Care Plans in Court Proceedings
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
The social worker is required to produce a Care Plan for all children who are subject to care applications. This is one of the most important documents considered by the court, and is key to the court's decision-making. Producing a high quality Care Plan is therefore crucial if appropriate plans are to be made for the child's future care.
N.B. All children who are 'looked after' by the Local Authority, whether or not they are subject to proceedings, must also have an individual Care Plan.
This procedure aims to ensure the production of standardised care plans suitable for use in care proceedings. It is intended that the plan will be "an authoritative statement made in good faith about the child's needs, the best way of responding to those needs and the detailed arrangements setting out how the local authority will provide services to promote and protect the child's welfare whilst he or she is the subject of the care order".This is a plan for how the child's needs will be met in the future, not just a statement of current arrangements.
1. When to Prepare the Care Plan
The court will guide the Local Authority as to the timescales for filing initial, interim and final Care Plans. Planning should take place throughout proceedings.It is the responsibility of the allocated social worker to produce the Care Plan. The completed Care Plan should be approved by the Team Manager and the Service Manager for the team (if the Service Manager is absent from work, another Service Manager should be asked to read and where appropriate endorse the Care Plan.
2. Contents and Approval of the Care Plan
2.1 Contents of the Care Plan
For more information about the contents of the Care Plan, please see Decision to Look After Procedure, The Care Plan - Contents.
The Care Plan should be prepared using the pro forma (see Form COU-01 Care Plans Format Appendix 5).
N.B.: Care Plans, which commit the Council to actions and/or require authorisation of others, must complete these steps at an early stage.
The Care Plan must have a front sheet attached, containing particulars of the child, for the court. (see Form COU-01 Care Plans Format Appendix 5).
Full information must be given in each section to:
- Meet the statutory minimum requirements for care plans;
- Satisfy the requirements of the court;
- Ensure that the child's best interests are expressed in the plan.
Interim Care Plans may sometimes be required at an earlier stage in the care proceedings; these will not necessarily contain the Local Authority's confirmed views that will be brought to the final hearing. It is therefore important that the first page of the care plan under 'type of hearing' should clearly distinguish between interim care plans for interim court hearings and the complete care plan for the final hearing.
2.2 Approval of the Care Plan
All Care Plans require the signature of a Team Manager and the Service Manager for the team that is managing the case. If that Service Manager is away from work another Service Manager should be asked to consider and endorse the Care Plan.
Managers who are endorsing Care Plans must take their role in quality-assurance seriously and must not endorse any Care Plan that is not of sufficient quality. This includes issues such as grammar and formatting as well as the content that relates to the child and family. This is to preserve the reputation of Calderdale Council in the court arena.
The Legal team must also endorse the plan before it is sent to the service manager for final approval.
2.3 Filing Care Plans for Court
Final evidence is requested by the Court, some time prior to the final hearing. This is to enable all parties to view the evidence before the hearing. These dates are not flexible or negotiable. Once the court has given direction regarding deadlines for filing evidence the social worker must adhere to this.
To ensure the whole process can be followed, Care Plans must be with the legal team and the service manager well before the hearing date.
3. Applications Involving Siblings
A separate care plan is needed for each child who is the subject of care proceedings. Some of the information within the care plans may be similar or identical. Other material may be different because of the need to address the distinct characteristics of each child and the way the plan proposes to meet each child's needs. The court will wish to scrutinise the care plans for each sibling child. It is important that the court's attention is drawn to any important differences between the respective plans reflecting the individual needs of siblings (the use of highlighting, italics or underlining may aid this.
4. Guidance on Court Care Plans
The following guidance will be useful in preparing a Care Plan for court:
- The Case Management Officer is available to support Social Workers in relation to any aspects of care proceedings and this includes the preparation of Care Plans. We recommend that all Social Workers seek advice and support from our Case Management Officer, but this is particularly relevant for NQSWs or those who don't have much experience of care proceedings;
- Although in the past it has been the preferred model to include a lot of detail in the court Care Plan this is no longer the case, and brevity is preferred. Social Workers should therefore avoid the temptation to include lots of narrative or chronology of events. This will be contained in other court documents and therefore within the Care Plan this should just be summarised briefly for the court. This should make the process of completing the Care Plan more straightforward for the Social Worker;
- Social Workers should make sure that the information they include actually answers the question under each heading. For example Section 1 should include the aims of the Care Plan;
- Social Workers should ensure that the Child's Needs section reflects the specific needs of the child in question and that it is not just a generic statement. The child will by definition have suffered harm or be likely to suffering harm as they are the subject of care proceedings therefore it is reasonable to assume that they will have additional needs for example for emotional support, attachment etc.;
- The Child's Needs section also includes their needs in respect of contact. However this should be an analysis of their need in this respect rather than a statement about what contact is envisaged or to be provided. This therefore needs to be supported with brief information about their relationships and why this means that contact is needed. Information about the future contact arrangements is included later in the care plan;
- In relation to the child's wishes and feelings this is essential for children who are able to verbalise. However where children are unable to verbalise e.g. due to age, disability etc. the Social Worker should make a judgement which can be based on observations of their behaviour and interactions. In some cases the Social Worker must make a judgement of what the child would say if they were able to. If so then this should also be related to their experiences e.g. for a child who has witnessed domestic violence or abuse it would be reasonable to conclude that they would wish to not experience this in the future. Similarly for a child who has been physically abused it would be reasonable to conclude that they would wish to not be physically abused in the future.
In addition to the above, a Care Plan should reflect that the court is required under s.8 Children and Social Work Act 2017 amends section 31(3B) Children Act 1989 to consider the 'permanence provisions' of the Care Plan for the child:
- The provisions setting out the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child - to live with a parent/family member/family friend; adoption; or other long-term care; and
- The plan's provisions in relation to any of the following:
- The impact on the child concerned of any harm that he or she suffered or was likely to suffer;
- The current and future needs of the child (including needs arising out of that impact);
- The way in which the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child would meet those current and future needs.