Permanence Planning Guidance

1. Purpose

Luton Council's Children Services aims to secure permanence for all children in care in a timely manner that is led by the individual needs of each child and which affords each child the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Securing permanence is a key consideration for all children from the day they come into care. It also needs to be incorporated into planning for those children on the edge of care to ensure where possible, that children coming into care are placed where they can remain, limiting the need for placement moves.

Permanence can be achieved through many different routes – children and young people returning to live with birth family, placed with friends or relatives, permanent new or existing foster families, adoptive families, carers that have been granted a Child Arrangement Order or Special Guardianship Order or, for a minority of children, residential care.

This guidance sets out the local authority's policy, procedures and best practice standards regarding permanency planning for looked after children and those on the edge of care, which are to be applied throughout our involvement with each child.

2. Defining Permanency

In the context of this policy, Permanence is defined as the "framework of emotional, physical and legal conditions that gives a child a sense of security, continuity, commitment and identity" (Adoption and Permanence Task Force).

Permanency for children has three particular aspects:

  • Legal - The appropriate legal framework which best provides security and stability for the child or young person. It confers certain rights and decision making responsibilities in law upon the adult or corporate body in whose care the child is placed. This will vary according to their particular needs and Care plan. For example, staying with birth parents who have Parental Responsibility; Adoption order; or permanent placement with Foster carers under a care order Children Act 1989 Court Orders such as a Child Arrangement Order or Special Guardianship Order;
  • Psychological - It provides the opportunity for a child to feel attached to an adult who provides a stable, loving and secure relationship;
  • Physical or environmental - It provides a stable home environment within a familiar community where the child's global needs are met.

3. Principles Underlying Permanency Planning Routes to Permanency

Permanency planning for Looked After children and those on the edge of care is based on an awareness of children's need to form and maintain emotional bonds with adults who are able to meet their needs on a long-term and predictable basis throughout their childhood. This provides a basis of stability from which the child can develop physically, emotionally and intellectually.

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.

The assessment process must ask how stability for this child will be achieved.

Children and young people should not remain in the care of the local authority any longer than is necessary for their welfare. Action to discharge from care should be taken at the earliest opportunity consistent with his or her welfare.

Care planning should be undertaken in a timely way to avoid drift or delay, thereby minimising any uncertainty.

Every effort should be made for children and young people to be brought up within their own birth family.

Where children and young people cannot be brought up in their birth family, arrangements for them to be cared for on a permanent basis by relatives (or other connected persons) needs to be explored at the earliest opportunity. Other forms of permanent care are then considered when these options are not viable. Whilst it is generally considered that a safe placement with family or friends is preferential to stranger placements, it is important that exploration of these options does not disproportionately delay securing permanence for the child. Therefore, it may be necessary to consider this in parallel with other permanency options.

Only young people who are assessed as unable to live in a family situation should be considered for care in a residential setting. This care should focus, where possible, on supporting the young person to reach a point where they can live within a family setting.

Siblings should remain together where possible, recognising that the sibling relationship is likely to be a person's most long-term relationship throughout their life. Detailed individual assessments and careful analysis must underpin any decision to separate siblings (see Appendix C: The Placement of Siblings: Together or Apart).

Permanency planning also needs to recognise the importance of other close ties within the birth family and it is essential that these relationships receive adequate consideration.

The child or young person's wishes and feelings (age appropriate) must be actively sought and taken into consideration at all key points of the permanency planning process.

The child or young person's ethnic, cultural, religious, and language background must be taken into account and plans must be explicit as to how these will be met in any placement. Every effort should be made for the child or young person to be brought up in a family which provides the best match to meet these needs. However, this should not prevent them from being placed with carers from a different background if they can best meet the child/young person's other identified needs and it avoids delay in achieving permanence for the child.

4. Routes to Permanency

Wherever possible, children should be placed in local provision unless it has been clearly identified that such a placement poses a risk to the on-going safety and wellbeing of the child. A decision to place a child further must have been considered within the context of the permanence plan.

