Guidance in Respect of the Use of Written Agreements Within the Child Protection / Child in Need Processes
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Working agreements are commonly used by social workers and other professionals when working with families, to promote safeguarding for children. It is highlighted that whilst these are useful tools, they are more effective in some scenarios than others and the chapter highlights key principles for drawing them up.
Written agreements are frequently used by social workers in their work with children and families. Typically, such agreements are used to help ensure the safety and welfare of children during periods of Assessment and/or intervention, by outlining what is required from parents in terms of compliance with assessments and appointments, living arrangements or involving supervisory arrangements with other family members.
They are a useful tool but in order to be effective, they must be properly drawn up, shared, monitored and evaluated. The following practice guidance explains the purpose of written agreements and lays out standards to be applied when drawing up and using written agreements.
Written Agreements might be appropriate in the following scenarios:
- During a period of assessment, i.e. when undertaking a Single Assessment following a referral to Children’s Social Care;
- During the Section 47 enquiry stage and prior to Initial Child Protection Conference;
- In respect of unborn babies, whilst assessments are in progress and prior to a Pre-birth Conference; or
- In response to a new identified risk and as evidence of risk management planning as an immediate response to a new identified risk.
The statutory plans e.g. CIN, CP and Looked After Care Care Plans set out clearly the expectations, roles and responsibilities and desired outcomes to be achieved. These should be developed in partnership with parents, children and professionals and written agreements should be developed in the same manner.
2. The Principle that Informs this Approach
There must be a timely response to:
- Respond to identified risks to ensure immediate safeguarding and to record how newly identified needs and risks will be managed and met in the short term whilst assessment are completed and / or when a plan is not already in place; and
- Support updating Child Protection Plans (CP) and Child In Need (CIN) Plans in response specific new risks / needs. This enables professional ability to work in partnership with parents to manage transitions and maintain safety / momentum of progress during the implementation of a plan.
Statutory Plans should be written in a way that all parties can understand, are free of jargon and are available in accessible formats for parents and children as appropriate. Written Agreements should not be used to replace statutory plans or as an alternative / adjunct to statutory plans.
3. Principles to Adhere to when Drawing up a Written Agreement
The Written Agreement should be negotiated between the parents/carers/family members, professionals and should reflect the views and wishes of the child/young person as appropriate.
The Written Agreement should include:
• A concise statement of context and causes for concern;
• The outcomes to be achieved;
• What action needs to be taken to bring these about;
• The expectations of each of the parties to the agreement including professionals, parents and other parties;
• What are the contingency plan/consequences should the parties to the agreement not co-operate with the agreement;
• The process for reviewing how the agreement is working, its success and how it needs to be updated;
• When the next Core CP; CIN or LAC Review, or any other meeting, will consider the Agreement with a view to integrating it into the appropriate statutory plan;
• A brief record of discussion / process by which the agreement, has been achieved;
• A record of the client's views and any concerns raised by the parties about the content of the agreement;
• An up to date Risk Assessment.
Written agreements should be:
• As concise as possible, clearly written and jargon free;
• Evidence based – agreements should be clearly informed by identified needs and risks with clear focus on agreed actions for change and improvement;
• Explicit about the relationship with existing statutory plans – e.g. CIN / CP / LAC Plan / Pathway Plan for Children’s Social Care;
• Produced in an appropriate format, to meet the communication needs of the client - i.e. plain English, client preferred language, Braille; audio recorded etc.
• SMART - specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and properly resourced, time-bound;
• Treated as a live working document and should state the mechanisms for monitoring and review; and incorporate the space for recording the monitoring, review and progress reporting / version control;
• Signed by all parties and copies given to all parties concerned.
Written agreements should state that they are not legally binding but provide the basis for practitioners and families to work together to bring about the changes which are necessary to meet the child’s needs and/or prevent the child being at continued risk of harm. Written agreements should clearly state the possible outcomes if the plan is not adhered to.
Written agreements and undertakings should only be agreed when it can be demonstrated that this course of action is based on a clear risk assessment and that the risks are manageable.
Written Agreements should not be used:
- To coerce individuals to behave in ways which they are reluctant/refusing to;
- As an attempt to put controls around a situation which has been out of control. Remember, it is only a piece of paper;
- To reassure concerned professionals and managers that a concerning situation is being appropriately addressed;
- Because a previous written agreement has been reneged upon;
- Because other attempts at control (legal orders, child protection planning) have been sought but not obtained. In these circumstances, a written agreement could provide a dangerous illusion of compliance.
When drawing up a written agreement with parents, carers, and or family members practitioners should record the agreement on the Template below, and as stated upload on to the child’s Electronic Social Care record with a copy of the Risk Assessment that accompanies the Written Agreement.