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Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual
Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual Nottingham City Safeguarding Children’s Board Procedures Manual
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5.6.1 Family Time with Parents/Adults and Siblings


This chapter applies to arrangements for children placed in local authority care  to have family time with their parents, anyone with Parental Responsibility who is not a parent, siblings, any relative, friend or other person connected with the child.

For arrangements for social visits and overnight stays away with friends which staff/carers may agree, see Social Visits and Overnight Stays with Friends Procedure.

NOTE: The responsible authority should review this policy (in particular the issue of sibling contact) with their local Children in Care Council and other Looked After Children.


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

Childnet advice for Supporting Young People Online - Provides information about managing online contact between a child/young person and birth family.


Decision to Look After Procedure

Care Planning Procedure


Section 3, Supervised Family Time was updated in November 2022 to reflect a finding by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman that the supervisor's observations of the contact must be clearly recorded in the child's record and shared with the parents within 3 months of the visit. A new section on Recording of Family Time was also added.


  1. Approving and Planning Family Time
  2. Different Types of Family Time
  3. Supervised Family Time
  4. Review of Family Time Arrangements
  5. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Family Time

1. Approving and Planning Family Time

The responsible authority has a duty to endeavour to promote family time between the child and parents, siblings, anyone with Parental Responsibility who is not a parent, any relative, friend or other person connected with the child unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child’s welfare. The assessment and discussions with the child will identify those people for whom it is important to maintain contact. This may include those (including a parent) with whom contact has been lost and consideration should be given as to how this could be re-established.

This should be in a manner consistent with the child’s Care Plan; which, itself, must take account of any Child Protection Plan or Contact Order that may be in force. There is a presumption of continued contact between the child and their family while the child is Looked After, unless it is not reasonably practicable or consistent with the child’s welfare.

Family timebetween children and their parents, siblings or relevant others may only be permitted if previously agreed by the social worker and should be set out in the child’s Placement Information Record.

The purpose of the Family Time and how it will be evaluated must be made clear in the Plan.

Both direct and indirect Family Timet arrangements should always be clearly detailed, setting out how session will take place, the venue, the frequency and how the arrangements will be reviewed. The use of mobile communication should also be considered.

Where Family Time is extended as part of a plan to gradually return the child to the parents’ care, the Placement with Parents Procedure should be followed.

For foster carers providing short breaks, the foster carer must maintain Family Time as agreed in the Short Break Plan.

Maintaining contact with siblings from both the same or different parents is reported by children to be one of their highest priorities (The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review). It is not always possible or appropriate to place sibling groups together. Where siblings cannot be placed together it requires the active involvement of all parties to facilitate time between them.

Independent Reviewing Officers should ensure that Looked After Reviews consider whether family time arrangements including sibling time in Care Plans has been implemented and that the child is happy with the arrangements– both its frequency and its quality. The IRO should inform the child that they can access Advocacy Services if they have a complaint.

2. Different Types of Family Time

Face to face meetings and visits will generally be the best way of maintaining relationships, but other means such as letters, mobile communication, photograph exchanges etc. should also be considered.

Responsible authorities and carers should work together to explore how electronic media can support positive relationships for children. Children should be supported to ensure they are safe online rather than this form of contact being avoided. It may be useful to encourage young people to share details of how they communicate with others (this may include mobile phones or other social networking sites and apps and consoles such as Xbox or Play Station) and an agreement reached between the young person, social worker and foster carer about how safely to do this.

3. Supervised Family Time

The need to supervise family time should be considered as part of the assessment and planning process by the social worker and his/her Manager. It is the responsibility of the child’s social worker to ensure that the person(s) supervising family time is appropriately skilled and experienced to do so.

The primary focus of the assessment of this issue will be the safety and welfare of the child.

Family time can be unsupervised, facilitated or supervised.

Unsupervised family time means that the session takes place with no-one else there with a specific role to facilitate, support or supervise the family time session.

Facilitated family time is where some support is provided for the session such as a room at Helen’s Place; and where possible, staff might greet everyone beforehand and pop in to ask if anything is needed. This may include some remote supervision via camera link.

Supervised family time involves someone allocated to be present throughout the whole session and a written record is kept.

The Social Worker should consider whether family time will need to be supervised as part of the assessment and planning process by the Social Worker and their Team Manager.

Where supervised family time is deemed necessary, the reasons should be clearly recorded and the role of the supervisor or supervisors clearly defined.

A written risk assessment must be completed before supervised sessions begin.

This assessment must take account of all factors that could impact on the success of supervised family time and relevant safeguards including:

  1. Any history of abuse or threats of abuse to the child, carer givers, staff or others;
  2. Previous threats to disrupt contact or failure to cooperate with conditions agreed for supervised contact;
  3. Previous incidents or threats of abduction;
  4. Previous incidents of coercion or inappropriate behaviour during contact;
  5. Parent is threatening or emotionally abusive in their discourse with the child;
  6. The child’s behaviour and needs, including medical needs.

