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1.1.1 Policies, Values and Principles (Values)

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter provides the context for all procedures.

It contains the overarching policy for the provision of services to children and families. It also sets out underlying values and principles for recording, confidentiality and consultation.

AMENDMENT

In October 2018, a new Section 2, Corporate Parenting was added in response to the DfE, Applying Corporate Parenting Principles to Looked-after Children and Care Leavers – Statutory Guidance (Feb 2018). It includes the seven corporate parenting principles set out in the guidance. It was also reviewed and updated following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and Data Protection Act 2018.


Contents

1. Child Care Policy and Strategy
  1.1 Introduction
  1.2 Policy Statement
  1.3 Our Strategy
2. Corporate Parenting
3. Recording Values and Principles
4. Confidentiality Policy, Values and Principles
5. Consultation Values and Principles


1. Child Care Policy and Strategy

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1.1 Introduction

This policy sets out the framework within which Children's Social Care Services work with children, young people and their families. It is underpinned by a range of legislation including, but not limited to:

  • Children Acts 1989 and 2004
  • Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000
  • Care Standards Act 2000
  • United Nations Convention on the Rights of The Child
  • Human Rights Act 1998
  • Adoption and Children Act 2002
  • Data Protection legislation;
  • Children and Social Work Act 2017.

The policy framework also has regard to and is consistent with a range of government guidance, particularly the Department for Education agenda and the principles set out in Working Together to Safeguard Children.

It is largely directed towards the work that Children's Social Care Services undertakes with Children in Need and Looked After Children; which is carried out in partnership with all sectors of the Local Authority and with other statutory, independent and voluntary sector services.

1.2 Policy Statement

In Children's Social Care Services, we will work to ensure that all children have the best chances in life to achieve their full potential.

Key Outcomes

This can be summarised under 5 key outcomes for children and young people:

  • Being healthy

    All children and young people have the right to have their physical and mental health safeguarded and promoted. They also have the right to live a healthy lifestyle.
  • Being safe

    All children and young people have the right to be safe and secure, protected from harm and neglect, and to live in an environment that enables them to develop to their full physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social potential.
  • Enjoying and achieving

    All children and young people have the right to the best possible education and training which meets their identified needs and equips them to live full adult lives. They also have the right to time and support to pursue appropriate leisure interests, especially children acting as young carers.
  • Making a positive contribution

    All children and young people have the right to family life wherever possible and to be supported to take part in community life. They have the right to a continuity of care wherever possible and to develop and preserve their own identities. They also have a right to information and to make choices about their lives, having regard to their age and understanding. Through this they will be enabled to make a positive contribution to the community and to society.
  • Economic well-being

    All children have the right to live above the poverty threshold and to be equipped with the skills and knowledge that will help them overcome socioeconomic disadvantage where necessary.

Key Principles

Consideration of children's welfare and best interests will always be at the centre of our work.

Children's Social Care Services will work to ensure the above outcomes by working to maintain children within their own families, and facilitating services to support these arrangements, wherever this is possible and consistent with the child's safety and well-being.

Where a child cannot be cared for within his or her immediate family, we will make strenuous efforts to identify potential carers within the wider kinship network of the child who are able and willing to care for the child.

If continuing care within his/her family is not possible we will make every effort to identify suitable alternative carers, reflecting the child's ethnic, religious, cultural and linguistic background wherever possible and appropriate. We will seek to identify suitable local placements to provide educational and social continuity

We will ensure that children who are looked after are placed in approved placements, suitable to meet their needs and that, wherever possible, siblings are placed together. For younger children, they will be placed in a family placement unless there are sound assessed reasons why residential care is the preferred option.

We will ensure that permanence plans are made for all looked after children within 4 months of their becoming looked after and enacted as quickly as possible. If a young person remains in care we will ensure that they are supported when they leave care at least until they are 25, to give them a positive start to independent living.

We will consult with children, their parents and other significant adults about plans for their care and these plans will be subject to independent review. We will also consult about the services we provide and ensure that children have access to advocacy services that will assist them in being heard.

