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5.1.2 Decision to Look After and Care Planning


This procedure applies to all decisions to Look After Children.

It should be read in conjunction with the Court Proceedings Procedure.

See also Public Law Outline Procedure.


DfE, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2015)

ADCS / Cafcass Practice Guidance for the Use of Section 20


Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure


This chapter was updated in October 2019 to reflect Section 3 of the Care Planning and Care Leavers (Amendment) Regulations 2014. The Care Plan must identify whether there is reason to believe the child has been trafficked or is an unaccompanied asylum seeker (see Section 3, The Care Plan). A link was added to additional information relating to the Public Law Outline Procedure, Final Care Plan.

Additional information was added in to Section 2.3, Obtaining Parental Consent to Look After a Child, in line with case-law.


  1. Introduction
  2. Decision to Look After Child
  3. The Care Plan
  4. Timescales for Completion of Care Plan
  5. Approval of the Care Plan
  6. Circulation of the Care Plan
  7. Care Planning
  8. Other Required Plans, Documentation and Actions

    Appendix 1: Care Planning Meeting Guidance for Social Workers

1. Introduction

The purpose of this document is to outline the policy and procedures for managers and staff involved in:

  • Seeking placements for Looked After Children (LAC);
  • Ensuring the suitability and safety of placements.

The Department’s policy is to have a range of suitable placements for LAC locally so that children / young people have continuity of family and community links, education and health care. When assessments indicate the need for more specialised placements, these can be contracted for the child / young person on an individual basis.

2. Decision to Look After Child

2.1 The Decision

Any requests for children to become looked after (including cases where decisions to issue care proceedings are to be made) should be discussed firstly with a Head of Service as a case management decision. The case should then be presented at Gateway and Permanency Panel, which meets every week and is chaired by the Assistant Director.

In a situation where a child requires Local Authority accommodation in an emergency situation, where the level of risk is to great that to wait for Gateway and Permanency Panel would place the child in an unmanageable situation, or where there is immediate breakdown, a Head of Service will make the decision in consultation with the Assistant Director, especially where there the decision may entail a placement outside of the Local Authority.

These cases should then be presented at the next available Gateway and Permanency Panel to scrutinise the care plan.

Application for Emergency Protection Orders, Interim Care Orders or requests to accommodate children under Section 20 must be agreed with a Head of Service in Children’s Services.

Legal advice should also be obtained and recorded.

Outside office hours, the Emergency Duty Team can make the decision to Look After a Child.

Any decision to look after a child made outside office hours will be communicated by a Contact Record to the relevant team by the beginning of the next working day.

2.2 Considerations before a Decision to Look After is Made

When a social worker undertakes an assessment that indicates that the child may be facing family breakdown, he/she shall:

  • Consider whether any family support or community resources can be utilised to enable the child to remain with his/her family;
  • Discuss with Team Manager whether any additional resources can be made available from this Department or any other source to sustain the child with his/her family.

Children / young people on the edge of care must receive an Assessment to help identify their needs.

In emergency situations, as much relevant information as possible must be sought to help establish appropriate alternatives to care, and/or intensive family support to prevent care.

The decision to look after a child will only be made where those making the decision are satisfied that appropriate consultation has taken place. Appropriate consideration must have been given to the necessity, purpose and nature of the proposed placement. Where the circumstances constitute an emergency, opportunities for consultation may be limited.

Before a decision is made to look after a child, consideration must be given to making arrangements with other extended family members or friends who might be prepared to care for the child without the need for the child to come into care. In these circumstances, care must be taken where the local authority has been involved in the arrangements for the child to be cared for by relatives; the child may be viewed as within the definition of Looked After and a legal view may be helpful to clarify the status of the child and the placement. In these circumstances, if the child is regarded as looked after and placed with a relative or friend, the Placements with Placements with Connected Persons Procedure will apply.

Alternatively, the child may come within the definition of Privately Fostered after 27 days, in which case the Recognising and Assessing Private Fostering Arrangements Procedure will apply.

N.B. Any arrangements whereby the child is not regarded as Looked After would have to be agreed with the parent or a person with Parental Responsibility, and the social worker must be satisfied that such an arrangement is sufficiently secure to meet the child's needs and is supported by a Child in Need Plan.