The options for permanency are (please see Appendix E: Permanency Planning Overview Flowchart):

4.1 Parallel Planning

As part of Permanence Planning for Children Looked After, parallel Plans must be drawn up to ensure that alternative plans have been explored and are available without delay, if the preferred permanent outcome proves unachievable.

Consideration can be given to a range of alternative options at the same time to avoid delay in planning. The type of permanency being sought will be determined by the needs of the child or young person. Parallel Planning options will be considered at the Permanency Planning Meetings.

Where children's cases are before the court in Care Proceedings, the court requires Parallel Planning to be reflected in the Care Plan.

4.2 Returning Home

See: Placements with Parents Procedure.

The first stage within permanence planning is work with families and children in need, to support them staying together. Staying at home offers the best chance of stability. This however has to be balanced against the risk of harm to the child.

If a child has been removed, every effort needs to be made for the child or young person to be reunified with their birth family. Again, this must be balanced against any possible risk of further harm to the child or young person.

Procedures in place to effectively support families through the Child in Need and Child Protection Plans prior to accommodation should reduce the demand for additional assessments. Where there have been long standing concerns the Pre Proceedings Framework may be utilised within the Public Law Outline which may identify the need for further assessments.

Where previous children have been removed from a parent or parents, a reassessment of their circumstances may need to be made to ascertain any change or progress.

It is essential as part of any plan for a child to return home, to provide effective monitoring and support through a robust multi-agency network, working in partnership with the parents/carers. This ensures the provision of effective help to parents and the child as well as an early alert to potential breakdown.

4.3 Placement with Family or Friends/Connected Persons

(See Placements with Connected Persons Procedure for further details).

If the child or young person cannot be returned to their birth parent(s), every effort must be made to secure a placement with a family member or friend (Connected Person) as their carer, provided it is safe to do so.

A Family Group Conference should take place at the earliest opportunity to identify whether anyone in the network may be able to provide secure and stable care based on the child's needs. This process reduces the number of viability assessments being undertaken. It is good practice, that where possible, Viability Assessments are carried out jointly by the child's social worker and a social worker from Placement service. This should establish a view as to whether it is reasonable to pursue a full assessment or whether there are fundamental reasons not to consider that placement as suitable.

It is essential that the Connected Person being assessed is informed of the long term expectations, including the financial implications of caring for the child or young person

A Permanent Placement with a Connected Person within the family network has the potential advantage of enabling the child to remain within their own family or network. However, these arrangements can present challenges:

  • The parenting concerns that were present for the birth parent(s) may also be apparent in the extended network;
  • The connected carer may not be able to restrict involvement from the birth parent(s), which may undermine or destabilise the placement.

An assessment needs to fully explore these issues to ensure that a placement with connected carers will be safe and enduring.

Children placed with connected persons are considered to be 'looked after' by the Local Authority until such time as their carers are granted a Special Guardianship or Child Arrangements Order, (see below for further information).

4.4 Adoption

(See Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure for further details).

Adoption transfers Parental Responsibility from the birth parents and others, including the Local Authority, permanently and solely to the adopter.

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.

Adoptive placements can be achieved through the granting of a Placement Order or where the child has been formally relinquished by the birth parent(s). Where children are being relinquished for adoption by their parents, the safeguarding social worker should seek immediate advice from the Adoption Team Manager. See Relinquished Children Procedure.

Adoption has the following potential advantages as a permanence plan:

  • The adoptive carers exclusively hold parental responsibility;
  • The child or young person is no longer looked after;
  • There can be no future legal challenge to overturn the Adoption Order;
  • Decisions about continuing contact will usually be made by the new parents, on the child's behalf, who are most in touch with the child's needs. However, this will be subject to any Contact Order if made by the court at the time of the Adoption Order or later;
  • The child is a permanent family member;
  • Adoptive parents have the right to request an assessment for support services at any time after the order is made.

