NAFP continues to recognise the importance of local authorities and independent fostering agencies (IFA) working together with to support contact-family time for all children and young people in foster care. It is nevertheless clear that the message of 'lockdown' in England during November and December 2020 is to minimise mixing in person between people. Without specific guidance for children's social care, a large number of local authorities have responded quickly to distribute their own, often differing, guidance for contact/family time and social work visits to children. NAFP has discussed the implications of this current lockdown in England with members. This statement represents the consensus of NAFP IFA member views at this time. The statement will be reviewed in early December when the government reviews lockdown, to take into account any further possible lockdown and/or the implications for tier 3 areas of the country.
It is NAFP's view that decisions on contact/family time and social work visits for children and young people in foster care should be made on a case-by-case basis, and not be subject to a broad, all-encompassing policy either in favour of face to face meetings in person or against them. Decisions should take into account:
- The evidenced need of why the child or young person needs actual in person contact/family time/social work visit (as opposed to contact-family time by video)
- The feelings and wishes of children and young people (many of whom prefer video contact)
- Robust risk assessments which must be completed by the local authority for all those involved (child, parents, siblings, wider family network, foster carer household in collaboration with the IFA, local authority social worker, IFA social worker, contact support staff etc.) and shared with IFAs prior to face to face contact/family time/meetings taking place
- The feelings and wishes of foster carers, who may be putting their household at risk and may themselves be vulnerable
- The use of options for a blended approach to contact/family time and social work visits that will ensure Covid-safe practice i.e. face coverings for adults, hand washing, social distancing for adults, meeting in parks/taking walks/garden visits, part outdoors/part indoors, using meeting rooms in offices/contact centres, cleaning before/after, ventilation etc.
- Appropriate sharing of information between foster carers, local authority social workers, IFA supervising social workers and others so that in person meetings can be minimised and scheduled by agreement, and do not duplicate each other