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5.1.4 Permanence Policy and Practice Guidance


  1. Permanence Policy Statement
  2. Definitions
  3. Principles
  4. Our Commitment
  5. Delivering Permanence
  6. Permanence Planning must include the following
  7. Permanence and Local Placement
  8. Permanence Outcomes and Twin Track or Parallel Planning 
  9. Permanence Options
  10. Contact with Birth Family Members and Others
  11. Good Practice Guidance
  12. Family Group Conferences
  13. Permanence Planning Meetings
  14. Permanence Panel

1. Permanence Policy Statement

Permanency planning is based on the philosophy that every child has the right to a permanent and stable home, preferably with his or her own family. Cumbria County Council Children's Services works within a” Signs of safety” approach to ensure that Children remain with their birth family wherever it is safe to do so. The primary focus of permanency planning is to prevent children drifting in care (Brydon, 2004).

Cumbria County Council, as corporate parent for Children Looked After, will work diligently to find permanent, safe homes for children in care, in a timely manner. The best possible care involves giving children security, stability and love throughout Childhood and beyond.

2. Definitions

Permanence is the long term plan for the child's upbringing and provides an underpinning framework for all social work with children and their families from family support through to adoption. It ensures a framework of emotional, physical and legal conditions that gives a child a sense of security, continuity, commitment, identity and belonging.

"Framework of emotional permanence (attachment), physical permanence (stability) and legal permanence (the carer has parental responsibility or delegated parental authority, for the child) which gives a child a sense of security, continuity, commitment and identity (Care Planning Guidance, 2011).”

3. Principles

The objective of planning for permanence is to ensure that children have a secure, stable and loving family to support them through childhood and beyond to give them a sense of security, continuity, commitment, identity and belonging. It is also important to remember that older children and young people also need to achieve permanence in their lives although they may not wish (for a variety of reasons) to be in a foster home or to be adopted. Children with disabilities need to have their permanence needs considered in line with their particular needs. Some young people may prefer to live in a children's home where they can also achieve a sense of security and belonging.

The question “how are the child's permanence needs being met?” must be at the core of everything we do and considered

With the child at the centre of our thinking and our work, Children's Services believe that there are a number of principles that underpin permanency for a child:

  • Family solutions: If it is not possible for the child to be cared for by her/his birth parents then options within the extended network of family and friends will be considered as a priority;
  • Belonging: develop a feeling of belonging to someone who is parenting a child on a daily basis and belonging to an extended network;
  • Security: A feeling of security and being loved as a member of a permanent family or care setting;
  • Stability: The child expects the placement to continue and be stable;
  • Voice: The child's wishes and feelings along with her/his age and understanding must be taken into account in planning for permanence;
  • Identity: To be consistent with or fully able to support her/his ethnicity, language, religion and culture. Note that due consideration no longer has to be given to a child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background when matching a child and prospective adopters;
  • Life story: The child understands her/his birth family and history, including reasons for decisions and plans for the future. Her/his parents are encouraged and supported to provide information about themselves and about the child's birth and early life; Wherever possible, the child's parents should already have delivered a Words and Pictures explanation to the children;
  • Family and friends: The child is a member of an 'extended family' and part of a wider long term network of family and friends. The carers should nurture and promote the child's ability to build long term friendships and relationships with their peers and other adults;
  • Contact: The child has positive on-going contact with parent(s), family and friends where appropriate. The purpose of the contact should be clearly defined in the child's plan and demonstrate how it will benefit the child;
  • Siblings: children will be placed together whenever possible unless the individual needs of children indicate that their needs will be better met placed separately;
  • Learning: Stability in educational provision and training;
  • Self-confidence: Positive engagement in sports, hobbies and interests in order to promote their resilience and build self-confidence;
  • Independence: The child is assisted and supported into independence when s/he chooses and this is safe and appropriate;
  • Staying put: the child feels a sense of commitment from their carers as (s)he moves into adolescence and adulthood; belonging does not end at the age of 18 years;
  • Timeliness: Decision-making must be within the child's time scales in order to prevent drift;
  • Twin track or parallel planning: including concurrent planning, may provide a means to securing permanence at an early stage for some children;
  • Early planning: A child's permanence plan should be established at the four month review and recorded in the review decisions;
  • Review: where a child remains looked after in care then planning should be subject to continuous assessment and review.

