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1.5.3 Care Plan and Care Proceedings


Public Law Outline

Pathway to Public Law Outline


This guidance was updated in May 2014 to include new links in respect of the PLO and Court processes.


  1. Guiding Principles
  2. Timescales for Completion
  3. Structure and Contents of the Care Plan
  4. Reasons and time-scales
  5. Format of Care Plan
  6. Circulation
  7. Applications involving siblings
  8. Endorsement of plan within local authority
  9. Care Plans and Assessment
  10. Child in Need Plan
  11. Child Protection Plan
  12. Care Plans and the Looked After Children System
  13. Care Plans and Disabled Children
  14. Race, Culture, Religion and Language
  15. Care Proceedings prior to an Adoption Care Plan
  16. Care Plans and Care Leavers
  17. Reviewing the implementation of the Care Plan

1. Guiding principles

One of the key functions of the Care Plan is to ensure that each child has a Permanence Plan by the time of the second Me and My World Review.

Care Planning is a crucial ingredient in the preparation of a local authority's application to Court for a Care Order because it explains how the proposed Care Order will be implemented in order to achieve specific outcomes for the child.

Before making a Care Order, Courts have to be satisfied that the Threshold Criteria are satisfied, having regard to the Welfare Checklist. They then have to address under section 1(5) that making an Order will be better for the child than making no order.

This judgement will often rely to a considerable extent on the details presented by the local authority to the Court in the papers commonly known as the Care Plan.

2. Timescales for Completion

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

If there are exceptional reasons that prevent the Care Plan from being drawn up prior to the child's placement, the key objectives of the child's admission to care and the proposed placement must still be identified and recorded.

3. Structure and contents of the Care Plan

The child’s overarching care plan should include:

  • Placement Plan (setting out why the placement was chosen and how the placement will contribute to meeting the child’s needs);
  • Permanence Plan (long-term plans for the child’s upbringing including timescales);
  • Pathway Plan (where appropriate, for young people leaving care);
  • Health Plan;
  • Personal Education Plan.

In addition it should include the arrangements to meet the child’s needs in relation to:

  • Emotional and behavioural development;
  • The child’s identity in relation to religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background;
  • Family and social relationships: arrangements for contact with sibling(s) accommodated by the authority or another local authority; details of any Section 8 Order in relation to a Child Looked After; details of any order in relation to contact with a child in care; arrangements for contact with parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility/any other Connected Person; arrangements for the appointment of an Independent Visitor for a Child Looked After;
  • Social presentation;
  • Self-care skills.

The Care Plan should include the name of the Independent Reviewing Officer.

The Care Plan should also set out the wishes and feelings of the child; parents/persons with Parental Responsibility and any other person whose wishes the authority considers relevant about the arrangements and any proposed changes in the Care Plan.

The advised contents of the Care Plan items are set out within a structure of five sections:

  • Overall aim;
  • Child's needs including contact;
  • Views of others;
  • Placement details and timetable;
  • Management and support by local authority.

The complete list of matters that the guidance advises should be included within each of the Care Plan's five sections is as follows:

Section 1: Overall aim

1.1 Aim of the plan and summary of timetable.

Section 2: Child's needs including contact

2.1 The Child's identified needs, including needs arising from race, culture, religion or language, special education, health or disability;
2.2 The extent to which the wishes and views of the child have been obtained and acted upon; and
2.3 The reasons for supporting this or explanations of why wishes/views have not been given absolute precedence;
2.4 Summary of how those needs might be met;
2.5 Arrangements for, and purpose of, contact in meeting the child's needs (specifying contact relationship e.g. Parent, step-Parent other family member, former Carer, friend, siblings, including those looked after who may have a separate placement); any proposals to restrict or terminate contact.

Section 3: Views of others

3.1 The extent to which the wishes and views of the child's parents and anyone else with a sufficient interest in the child (including representatives of other agencies, current and former carers) have been obtained and acted upon, and
3.2 the reasons for supporting them or explanations of why wishes/views have been given absolute precedence.

Section 4: Placement details and timetable

4.1 Proposed placement - type and details (or details of alternative placements);
4.2 Time that is likely to elapse before proposed placement is made;
4.3 Likely duration of placement (or other placement);
4.4 Arrangements for health care (including consent to examination and treatment);
4.5 Arrangements for education (including any Early Help/pre-school day care/activity);
4.6 Arrangements for reunification (often known as 'rehabilitation') (see also 4.8);
4.7 Other services to be provided to the child;
4.8 Other services to be provided to Parents and other family members;
4.9 Details of proposed support services in placement for the carers;
4.10 Specific details of the Parents' role in day to day arrangements.

