Operational guidance for providers of children's social care services during COVID-19 including:
- local authorities
- providers of care homes for children
- adoption services
- fostering services
The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) presents unprecedented challenges to vulnerable families and is placing increasing pressure on children’s services.
This document provides guidance on the continued provision of support to vulnerable, at risk and care experienced children, during this period. Please share this with your teams and be assured that we are working hard to continue to provide guidance that will support you as the situation develops.
The terms ‘child’ and ‘children’ in this guidance means up to the age of 18 years. The term ‘care leavers’ can apply to certain young people up to the age of 25 years.
Welsh Government COVID-19 guidance for health and social care professionals is available on the Welsh Government website. This includes guidance on areas such as critical workers, testing for coronavirus and appropriate use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
We recognise that families will be under additional emotional, financial and psychological pressure at this time. For the safety and wellbeing of your staff and the children and families you support it is also crucial that services are delivered in a way that is consistent with the expert scientific advice being provided by the Welsh Government Please be aware that the scientific advice and, therefore, guidance may change.
Any queries relating to this guidance should be directed to - PlantSynDerbynGofal@llyw.cymru
This guidance should be used by all those involved in:
- promoting the well-being of vulnerable children, including those who already have a care and support plan
- safeguarding children at risk including those who already have a care, support and protection plan
- the assessment and planning of care and support for care experienced children
- those making and reviewing placement decisions for looked after children, care leavers and adopted children
The application of this guidance should be made on a case-by-case basis, ensuring the best outcome for children is central to planning and decision making. Recording and evidencing why and how decisions have been reached remains a key responsibility when applying this guidance.
The aims of this guidance is to:
- encourage a flexible and pragmatic approach to maintaining support for looked after and vulnerable children during the outbreak of novel coronavirus
- recognise the areas of provision where local authorities will struggle to meet their statutory requirements, and provide guidance on the measures that should be put in place that are in the spirit of the law
- as far as possible, minimise the impact of novel coronavirus on Children’s Services and partners, when resources available to cope with additional burdens are reduced
- promote partnership working across the breadth of services that support families
This guidance is a temporary measure in response to the unprecedented circumstances that we are currently facing. The guidance will be effective immediately (14 May 2020) and remain in place until further notice.
Local authorities and their relevant safeguarding partners have specific duties under the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014, the Codes of Practice and statutory guidance in relation to promoting the well-being of and safeguarding children.
In applying this guidance, local authorities and their partners should continue to work in an innovative way to continue to meet their statutory duties. We will update this guidance periodically and will continue to explore flexibilities in regulations and guidance as the situation develops.
When making decisions about the operation of services, or about individual children, everyone’s work should be guided by the following principles.
i. Promoting well-being and safeguarding:
- each practitioner and organisation is required to play their part to safeguard and contribute to promoting the well-being of children
- information-sharing is in accordance with sharing information to safeguard children advice
- continued inter and multi-disciplinary working in order to better understand the child and their needs for care, support and protection. Including an understanding of the impact COVID-19 arrangements may have on changing these needs
- co-productive working relationship with children, care leavers, their families and carers to establish what matters to them and to ensure they feel respected and informed. This includes explaining to children and families the ways in which the COVID-19 arrangements may impact on the provision of their care and support
ii. A child-centred approach:
- the rights and well-being of the child and their best interests remains paramount
- as far as is reasonably practicable whilst taking account of the impact of COVID-19 arrangements, practitioners shall continue to ascertain and have regard to the child’s views, wishes and feelings and provide appropriate support to enable the child to participate in decisions about them
- have regard to the characteristics, culture and beliefs of the child and their family
The National Approach to Statutory Advocacy (NASA) provides a standardised approach to statutory advocacy services in Wales. An active offer of advocacy forms part of the NASA, and children and young people are entitled to an active offer of advocacy from a statutory Independent Professional Advocate (IPA) when they become looked after or become subject of child protection enquiries leading to an Initial Child Protection Conference.
Service providers are continuing to offer all advocacy interventions for the active offer and issue based advocacy, using technology to facilitate support remotely. The Welsh Government is receiving regular updates from providers to monitor the impact of COVID-19 on the active offer.
How should local authorities prioritise activity during the emergency?
COVID-19 is placing new and additional pressures on children, care leavers, families and carers. The Welsh Government is aware that the majority of Children’s Social Services have risk-assessed cases already open to them and are reviewing these on a regular basis. There is an expectation that this approach will be adopted by all local authorities, working in partnership across agencies to share information, avoid duplication and secure a shared understanding of need in relation to each individual child or care leaver.