2.3 Obtaining Parental Consent to Look After a Child

Obtaining Parental Consent is a crucial part of Accommodating a child under this part of the 1989 Act. A number of court decisions have been particularly critical of local authorities’ actions with regard to consent and great care needs to be undertaken to ensure parents have the appropriate capacity to do this.

Section 20 agreements are not valid unless the parent giving consent has capacity to do so, (in cases where the father also has Parental Responsibility, the consent of both parents should be sought). The consent is properly informed and fairly obtained. Willingness to consent cannot be inferred from silence, submission or acquiescence - it is a positive action.

Detailed guidance on the obtaining of parental consent was given by the High Court in the case of Re CA (A Baby) (2012):

  • The social worker must first be satisfied that the parent giving consent does not lack the mental Capacity to do so. Under the Mental Capacity Act 2005, a person is unable to make a decision if s/he is unable:
  • To understand the information relevant to the decision;
  • To retain that information;
  • To use or weigh that information as part of the process of making the decision; or
  • To communicate his/her decision;
  • The High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent) [2017] EWHC 2729 (Fam) set out the relevant information that a parent would need to be able to understand, retain and weigh up in order to have competency to consent to the accommodation of a child:
    1. That the child will be staying with someone chosen by the local authority, probably a foster carer;
    2. That the parent can change their mind about the arrangements, and request the child back from accommodation at any time;
    3. That the parent will be able to see the child.
  • If there is doubt about Capacity, no further attempts to obtain consent should be made at that time, and advice should be sought from a manager;
  • If satisfied that the parent has Capacity, the social worker must be satisfied that the consent is fully informed:
    • Does the parent fully understand the consequences of giving such a consent?
    • Does the parent fully appreciate the range of choice available and the consequences of refusal as well as giving consent?
    • Is the parent in possession of all the facts and issues material to the giving of consent?
  • If not satisfied that the consent if fully informed, no further attempt should be made to obtain consent on that occasion and advice should be sought from a manager and legal advice sought if thought necessary;
  • If satisfied that the consent is fully informed, then it is necessary to be satisfied that the giving of such consent and the subsequent removal of the child from the parent is both fair and proportionate:
    • What is the current physical and psychological state of the parent?
    • If they have a solicitor, have they been encouraged to seek legal advice and/or advice from family or friends?
    • Is it necessary for the safety of the child for her to be removed at this time?
    • Would it be fairer in this case for this matter to be the subject of a court order rather than an agreement?

Whether a person has capacity can sometimes be difficult to determine, as some individuals have a learning disability or mental health problem but can present as being more ‘able’ than in fact they are. Equally, within the context of ‘assessing capacity’, social workers should approach with great care relying on Section 20 agreements from mothers after giving birth (especially where there is no immediate danger to the child and where probably no order would be made).

Where there is any concern about a parent / carer’s capacity, the social worker should ensure they discuss this issue with their team manager, or that the parent has information from a legal adviser or professional advice (1). Note: In Coventry City Council v C, B, CA and CH (2012) EWHC2190 (Fam) it was identified that, ‘every social worker obtaining consent is under a personal duty (the outcome of which may not be dictated to by others) to be satisfied that the person giving consent does not lack the capacity to do so’.

Note that the High Court in Re S (Child as parent: Adoption: Consent) made clear that parental Capacity to consent to a child being accommodated under Section 20 Children Act 1989, does not equate to their capacity to consent to an adoption order in respect of the child - the capacity to consent is decision-specific.

The ADCS / Cafcass Practice Guidance for the Use of Section 20 seeks to clarify good practice in this area.

(1) Note: Unless a parent is subject to Proceedings, or Letter Before Proceedings, they will be unable to qualify for Legal Aid.