1.3 Our Strategy

The strategy for Children's Social Care Services is to harness government policy and funding streams to improve performance, so that we can work with other agencies to ensure better outcomes for every child and his or her family through cost effective systems, structures and partnerships - through targeting services to prevent most children from becoming children in need, whilst concentrating specialist services on children most in need to give them the best possible life chances.


2. Corporate Parenting

2.1 Corporate Parenting Responsibilities

The role that councils play in looking after children is one of the most important things they do. Local authorities have a unique responsibility to the children they look after and their care leavers.

The term 'corporate parent' is broadly understood by Directors of Children's Services and Lead Members for Children, as well as those working directly in Children's Services, in relation to how local authorities should approach their responsibilities for looked after children and care leavers. A strong ethos of corporate parenting means that sense of vision and responsibility towards the children they look after and their care leavers is a priority for everyone. Corporate Parenting is an important part of the Ofsted inspection framework and the Corporate Parenting Principles are referenced in Ofsted's Inspecting Local Authority Children's Services.

The Corporate Parenting Principles are intended to facilitate as far as possible secure, nurturing, and positive experiences for looked after children and young people and enable positive outcomes for them.

The experiences of looked-after children and care leavers, particularly in regards to whether they feel cared for and listened to, will therefore be an important measure of how successfully local authorities embed these principles.

2.2 Corporate Parenting Principles

The Corporate Parenting Principles set out seven principles that local authorities will have regard to when exercising their functions in relation to looked after children and young people, as follows:

  • To act in the best interests, and promote the physical and mental health and wellbeing, of those children and young people;
  • To encourage those children and young people to express their views, wishes and feelings;
  • To take into account the views, wishes and feelings of those children and young people;
  • To help those children and young people gain access to, and make the best use of, services provided by the local authority and its relevant partners;
  • To promote high aspirations, and seek to secure the best outcomes, for those children and young people;
  • For those children and young people to be safe, and for stability in their home lives, relationships and education or work; and
  • To prepare those children and young people for adulthood and independent living.

The Corporate Parenting Principles do not replace or change existing legal duties, The principles are intended to encourage local authorities to be ambitious and aspirational for their looked-after children and care leavers.

In addition, section 10 of the Children Act 2004 sets out the responsibility to make arrangements to promote co-operation between 'relevant partners' with a view to improving the well-being of children in their area. This should include arrangements in relation to looked-after children and care leavers. Section 10(5) of the 2004 Act places a duty on relevant partners to co-operate with the local authority in the making of these arrangements, therefore promoting and ensuring a joined-up approach to improving the well-being of children in their area.

See DfE, Applying Corporate Parenting Principles to Looked-after Children and Care Leavers – Statutory Guidance (February 2018).


3. Recording Values and Principles

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1. Records Must be Kept on All Children

Each child must have their own electronic case record from the point of referral to case closure; audio, video and digital recordings may also be kept.

Where paper files are also kept, information held in electronic records must accurately reflect the corresponding information recorded within paper files (unless paper-based records pre-date electronic recording).

The case management systems used for children (Protocol ICS) must record all paper files that may exist in relation to a child and their location.

Records held on paper may extend to more than one volume. Where more than one volume exists, the dates covered by each volume must be clearly recorded on the front cover and be individually listed in the electronic record.

2. The Design of Records and Forms must be Approved

Records and forms associated with statutory social care services must be designed to fit their purpose and used consistently across the organisation.

The Service Manager responsible for Performance and Information must approve the design of all records and forms before coming into use. Once approved, stand alone forms may only be downloaded from within the tri.x on-line manual or the Councils intranet (Izzi) to ensure staff are accessing the latest versions.

For further information in relation to the Integrated Children's System (ICS), see also ICS Guidance.

3. Children and their Families must be Informed about their Records

Children and their families should be told what types of information/data is contained in their case records.

In particular, they should be helped to understand what data is collected on them, how it is used, who it might be shared with and how long it will be kept for. The most common way to provide information to Data Subjects on what data is collected and how it is used is through a Privacy Notice. Privacy Notices must be easily accessible to children, young people and their families, and should be part of the induction pack given to any new staff members.

See Section 3, Confidentiality Values and Principles.