4. Our Commitment

Understanding that the routes to permanent arrangements will be different for the circumstances of each child, the Children's Social Work Service is committed to considering the range of options available depending on the age and individual needs of the child and young person:

  • Cumbria County Council would always look to the family to care for a child in the first instance providing it is safe to do so, the family can meet their needs and it does not compromise their development and safety. A legal order may be required. It would be exceptional to place children at home under a full Care Order;
  • Relatives and other people with whom the child has a connection will be actively encouraged and supported to provide alternative care wherever parents are unable to look after their children;
  • Where parents and relatives are not able to provide long term permanent care the planning for the children will include consideration of securing the child's future with alternative carers through adoption or special guardianship at the earliest possible stage where appropriate;
  • Whilst long term foster care can meet many children's needs it will only be considered as the preferred permanent option based on robust exploration of alternatives and ultimately a decision based on the best interests of the child;
  • Wherever meeting a child's needs requires placement in residential settings these arrangements will usually be part of a time-limited rehabilitation to their own or another family; However, in particular circumstances, for example an older young person working towards independence or a child with exceptional special needs, the residential setting  may be the appropriate permanent placement. Permanence in a residential setting will be agreed via the Permanence Panel.
  • Cumbria County Council also recognises the importance of working with partners and parent/carers who play a key role in the lives of looked after children. Parent/carers and all professionals involved with the family will inform and be part of decision making for children looked after.

5. Delivering Permanence

The service will strive to deliver the commitments outlined in this policy, using the principles of the Signs of Safety approach of strengths-based and relationship-based practice, by providing the following:

  • High quality and timely assessments of a child's needs;
  • Any assessment of the child/young person's experience will always refer to the factors outlined in the principles as outlined above. This will help to ensure appropriate planning and the focus of practice to best help the child/young person achieve as strong a sense of permanence as possible;
  • Clear plans; with identifiable outcomes, service provision and actions to meet those needs;
  • Multi-agency commitment and effective joint working processes to ensure that the networks and services necessary to support children in permanent family placements and /or prevent their breakdown are prioritised and delivered;
  • Where there are concerns that a child may not be able to remain with their birth parents/carers without statutory intervention a family group conference will be held to fully explore the options for the child to remain safely within the extended kinship network;
  • Robust case reviewing arrangements for the early identification of the need for permanent arrangements and to prevent drift;
  • The opportunity for the voice of the child to be heard and evidenced in the plan and to include their views and feelings;
  • Effective communication pathways to ensure that family, carers and other individuals who the child considers to be an important part of their life are able to express their needs and feelings and are aware of the plans for the child and their role in these plans where appropriate;
  • Policies and services that support all children placed within the range of permanence options;
  • The permanence panel will consider all plans for permanence except Adoption before the four month review. The fostering panel will make decisions regarding matches for long term fostering. The permanence panel will make decisions regarding special guardianship arrangements and support plans. The perm panel will make decisions regarding permanence in residential setting. The permanence panel will consider significant changes of care plan and will review section 20 arrangements on a regular basis. This will ensure effective oversight and monitoring of all plans for permanency for children and young people.

6. Permanence Planning must include the following

  • Consideration at a permanence Planning meeting and at Permanence Panel prior to the 4 month CLA review and when there is any proposed change of permanence plan;
  • A decision from the relevant Panel/Agency Decision Maker/Court;
  • A timeline/trajectory for introducing the child to the placement that ensures both child and carers have a mutual understanding and commitment to the move;
  • The desired aims, objectives and outcomes of the placement must be clarified- and this needs to be particularly clear if the plan is for a residential placement;
  • Plans for life story and more specific therapeutic work to take place before and after the placement;
  • Arrangements for contact, if appropriate, that are based on the needs of the child and the priority of achieving stability and permanence in their lives.

7. Permanence and Local Placement

It is important that the child has access to the friends, family or community within which they were brought up and which form part of their identity and their long term support network. For these reasons children should be placed in local provision wherever possible in order to provide a wraparound service locally.

Any decision to place a child away from his or her community should be based on the particular needs of the child, and considered within the context of a Permanence Plan.

Where an alternative family placement is sought in the area of another local authority, the likely availability and cost of suitable local resources to support the placement must be explored. In the case of an adoptive placement, this will be required as part of the assessment of need for adoption support services (see Adoption Support Procedure), and where the plan is for a child who has been Looked After to be placed with Special Guardians, a Special Guardianship support Plan may be in place. An assessment of support needs and services should be considered in relation to any permanent placement.

8. Permanence Outcomes and Twin Track or Parallel Planning

The emphasis on early consideration of permanency plans and avoidance of drift has led to the development of twin track or parallel planning for children, where efforts are made to rehabilitate but the necessary information is gathered ready to put in place an alternative plan e.g. adoption, if this fails. Social workers are expected to work to this model using a signs of safety approach; working towards a child's return home where appropriate, whilst at the same time developing an alternative Permanence Plan, within strictly limited timescales.

Where children's plans are before the court in Care Proceedings, the Court require twin track or parallel planning to be reflected in the Care Plan - see also The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations - Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review and Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline (PLO) Procedure.

See also Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters Procedure

9. Permanence Options

There are various options to consider in a plan for permanence for a Child Looked After and young person. Achieving each type of permanence will present different challenges for all parties.

It will depend upon:

  • The capacity of the parents/carer to understand and meet the needs of the child;
  • The level of attachment the child experiences with their parent/carer;
  • The quality of the intervention and support provided by professionals working with the child and their family;
  • The level of cooperation of all involved in the permanence planning.