This approach will also be important in making decisions about new cases involving children who have needs for care, support and protection as a result of the additional pressures of COVID-19. Welsh Government is aware that changes in universal and preventative services as a result of the current situation will place additional burdens on Children’s Social Services in relation to supporting vulnerable and at risk children and care leavers.
Local authorities should therefore work with partner agencies to monitor and review the impact of these changes and to make decisions together on how best to utilise available resources to best effect. Decisions made in one agency will have an impact on arrangements across agencies and the case for inter-agency working is stronger than ever to avoid duplication and close the gaps. Recording and evidencing why and how decisions have been reached remains a key local authority responsibility.
Welsh Government included vulnerable children and young people in the provision in school and registered childcare settings as a measure to safeguard and protect the most vulnerable children and their families. Local authorities should use this provision as a measure, within the care and support plans if necessary, for those who need it during this crisis. This can give children time away from their placement or home environment which could be an important preventative measure.
Supporting the Children’s Social Care Workforce
Social worker registration
During the current emergency, it is vital we get as many practitioners on the front-line to help with tackling the effects of coronavirus. That is why we are working together with Social Care Wales to arrange for the temporary registration of social workers who were previously registered.
Further details about these arrangements can be found on the Social Care Wales website.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
We recognise there is a desire for clear and unambiguous guidance about the use of PPE equipment for the children’s social care workforce. Public Health Wales has produced the following guidance for use in health and care settings, which applies to children’s social care.
A quick link to the COVID-19: infection prevention and control (IPC) guidance (including table 4) can be found on the GOV.UK website.
This sets out what equipment should be used in all settings where there is interaction with someone (either symptomatic or not) and where contact is within 2 metres. It also covers the use of masks and goggles if there is a risk of exposure to factors such as fluid transmission for example.
Practical advice on maintaining contact with children and families in different scenarios is provided in the next section, including in circumstances where face to face contact will be made.
Testing for COVID-19
Testing of key workers is of significant importance and commencing tests on the social care workforce is a priority. Population Sampling Centres have opened in Cardiff, Newport and in West and North Wales. We are testing social care workers in residential and domiciliary care settings who have symptoms to enable them to get back to work before the seven-day self-isolation or 14-day household quarantine period. Workers who show symptoms should continue to observe self-isolation guidance until advised otherwise.
Public Health Wales has issued guidance for managing COVID-19 in care settings. As testing capacity increases, Welsh Government is expanding testing facilities to offer more comprehensive testing for the sector and wider population who are symptomatic. This guidance will be updated accordingly.
Guidance for maintaining contact
The “Rules on Staying at Home and Away from Others” (the “Stay at Home Rules”) introduced by the UK Government on 23rd March are clear that no one, including a child, should leave their home other than for essential shopping, daily exercise, medical need or attending essential work and school for those who continue to attend. New rules to protect workers during the coronavirus outbreak also came into force on 7 April, enforcing the 2 metre social distancing rule.
This means that face to face contact arrangements for children is no longer advised and safe alternative contact arrangements should be made. In the majority of cases, this means that face to face contact between social workers and families should be suspended. We are aware that local authorities have continued to deliver statutory safeguarding face to face visits where the highest risks have been identified and where children are rated as most vulnerable. Decisions about maintaining face to face contact should continue to be taken on a case by case basis. For all other cases, this does not mean that the frequency of contact with children, care leavers, families and carers should be reduced unless there are grounds to reduce the frequency of contact based on information about the care and support needs of the child.
Ensuring that children at risk are safeguarded and continue to be protected however is of paramount importance. Safeguarding remains everyone’s responsibility and all public services should continue to take responsibility for keeping children safe and continue to report concerns. Local authorities and social workers will need to make informed, professional judgements about visiting children at risk, which balance risks to children, care leavers, families and carers and risks to the workforce. Social workers and social care staff should follow PPE guidance when visiting private households.
The Welsh Government are aware that alternative arrangements have already been made that comply with the safe distancing advice, utilising digital and virtual means where appropriate. These should continue in line with Public Health Wales advice on social distancing.
One of the key principles of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 and the Local Authority Fostering Service (Wales) Regulations 2018, is that there should be continued contact between the child and their family while the child is in the care of the local authority. Such contact arrangements should be focused on, and shaped around, the child’s needs. Ongoing contact with siblings, parents, grandparents and significant others can be a critical factor in supporting placement stability.
Face to face contact between family members living in different households should also be suspended, including in instances where contact has been ordered by a court. One of the key principles of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 and the Local Authority Fostering Service (Wales) Regulations 2018, is that there should be continued contact between the child and their family while the child is in the care of the local authority. Such contact arrangements should be focused on, and shaped around, the child’s needs. Ongoing contact with siblings, parents, grandparents and significant others can be a critical factor in supporting placement stability.