See also Access to Records Procedure.

Where children have been adopted, see also Access to Birth Records and Adoption Case Records Procedure.

Information must be provided in a form that children and their families will understand - in their preferred language or method of communication. An interpreter will be provided if needed.

4. The Practitioner Primarily Involved should Complete the Record

The practitioner primarily involved, that is the person who directly observes or witnesses the event that is being recorded or who has participated in the meeting/conversation, must complete records.

Where this is not possible and records are completed or updated by other people, it must be clear from the record which person provided the information being recorded. Preferably the originator should read read the record to ensure its accuracy.

Records of decisions must show who made any decision as well as the basis on which it was made.

5. All Relevant Information about Children and their Families must be Recorded

Every child's case record must hold details of the child's full name, date of birth and any identification number.

It must also include a risk assessment, transfer/closing summary (where appropriate) and a properly maintained chronology.

All other relevant contacts with children, their families, colleagues, professionals or other significant people must be recorded in the same way, i.e. who was present or seen, the relevant discussions, actions or decisions taken and by whom, and the reasons for decisions.

6. Children and their Families should be Involved in the Recording Process

Children and their families must be routinely involved in the process of gathering and recording information about them. They should feel they are part of the recording process.

They should be asked to provide information, express their own views and wishes, and contribute to assessments, reports and to the formulation of plans.

Generally, they must be asked to give their agreement to the sharing of information about them with others - but there are exceptions (see section 7).

7. Information about Children and their Families should Normally be Shared with Them

Information contained in the case record should usually be shared with the Data Subject unless:

  • Sharing the information would be likely to result in serious harm to the child or another person, or
  • The information was given in the expectation that it would not be disclosed, or
  • The information relates to a third party who expressly indicated the information should not be disclosed.

Where information is obtained and recorded which should not be shared with the child concerned for one of the above reasons, it should be clearly marked 'restricted' on the case file to indicate that this information is not to be disclosed. The method of doing so will depend on the type of document received and whether it is electronic or paper-based. Advice can be sought from the CSC Information Manager and at the Department for Education.

See also Access to Records Procedure.

Where children have been adopted, see also Access to Birth Records and Adoption Case Records Procedure.

8. Managers must Ensure that Confidential Information is Identified

Managers must ensure that restricted information is appropriately identified and protected where access to case records is requested. They should also review the information to decide whether the reason for restricting the information continues to be valid.

However, before sharing any such information, the manager must take all reasonable steps to consult the originator and take account of their views and wishes. See also Access to Records Procedure.

9. Records must be Kept up to Date

Records should be updated as information becomes available or as decisions or actions are taken as soon as practicable or, at the latest, within 2 working days.

Where records are made outside of an electronic case management system which is capable of auditing the date of entry, the author should not the date of the entry made and where appropriate offer an explanation for the lateness for clarification within the entry.

10. Records must be Written Clearly using Plain Language and Avoid Prejudice

Records must be written clearly and concisely, using plain language, and must not contain any expressions that might give offence to any individual or group of people on the basis of race, culture, religion, age, disability, or sexual orientation.

Use of technical or professional terms and abbreviations must be kept to a minimum; and if there is likely to be any doubt of their meaning, they must be defined or explained.

11. Records must be Accurate and Adequate

Care must be taken to ensure that information contained in records is relevant and accurate and is sufficient to meet legislative responsibilities and the requirements of these procedures.

Every effort must be made to ensure records are factually correct. If a child / young person feels that information in their record is not accurate, they have a right to request that it is rectified. Local authorities have 1 month to respond to any such requests and, if any such request is received, the authority should take reasonable steps to establish if the data is accurate and rectify the record if necessary.

Records must distinguish clearly between facts, opinions, assessments, judgements and decisions. Records must also distinguish between first hand information and information obtained from third parties.

See Section 3, Confidentiality Values and Principles.

12. Managers must Oversee, Monitor and Review all Records

The overall responsibility for ensuring all records are maintained appropriately rests with line managers, although the responsibility can be delegated to other staff as appropriate.