Consideration needs to be given to the degree of control granted to the caregiver and the degree in which parental responsibility is apportioned or delegated. The options also affect the support and the type of support carers can expect from Cumbria County Council in the longer term.

9.1 Reunification/Staying at Home

  1. Staying at home offers the best chance of stability for children and efforts in working with parents and extended family are the first line of approach, as long as there is no risk of harm to the child(ren);
  2. Where a child cannot remain safely at home and intervention is necessary which means that the child(ren) needs to be looked after then the focus of work should be on reunification.  Reunification needs to be planned and delivered in a timely ways supported by case trajectory, safety planning considering triggers, red flags, and contingencies.
  3. For reunification to be successful, research shows that a number of factors are relevant to achieve a safe and appropriate return:
    • Thorough multi agency assessments;
    • Good support identified from extended network of family and/or friends including the use of a Family Group Conference;
    • Clear written safety planning, goals and timelines have been set with the parent(s) to be in place before the child could return home;

      Problems which led to the admission to care have been addressed through effective measured and tested safety plans;
    • Following assessment return to other parent or parent has a new partner who makes a difference;
    • Appropriate safety plan and any specialist support has been provided and parents engage with this;
    • There is good preparation of parent(s) and child(ren), including life story work, words and pictures explanation of the journey and plans;
    • Focussed and effective work with Children before and after their return so we are clear of their lives experience of the child(ren) before and after return.
  4. If a child is subject to care proceedings and an Interim Care Order and the assessment work indicates that reunification should be attempted, then:
    • Wherever safe, time within the care proceedings should be used for this;
    • Placement with Parent regulations (see Placement with Parent Procedure) can in limited  and exceptional circumstances be used to support placement at home with parent(s) if subject to interim care orders;
    • If, at the final hearing in the care proceedings, it is proposed that the plan for permanence should be for the child(ren) to live with a parent or parents then proportionate use of the court orders available should be used, including use of supervision order or no order where safe and appropriate to do to so;
    • The key point is to ensure that arrangements are in place to provide multi agency support the parent(s) and child(ren) through a clear and appropriate plan;
    • As part of a step down approach a child in need plan or a supervision order, should be reviewed and chaired independently from the allocated social worker;
    • The CAFCASS officer and the Independent Reviewing Officer should be kept informed about plans to step down from interim care orders as part of the reunification plan.
  5. It will be necessary to ensure that there is Twin Track or Parallel Planning alongside efforts in reunification so that alternatives for care, e.g. possible solutions provided through the Family Group Conference or adoption are also considered;
  6. For reunification with parents, if there is a Care Order, the plan must consider the discharging of the Care Order. Where it is identified that support may still be needed, a Supervision Order might be considered.

Support available to enable this permanence option:

  • A clearly written support plan including support from within the family - this is multi-agency support identified through a child in need plan;
  • Cumbria County Council has the discretion to provide support on a one-off or regular basis under section 17 Children Act 1989 – Child in Need support.

Available legal orders to support this permanence option:

  • Supervision Order.

9.2 Placing Children with Connected Carers

When a child cannot safely return to their birth parents then every effort must be made to seek a suitable placement with relatives or friends. The Child/Children's network needs to be explored and built upon from the first contact with Children's Services.

It is very important to establish which relatives or friends might be available to care for the child, in order to avoid delays in planning for permanence. A Family Group Conference should always take place prior to a child entering care.

Research indicates that children can have increased commitment from connected carers in providing stability and have an enhanced opportunity to develop their identity. In some circumstances connected carers have already had some experiencing of caring for the child/ren. However, research also states that good assessments of connected carers need to be completed in order to assess the quality of the care to be provided as this leads to better outcomes for children. Placements need to be well supported as connected carers can be older, can have poorer health, greater issues with ongoing contact, and less support than foster carers.

Routes to permanence for children placed with connected carers need to be considered at an early stage. If children are not able to return to their birth families, ideally their placement within the extended family or with friends would be supported by a Child Arrangement Order or a Special Guardianship Order or through adoption. It would be unusual for children to remain on Care orders when placed safely with relatives and for the carers to remain therefore as formal connected/kinship foster carers.

Contact in connected carer arrangements can often be more complex and this needs to be addressed in the Care Plan/Support Plan.

Support available to enable this permanence option:

Available legal orders to support this permanence option:

  • Child Arrangement Order;
  • Special Guardianship Order;
  • Adoption Order.

9.3 Adoption

See Placement for Adoption Procedure for detailed procedures

In many cases where a child cannot safely be cared for by their birth parents the permanence plan is that of adoption. Cumbria is committed to adoption as a legal and emotional permanence option which can be considered for all children.

Research strongly supports adoption as a primary consideration and as a main factor contributing to the stability of children and has good outcomes.

