Written Agreements in Child Protection and Children in Need Cases
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Written agreements are frequently used by Children's Social Care in their work with children and families. They are a useful tool, but in order to be effective, they must be properly drawn up, shared, monitored and evaluated. This practice guidance explains the purpose of written agreements and lays out standards to be applied when drawing up and using written agreements with families.
This chapter is new and was added to the procedures manual in December 2016.
Written agreements are frequently used by Children's Social Care in their work with children and families. Typically such agreements are used to help ensure the safety and welfare of children during periods of assessment and/or intervention, by outlining what is required from parents in terms of compliance with assessments and appointments, living arrangements or involving supervisory arrangements with other family members.
They are a useful tool but, in order to be effective, they must be properly drawn up, shared, monitored and evaluated. The following practice guidance explains the purpose of written agreements and lays out standards to be applied when drawing up and using written agreements.
2. Written Agreements
Written agreements are a tool for monitoring behaviour. They are useful as a confirmation of expectations and for testing out levels of cooperation whilst longer term work is completed. They are not, when used alone, a tool for achieving change.
For written agreements to be an effective protective measure for children they need to be child focused, based on full assessment of cooperation levels, have clear sanctions for non-compliance and be rigorously monitored.
It is essential that consent is properly informed and fairly obtained. The person who is being asked to enter into the agreement must have Capacity to consent. If there is any doubt then legal advice must be sought. No one should ever been coerced into signing an agreement.
Written agreements should only be used with open cases due to the need to monitor and evaluate their effectiveness
3. Practice Standards when using Written Agreements
- The should be typed on paper with the local authority logo at the top;
- They should be headed: 'This is a written agreement between the appropriate local authority Children's Social Care and name of adult(s), dated ....';
- A heading of the child's name, date of birth and address (where appropriate);
- The reason for and aims of the agreement should be stated;
- Points should be numbered;
- Contingencies should be stated;
- The agreement should end with a list of the names and titles of those who are party to it, with dates next to the names to date the signature.
- All agreements must include the following phrase: 'This document is not legally binding. You should show this document to your solicitors and seek legal advice';
- Agreements should be clear, concise and not too long. A maximum of two sides of A4 should be sufficient to outline concerns and responsibilities;
- Signatories to the agreement must always be all the adults involved, plus the Social Worker(s) and the Team Manager;
- Written agreements should be shared with other agencies as appropriate and it should state on the agreement which agencies have received a copy;
- Written agreements must always be discussed and agreed directly with the adults who are to sign them;
- They must be signed and distributed before the arrangements outlined in them are due to begin.
Supervisory or Living Arrangements as Part of Written Agreements
- Written agreements frequently specify that certain adults should not live with the children involved, or that their contact will be supervised by other family members;
- This should only be agreed when it can be demonstrated that this course of action is based on a clear risk assessment and that the risks are manageable;
- Unannounced visits should always be made to 'spot check' that such agreements re being adhered to.
Sharing of Written Agreements
- Written agreements will only be effective if they are monitored by all the agencies involved;
- They must be shared with other agencies so that these agencies are aware of the arrangements for the care of the children and can report any breaches.
Changes to Written Agreements
- Changes cannot be made to written agreements without prior discussion and agreement from the Team Manager and relevant multi agency forum, Core Group, Network Meeting (as appropriate);
- The amended agreement should be signed and distributed to the Core Group or Network Meeting Group;
- Breaches of the agreement must be taken seriously. The effectiveness of agreements is seriously underminded if families are allowed to breach them repeatedly;
- Contingencies should be spelt out and can include a decision to end the agreement, reconvene the Core Group, Network Meeting, Conference, seek a LPM or initiate legal action.
End of the Written Agreement
Where a decision has been made to end the written agreement, or it is no longer required, this decision should be communicated in writing to carers and parents and all the agencies involved with the family.