Existing contact arrangements will be set out within a looked after child’s care and support plan. These will invariably describe the frequency and duration of contact with family members and whether such contact should be supervised or unsupervised.
We expect that alternative forms of contact between children in care and their birth relatives will continue. It is essential for children and families to remain in touch at this difficult time, and for some children, the consequences of not seeing relatives would be traumatising. Local authorities should consider ways in which equipment can be provided to families to enable continued contact.
Contact arrangements should therefore be assessed on a case by case basis taking into account a range of factors including the UK government’s social distancing guidance and the needs of the child. It may not be possible, or appropriate, for the usual face-to-face contact to happen at this time and keeping in touch will, for the most part, need to take place virtually. We expect the spirit of any contact orders made in relation to children in care to be maintained and will look to social workers to determine how best to support those valuable family interactions based on the circumstances of each case.
We are working hard across government and with the judiciary to make sure the family justice system continues to operate during this unprecedented time. The Family Courts have issued guidance on moving towards delivering remote hearings.
Keeping in contact with vulnerable families, children on the Child Protection Register (CPR) and children Placed with Parents (PWP)
Maintaining social worker contact with vulnerable families, where children may be on the edge of care, on the Child Protection Register or placed at home with parents under Care Orders, is of paramount importance. Social workers should continue to remain in contact with the children and families they support via telephone, skype, FaceTime or other digital means, or face to face if this is assessed as being needed. They should also make best use of the provision in school and registered childcare settings.
Where it is felt that a physical sight of a child is necessary because of the level of risk for the child, innovative ways of working should be initiated, including speaking to families at a safe distance from the front door or through windows and/or seeing children at a safe distance. Social workers will be experienced in assessing risk of harm to children and the Wales Safeguarding Procedures are available to support practice. The Welsh Government is aware that many local authorities are already practicing in this way and we would expect this approach to be replicated across Wales.
Any home visit should be risk assessed and comply with Public Health Wales advice on social distancing. If social distancing is not practical or possible during a home visit then PPE guidance_COVID-19.pdf should be followed. This indicates that social care workers should be using PPE in all settings if social distancing of 2 metres cannot be maintained.
Statutory safeguarding visits to see children on the Child Protection Register should continue to be carried out at least every 10 working days. If following a risk assessment a decision is taken that this requirement can be met through remote/virtual contact for some children on the Child Protection Register, this decision must be agreed by a manager and the rationale for it must be recorded. All cases should be subject to a review of risks on a frequent basis and at least once per week.
Where social workers and other staff are undertaking home visits, the PPE guidance should be applied. Screening calls should be made to parents/carers ahead of a visit to ascertain the family’s circumstances. Limits in the contact that universal and preventative services now have with children and families will put some children at greater risk. Some children and families may need more frequent contact as a result of this and decisions should be made on a case by case basis informed by on-going risk assessment. This should also inform decisions about which children need to be physically seen.
Initial child protection conferences, initial/subsequent core group meetings and care, support and protection plans
The Welsh Government recognises that COVID-19 arrangements, workforce capacity and the rapidly changing nature of risk for children and families at this time, present very real challenges to multi-agency child protection decision making and the to the usual care, support and protection planning process for individual children. However, initial child protection conferences and core group meetings should be maintained using innovative ways such as remote meeting technology. It is important that partner agencies with information about the child or a role in meeting the needs of the child attend and contribute to such virtual meetings.
However, at this time we recognise that safeguarding decisions will need to be led by Children’s Social Services working on the latest information available to them. The changing nature of risk and need calls for the regular review of cases by managers to keep an up to date picture of risk on a case by case basis to inform decisions about the nature and frequency of contact with children and their families.
The Welsh Government recognises that capacity to review and update Care, Support and Protection Plans in the usual way may be impeded during the outbreak. However a clear record of the decisions taken, any changes in level of risk and the response to these should be maintained.
Contact with families/children
How foster carers can help children to maintain contact with birth families
We expect all children in foster care to continue to be supported to maintain contact with their birth families and to be able to spend time with their siblings for example, in any way they can. This could be through daily or regular phone calls, video chats, the use of social media platforms or other means. We recognise that not all families will have access to the internet or laptops, and in many cases children may have restricted access to electronic devices or are not allowed social media accounts, so this must be given consideration and foster families will need support to help children to keep in touch, through letter writing for example.
These arrangements should seek to reasonably fulfil the expectations set out in section 81 of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 to ensure contact can go ahead in the safest and most appropriate way given the current circumstances.
Court ordered contact and ongoing proceedings
The courts will expect local authorities to act reasonably having considered all relevant factors.