Adoption transfers Parental Responsibility for the child from the birth parents and others who had Parental Responsibility, including the local authority, permanently and solely to the adopter(s). The child is deemed to be the child of the adopter(s) as if he or she had been born to them and the child takes on the surname of the adoptive parent (see Change of Name of a Child Looked after Procedure)

The child's birth certificate is changed to an adoption certificate showing the adopter(s) to be the child's parent(s). A child who is not already a citizen of the UK acquires British citizenship if adopted in the UK by a citizen of the UK.

This legal status applies into adulthood and is therefore a lifelong legal commitment, unlike any other legal permanence options.

Adoption has lifelong implications for all involved and a comprehensive support service will be provided in partnership with other agencies. Adopters may be supported, including financially, by the local authority and will have the right to request an assessment for support services at any time after the Order is made. See Adoption Support Procedure for detailed procedures.

The expectation is that contact is maintained with siblings placed separately and some form of contact will be maintained with the birth family throughout the child's life if this is safe and actively benefits the child. Research indicates that openness in adoption is key in adoptive placements and offers continuity when contact is not possible.

The service is committed to preventing delay for children and supports fostering for adoption where appropriate in order to prevent delay for the child. Family finding should begin as soon as adoption is under consideration, and at the latest when the Agency Decision Maker decides that the child should be placed for adoption or a Placement Order is made.

Support available to enable this permanence option:

  • A clear multi-agency support plan;
  • See Adoption Support Procedure for the range of support available, including financial support.

Available legal orders to support this permanence option:

  • Adoption Order.

9.4 Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters

The Children and Families Act 2014 imposes a duty to consider placements with carers who are approved as both adopters and foster carers. See Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters Procedure.

9.5 Special Guardianship (SGO)

Special Guardianship Order provides an alternative legal status for children and provides greater security and commitment than long term fostering, but without the absolute legal severance from the birth family that stems from an Adoption Order (Special Guardianship Guidance, DFES, 2005). It is a legal route to permanence for children for whom adoption is not appropriate.

The Special Guardian will have parental responsibility for the child and may exercise this to the exclusion of all others with parental responsibility, apart from another Special Guardian. There are limits to the decisions a Special Guardian can make, for instance they cannot change the child's surname or take them out of the country without the permission of the court or the agreement of all of the people with parental responsibility. The birth parents also retain the right to consent or not to adoption.

Special Guardians may be supported, including financially, by the local authority and will have the right to request an assessment for support services at any time after the Order is made. See Special Guardianship Orders Procedures for detailed procedures. The level and extent of support needed should be established by undertaking a formal assessment at the point of completion of the Schedule 21 court report.

While there is limited research on the impact of Special Guardianship to inform practice the following link offers an overview from the Department of Education's publication on Investigating Special Guardianship experiences, challenges and outcomes which workers might find useful.

However, in Cumbria over two thirds of the special guardianship arrangements are kinship placements and therefore the research regarding kinship placements can be considered. The complexity of these arrangements regarding contact and support needs close attention to detail to ensure that special guardians are equipped to meet the on-going needs of the children or young person throughout their childhood.

Support available to enable this permanence option:

  • A clear multi-agency SGO support plan;
  • See Special Guardianship Orders Procedure for the support available.

Available legal orders to support this permanence option:

  • Supervision Order;

See Applications for Special Guardianship Orders

9.6 Child Arrangements Orders

Child Arrangements Orders were introduced in the Children and Families Act 2014 and replace Contact orders and Residence Orders.

A CAO is a court order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following:

  1. With whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact; and
  2. When a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.

The “residence” aspects of a CAO can last until the child reaches 18 years unless discharged earlier by the Court or by the making of a Care Order.

The “contact” aspects of a CAO cease to have effect when the child reaches 16 years, unless the court is satisfied that the circumstances of the child are exceptional.

A person named in the order as a person with whom the child is to live, will have Parental Responsibility for the child while the order remains in force. Where a person is named in the order as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact, but is not named in the order as a person with whom the child is to live, the court may provide in the order for that person to have Parental Responsibility for the child while the order remains in force.

Child Arrangements Orders are private law orders, and cannot be made in favour of a local authority. Where a child is the subject of a Care Order, there is a general duty on the local authority to promote contact between the child and the parents. A Contact Order can be made under section 34 of the Children Act 1989 requiring the local authority to allow the child to have contact with a named person.

A court which is considering making, varying or discharging a Child Arrangements Orders, including making any directions or conditions which may be attached to such an order, must have regard to the paramountcy principle, the 'no order' principle and the welfare checklist under the Children Act 1989.

Interim Child Arrangements Orders can be made.

Where a child would otherwise have to be placed with strangers, a placement with family or friends/Connected Persons may be identified as a preferred option and the carers may be encouraged and supported to apply for a Child Arrangements Orders where this will be in the best interests of the child.

The holder of a Child Arrangements Order does not have the right to consent to the child's adoption nor to appoint a guardian; in addition, he/she may not change the child's name nor arrange for the child's emigration without the consent of all those with Parental Responsibility or the leave of the court.