Where any of the above features in the risk assessment, and supervised family time is to continue, the risk assessment must state the specific measures to be put in place to minimise risks. The assessment must then be approved and signed by the social worker's Team Manager.

Where supervised family time takes place, the detailed arrangements for the supervision must be set out in the Placement Plan.

In addition, there should be a written Family Time Service Agreement with the parents and other parties having supervised family time, signed by them, which should state clearly any specific conditions relating to the sessions and any expectations placed on the parents, caregivers and workers:

  • The agreement should be clear about where the family time must take place and whether any flexibility is allowed for activity or movements within or away from the agreed location;
  • It should also be clear about whether the person(s) having family time are permitted to give the child food, drinks, gifts or money during the session;
  • It should state clearly the circumstances in which family time sessions will be terminated;
  • The agreement should state the adults who will be allowed to attend for supervised family time and supervisors should be asked to apply that strictly;
  • Particular attention should be given to when and how visits are ended.

Significant changes to Care Plans, Court proceedings and/or decisions made about the frequency of future family time are all likely to be potential tension points so extra vigilance should apply at any sessions arranged around these times.

The staff/carers and any other person involved in the supervision of the family time should have copies of the Placement Plan and the agreement with the parents or relevant adults.

Where possible, those supervising the family time should be known to the child and the family before the supervised family time takes place.

In the event of problems emerging, the supervisors must be clear who to contact and what details they will need to share.

The supervisor must immediately report to the social worker any concerns about the child or parents’ conduct during family time. The social worker in consultation with his/her Manager should consider the need to review the risk assessment and/or family time arrangements in light of the concerns expressed.

Recording of Family Time

All recording must be carried out on the Recording Template for Family Time

These practice guidance sheets set out what should be recorded during care proceedings and for assessment and for post proceedings and where contact is unsupervised or facilitated. The recording will include:

  • How the child was before contact - were there any noticeable behavioural changes, concerns or feelings?
  • Whether the contact went as planned, who was involved, timing, place and activities;
  • What happened during contact - greetings, farewells, physical contact, behaviours, tasks, conversations, non-verbal communication, feelings, surprises;
  • What happened after contact - child’s behaviours and feelings;
  • Areas of progress and areas of concern.
The supervisor’s observations of the contact must be clearly recorded in the child’s record and can be shared with the parents where appropriate within 3 months of the visit (Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman finding).

See Section 4, Review of Family Time Arrangements.

4. Review of Family Time Arrangements

The social worker and their Team Manager should keep family time arrangements, including the continuing need for supervision, under regular review.

The risk assessment in relation to the arrangements for supervising family time must be reviewed at least every six months, or sooner, if any incident or report identifies concerns.

Any significant reactions that the child has to family time should be reported to the child's Social Worker by those observing family time sessions, for example foster carers, residential staff and/or supervisors of family time.

The family time arrangements should also be reviewed in any child's Looked after Review.

Where a Contact Order is in force and it is considered that the family time arrangements set out in the Order should be altered, the agreement of the child and the parents should be sought and legal advice should be obtained as to the need to seek a variation of the Court Order.

5. Cancellation, Suspension or Termination of Family Time

Family time should never be cancelled unless there is a very good reason, e.g. it is deemed that it would not be safe for it to take place or the child/adult/sibling attending is too unwell for it to take place or the child is not wishing to attend. Family time should take place in accordance with the child’s Care Plan, Court Order and any Court Directions.

Sometimes some foster carers and Social Workers think that because family time can upset a particular child or young person, they feel that they should reduce it or cancel it altogether; yet many times the child or young person would like family time to continue regardless. In each case, the child or young person should be consulted before any decision like this is made that affects them.

Wherever possible, the care giver should consult the child’s Social Worker in advance if they consider there is a good reason to cancel the family time session

If family time is cancelled, the Social Worker or Supervisor must ensure that the child and, as far as practicable, the parent or other adult is informed in advance and that the reason for the decision is explained. An alternative session should be arranged if appropriate.

N.B. Family time arrangements must not be withdrawn as a sanction imposed on a child.

Any proposal to suspend or terminate family time should be considered as part of the child’s Looked After Review, unless the circumstances require an urgent decision to be made, in which case the Social Worker must be consulted and legal advice should be obtained.

Even where it is not possible to hold a Looked after Review because of the urgency of the situation, the reasons for the proposal must be explained to the parents and to the child, and their agreement obtained if possible.

Where the child is the subject of an Emergency Protection Order, Interim Care Order or full Care Order, an application to the Court for authority to terminate the contact will always be necessary if contact is to be suspended for more than 7 days. As soon as such a decision is made, Legal Services should be contacted as a matter of urgency so that the necessary court action can be initiated.

Written confirmation of the decision made and, where relevant, the intended court application, together with the reasons, must be sent to the parents/relevant parties, child (depending on age) and any other relevant person (for example the child's advocate, an Independent Visitor or Children’s Guardian). Staff/carers and other agencies involved with the child’s care must also be informed.