of this section.
The Role of the Panel Member
When considering a long term / permanent placement panel members will need to find out:
- the child's stage of development in relation to their age
- previous separations and how the child was helped
- the kind and quality of the child's attachment and what work is being undertaken to build a secure attachment
- strengths / resilience of the child and the parents
- the child's behaviour
- child's relationship with carers.
- KEEP CHILD'S NEEDS IN MIND AT ALL TIMES.
- REMEMBER CONTACT CAN BE INDIRECT.
- CHILD'S WELFARE IS PARAMOUNT.
We acknowledge the work, support and permission of Sally Wassell in preparing this section.
- principles regarding contact are enshrined in the Children's Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
- if a hearing makes a compulsory supervision order, there is an obligation to consider whether or not a direction regulating contact
- the child's welfare is the paramount consideration
- relevant persons' responsibilities and rights are protected by the hearing offering at all times full explanations and inviting full participation in the decision-making process
- a high priority must be given to retaining links between the child and the relevant persons (and other close family, including siblings)
- contact should only be restricted in order to protect the child from emotional and physical harm, or to ensure the success of an agreed long term plan for the child's future
- contact should only be terminated in exceptional circumstances - and must be justified in the reasons for the decision.
The Local Authority
- have a general duty to promote, on a regular basis, personal relationships and direct contact unless it would be harmful for the child for them to do so
- follow a code of practice
- follow the principle that children should, whenever possible, have contact with their families
- are obliged to involve relevant persons at all stages and to seek their views
- the aim is for most children to return to live with their parents.
Disagreements about Contact
When there is a disagreement between the relevant persons and the social work department on a contact issue, a children's hearing may need to intervene. In a small number of cases contact may not be in the child's best interests. In particular, that would apply where there is evidence that contact between a child and relevant persons is causing the child any physical or emotional harm.
Where a hearing is requested to consider modifying or terminating contact, this should be done on the basis of such contact truly endangering the child's emotional and physical well being, rather than that contact "isn't doing much good".
In addition, in a small number of cases where a child on compulsory supervision lives with one parent, it may be necessary to regulate the contact the child has with the absent parent.
If the social work department thinks that there needs to be a substantial reduction or termination of contact, and the child is on compulsory supervision, then a review hearing may be called for the matter to be considered by a children's hearing.
Contact should also be considered by a children's hearing at a review hearing when the local authority are considering lodging a court application for a permanence order. The main purpose of this hearing is to offer advice to the court which will consider the application.
Children's Hearings Role in the Reduction or Termination of Contact
Decisions about a parent's contact with a child are matters which require serious and careful thought. The views of the child need to be considered carefully, along with those of the relevant person/s and social work department. It follows that in these circumstances conflicts may arise between the wishes of the relevant person/s in wanting contact to continue and the best interests of the child. It may be that such conflict extends to the relationship between the parent/s and social work staff who seek to protect the child. There are times in such cases where a hearing may consider asking for further information before reaching a decision. This may be in the form of an assessment, for example, by a psychiatrist, or an independent report may be requested from a safeguarder. Any decision will need to take account of all relevant circumstances.
Key Points for Hearings
- What is the overall plan being proposed for the child? Is it one that you would agree with in general?
- Is the hearing satisfied that it has all available reports that could help in reaching a decision on the question of contact?
- Is there contained within the body of the reports - most
crucially the social work report - clearly laid-out information
defining the actual difficulties in regard to contact? Is the
following information available :
Who is currently involved in contact
Is it just the parent/s or are siblings, grandparents, or other close family members involved? Will contact with these people be affected, and what will be the effect on the child?
Where is contact taking place?
Are there difficulties around practical arrangements? (this may include travel difficulties)
How regular is the contact arrangement
What bearing does the level of contact have on the outcome of the case?
Do all parties (child, relevant person(s), social worker) have a clear understanding of the hearings' expectations - how often, where, for how long, supervised / unsupervised etc.
What is the quality of the contact, when exercised,
between the parent/relative and the child?
Is there sufficient information in the social background report on this point?
Are independent reports required to help you gain an impression about what actually happens when contact takes place?
- Who is currently involved in contact
Don't forget if a child is being looked after by foster carers they may be an important source of information.
- Is the child's view regarding contact, where this can be obtained, fully referred to in the reports?
- Is the relevant person/s' view of contact reflected in reports?
In relation to both these points, don't make assumptions; panel members should check out for themselves that what is contained in the reports is an accurate reflection of all views.
- Concerns for the child are relevant - if the child is suffering, even if the behaviour (usually of parents) is not deliberate, or parents have their own problems - for example immaturity, alcohol or drug addiction, or mental health problems
- Do panel members need to attach a condition, direction or prohibition? - how specific should these be - remember non-disclosure of child's address
The Hearing's Decision
If a children's hearing decides to limit or terminate contact, it does so by attaching a 'Measure '(condition, direction or prohibition) to the compulsory supervision order. As always these must relate to the child.
Where it is appropriate, be specific about details of contact arrangements so there is clarity for all parties concerned. In any event, the hearing should be explicit about why the condition or direction has been imposed when stating and writing reasons for the decision.
A compulsory supervision order with a condition or direction relating to contact may be appealed in the usual way, that is, to a sheriff within three weeks of the decision of the children's hearing.
Hearings can attach conditions or directions relating to contact to an interim compulsory supervision order, as well as to a substantive compulsory supervision order. And, where it is necessary to protect the child, you can attach a prohibition withholding disclosure of the child's address. Rights of appeal apply.
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