The President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice for England and Wales has provided advice in his statement, Coronavirus Crisis: Guidance on Compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders. Whilst this is directed at separated families subject to private law proceedings, the principles are relevant. If there is court ordered contact, and contact is unable to take place or happens remotely, local authorities should record the reasons for their decisions.
We recognise that contact centres are currently closed. However, where supervised contact arrangements are in place, consideration should be given to undertaking supervision using video conferencing in the home of the foster carer, with a staff member present during the video conference, where it is safe to do so, to maintain levels of supervision. If the family is self-isolating or being shielded the staff member should be present remotely.
Contact with babies/birth mothers
We would only expect face-to-face contact to be taking place, in person, in the most exceptional circumstances or where the well-being of the child is significantly impacted by not doing so. Such examples may include new-borns, babies and toddlers, where we recognise complying with social distancing measures will be difficult to manage.
Where face-to-face contact needs to continue, appropriate measures must be taken to ensure that all parties concerned are protected as far as reasonably possible, taking into account family circumstances by the use of social distancing and checks to ensure that no-one involved is presenting with symptoms of COVID-19. Additional measures may be considered to enable face to face contact to take place whilst maintaining safe distancing, including arranging contact in open spaces, to help minimise risks of infection.
An assessment of the circumstances should be provided including the health of the child and parent, the risk of infection and any other vulnerable people living in each household. Decisions should be taken whilst considering the corporate parenting responsibilities of local authorities and what constitutes reasonable contact. Decisions made should be clearly evidenced, including all relevant factors and recorded.
Guidance for separated families
Welsh Government guidance ‘Staying at home and away from others’, published on the 24 March 2020 on the Welsh Government website, sets out the advice regarding children of separated or divorced parents.
It states ‘where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.’ During this challenging time, we are encouraging parents to work together to find a solution and maintain a sense of routine for their children. In the event where children’s time with a parent could be affected, we encourage parents to trial different methods of communication for example, Skype, Zoom and Google Hang Out.
As discussed above, although the statement issued by the President of the Family Division is in relation to Family Court Child Arrangement Orders, it is relevant to all separated families where children have connections with more than one household. The statement offers general advice to parents recognising that the circumstances of each child and family will differ.
Care and support plans, pathway plans and reviews
We recognise the current emergency will make it difficult for local authorities to comply with some requirements set out in the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014, regarding the development of care and support plans for care experienced children and statutory reviews. This may include for example, the delivery of health assessments within existing timescales for looked after children or the timescales for reviewing and maintaining care and support plans or pathway plans.
However, local authorities should make every effort to fully comply with the legislation during this emergency and continue to fully take into account the needs and wishes of children in their care. It is imperative the development of care and support plans/pathway plans continues and these are completed, with the full involvement of professionals specified and facilitating the views of children and families, as is reasonably practicable. However, it is recognised there will be practical implications in the delivery and review of care and support plans within timescales and the effective input of health and education professionals in the current emergency.
Independent Reviewing Officers (IROs) will continue to have responsibility for monitoring the performance of the local authority in relation to a child’s Part 6 care and support plan and undertaking regular reviews. Whilst physical reviews meetings are not advised, IROs should use digital means to carry out reviews, monitor progress and make decisions. Review meetings should continue to be multi-agency, involving key agencies and professionals as is reasonably practicable, include the role of advocates and facilitate the wishes of the child and family members.
We recognise the pressures being placed on fostering services and placements during this current time. Local authorities are already taking measures to support foster carers and ensure continued stability of the workforce and placements. AfA Cymru has provided guidance for effective functioning during this time.
What should happen to foster children if foster carers are self-isolating or become ill?
Maintaining a permanent stable setting for children wherever possible is of paramount importance. Should foster carers/children start presenting symptoms of Covid-19 we would expect children to remain with their foster parents in line with the self-isolation and social distancing guidance. Whilst these are unsettling times for those involved in caring for and supporting children in foster care, we are grateful for the continued support and stability that is being provided for children in foster care.
What if there are not enough foster carers to care for additional children or provide respite for other foster carers who have become ill?
We recognise that it might be challenging to provide additional respite for foster carers in this context. Local authorities should ensure systems remain in place to maintain interested applicants and identify ways to free up space within existing foster homes to make it easier to identify potential placements and ensure new foster carers are assessed and approved.
Where children may need to come into care for a short period of time for respite where birth parents or foster carers are ill, local authorities can re-purpose existing short break provision. In such circumstance, local authorities should change their statement of purpose for these settings and inform Care Inspectorate Wales. We are currently exploring flexibilities in regulations and guidance that might aid temporary approvals for foster carers and emergency placements.
We might need to recruit and approve more foster carers in the short term. What is being done to change regulations related to fostering panels?