Whilst support may continue for as long as the Child Arrangements Order remains in force, the aim will be to make arrangements which are self-sustaining in the long term.

As was the case with Contact and Residence Orders, any person can apply for a Child Arrangements Order. The following can apply for a Child Arrangements Order without needing the leave of the court. In addition, any person who is not automatically entitled to apply for a Child Arrangements Order may seek leave of the court to do so:

  • Any parent (whether or not they have Parental Responsibility for the child), guardian or special guardian of the child;
  • Any person named, in a Child Arrangements Order that is in force with respect to the child, as a person with whom the child is to live;
  • Any party to a marriage (whether or not subsisting) in relation to whom the child is a child of the family - this allows step-parents (including those in a civil partnership) and former step-parents who fulfil this criteria to apply as of right;
  • Any person with whom the child has lived for a period of at least three years - this period need not be continuous but must not have begun more than five years before, or ended more than three months before, the making of the application; or
  • Any person:
    • Who has the consent of each of the persons in named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live;
    • In any case where there is an existing order for care in force, has the consent of each person in who favour the order was made;
    • In any case where the child is in the care of a local authority, who has the consent of that authority;
    • In whose favour a Child Arrangements Order has been made in relation to the 'contact' aspects and who has been awarded Parental Responsibility by the court (i.e. they would be able to apply for a Child Arrangements Order in relation to the 'residence' aspects);
    • In any other case, has the consent of everyone with parental responsibility for the child.
  • A local authority foster carer is entitled to apply for a child arrangements order relating to whom the child is to live, and/or when the child is to live any person, if the child has lived with him for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application;
  • A relative of a child is entitled to apply for a child arrangements order relating to whom the child is to live, and/or when the child is to live any person, if the child has lived with the relative for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application. (A relative is a child's grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (by full or half blood), or by marriage or civil partnership.)

A Child Arrangements Order specifying with whom the child is to live has the following advantages:

  1. It gives Parental Responsibility to the carer whilst maintaining the parents' Parental Responsibility;
  2. The child will no longer be Looked After and there need be no social work involvement, therefore, unless this is identified as necessary;
  3. There is no review process;
  4. The child will not be Looked After and so less stigma is attached to the placement.

A Child Arrangements Order has the following disadvantages:

  1. It is less secure than Adoption or Special Guardianship in that an application can be made to revoke the Order. However, the Court making the order can be asked to attach a condition refusing a parent's right to seek revocation without leave of the court;
  2. There is no formal requirement for continuing support to the family after the Order is made;
  3. There is no professional reviewing of the arrangements after the Order unless a new application to court is made, for example by the parents for contact or revocation. (NB New applications to court may be expensive to defend, and the carers would have to bear the cost if not entitled to assistance with legal costs).

9.7 Long Term Fostering

For those children who remain Looked After, an important route to permanence is long term foster care. The current short term foster placement may be assessed to decide if it can meet the needs of the child for permanence, or a new placement may be identified as a result of an assessment and matching process.

This option should be considered for older children who retain strong links to their birth families. It can also be a positive option for those children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties due to the impact of past adversity and have high levels of support needs.

Long term fostering has the following advantages as a Permanence Plan

  1. The local authority retains a role in negotiating between the foster carers and the birth family over issues such as contact;
  2. There is continuing Social Work support to the child and foster family in a placement that is regularly reviewed to ensure that the child's needs are met;
  3. It maintains legal links to the birth family who can still play a part in the decision making for the child.

Long term fostering has the following disadvantages as a Permanence Plan

  1. Lack of Parental responsibility for the carers;
  2. Continuing Social Work involvement;
  3. Regular Looked After reviews, which may be regarded as stigmatising/destabilising to the placement;
  4. The child is not a legal member of the family. If difficulties arise there may be less willingness to persevere and seek resolution;
  5. Post care and/or post 18 the carers have no legal responsibility towards the young person.

Support available to enable this permanence option:

  • A clear plan of support as outlined in the care plan and the placement and support plan. This should be reviewed regularly at the child's care review;
  • The foster carer will have an allocated supervising social worker from the fostering service and will have access to a range of support and training;
  • Weekly allowance is paid to meet the costs of caring for the child;
  • Foster carer payment is paid according to the Payment for Skills fee;
  • For those children placed with Independent Fostering Agencies (IFA) the costs for the child's placement are agreed between the IFA and Cumbria County Council and confirmed on the Individual Placement Agreement (IPA).

Available legal orders to support this permanence option:

  • Care Order.

It is critically important that the local authority formally agrees to the placement becoming permanent and that these decisions receive the same scrutiny and support as other decisions for permanent placements. In Cumbria all matches for permanence in foster care are considered at the Fostering Panel and a decision made by the Agency Decision Maker. If the plan was previously adoption, then the flowchart for the change of plan from adoption to long term fostering needs to be followed.