Adoption has the following potential disadvantages as a permanence plan:

  • It involves permanent legal separation from the birth family;
  • There is no review process;
  • Ongoing contact with the birth family is at the discretion of the adoptive parents unless there is a Contact Order in place.

Family finding should begin as soon as adoption is under consideration. Whilst a child usually cannot be placed for adoption until a Placement Order is made, potential adoptive families can be considered prior to this, where the Agency Decision Maker has decided that the child should be placed for adoption. A child can be placed with carers who will go on to adopt them if a Placement Order is made under some circumstances, (see next section).

4.5 Early Permanency (otherwise known as Dual Approval) / Concurrency / Fostering to Adopt (Including approved adopters being temporarily approved as foster carers)

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

The Children and Families Act 2014 imposes a duty on the Local Authority to consider placements with carers who are approved as both adopters and foster carers. The advantage of this being that, if the court decides that adoption is the appropriate plan and makes a Placement Order, the child does not have to move to another family, achieving permanence sooner for that child (see Section 3.4, Early Permanency (otherwise known as Dual Approval) / Concurrency / Fostering to Adopt (Including approved adopters being temporarily approved as foster carers)).

4.6 Permanent Fostering

(See also: Placements with Connected Person Procedure).

A permanent fostering arrangement can be with a family member or friend (connected person) who has been approved as a foster carer for a specific child, or with an in-house or independent fostering agency carer.

This option has proved to be particularly successful for older children who have retained strong links to their birth families, and where the foster carers wish for the continued involvement of the Local Authority.

Permanent fostering has the following potential advantages as a permanence plan:

  • The local authority shares parental responsibility where there is a Care Order and in all circumstances will have a key role in negotiating contact and other issues;
  • The Local Authority can share some of the day-to-day decision-making with foster carers, where appropriate, using Delegated Authority;
  • The Care Planning and Fostering Regulations 2015 allow for less frequent social work input and for greater decision making to be given to the foster carer where the child is to remain long term and the foster carer is assessed as being capable of acting in the parental capacity;
  • There is continuing social worker support to the child and the foster family, and the placement is regularly reviewed to ensure that the child's needs continue to be met;
  • It maintains legal links to the birth family which can still play a part in the decision making for the child.

Permanent Fostering has the following potential disadvantages as a permanence plan:

  • Lack of full Parental responsibility for the foster carers;
  • Continuing social work involvement and regular Looked After Children Reviews may be regarded as destabilising to the placement, where they are not welcomed by the child;
  • Possible stigma attached to the child or young person due to being in care;
  • The child is not a legal member of the family: This may hinder their view of belonging and if difficulties arise, some carers may be less willing to persevere and seek solution;
  • Post care and/or post 18 the carers have no legal responsibility towards the young person.

4.7 Special Guardianship

See: Application for Special Guardianship Orders Procedure.

A Special Guardianship Order should be considered for children who require permanent stability and security, but not the absolute legal break with their birth family that is associated with adoption. It can also provide an alternative for achieving permanence in families where adoption, for cultural or religious reasons, is not an option.

A Special Guardianship Order has the following potential advantages as a permanence plan:

  • The carers have majority Parental Responsibility and authority to make day to day decisions;
  • The arrangement has added legal security as leave of the court is required to discharge the Order, and will only be granted if a change of circumstances can be established;
  • Maintains legal links to the birth family;
  • The child or young person will no longer be in the care of the Local Authority and therefore ongoing regular local authority involvement may cease unless this is identified as necessary, in which case an assessment of the need for support must be made by the relevant Local Authority.

A Special Guardianship Order has the following potential disadvantages as a permanence plan:

  • May not bring the sense of belonging an Adoption Order may provide;
  • As the child or young person is not a legal member of the family it may hinder their sense of belonging and, if difficulties arise, some special guardians may be less willing to persevere and seek resolution;
  • Although there are restrictions on making an application to discharge the order, such an application is possible, and therefore the child, young person or carers may not feel totally secure;
  • Does not provide the financial security as in the case of permanent fostering;
  • The order lasts until the child reaches 18. After that time, there is no formal legal connection between the Special Guardian and the child.