The line manager should routinely check samples of records to ensure they are up to date and maintained as required and, if not, that deficiencies are rectified as soon as practicable. Case File Audits undertaken as part of the Quality Assurance Framework are one method that managers will use to evaluate the quality of recording of practice staff.

13. Records Should be Kept Securely

All records held on children must be kept securely.

Children's paper files should normally be stored in a locked cabinet, or a similar manner, usually in an office which only staff/carers have access to.

These records should not be left unattended when not in their normal location.

Electronic records must not be left open and unattended on screens and log-ins to access electronic records must never be divulged to another person.

14. Removal of Records must be an Exceptional Occurrence

Records should not normally be taken from the location where they are usually kept.

If it is necessary to remove a record from its normal location, a manager should approve this and should stipulate or agree how long it is necessary to remove the record. The manager must also be satisfied that adequate measures are in place to ensure the security of the record(s) whilst they are removed. For example, records must never be left in unattended vehicles.

The authorisation for a record to be removed must be recorded and those who may have need to see the records should be informed of their removal. The manager must then ensure the record is returned as required/agreed.

15. Records moved to a new Location must be Monitored

Where records are moved to a new location, the date of transfer should be clearly recorded.

The sender should check that the records have arrived at their intended destination.

16. Records must usually be Retained after Closure

Files should be retained for the period set out in the Case Records and Retention Procedure.

The member of staff responsible for the case when the case is closed is responsible for ensuring that the file to be retained is in good order and that unnecessary items have been removed, for example, compliment slips, duplicate copies etc.

17. Use of Computers at Home

Staff using computers at home for work purposes must transfer any material to an office PC on the next working day. All material must then be deleted from their personal PC hard drive and/or floppy disc or CD.

This procedure also applies to staff using laptop computers, unless authorised by their manager to retain material for longer.

Such authorisation must only be given on a case-by-case basis and specific timescales must be recorded. Where authorisation is given, no information should be retained that can identify any service user.


4. Confidentiality Policy, Values and Principles

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1. Children's Social Care Services Confidentiality Policy

1.1 Introduction

Children's Social Care Services recognises its common law duties to safeguard the confidentiality of all personal information. Wherever disclosure of confidential information to another person or organisation is being considered, a check will always be made to ensure that such disclosure is lawful.

All Council staff must be made aware that the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and apply to the processing of all personal data, both in paper and electronic records. Where disclosure is proposed, and there is any doubt as to whether the Data Protection Act / GDPR apply or whether only the common law of confidentiality applies, advice will always be sought, from the CSC Information Manager, who may consult with the Council's Data Protection Officer and/or Legal Services.

The Council will always record its reasons for deciding not to observe any duty of confidence it owes to a person who is the subject of information disclosed.

E-mail messages sent via the internet to recipients outside of the Council's network can be intercepted, read and changed relatively easily. Consequently, Council staff will not use the internet to pass on personal identifiable information about service users unless a secure or encrypted connection is in place.

1.2 Staff Obligations

The Council's conditions of employment, issued as part of every employee's contract, detail the obligations placed upon the Council staff. In addition, staff are governed by the council's corporate policies around information and data security. These policies can be found on Islington Council's website.

Staff employed with the Council will come into contact with confidential information/data relating to the work of the Council, its service users and other staff. Staff are bound by their conditions of service to respect the confidentiality of any information that they may come into contact with and under no circumstances should such information be divulged or passed to any persons or organisation in any form unless such disclosure is authorised under this policy.

Any unauthorised disclosure of confidential information by Council staff may result in disciplinary action. Staff may also face prosecution under the Data Protection Act 2018.

Where Council staff misuse confidential information, e.g. disclose their password to someone else or use someone else's password to gain access to systems, they could face disciplinary action that could lead to dismissal. They may also be prosecuted under the Computer Misuse Act 1990.

Managers must ensure that confidentiality is discussed with all new employees, as part of their induction. It is recommended that staff acknowledge that they have taken note of the contents of this policy.

Volunteers and work experience students must also have their role in maintaining confidentiality made clear by the member of staff responsible for them and must be aware of and adhere to this policy.