Where long term fostering was not the original plan the rationale for a change should be set out following a permanence planning meeting and presented to the Permanence Panel:

  • Why the original plan is no longer viable;
  • What efforts have been made to find an alternative long term option in the birth family;
  • How the proposed carers meet the child's profile of needs;
  • Consideration of any legal orders in place.

Research indicates that promoting stability and quality of care in long term foster care is key in achieving positive outcomes. Research also indicates that where foster care is stable with a good quality of care and strong support, a positive outcome is similar to the pattern for adopted children.

A permanence placement should be a planned placement and not be the result of unresolved planning. Cumbria is committed to offering the best possible opportunities for children in long term foster care and as such children should be matched to a family. In some circumstances it may be appropriate to provide a short term placement with a view to this becoming a long term arrangement. Prior to placement the carer's capacity to be permanent carers and meet the needs of the child is established.

Contact within a long term fostering arrangement needs to be based on the child's evolving needs and reviewed over time.

When a pattern of trust, respect and security has been established between the carer and the child(ren) then consideration should be given to securing an alternative legal permanence through special guardianship or adoption as the basis for a committed and enduring relationship.

In other circumstances, a match for permanence will be considered by Panel and the ADM prior to the child knowing the carers, and introductions and placement carefully planned

Where a child/young person is placed within an Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) and a change in care plan is made to long term fostering the same questions identified at 9.6 will be tested. Where the proposal is that a child/young person continues within an IFA as a long term fostering placement approval for funding must already have been agreed by the Assistant Director before going to the Fostering Panel, See flowchart 

CLA Work Flow and CLA Review Work Flow - see Documents Library

9.8 Permanence and Residential Care

For most children a placement in residential care should be identified in their care plan as a short term transition with the aim of preparing, enabling and supporting the child to return to live in a family setting. Long term residential care may better meet the needs of small numbers of children and young people and lead to better outcomes if it is a clear decision made on assessed needs.

The needs of older children and young people must be considered in relation to achieving permanence in their lives. Some young people may not be able to live with birth parents, nor wish to be in a foster home but prefer to live in a residential children's home. However, the care planning process must identify adults such as wider family and friends, other connected people and Independent Visitors who can provide a long term trusting relationship and emotional support and which will provide continuing support, particularly during periods of transition. Where the proposed plan for a young person is residential (including Children who are the responsibility of the SEND service) will be presented to permanence panel. 

Research states that good quality work with families can help the young person build bridges back to his/her parents or other family members who may be able to provide that support even though it is not possible for the young person to live at home for a period of time.

It is essential to support young people to make the transition towards independence with the provision of high quality leaving care support.

CLA Work Flow and CLA Review Work Flow - see Documents Library

10. Contact with Birth Family Members and Others

Contact must always be for the benefit of the child and not the parents or other relatives. Plans for contact must be included in the permanence plan.

Contact may take place with birth parents, siblings and other people who help the child maintain and enhance their identity and emotional wellbeing. 

11. Good Practice Guidance

The following practice guidance is not exhaustive, it is drawn from research and consultation with young people, parents, carers and practitioners.

11.1 Supporting reunification with birth or extended family

Research points to

  • The importance of clearly communicating to the family what needs to happen to enable the child to return home, and within what timescales;
  • The importance of exploring family ties and long term relationships with family, school and community;
  • The use of Family Group Conferences as an effective way of facilitating the above.

11.2  Identifying the best permanence option

The permanency planning process, informed by multi-agency contributions, will identify which permanence option is most likely to meet the needs of the individual child, taking account of his/her wishes and feelings.

Issues to consider:

  • The assessment process must ask how stability for this child will be achieved;
  • Long term stability means the sense of a permanent home with the same family or group of people, as part of the same community and culture, and with long-term continuity of relationships and identity;
  • Short or medium term stability or continuity will be important for children who are going to stay in care for a brief period before going home and for children who are going to need new permanent arrangements. The quality of a child's attachments and life will be detrimentally affected by uncertainties, separations from what /who is known and changes of school and placement;
  • Educational experiences, links with extended family, hobbies and friendships and support to carers, contribute to guarding against disruption and placement breakdown;
  • The importance of carefully listening to what children want from the placement, helping the relationship between carer and child to build, making thorough plans around contact with family, providing vigorous support during crisis times and taking a sufficiently flexible attitude to adoption by carers;
  • The older a child is, the less likely it is that the child will secure a permanent family through adoption;
  • The larger the family group of children, the harder it is to secure a single placement that will meet all the needs of all the children.

11.3 Twin Track or Parallel Planning

Social workers are encouraged to consider working to this model; working towards a child's return home whilst at the same time developing an alternative Permanence Plan, within strictly limited timescales.

Where children's cases are before the court in Care Proceedings, the Court require twin track planning to be reflected in the Care Plan - see also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline.

See also Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters Procedure.