2.3.1 Recording Parental Consent

In Re N (Children) (Adoption: Jurisdiction) [2015] EWCA Civ 1112 good practice the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby sets out his view in respect of good practice in the recording of parental consent to a Section 20 agreement:

  • Wherever possible the agreement of a parent to the accommodation of their child under Section 20 should be properly recorded in writing and evidenced by the parent's signature;
  • The written document should be clear and precise as to it terms, drafted in simple and straight-forward language that the particular parent can readily understand;
  • The written document should spell out, following the language of Section 20(8), that the parent can 'remove the child' from the LA accommodation 'at any time';
  • The written document should not seek to impose any fetters on the exercise of the parent's right under Section 20(8). Where the parent is not fluent in English, the written document should be translated into the parent's own language and the parent should sign the foreign language text, adding, in the parent's language, words to the effect that 'I have read this document and I agree to its terms'.

2.3.2 The Use of Section 20 prior to Court Proceedings

High Court Judgements have considered that in circumstances where the threshold criteria (for Care / Supervision Orders) under Section 31 Children Act 1989 are met, (i.e. where a child is at risk of significant harm, or the likelihood of significant harm), then care proceedings should be issued without delay.

Nevertheless, Section 20 may, in an appropriate case, have a proper role to play as a short-term measure pending the commencement of care proceedings, but the Courts have strongly advised that this should not lead to an unnecessary delay in the issuing of proceedings and cases must not be allowed to drift, (including those cases when children are placed with relatives under a Section 20 agreement). Proceedings still need to be issued in a timely fashion.

Even where a parent / carer’s legal advisor has established an agreement regarding the use of Section 20 prior to either issuing Proceedings or progressing a timely plan and timetable of work for further assessment, these should be carefully adhered to by all parties. Any plan should be based on the child’s welfare needs and avoid delay.

All such agreements should be undertaken in conjunction with the local authority’s Legal Services and include a clear (written) agreement and Care Plan with the outcome considered at a Looked After Children’s Review to which the parents have been invited.

Where it is highly likely that proceedings will be required to determine a factual issue, or where complex medical evidence may become involved it is better for proceedings to be issued promptly allowing the court to manage the timetable of the case and the parents to be able to access effective legal advice.

If no such arrangement can be identified or such an arrangement would not meet the child's needs, the child's social worker, with his or her team manager, should consider:

  • The child's immediate placement needs - including the child's views, the views of the parents, those with Parental Responsibility and any other person whose wishes and feelings the authority consider to be relevant - and whether a placement with a Connected Person may be possible;
  • The timescales for the child's placement;
  • A date for the child to return home or when the decision will be reviewed;
  • The actions of support and work to be included in the Care Plan to enable the necessary change for the child to return home wherever possible;
  • The obtaining of parental consent to look after the child and consent to medical care;
  • The contact arrangements with birth parents, siblings, extended family and friends.

Where it is considered that Care Proceedings should be initiated to secure the child's placement, see also Court Proceedings Procedure.

N.B. Any decision that a child should be the subject of Care Proceedings should have regard to the requirements of the Public Law Outline, and in particular the Pre-Proceedings Checklist which is set out in Public Law Outline Procedure.

All decisions made should be recorded on the child's electronic record, including the reasons for reaching the decision.

2.4 Actions Required after a Decision to Look After is Made

Finding a Suitable Replacement

Where a decision is made to pursue a Looked After placement with a relative or friend (or the child's placement with a relative or friend is judged to be a Looked After placement), an immediate assessment of the relative / friend must be undertaken. See Placements with Connected Persons Procedure.

If an appropriate family / relative / friend placement cannot be found, the social worker should contact the Family Placement duty officer to request a placement and complete a Referral. Full details and a copy of the most recent Assessment should be available. Also, an up-to-date Service User Risk Assessment must be available. Preferences for placement-type should be discussed at this stage.

It is vital that a placement is sought which can meet the child / young person’s holistic needs, including:

  • Social care needs;
  • Educational needs;
  • Health, including emotional needs.

The social worker should make contact with colleagues in Education (including schools) and also in the Health Service to advise them of the family breakdown and need for a placement.

When children / young people have an Education, Health and Care Plan, the social worker must have immediate discussion with the Education Special Needs Service to consider possible options.

If a statemented child is not progressing satisfactorily in both their home and day school provision, consideration can be given to an appropriate residential school. The Gateway and Permanency Panel, considers applications for residential schools. However, they can be considered at any time through liaison / discussion.

If a child / young person does not have a statement, the appropriateness of assessment at a residential school can still be considered if there is a history of unmet educational needs.