We recognise that fostering services will want to bring in more emergency foster carers to help build capacity within their services in case of additional demand. We would encourage them to do this. Whilst they will want to ensure that assessments and approvals are thorough and comply with regulations, we do not want this to be unnecessarily delayed.
Whilst the crisis presents new challenges, we understand that foster placements currently remain stable across Wales and local authorities have been stepping up their support for foster carers. We are considering contingencies should this position change, including identifying amendments that can be temporarily made to fostering regulations/guidance around temporary approvals for foster carers, emergency placements and panel members in these circumstances. We consider there is already sufficient flexibility within The Fostering Panels (Establishment and Functions) (Wales) Regulations 2018 for fostering services to convene remote panels.
Undertaking Medical Assessments for Prospective Foster Carers
The Fostering Panels (Establishment and Functions) (Wales) Regulations 2018, includes a requirement that a fostering services provider should, as part of the assessment process for prospective foster carers, ‘obtain details of health (supported by a medical report)’. We are aware that the NHS has significantly reduced ability to provide these health assessments for prospective foster parents as priorities have been refocussed towards dealing with the emergency situation. We are further informed that there is a possibility that community paediatricians who act as Medical Advisers to fostering services providers may not have the resources to undertake work in this field if the pandemic continues and they are required elsewhere in the NHS.
We realise the impact that this will have on progressing placements for vulnerable children both during and after the crisis and that there needs to be some flexibility introduced to enable the assessment of prospective foster parents to continue during this period. Welsh Government has agreed Fostering Agencies who are affected by the inability to progress health assessments for prospective foster carers are able to exercise some flexibility in the delivery of health assessments.
To aid the current situation there will be two separate processes available that Fostering Agencies can follow for the implementation of medical assessments:
- for those services who remain able to access a full Adult Health Report via the applicants G.P (utilising methods to undertake a remote medical using the patient’s records), the usual CoramBAAF AHR form should be completed
- for those services who are not able to access any form of medical assessment from a GP, the Self-assessment form should be utilised, and where a Medical Advisor is available to provide comment upon this form, it should be obtained.
Please note: that this change relates to medical assessments only, all other requirements set out in the regulations remain in force.
Full details of the processes along with the template for the CoramBAAF ‘Self-Declaration of Health Form’ can be found at Annex 1 alongside more detailed specific guidance at Annex 2. It is imperative that the version of the Health Form attached with this guidance is used during the interim period. Please disregard any previous versions you may have received.
Can we change the number of children that a foster household can care for?
Foster carer approval terms, including age range and number of placements, may need to be flexible in the current circumstances. Where fostering services are concerned about capacity, they should start identifying potential fostering households that may be able to accommodate additional children and have sensitive and appropriate conversations as part of their contingency planning. No fostering household will be expected to take additional children into their home but many will want to offer help and these families should be enabled to do so.
Schedule 7 of the Children Act 1989 currently allows for some flexibility in placing multiple children together by allowing local authorities to grant exemptions to the usual fostering limit in specific placements.
Should services make additional payments to foster carers during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Fostering services should decide how best they support their foster carers during the pandemic. AfA Cymru’s guidance offers some helpful advice to services to assist decision making.
Children’s residential homes
Ensuring that vulnerable children remain protected is a top priority for the Welsh Government. Local authorities are working closely with residential homes on continuity plans to ensure they can safely remain open to ensure that the children in these homes continue to receive the care and support they need. Should providers be looking to change the purpose of a care home from short breaks provision to supporting COVID-19, a notification of a change to the statement of provision is required to CIW.
You must continue to notify CIW if your home is going to close and where you have an immediate or impending staffing shortage which may lead to the closure of your home, you should discuss that as a matter of urgency with the relevant placing local authorities.
We expect all children in residential care to continue to be supported to maintain contact with their birth families and to be able to spend time with their siblings. It may not be possible, or appropriate, for face-to-face contact to happen at this time and keeping in touch will, for the most part, need to take place virtually. This could be through daily or regular phone calls, video chats, the use of social media platforms or other means.
Securing placements if placements in children’s homes or foster care cannot be found?
Local authorities will need to ensure the accommodation provided to children meets their needs to the best of their ability given the current context.
Any service that delivers care and accommodation for children, as defined in Schedule one of the Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016 must be registered with CIW as a care home for children.
Placements in independent and semi-independent provision can be the right choice for some young people, acting as a stepping-stone to adult life, and we expect these to continue (please see care leavers section below concerning additional support required). If the service is providing care, it must be registered with CIW.
Local authorities must continue to do all they can to promote the well-being of looked after children and ensure their safety in accordance with the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act.