11.4 Placement/Contact with Siblings - Issues to Consider

Wherever it is in the best interests of each individual child, siblings should be placed together. Being able to live with brothers and sisters where they are also Looked After is an important protective factor for many Looked After children. Positive sibling relationships provide support both in childhood and adulthood and can be particularly valuable during changes in a young person's life, such as leaving care.

A number of factors however, can mitigate against achieving the positive placement of brothers and sisters together – they may have entered care at different times and/or they may have very different needs related to past experiences, current emotional and behavioural development and age, especially where there are significant age differences. There may be practical difficulties in accommodating large sibling groups together. In some circumstances a child may have been abused by a brother or sister. An understanding of family functioning and family history, providing appropriate support to all parties, as well as listening to the wishes and feelings of children, are therefore key to informing these judgements.

There are often practical steps that can be taken to overcome some of the more logistical reasons for being unable to place sibling groups together. Where siblings placed together in foster care may be separated when one turns 18, consideration should be given to whether Staying Put arrangements may be beneficial for all the children involved.

There will, however, always be circumstances in which it is not possible to place siblings together and children should be supported to understand why they cannot live with their siblings. In these circumstances where it is in the best interests of each individual child, sibling contact should be promoted and maintained.

If it is likely that brothers and sisters who are not able to be placed together at the start of a care episode will remain Looked After for the medium to long term, arrangements should be made as part of each child's Care Plan which will enable brothers and sisters to live together, taking into account the other factors.

Where the plan is for adoption, in order to reduce delay, an early decision should be taken as to whether it is in the best interests of each child to be placed together or separately, and the impact on each child of that decision. The decision should be based on a balanced assessment of the individual needs of each child in the group, and the likely or possible consequences of each option on each child. Factors that may need to be considered will include: the nature of the sibling group (do the siblings know each other/ how are they related); whether the children have formed an attachment; the health needs of each child; and each child's view (noting that a child's views and perceptions will change over time). It is important that a sibling assessment is undertaken in these circumstances in order to make an evidenced decision which the child/young person can access later in life to understand the actions taken.

11.5 Direct contact with birth family members and others

Contact must always be for the benefit of the child, not the parents or other relatives.

It may serve one or all of the following functions:

  • To maintain a child's identity. Consolidating the new with the old;
  • To provide reassurance for the child;
  • To provide an ongoing source of information for the child;
  • To give the child continuing permission to live with the adoptive family;
  • To minimise the sense of loss;
  • To assist with the process of tracing;
  • To give the adopters a secure sense of the right to parent. This will make the parenting task easier.

Direct contact will generally work best if all parties accept/agree to:

  1. The plan for permanence;
  2. The parental role of the permanent carers;
  3. The benefit of contact;
  4. The adoptive parents being present.

Direct contact is not likely to be successful in situations where a parent:

  • Disagrees with the plan for permanence;
  • Does not accept the parental role of the permanent carer and their own minimal role with the child;
  • Has proved to be unreliable in their commitment to contact in the past;
  • Has not got a significant attachment with the child.

The wishes of the child to join a new family without direct contact, must be considered and given considerable weight at any age.

If direct contact is a part of the Permanence Plan, a formal agreement setting out how contact will take place, who with, where and how frequently must be negotiated before placement, and reviewed regularly throughout the child's life.

11.6 Indirect contact with birth family members and others

We do not all share the same sense of family - it means different things to different people. It helps when children are helped to understand to whom they are related, especially if they have complicated family trees including half-brothers or sisters living in different places. Identity is built on solid information.

Wherever possible, indirect contact between the child and his or her new family with people from the past should be facilitated:

  1. To leave open channels of communication in case more contact is in the child's interests in the future;
  2. To provide information (preferably two-way) to help the child maintain and enhance their identity and to provide the birth relative with some comfort in knowing of the child's progress.

Indirect contact must be negotiated prior to placement, and all parties should be asked to enter into an agreement with one another about the form and frequency that the contact will take. Renegotiations of the contact should only take place if the child's needs warrant it.

All parties to the agreement will need to accept that as the child becomes older and is informed more fully about the arrangements for indirect contact, the child will have a view regarding its continuation. No contact arrangements can be promised to remain unaltered during the child's childhood. Those involved need to accept that contact may cease if it is no longer in the child's interests. Alternatively, an older child may need to change to direct contact.

11.7 Clearly communicating the Permanence Plan

  • Communicating a Permanence Plan effectively involves setting it out clearly and concisely as part of the Care Plan, in a way that acts as a useful reference to all involved during the Review process;
  • Good quality Care Plans set out clear, concise statements about intended outcomes;
  • Make timescales clear.

11.8 Legal routes to permanence

For younger children unable to be returned home where adoption is the plan, a Care Order and Placement Order are likely to be necessary unless parents are clearly relinquishing the child and are in agreement with the plan and the placement choice.