Costings of residential school placements, recent inspections by OFSTED, whether placement is needed for term-time or 52 weeks need to be considered. Seeking a residential school placement will be undertaken by the Special Needs staff. The Contracts Officer can also assist.

Similarly, if a child / young person has specific health needs, the social worker should have immediate discussion with colleagues from the PCT, CAMHS, etc. to ascertain whether a specialist health placement is appropriate.

If a specialist educational or health placement is not being sought, local placements, which can facilitate continuity of education, health and family / community links, must be considered. If the needs of the child / young people meet the criteria for continuing care the percentage of support should be considered using the National Framework for Children and Young People’s Continuing Care (DH) guidance and procedures.

Placements with foster carers (including where appropriate Enhanced Carers) should be considered for all children / young people unless there are specific reasons why this is considered inappropriate.

The Family Placement duty officer will explore matching possibilities within Bolton’s foster carers.

If a foster or residential placement is required, the relevant procedure to be followed, including the need to hold a Placement Planning Meeting, will be found in Section 5 of this manual Looked After Children.

In cases where a child / young person cannot be found a local foster care or residential placement and they are not in need of a residential school or specialist health placement, consideration would need to be given to the appropriateness of contracting for a private placement, either with an independent fostering agency or a private children’s home.

All such cases should be presented to the Gateway & Permanency Panel. This Panel will ensure that all alternatives to care have been fully considered and explored. When an external agency, foster home or residential Unit is being requested the Assistant Director (Staying Safe) must agree funding. In emergency situations this can be done prior to the Panel.

When agreement has been made to seek a placement with an independent foster care agency or a private children’s home, the Family Placement duty officer must liaise with the Contracts Officer to seek the most appropriate placement. A referral to the Children’s Commissioning Team must be made.

It is important to check the most recent Ofsted Inspection Report for any external placement.

These placements should be time-limited, related to the likelihood of a more suitable local placement becoming available for the child / young person.

The following documentation must be provided to the carer(s) before placement:

  • Key Information and Chronology;
  • Placement Plan;
  • Care Plan part 1 and 2;
  • Medical Assessment;
  • Service User Risk Assessment.

A Placement Meeting within three days of placement, involving the social, worker, carer, parents and child, should complete the Care Plan and, where possible, the Placement Plan 2.

In emergencies:

  • Key Information and Placement Plan / Information Record must be completed and made available to the carers are the time of placement;
  • A Placement Meeting within three days of placement must determine the Care Plan;
  • The Service User Risk Assessment must also be made available within three days;
  • The remaining documentation must be made available within two weeks of the placement at the latest.

The social worker must complete a Change of Circumstance form to inform the Department’s Office Services section of the proposed placement.

For secure placements, see Placements in Secure Accommodation Procedure.

For placements outside the local authority area, see Out of Area Placements Procedure.

3. The Care Plan

See also Public Law Outline Procedure, Final Care Plan.

The Care Plan is a statutory requirement for all children looked after and must be prepared before the child becomes looked after based on the assessment completed of the child’s needs. If not practicable to complete the Care Plan prior to placement it should be completed within 10 days of placement along with the Placement Plan and delegated responsibility agreement, in time for the initial statutory review which takes place within 4 weeks of the placement being made. For those placements that have been subject to the pre proceedings protocol, the permanence plan should be presented to the first review.

The Care Plan must be agreed with the parent or person with Parental Responsibility or with the child if over 16 years; all agencies involved should contribute to the care plan.

Once a child is looked after, the Local Authority will make all plans for the child’s future in consultation with parents, carers, the child, other significant adults and partners.

The Care Plan for a child ensures that all children and young people in care have clearly stated objectives for their care and a strategy for achieving them.

It should include:

  • The permanence plan for the child;
  • The contingency plan if the preferred permanence plan is not achieved;
  • The arrangements for the child’s:
    • Health needs and the health plan to meet those needs;
    • Education needs and the personal education plan to meet those needs;
    • Emotional and behavioural development;
    • Identity needs with particular regard to religion, race, culture and language;
    • Family and social relationships, including contact arrangements;
    • Social and self-care skills and presentation.
  • The desired outcomes for the child and clear goals set with timescales for key responsible people;
  • The actions expected of all services and individuals who form the ‘team around the child’;
  • The arrangements for ending the placements;
  • The wishes and feelings of the child and parents / carers about the placement and care plan;
  • The name of the responsible Independent Reviewing Officer.