1.3 Commercial Confidentiality

Some Council staff may have access to commercial information, agreements or contracts. This information must be treated as confidential, and only discussed/disclosed where this forms part of the employee's remit within the organisation. Staff should consult their manager of the CSC Information Manager if they are in any doubt.

1.4 Research, Audit and Monitoring

Access to confidential information or anonymous data may be sought for research, audit or monitoring purposes, either by other Council areas or by outside organisations or public bodies.

Internal requests related to research projects must be approved and a formal submission will be required.

External requests or enquiries should be directed to the CSC Information Manager where they are not part of routine case management. An example of routine access request would be a request from CAFCASS during care proceedings or information provided to Ofsted during an inspection, where in doubt staff should consult the CSC Information Manager.

1.5 Press Interest, Police and Legal Enquiries

All media enquiries should be referred to the Chief Executive via the press office.

The Police do not have automatic rights to personal information held by the Council about service users. To respond to requests from the police please refer to Protocol for Handling Access to Social Care Records Requests from the Metropolitan Police.

Any requests for access to confidential information held by the Council for the purpose of any legal proceedings must be referred to the Council's Legal Services. A Court Order is required in order to release such information for legal proceedings. Verbal or written requests from lawyers are not sufficient. Staff should also seek advice from their manager and, the CSC Information Manager who can offer advice and assist in co-ordinating or responding to complex requests.

2. Confidentiality Values and Principles

The following is a summary of the Practitioners Guide to Information Sharing which has been published by the DfES, the full text of which can be accessed from the national web archive.

There is additional guidance in 'Information Sharing: Further Guidance on Legal Issues' and 'Information Sharing: Case Examples'.

2.1 Personal Information is Subject to a Legal Duty of Confidence

Personal information held about children is subject to a legal duty of confidence and should not normally be disclosed without the consent of the subject. The exceptions to this are set out in Paragraph 2.2 below.

The legal framework for confidentiality is contained in the common law duty of confidence, the Children Act 1989, the Human Rights Act 1998, the EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018.

2.2 Disclosure of Confidential Information is Permitted in Exceptional Circumstances

Whilst the general principle is that information obtained about children and their families must be shared with them and not with others, there are exceptions. The public interest in safeguarding the welfare of children the public interest in maintaining confidentiality, and the law permits the disclosure of confidential information where this is necessary to safeguard a child or children.

Disclosure of confidential information should be justifiable in each case, for example to provide information to professionals from other agencies working with the child, and where possible and appropriate, the agreement of the person concerned should be obtained.

Those working with children and families must make it clear to them that confidentiality may not be maintained if the disclosure of information is necessary in the interests of the child. Even in these circumstances, disclosure will be appropriate for the purpose and only to the extent necessary to achieve that purpose.

There may also be situations where third parties have a statutory right of access to the information or where a Court Order requires that access be given.

The circumstances in which information held in records on children and families can and should be disclosed and shared with others with or without consent are set out in the following sections.

In all other cases, where third parties such as advocates, solicitors or external researchers request access to information, this should only be given if written consent is given by the person concerned or if a Court Order requires it.

2.3 Situations where Disclosure is Permitted Should be Shared with Children Involved

Children and families should be informed of the circumstances in which information about them will be shared with others, and their consent to this sharing obtained. They should also be helped to understand that, in some situations, sharing information without consent could be justified – for example to safeguard a child or adult at risk. It should be made clear that in each case the information passed on will only be what is relevant and on a 'need to know' basis.

2.4 Information Should be Disclosed to Colleagues and other Professionals/Agencies on a Need to Know Basis

Sharing information promptly with others working with the same child, or who may need to know, is invariably the key to safeguarding the child's interests.

Therefore, relevant information about children must be shared with colleagues, other professionals or agencies that may have a role to play in their care.

There are also situations where council employees have a legal duty to share information.

For example:

  • Where professionals are undertaking a Section 47 Enquiry in relation to a child.
  • Where the Police are investigating a criminal offence or require information to help them find an absent, missing or absconded child.
  • Where information is requested in the furtherance of an inquiry or tribunal, or for the purposes of a Serious Case Review.

In such circumstances the person to whom the information relates should be informed that records have been requested unless to do so would prejudice the purpose of the request.