4.8 Child Arrangement Orders

(see: Appendix B: Child Arrangements Orders).

Child Arrangements Orders were introduced in April 2014 by the Children and Families Act 2014 (which amended Section 8 Children Act 1989). They replace Contact Orders and Residence Orders.

A Child Arrangements Order means a court order regulating arrangements relating to:

These orders decide who the child is to live with and/or who the child will spend time with, and can be granted to more than one person whether they live together or not. If a Child Arrangements Order states that the child will live with a person, that person will have parental responsibility for that child until the order ceases. Contact with a child can either be direct e.g. fact to face meetings, or indirect e.g. by letter or exchange of cards.

Some orders will make very specific arrangements for the child; other orders will be more open with detailed arrangements to be made between the parties by agreement. Child Arrangements Orders are not only made in respect of parents; there can also be orders for arrangements between siblings, and wider family members. Sometimes the order will give directions that contact is to be supervised by a third person, or that contact is to take place in a specific location.

A Child Arrangement Order which specifies with whom the child is to live, has the following potential advantages as a permanence plan:

  • It gives Parental Responsibility to the carer whilst maintaining the parents' Parental Responsibility;
  • The child will no longer be Looked After and therefore, there need be no social work involvement, unless this is identified as necessary;
  • There is no review process;
  • The child will not be Looked After and so less stigma is attached to the placement;
  • Any contact is likely to be agreed and, if considered necessary by the Court, set out in a Contact Order.

A Child Arrangements Order has the following potential disadvantages as a permanence plan:

  • 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;
  • There is no formal continuing support to the family after the Order is made although in some instances, Child Arrangements Order Allowances may be payable by the local authority (discretionary);
  • 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).

5. Achieving a Permanence Plan

Permanence Tracking Meeting

(see Appendix A: Permanency Tracking Meetings Terms of Reference).

The Permanence Tracking Meeting (monthly) will monitor the progress of all permanence plans, including the use of Family Group Conferences and provide advice when a plan needs to be amended. It will challenge delay, escalating this when appropriate. The Permanency Tracking Meeting focuses on the overall plan for the child and not the individual needs of that child and the specific carers required to meet those needs. Those tasks are undertaken by Permanency Planning Meetings. The case specific planning and actions will be co-ordinated through the Permanency Planning Meetings.

There is a statutory requirement that the Permanency Plan for the child is defined by no later than the second 'Looked After Children's' review, but can in some cases be before the first review.

See Section 3.4, Early Permanency (otherwise known as Dual Approval) / Concurrency / Fostering to Adopt (Including approved adopters being temporarily approved as foster carers) and Relinquished Children Procedure.

Permanence Planning Meeting (PPM)

(See Appendix D: Permanency Planning Meeting Referral).

When seeking to secure a permanent placement for a child, the child's Social Worker needs to consider the placement options alongside pursuing the necessary legal process to secure that placement. Timescales are monitored against government guidance. There is an expectation that a child's case is considered at a Permanency Planning Meeting within 4 weeks of them entering Local Authority Care and then reviewed at 4 weekly intervals (unless otherwise required by care plan for the child and court timescale) until such time as the child's permanent placement is secured. In the first instance, the Permanency Planning Meeting will support the Social Worker in considering the permanency options available and offer advice and guidance as to the actions required to achieve this. The initial PPM is chaired by the children's team manager of their deputy. Subsequent meetings are usually chaired by either family placement team or family finder.

