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Children (Visiting Policy)

Volume 77: debated on Thursday 18 April 1985

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will make a statement on his policy towards the visiting of children in care and living with their families.

We have reviewed this issue following the tragic death of Jasmine Beckford and the Chief Inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate has now written to all local authority Directors of Social Services in England advising them on the discharge of their responsibilities for these children. The text of his letter follows. It lays particular emphasis on the visiting of children who are subject to a care order or parental rights resolution but allowed to live at home with their family.Good practice requires the regular and frequent visiting of such children. How often will depend on individual circumstances. The effect of paragraph 4 of this letter is to secure that, for example, children under five would be visited not less often than every six weeks, but in many cases visits would need to be much more frequent, indeed daily if necessary.The Social Services Inspectorate propose an early inspection of the supervision of social workers in the assessment and monitoring of children in need of protection.Following is the letter:To: Directors of Social Services

Dear Director
  • Grave public concern has been expressed about the circumstances of the death of Jasmine Beckford. I am writing to you at this stage, before a formal inquiry has begun, about a subject that is causing particular anxiety: the arrangements for ensuring the well-being of children in the care of a local authority subject to a care order or a parental rights resolution who are allowed to live with their own families.
  • 2. The local authority has in such cases the powers and duties of a parent or guardian. Returning the child to the family must clearly be part of a planned process of rehabilitation. That process must include sufficient oversight to confirm that the child is likely to flourish and that its welfare is likely to be promoted by a permanent return to its family.
  • 3. I am writing therefore to remind you of your responsibilities for such children and the essential requirement for social workers to visit and see such children in order to ensure their safety and well-being. A child should not be placed back with its family unless such visits can be ensured and a child's placement should not be changed by the parents without the local authority's agreement.
  • 4. There is no specific legislative requirement concerning frequency of visiting such children. Nevertheless, conscientious discharge of the local authority's duties and of good professional practice demands regular and frequent contact between the responsible worker and the child, particularly in the early weeks of a child's return home. It may appear that frequent visiting is no longer necessary when the discharge of a care order or the rescinding of a parental rights resolution is being contemplated, but I strongly recommend that the frequency of visiting should not be less than that prescribed by Regulation 21 of the Boarding-Out of Children Regulations 1955.
  • 5. Local authorities have a statutory duty to review the cases of all children in their care at least every six months. I recommend that, where a child in care is placed with its family, the placement be reviewed by a social services manager or appropriate professional officer within 2–4 weeks and thereafter as necessary. This review and subsequent reviews should examine all aspects of the child's well-being and should include first-hand reports by the social worker of visits to the family with particular reference to the physical and emotional development of the child, so that the authority can take an informed decision as to whether or not the child should remain with its family. The review might also wish to consider if there is a need for additional support to the family.
  • 6. Social workers who have day to day responsibility for such children should be provided with the necessary support, guidance, supervision and management. You may wish to consider in addition administrative procedures to ensure that effective mechanisms exist to arrange for the removal of a child if necessary.
  • 7. The purpose of this letter is to concentrate attention upon a small group of children who may be particularly vulnerable. You and your colleagues bear the heavy responsibility of identifying the individual children concerned and of acting appropriately. I hope that my recommendations will strengthen the implementation of policies of rehabilitating children in care with their natural families.
  • Yours faithfully,
    W. B. UTTING,
    Chief Inspector,
    Social Services Inspectorate