Any objections they have should be considered before responding to the person making the request.

Where information or records are passed to others it should be noted and confirmed in writing.

Information may also be disclosed to persons who have a statutory right of access to the information, for example:

  • Where the Court directs that records be produced or a Children's Guardian is appointed.
  • Where information is requested by Inspectors of the Regulatory Authority (who have specific statutory powers that permit access to records)

Where information is requested by telephone or electronically, great care must be taken to ensure that the recipient is entitled to receive the information requested. Where there is any doubt the information may not be provided without the approval of a manager.

3. Freedom of Information Act 2000

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 came into force on 1 January 2005.

Under the Act anybody may request non personal information in writing or via e-mail from a public authority (which includes all local authorities) and must receive a response within 20 working days. The Act confers two statutory rights on applicants:

  • To be informed in writing whether or not the public authority holds the information requested; and if so
  • To have that information communicated to them.

The Act applies to all information whether recent or old.

The Act sets out 23 exemptions from rights of access to information. If the information is exempt, there is no right of access under the Act.

One exemption relates to personal information. This means that an application for personal information under the Act is exempt and will not therefore be dealt with under the Act. See the Access to Records Procedure.

Another category relates to information provided in confidence where disclosure would involve an actionable breach of confidence. This would include information provided by a member of the public about a child protection issue where the provider has provided the information on the basis that anonymity will be maintained.

The Act therefore does not change the legal position into the principles of confidentiality set out in paragraphs 2.1 to 2.4 above.


5. Consultation Values and Principles

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5.1 General Principles of Consultation

Everyone involved in the receipt and delivery of services should be consulted about decisions, which may affect them.

This includes children, their advocates, their parents, other significant family members and those charged with providing the service; including managers, staff, carers and professionals or colleagues from other agencies.

This means that people's views should be sought and taken into account in relation to all decisions, which are likely to affect their daily life and their future.

The older and more mature the child is, the more weight can and should be given to their wishes and feelings.

Unless there are exceptional circumstances, reasonable steps must be taken in all cases to consult the parents. Exceptions will include where a child is placed for adoption and where older children with an appropriate level of maturity specifically request that their parents are not consulted and a decision is made to respect their wishes.

Consultation should take place on a regular and frequent basis with those who need to be consulted and assumptions should not be made about the inability or lack of interest of those who should be consulted.

Where people have communication difficulties of any sort, suitable means must be provided to enable them to be consulted, including arranging access to advocates or representatives who may speak on their behalf.

Consultation should be undertaken in a creative manner.

If consultation is not possible or is restricted for whatever reason, steps should be taken to ensure those affected are informed of decisions as soon as practicable after they are made, and an explanation for the decision given, together with the opportunity to make a comment and express their views.

If it is then felt that a different decision may have been appropriate, steps should be taken to reconsider the decision.

If decisions are made against people's wishes, they should be informed of the decision and the reasons for the decision should be explained. In these circumstances, the person should be informed of any rights they have to formally challenge the decision, and of the availability of any relevant Complaints or Grievance Procedure.

Children looked after should also be informed of their right to appoint an advocate, and if an advocate is appointed, he or she must be consulted in accordance with the principles set out in this section.

5.2 Management Consultation

Unless otherwise stated in specific procedures in this manual, it is assumed that people working in this organisation will take reasonable steps to keep their managers informed of their actions; and will consult and seek their approval where they do not have decision making responsibility delegated to them.

In order to facilitate this, managers must ensure that effective lines of communication are established and maintained.

If procedures in this manual require that managers are informed within specified timescales or their approval is sought before actions are taken, this must be complied with.

5.3 Legal Consultation

It is assumed that, in following these procedures, social workers and/or their managers will seek legal advice as appropriate before taking any action and/or making decisions, which will or may change the legal status of a child or decisions which do not have parental consent. This is particularly so in cases where emergency action is being considered.

In order to facilitate this, managers must ensure that effective lines of communication are established and maintained between Children's Social Care Services and the Council's Legal Advisers, and that workers are aware of who may authorise contact, who may have contact and how contact should be made.

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