The Care Plan also includes the placement plan for the child and why it was chosen - children aged 16 years do not require a Care Plan as they have a Pathway Plan which identifies how they should be cared for.

Every Child looked after should have a completed set of documentation:

Care Plans should clearly state the aim of the plan and progress towards achieving it i.e.:

  • Rehabilitation within a specified period;
  • Adoption;
  • Child Arrangements Order or Special Guardianship Order.

Care Plans should be relevant and dynamic with no Care Plan being older than 6 months.

Care Plans must demonstrate what improvements / progress should be made and subsequently must demonstrate how the child has progressed.

The social worker should ensure that the child, those with Parental Responsibility and the carer understand the Care Plan and their role in contributing to its implementation.

One of the key functions of the Care Plan is to ensure that each child has a Permanence Plan by the time of the second Looked After Review. The Care Plan is subject to scrutiny at each Looked After Review - see Looked After Reviews Procedure.

Note: The Care Plan must identify if there is reason to believe that the child is a victim of trafficking, or is an unaccompanied asylum seeker and has applied for, or intends to apply for, asylum.

4. Timescales for Completion of Care Plan

A Care Plan must be prepared prior to a child's first placement, or, if it is not practicable to do so, within 10 working days of the child's first placement.

5. Approval of the Care Plan

Any final Care Plan taken before the Court within Care Proceedings must be endorsed and signed by a Designated Manager (Care Plans).

All other Care Plans must be endorsed and signed by the social worker's team manager.

6. Circulation of the Care Plan

The Care Plan must be circulated to the following people:

  • The child;
  • The parent(s);
  • Providers / Carers - if no Care Plan has been drawn up prior to the child's placement, the social worker must ensure that the providers / carers understand the key objectives of the plan, and how the placement will help achieve these objectives;
  • The Fostering Service, where the child is in foster care. N.B. The Care Plan should be filed in the confidential section of the foster carer's file and returned to the child's social worker when the placement ends;
  • The child's Independent Reviewing Officer.

7. Care Planning

Care Planning is the means by which agencies, carers, family members and the child concerned share information about the child and monitor the progress of the actions being undertaken within the child’s Care Plan in order to meet the child’s needs and to monitor action being taken to achieve the overall aim of the Care Plan.

In line with Bolton’s Children and Families - Single Assessment Protocol and Guidance, care planning should be informed by an up to date holistic assessment of the child’s needs. The social worker and their manager will ensure that these events are analysed and consideration should be given to the completion of a new single assessment to ensure that plans continue to meet the child’s needs.

The aim is to provide children and young people in care with the quality of care that a good parent would want to provide for their own child so that the child is supported in achieving good outcomes during their childhood and in establishing continuity of relationships with nurturing parents or care-givers.

All children in care will have their Care Plans pro-actively pursued to ensure that the actions contained in those Care Plans are fully achieved.

This will be achieved by holding Care Planning Meetings. These meetings will be held at key points in the Care Planning process to ensure smooth transitions and to avoid drift. The statutory case review will consider the care plan and endorse and if not in agreement, will dispute the plan.

All Care Planning meetings will be chaired by either the child’s Social Worker or a Team Manager. Care Planning Meetings should take place at key planning points for the child, if it is likely there will be a proposed change to a child’s care plan a Care Planning Meeting must take place to agree the Care Plan to be presented to the next review.

The purpose of the Care Planning meeting is to:

  • Develop the Care Plan prior to the first statutory case review;
  • Monitor the progress of care plans in achieving permanence;
  • Ensure all elements of permanence plans are implemented and monitored for children who remain subject to a Care Order.

Please see Permanence for Children Procedure, Permanence and the Review Process.

The Permanence Planning Meeting is to take place prior to a child’s second statutory review to clarify the Permanence Plan for the child and is chaired by the Team Manager.

Please see Appendix 1: Care Planning Meeting Guidance for Social Workers.

