SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
In order to strengthen the decision making processes in respect of the placing of children and young people in the looked after system, a weekly Service Manager level Accommodation Panel will consider cases before decisions are made.
This process will assist social workers and team managers when considering requests from parents to accommodate their child, as they will have to inform parents that this decision will be referred to a panel of senior managers.
The Panel will ensure consistency in decision making across the Safeguarding and Family Support Service and will also ensure that any decision to accommodate a child or initiate care proceedings is made in full consideration of the facts of the case, the identified risk and any other viable alternatives.
This Panel should not by-pass the existing line management decision-making processes but should rather run alongside them.
Accordingly, Team Managers should, in the first instance, discuss relevant cases with their respective Service Manager and only refer to the Panel with that Service Manager's approval. Each respective Service Manager will retain the discretion to decline a request for the initiation of legal proceedings or accommodation without recourse to the Panel. However, no proceedings or accommodation can be agreed without the agreement of the Panel.
This process is not relevant for Emergency Protection Orders which, given their very nature, will not allow for the delay of up to 6 days for Senior Management approval. There is also the danger that a perceived lack of action on our part where risks have been identified within the family may push the police to securing accommodation via Police Powers of Protection. To address this risk the Panel process will have to be shared with the police.
This process will also have implications for the Chairs of Child Protection Conferences. Whereas previously they may have recorded a decision as for the team to convene a legal Planning Meeting (for example in cases of ongoing non-compliance with the CP Plan) this decision should now be recorded as being for the team to discuss a referral to the Accommodation Panel with their Service Manager.
This Panel process may be especially valuable in assisting the decision-making process in cases where there are long-term issues of chronic neglect with inconsistent periods of improvement i.e. families that "bump along the bottom" of the threshold.
- In all cases decision to refer to the Accommodation Panel should ordinarily be made only following a discussion and agreement between a team manager and their Service Manager. This discussion and the decision made by the Service Manager whether or not to refer to the Panel should be recorded onto Care Director by the Team Manager. No referral to the Panel can be made without Service Manager approval although in the absence of the case managing Team Manager another Team Manager (preferably within the area base) can take responsibility for having this discussion with the Service Manager;
- The Panel will make decisions as to whether:
- It is appropriate for the social work team to send a Letter Before Proceedings;
- Subsequent to a Letter Before Proceedings having been sent (and following further discussions between the Team Manager and Service Manager) whether it is appropriate to issue an application for Care Proceedings;
- It is appropriate to Accommodate any young person under Section 20 of the Children Act.
- The Accommodation Panel will generally meet on a Wednesday morning. The Panel will be constituted by two Service Managers (one of whom will act as Chair) with representatives of legal Services, Fostering and Adoption, Intensive Support Team, Contact Team, Case Manager and Finance. In addition a fieldwork manager will attend each meeting on a rota basis. The panel will review relevant reports and chronologies in order to make an informed decision regarding any proposal to place a child in care;
- Given the timescales, it will not always be appropriate for a referral to be made to the Panel where children have been made subject of Police Powers of Protection or an Emergency Protection Order and the ongoing plan is to apply for an Interim Care Order. Where timescales do allow, the case should be referred to Panel. Where they do not allow, case discussions should be held with the relevant Service Manager for a decision to be made. Relevant reports should then be forwarded to the Service Manager so that the Panel can consider the case on a retrospective basis;
- Referrals to the Accommodation Panel can take the form of an e mail to the Accommodation panel inbox email@example.com with relevant reports, chronologies and, where appropriate, Letters Before Proceedings and minutes of legal Planning Meetings enclosed as attachments. In addition, the most up to date legal advice should be included in any report. This will enable the panel to make as well-informed decision as possible regarding the proposal to admit a young person to care;
- Any reports presented must include a description of what the desired objective is in terms of the plan to accommodate or instigate proceedings; what the likely impact will be and an assessment as to how the child/young person would benefit from such a plan;
- It should also include a description of the work and services that have already been attempted and some analysis as to the reasons for any lack of success. The Panel is unlikely to agree to the instigation of proceeding or accommodation simply because there is a lack of progress or compliance with the existing Safeguarding Plan;
- In terms of Section 20 proposals, they will be guided by the principal that no young person should be accommodated unless:
- There are clear safeguarding concerns and the accommodation is as a direct alternative to care proceedings; or
- There has been a programme of work completed by the Intensive Support Team who are in agreement that accommodation is the only and best alternative plan for the young person.
- Agenda items and reports will need to be submitted by 12 noon of the preceding Friday to ensure that the case is discussed the following Wednesday. Team Managers will receive a formal response from the Panel by the end of that working day;
- Notes will be taken from the Panel which will be entered onto Care Director. This will ensure that there is full and transparent accountability for the decision making processes;
- The Team Managers from the Fostering Team will also be e mailed the notes from the Panel so that they will be informed of the potential need for a placement at the earliest opportunity and they can start planning the placement process;
- Where a decision has been made to decline to agree to place a young person in care it will be the responsibility of the relevant Team Manager to keep the situation under review and re-refer to the panel (with their Service Manager approval) if the family circumstances deteriorate to such a degree that it indicates a different decision may be made;
- Where any agreement to issue an application for proceedings or to accommodate a young person creates the need for an out of district placement or independent fostering placement the Team Manager should discuss this need with their Service Manager. It will then be the responsibility of that Service Manager to discuss the request with the Service Director. In the absence of the Service Director the decision making responsibility for external placements is delegated first to the LAC Service manager.