These meetings are held for those children who cannot return to their birth parent(s) or usual place of residence, who therefore need alternative carers. The purpose of the permanency planning meeting is to look in detail at the individual needs of the child and consider possible alternative carers available that can meet these needs. This includes children who have a care plan of Special Guardianship, Adoption or Long-term Fostering with either a connected person or stranger foster carer. A referral form needs to be completed which identifies the child's needs in the first instance. It also needs to include a brief summary of the child's history.

The Permanency Planning Meeting will consider:

  • The Care Plan - timescales for achieving this (including court timetable if applicable), whether an adoption decision is needed from the Agency Decision Maker and the process for this;
  • Placement with siblings, if applicable;
  • The child's needs and what is required of potential carers;
  • Contact;
  • Considerations for family finding – location, religion, ethnicity etc.
  • Plan for family finding.

The first PPM is to include the foster carer and their supervising social worker, recognising that they have information with regards to the child's needs and also ensuring that they are then aware of the planning that is taking place for the child. Unless the foster carer is proposing they offer permanency to the subject child, they should continue to be invited to attend subsequent PPM's, but not delayed if they are unable to attend. The PPM's will monitor the progress of life story work for the child and the preparation work being undertaken with the child in relation to transitioning to another family.

Permanency Options

Guidance on the process for achieving any of the permanency options within this policy are given in detail within their own individual sections. Therefore they are only summarised below:

Returning Home - Does not require a legal order, but can include a Supervision Order which enables the Local Authority to provide a level of support and monitoring which the family must engage with, as ordered by the court.

Placement with Family or Friends/Connected Persons - (see Placements with Connected Persons Procedure). The child will be subject to a Care Order or those with Parental Responsibility will have signed their consent to accommodation. The carers will have been assessed as Family and Friends (Connected Persons) Foster Carers, which will have been presented to the Fostering Panel with the recommendation being endorsed by the Agency Decision Maker.

Adoption - (see Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers Procedure). The child will be subject to a Placement Order (and usually, a Care Order) and will be placed with Prospective Adopters who are applying to adopt the child once they are legally able to. This match will have been presented to the Adoption Panel and will have been endorsed by the Agency Decision Maker prior to the placement being made.

Fostering to Adopt/Concurrency/ Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters - (see Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters Procedure). As above. Permanency is only achieved once a Placement Order has been made and the placement has been presented to Panel and endorsed by the Agency Decision Maker, despite the child having already been placed with their permanent carers.

Permanent Fostering - The child will be subject to a Care Order or those with Parental Responsibility will have signed their consent to accommodation. The carers will have expressed a wish to care for the child permanently and the Permanency Planning Meetings will have identified that the carer/s have the capacity to meet the needs of the child long-term. A 'Looked After Children's' review will have made a recommendation that the placement should be made permanent. This will have subsequently been presented to the Fostering Panel and endorsed by the Agency Decision Maker. Whilst presenting to panel is not a statutory requirement, it is considered good practice and should be undertaken for all children under 13 years unless there are specific reasons as to why this is not appropriate for the child. Those above 12 years can be presented to panel if it is considered to be of benefit to the young person, or the IRO can make recommendation to the ADM directly. All permanence decisions require ADM ratification.

Special Guardianship - (see Application for Special Guardianship Orders Procedure) This Order will be awarded by the court, following an assessment of the carers. There is no requirement for these cases to be presented to the Adoption or Fostering Panel unless the carers are to be assessed as Connected Carers prior to applying for an SGO.

Child Arrangements Order - This Order is awarded by the court following a report by the Local Authority Social Worker or CAFCASS officer as instructed by the court.

See: Adoption and Fostering Panel for the process for presenting cases and the reports and documents required.

Once a permanence outcome is achieved the case is closed to the Permanency Tracking process.

6. 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. They also make timescales clear.

Those with Parental Responsibility, and children of sufficient age and understanding, should be fully aware of the permanency options being considered at each stage of the process.

7. ADM Role in Permanency Planning

The Agency Decision maker (Service Director) will ratify the child’s care plan for permanence within 2 months of the child 2nd looked after Children review taking place.