For children for whom adoption is not appropriate, each case will need to be considered on its merits. The decision between Special Guardianship Order, Child Arrangements Order and Long Term Fostering under a Care Order will depend on the individual needs of the child set alongside the advantages and disadvantages of each legal route.

12. Family Group Conferences

Family Group Conferences (FGCs) are part of a model of intervention with extended family networks aimed at empowering families with responsibility for coming up with solutions to their problems. Family Group Conferences Procedure: Principles and Practice (to follow) outlines this approach.

They are NOT primarily a means of 'nominating' family members to become carers for Looked After children and should not be seen in this way. It is however possible that from a reflection upon the issues which have led a child to become accommodated, ideas as to how they may be cared for within the extended family will emerge.

It should be noted that where a placement of a child who is in care with a family member is proposed this will be subject to the proposed carer being eligible for consideration as a foster carer (see Placement with Connected Persons Procedure) or to the agreement of the Court. Where a child is accommodated under Section 20 it is it is important that the parent agrees with or accepts the arrangement. Please note that a placement under S20 will not usually be a satisfactory legal basis for a permanent placement, though may be appropriate for some older young people where it is enshrined in a written agreement between all parties.

FGCs may have a useful function in terms of helping the network to come to terms with a child's situation, to consider how contact arrangements may best be made and to support a parent in overcoming the difficulties that prevent them resuming care of a child.

FGCs are a specialised model of intervention and problem solving requiring a skilled independent chair.

13. Permanence Planning Meetings

Permanency Planning Meetings (PPMs) are the means by which work towards achieving permanency for a child is co-ordinated and progressed. They will formulate the plan to be presented for consideration at the Permanence Panel.

PPMs can be held at any time and for many children there will be more than one, as their situation and our understanding of their needs and circumstances evolves.

As each Child Looked After must have a permanence plan by the time of their second CLA review, the latest point for the first PPM and presentation to the Permanence Panel will be before this date.

Role of the Permanency Planning Meeting

The Review should set the overall direction of the plan; the role of the PPM is to undertake the detailed work in formulating and implementing these plans and in particular to ensure:

  • Full consideration of whether it is the right plan for the child;
  • There is effective ongoing communication between the professionals involved;
  • A sense of urgency is maintained and timescales adhered to;
  • Momentum is not unavoidably lost when changes of personnel occur.

Where it becomes clear within the PPM or Panel that a particular option is not feasible or is unlikely to meet the child's needs then a change of plan needs to be considered and presented to the child's CLA review.

Where there are significant differences of opinion between key professionals the PPM should clarify these and identify a process for resolving this. The PPM should identify available options and evaluate the advantages and feasibility of each, for consideration by the Permanence Panel.

Who Attends a Permanency Planning Meeting?

A PPM is chaired by the District Team Manager and attended by

  • Child's Social Worker;
  • Child's Guardian invited where involved;
  • Member of staff from Adoption and  Fostering  service- or their view given in writing;
  • IRO where appropriate;
  • Others as individually identified (e.g. Virtual School, CLA nurse).

Agenda for an Initial Permanency Planning Meeting

  1. Identify child's needs and which permanency options are being pursued for the child(ren), in what order of preference;
  2. Confirm agreement of parties and other significant 'stakeholders' to the overall plans being pursued: where there are actual or potential areas of difference clarify what these are and how these can be addressed;
  3. Outline overall responsibilities and specific tasks to be undertaken;
  4. Where care plans are being developed for siblings, and the implications of these;
  5. Set timescales in relation to key dates (court, SHOPA decision, Adoption Panel, forthcoming reviews etc.);
  6. Arrangements for contact, with parents, siblings (if needed) other family members, people of importance (See Section 10, Contact with Birth Family Members and Others);
  7. Date for Permanence Panel.

Agenda for Subsequent Permanency Planning Meeting

  1. Check on completion of agreed tasks;
  2. Identify any changes or developments that might affect that plan;
  3. Follow agenda as above from Items 2 onwards;
  4. Where there appears to be delay in pursuing the plan to consider whether the matter needs to be escalated to Senior Manager.

14. Permanence Panel

All Children Looked After must have a permanence plan before their second CLA review. The plan must be considered at Permanence Panel prior to this review. The Permanence Panel meets fortnightly on a county basis, considering permanence plans and makes a recommendation. It also sets tasks and timescales to achieve the plan, or asks for consideration of a different plan. Where circumstances lead to a reconsideration of the agreed plan, the matter needs to return to Panel. The panel is in place to reduce delay and ensure robust plans are in place for children.

In addition, the Permanence Panel carries out the functions identified above in relation to decisions for permanence in residential care, and SGO arrangements and support plans. Permanence plans for Adoption are considered by the ADM as part of the “Should be placed for Adoption” process and do not need to be considered at permanency panel. Proposals to change a child plan from Adoption to another permanence plan will be considered at Permanence panel prior to the review of the Agency Decision. The permanency plan for Children relinquished for adoption needs to be considered by Adoption panel and does not come to permanence panel.