Every child should continue to be offered the best opportunity to flourish in a safe family environment where their fundamental needs are met and where they can enjoy the same opportunities as any other child. For some vulnerable children adoption is a positive and effective intervention for meeting their care needs and improving their overall outcomes.
It is vital that in these adverse times we do not lose sight of the importance of progressing adoption placements. It is important that Regional and Voluntary Adoption Agencies continue to progress as much of the process as they possibly can for these children, working innovatively and flexibly where possible. The more that can be progressed now, will enable agencies to progress cases quicker once the Covid-19 crisis is over, thus providing permanency for these children and freeing up foster placements that will be required to meet the needs of other vulnerable children in Wales.
Should we stop all introductory meetings for children with new adopted parents?
Whilst we understand that these will be challenging in current circumstances there should not be a blanket ban. There needs to be a case by case, risk-based decision.
The National Adoption Service is developing a framework to support Welsh services to consider whether this is possible on an individual case-by-case basis while also meeting necessary legal guidelines and the restrictions imposed by the current public health emergency. Regional and Voluntary Adoption Agencies should consider utilising communication technology to continue with the adoption process where possible.
During this challenging period do we have to comply with the requirements of the Adoption Agencies (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 which came into force on 1 April 2020?
Welsh Government has considered the implications associated with the introduction of the Adoption Agencies (Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 and have provided assurance to providers that no action, whether by use of Ministerial Directions powers or otherwise, will take place in relation to any infractions of the requirements in the new Regulations between 1st April 2020 and 30th September 2020 or until normal running is resumed, whichever is the sooner, provided that these occur with good reason.
This could mean in some circumstances that agencies will run Stage 1 and Stage 2 processes concurrently should they so wish. The requirement currently remains however that all the necessary checks including health assessments and DBS checks need to be fully completed before an adopter is approved. This could mean for example that medical assessments are left until the end of the process.
Providing agencies with some level of flexibility during this crisis will allow some services to continue to progress what they can and will therefore allow agencies to progress cases quicker once the crisis is over.
Providing agencies with some level of flexibility during this crisis will allow some services to continue to progress what they can and will therefore allow agencies to progress cases quicker once the crisis is over.
During this time, prospective adopters will not be able to access the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) if the reasons they are not determined suitable to adopt are linked to either their health assessment or their DBS check.
Should we stop adoption panels?
Regional and Voluntary Adoption Agencies should consider how panels can continue to ensure the adoption system continues to place children, but we accept that some delays may occur especially for the less straightforward cases.
Panels should consider continuing remotely through video or conferencing calls and this should be determined on a case by case basis. Adoptive parents and prospective adopters should only be asked to join via video/telephone calls.
Carrying out Adoption Medicals
There is sufficient flexibility within existing arrangements to allow agencies to operate safely. The interim measure which was introduced in April allows agencies to run Stage 1 and Stage 2 of the two stage adoption assessment process to run concurrently during the crisis. This will go some way in supporting the adoption process as it allows the medical assessments to be undertaken at any time during the process e.g. at the end of Stage 2. Providing this flexibility allows services to progress what they can so that cases can conclude quickly once the crisis is over.
Visits to children and families
Families who require visits, particularly for adoption support, should be prioritised according to need. In exceptional circumstances where it is necessary to visit, risk assessments will need to be undertaken. Advice and support should be offered remotely where it is appropriate.
Preparation and other training for adopters
Although it will be necessary to suspend some training sessions, Regional and Voluntary Adoption Agencies should look to put plans in place to continue to facilitate as many as possible via other means such as video conferencing or other facilities.
Are adopted children included in the term ‘vulnerable children’ for the provision in schools and registered childcare settings?
For the purpose of provision in schools and/or registered childcare setting vulnerable children include those with a social worker and with Statements of special educational needs. The most vulnerable of these should be prioritised by local authorities according to children with most need for the provision.
For the purpose of this provision those who have a social worker include children with care and support or support plans, children on the child protection register and children who are looked after.
What other support can adoptive families’ access?
It is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic could place additional pressure and stress upon families. It is imperative that families who are most in need of support, receive the right help in a timely manner. Services across Wales have adapted to continue to provide services safely during this health emergency.
Regional and Voluntary Adoption agencies
Adoptive families and professionals should contact their regional or voluntary adoption service to access the range of specialist adoption support services that can be made available. Advice on this is available through the National Adoption Service website or directly from the services themselves.
Although the majority of face-to-face support visits have been suspended, support is being offered remotely via Skype or other video call facility. Where support groups were planned these are now being set up remotely. Similarly any therapeutic sessions are being carried out in the same way.