8. Other Required Plans, Documentation and Actions

8.1 Placement Plan (recorded on the Placement Information Record on ICS)

The child must have a Placement Plan at the time of the placement (this includes the parent's consent to the placement (if applicable) and the child's medical treatment). It should be completed as far as possible before the child is placed or, if not reasonably practicable, within 5 working days of the start of the placement.

The information to be included in the Placement Plan will include:

  1. How on a day-to-day basis the child will be cared for and the child's welfare will be safeguarded and promoted by the appropriate person;
  2. Any arrangements for contact between the child and parents / anyone with Parental Responsibility / any other connected person, including, if appropriate, reasons why contact is not reasonably practicable or not consistent with the child's welfare;
  3. Details of any Child Arrangement / Contact Order (under Section 8 or 34 of the Children Act 1989);
  4. The arrangements for notifying any changes in contact arrangements;
  5. Arrangements for the child's health (physical, emotional and mental) and dental care, including the name and address of registered medical and dental practitioners;
  6. Arrangements for giving / withholding consent to medical / dental examination / treatment;
  7. Arrangements for the child's education and training, including the name and address of the child's school / other educational institution / provider and designated teacher;
  8. The Local Authority maintaining any Education, Health and Care Plan;
  9. The arrangements for and frequency of visits by the child's social worker; and for advice, support and assistance between visits;
  10. If an Independent Visitor is appointed, the arrangements for them to visit the child;
  11. The circumstances in which the placement may be terminated;
  12. The name and contact details of the Independent Reviewing Officer, the Independent Visitor if one is appointed, the social worker who will be visiting the child, and the Personal Adviser for an Eligible Young Person.

The Placement Plan will be recorded on the Placement Information Record on the child's electronic database.

Copies of the Placement Information Record must be provided to the child (if of sufficient age and understanding), the parents and must be handed to the residential staff / carers before the child is placed. Where a child is placed in an in-house foster placement, one copy should also be sent to the Fostering Team - to be kept in the confidential section of the foster carer's file and returned at the end of the placement.

At the time of the placement, the residential staff / carers should also be given any additional information about details of the child's day to day needs which are not covered by the Placement Information Record but are important to ensure that the staff / carers are in the best possible position to help the child settle in the new placement, for example any particular fears at night-time or the child's favourite toys.

8.2 Chronology

Whenever a new placement is made or the child moves placement, the child's Chronology should be updated.

8.3 Arrangement of First Looked After Review

The child's social worker must notify the Independent Reviewing Unit of the placement within two working days of the child becoming looked after, so that the necessary arrangements for the allocation of an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) (within 5 working days of the child becoming looked after wherever possible) and the child's first Looked After Review can be made. See the Looked After Review Procedure for the procedures relating to reviews, including the responsibility for invitations to reviews.

8.4 Health Care

Before or at the time of the placement, the social worker should request the parent to transfer the child's personal child health record. Where this is lost or not available, the social worker should ask for a replacement to be issued and ask the Designated Nurse for LAC to assist with providing any information to complete the record.

The social worker should also contact the Designated Nurse for LAC to arrange a Health Care Assessment before the placement or, if not reasonably practicable before the first Looked After Review (i.e. within 20 working days of the placement) so that the completion of a Health Action Plan is in time for the child's first Looked After Review. See Promoting the Health of Looked After Children and Young People in Bolton Procedure.

In addition, the social worker should inform the carer of any medication the child is taking, and ensure that a supply of medication is provided in a clearly labelled bottle with the child's name, required dosage and the time the medication is to be given.

8.5 Personal Education Plan (PEP)

The social worker should also liaise with the Designated Teacher so that a Personal Education Plan (PEP) can be completed. See Education of Looked After and Previously Looked After Children Procedure.

8.6 Provision of Information

The child's social worker must provide the child and parents with written information about the placement.

The child and parents must also be provided with information about the complaints process and the availability of advocates.

8.7 Changes in Legal Status

Any changes in a child's legal status as a result of court proceedings must be recorded on the child's electronic record.

Appendix 1: Care Planning Meeting Guidance for Social Workers

Click here to view Appendix 1: Care Planning Meeting Guidance for Social Workers.