Adoption UK Cymru
Adoption UK Cymru is continuing to run their helpline which is open to anyone needing specific parenting or adoption advice. This can be accessed via 02920 230319 or email email@example.com. They also have a forum for anyone who wants to share anxieties or concerns with others experiencing similar feelings and have a list of frequently asked questions on their website. Members have access to a network of local community groups, led by a team of experienced volunteers who are all adopters themselves.
In the current climate, physical meetings have been suspended, but members can still engage with their local community via messaging groups and virtual meetings hosted online. Virtual groups and online training is also taking place and one-to-one and peer support sessions for anyone experiencing challenging behaviour.
Therapeutic, Education and Support Services in Adoption (TESSA) - are continuing with referrals, consultations and matching with parent partners.
The Connected Service which is the Children and Young People’s service in Wales is having individual discussions with each family to identify what can be offered to children and young people. The offer of support under this scheme is currently under development.
For general family support, Families First is available in every local authority and provides early support for families which helps prevent problems escalating. The Families First programme is delivered through local authorities and the referral process is available on local authority websites together with an advice line for families or professionals to use to make contact.
National Adoption Service in Wales
The National Adoption Service central website is being adapted to ensure adopters understand the current position in relation to Covid-19 and are signposted appropriately. All social media channels are being regularly updated both by the Regional and Voluntary Adoption Agencies, signposting adopters to information, support groups and other forums.
How should local authorities meet their responsibilities to care leavers?
We are aware that care leavers are particularly vulnerable during this current emergency and are likely to need more support than usual. We know that local authorities have been quick to adapt to the circumstances and are providing ongoing and effective support.
Local authorities should continue to meet statutory duties, including offering personal advisers to care leavers and preparing or reviewing pathway plans using innovative ways. We recognise the additional pressure local authorities are under, and if they need to alter the support they are able to offer care leavers during this period, they should assess their needs and prioritise the most vulnerable.
Third Sector organisations stand ready to provide support. Voices from Care has developed a bespoke package of support for care leavers which has been circulated to local authorities. The support offered is intended to support emotional wellbeing by offering virtual social space. It is also providing a range of tailored advice and information and will look to adapt its service as the situation progresses.
Service providers should continue to offer all advocacy interventions for the active offer and issue based advocacy, using technology to facilitate support remotely.
Welsh Government has updated guidance for the St David’s Day Fund setting out that local authorities should give priority to care leavers who may be experiencing financial hardship due to income loss, difficulty with tenancy agreements, food and other basic living necessities.
Working with Welsh Government, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales has added advice to its Information Hub listing a range of support for care leavers
Are personal advisors still expected and able to visit care leavers?
Personal advisers should use their judgement to determine the nature of their contact with the young people they work with during this period. For some, this will still involve face-to-face visits.
Where appropriate, we encourage personal advisers to use technology to contact young people through phone or video, to minimise the need for face-to-face contact. We recognise that there may need to be a change in the level and type of contact with young people during this time.
Personal advisers will also want to use their own judgement on the level and frequency of contact for each care leaver, taking into account their individual circumstances and levels of vulnerability but assuming that care leavers are likely to need more support than usual in this difficult situation.
Personal advisers and their manager should use their own judgement to assess the level of risk and to prioritise cases where face-to-face contact is unavoidable, and it is not possible to provide the right level of support to the care leaver by phone or video.
Where face-to-face work is deemed necessary and a risk assessment has been undertaken, personal advisers should take account of advice on social distancing and the use of PPE, minimising the spread of infection to keep both themselves, and the care leavers they are visiting safe.
Should we continue to transition care leavers who are turning 18 into independent living? Can care leavers still be moved between different accommodation settings if necessary?
Local authorities should act in the best interests of care leavers. We would assume that during this period, care leavers are supported to remain in their current accommodation where the placement is meeting their needs. However, local authorities and their care leavers may wish to continue with their plans to transition into suitable accommodation and/or independence. If this is the case local authorities should be confident they can provide the appropriate levels of support and guidance needed to make a successful transition. Such decisions should be taken on a case by case basis.
We appreciate that finding suitable and available accommodation may be a challenge currently, and there is an increased need for young people to have stability and support at this difficult time. We will continue to maintain contact with leaving care teams across local authorities about the existing pressures they are facing and the particular accommodation needs at this time.
Unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC)
Where can symptomatic UASC self-isolate and what is being done to increase capacity for UASC self-isolation?
Where an unaccompanied asylum seeking child arrives in Wales and is symptomatic of coronavirus (COVID-19), the local authority receiving them will need to take steps to ensure that they are placed in suitable accommodation in isolation from other people in line with Public Health Wales guidance.
We encourage local authorities to find suitable premises and staff to enable the self-isolation. We will work with commissioning partners to establish if additional accommodation and support needs to be sourced. Local authorities will also wish to continue working as they normally would with Health services and the Third sector to provide wraparound support.
Advice on coronavirus is available in a range of different languages both in writing and in video form, here: covid.reciteme.com/nhs-guidance/
Who will have legal responsibility for UASC in self-isolation accommodation?
As with any spontaneous arrival, the local authority that initially encounters the child (for example, from the police station or from Border Force) should assess the child’s needs in line with best interests principles as they would in normal circumstances. The local authority will be responsible for the child and should place them in suitable self-isolation accommodation if the child is exhibiting symptoms.
Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW)
As a result of the fast changing and significant challenges coronavirus (COVID-19) poses for the childcare and social care sector, CIW paused all routine inspections from 5pm, 16 March.
CIW’s key priority is to provide assurance to the public and Ministers regarding the safety of services. CIW decisions are guided by the following three key principles:
- CIW will focus activity where it is needed most to ensure people receive safe care – this means concentrating on those areas where the risk to the quality of care is the highest and where CIW can make the biggest difference
- CIW will support providers by looking at how they can act flexibly and proportionately
- CIW will honour duty of care to colleagues in CIW
To achieve this, CIW have adapted its approach to provide independent scrutiny while ensuring CIW does not put people using services, staff or its own staff at unreasonable risk and works in line with national guidance. This enables us to:
- fulfil CIW’s statutory duties to report on the safety and well-being of people using social care and childcare and play services without adding unreasonable burdens to a system currently dealing with unprecedented challenges
- promote transparency about the response to COVID-19 and ensure lessons can be learned quickly
CIW have produced an overview of its approach to monitoring and assurance during the COVID-19 outbreak. A copy of this document is available on CIW website
CIW will continue to inspect, monitor and performance review any service where there are significant concerns about the safety and well-being of people, and will continue to consider the need for inspection in relation to concerns raised.
CIW made this decision to ensure local authorities and providers can concentrate on maintaining the health and safety of the people using services and their staff in these exceptional circumstances.
CIW is monitoring and seeking assurance of risk and fragility in the system in the absence of routine inspection. At present this includes regular phone calls to providers, regular discussions with commissioners, and directors of social services and heads of service. In addition, alongside Welsh Government, CIW will combine formal requests for information and share the data and information across the system to limit duplication and additional burden on the system.
Support for vulnerable children in education settings
Every child who can be safely cared for at home should be and only where there is no safe alternative should provision be made in schools or other settings.
For the purpose of provision in schools and/or registered childcare setting, vulnerable children include those with a social worker and with Statements of special educational needs. The most vulnerable of these should be prioritised by local authorities according to children with most need for the provision.
For the purpose of the provision, those who have a social worker include children with care and support or support plans, children on the child protection register and children who are looked after.
Further information about vulnerable children can be found at: gov.wales/vulnerable-children-and-safeguarding-coronavirus
Information about safeguarding in education settings is also available at: gov.wales/education-safeguarding-guidance-coronavirus
Information about the continuation of the childcare offer can also be found at: gov.wales/coronavirus-childcare-under-five-year-olds-parents-guidance#section-39958
Information about eligibility for ongoing provision for children whose parents are critical workers can be found at: https://gov.wales/coronavirus-key-critical-workers
Education other than at school (EOTAS)
Children who attend education other than at school (EOTAS) provision and, in particular, pupil referral units, are some of our most vulnerable learners. A high proportion of these pupils will have a social worker, have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety or adverse childhood experiences and/or have special educational needs (SEN).
All children who attend education other than at school who can safely be cared for at home should be. Local arrangements should be put in place to support these children and their families. EOTAS providers are well placed to identify and cater for the needs of pupils when they are not attending the setting and have protocols in place to ensure pupils are safeguarded. This includes allocating a member of staff to each pupil who has responsibility for making frequent wellbeing and safeguarding contact, and for referring any issues to the appropriate supporting agency.
Local authorities will need to make arrangements for childcare placements for those children who cannot stay at home due to being vulnerable or having parents who are key workers. The arrangements put in place will depend on the needs of the pupil. Local authorities should work on a case-by-case basis working with the EOTAS provider, social workers and other agencies to make appropriate arrangements. This could include continuing to attend a pupil referral units, where the pupil referral units remains open for childcare, attending alternative EOTAS provision or, where appropriate, a local school hub.
Home educated children
Local authorities should also keep in touch with children who are usually home educated by their parents and promote relevant resources that are available on the Hwb. Where there is information to suggest that a child is vulnerable, it will be important to maintain regular contact, to offer support to families who need it and to report any safeguarding concerns to Children’s Social services in the usual way.