Section 5: Management and support by local authority

5.1 Who is to be responsible for implementing the overall plan;
5.2 Who is to be responsible for implementing specific tasks within the plan;
5.3 Dates of review;
5.4 Contingency plan, if placement breaks down or if preferred placement is not available;
5.5 Arrangements for input by parents, the child and others into the ongoing decision-making process;
5.6 Arrangements for notifying the responsible authority of disagreements about the implementation of the Care Plan or making representations or complaints.

4. Reasons and time-scales

Care Plans need to be understood by a range of professionals, the child and the child's family. The following should be reflected in the wording of the Care Plan:

  • Confusion and mistrust can inadvertently be generated where Care Plans explain what is proposed but give insufficient detail as to why a particular placement or course of action has been chosen;
  • Attention to this aspect of the Care Plan may reduce time spent later, often in Court itself, explaining the basis on which the local authority has made certain key decisions, including those around contact;
  • Similarly, it is important that everyone concerned with the finalisation of the Care Plan considers achievable time-scales leading up to specific outcomes for overall implementation, as well as for each of the key steps within it. This should be made clear within the plan;
  • These will also help at a later stage if a Care Order is made. Reviewing Officers monitoring the implementation of Care Plans will be able to identify any delays and, as necessary, ensure that these are addressed.

5. Format of Care Plan

The Care Plan in the proceedings is a distinct and separate formal Court document. It is not required to be presented as a sworn statement or affidavit. It should not be incorporated into a local authority statement of evidence. It should not inappropriately duplicate information in such statements, such as the child's history and evidential aspects of the proceedings.

Each page of the Care Plan should be typed/word processed on A4, single sided paper. The first and separate page should be headed "Care Plan - Front Sheet" and include the following information.

  • Full name of child;
  • Date of birth;
  • Court case number;
  • Name of Court hearing application;
  • Date of the Court hearing;
  • Type of hearing (i.e. directions, interim or final hearing);
  • Name of local authority;
  • Number of plan;
  • Date of plan.

  • Where during proceedings several plans have been produced, each should be numbered to avoid confusion. This will help ensure that after the Care Order is made, the particular numbered Care Plan is that understood by all parties and the Court as being the operative one and may be referred to as such in any formal judicial communication;
  • The subsequent pages (also single sided) should set out the main elements of the Care Plan under clearly marked headings. These should correspond with sections 1 to 5 as shown above in this circular. Paragraph numbers will aid communication in Court.

Care Plans, although incomplete, will be needed at an interim stage in the Care Proceedings. These will not necessarily represent the local authority's confirmed views that will be brought to the final hearing. It is therefore important that the first page of the Care Plan under "type of hearing" should clearly distinguish between Interim Care Plans for interim Court hearings and the complete Care Plan for the final hearing.

The last and separate page of the Care Plan should include the following information.

  • Full name and professional position of the person who has prepared the Care Plan
    This should normally be the Social Worker allocated to the case, although a range of other people within the authority and from other agencies may have contributed to aspects of the plan, as also may have the child, the child's family and the Children's Guardian;
  • Signature;
  • Date;
  • Work address and telephone number.

Followed by

  • Full name(s) and professional position(s) of the person(s) endorsing the plan for the final hearing on behalf of the local authority making the application.

  • Signature(s);
  • Date(s);
  • Work address(es) and telephone number(s).

6. Circulation

The Care Plan must be circulated to the following people:
  • The child, depending on age and understanding - care must be taken to ensure the child understands it. If necessary, the child should be given additional material, suitable to his/her needs and abilities, which can better explain the Care Plan;
  • The parent(s) - who may also require help to understand the plan;
  • Providers/carers - if no Care Plan has been drawn up prior to the child's placement, the social worker must ensure that the providers/carers understand the key objectives of the plan, and how the placement will help achieve these objectives;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer.

The local authority may decide not to give a copy of the care plan, or a full copy of the care plan, to the parent(s) if to do so would put the child at significant harm.

7. Applications involving siblings

A separate Care Plan is needed for each child who is the subject of Care Proceedings. Some of the information within the Care Plans for siblings may be similar or identical. Other material may be different because of the need to address the distinct characteristics of each child and the way the plan proposes to meet each child's needs. The Court will wish to scrutinise the Care Plans for each sibling child. It is important that the Court's attention is drawn to any important differences between the respective plans reflecting the individual needs of siblings. These can be made prominent by use of highlighting, italics or underlining, as illustrated in this sentence.

8. Endorsement of plan within local authority

The Care Plan presented by the local authority is intended to be an authoritative statement made in good faith about the child's needs, the best way of responding to those needs, and the detailed arrangements setting out how the local authority will provide services to promote and protect the child's welfare whilst he or she is the subject of the Care Order.

  • The local authority's commitment to the plan given as part of the final hearing in the Care Proceedings goes far beyond the professional responsibility of the child's front line key-worker;
  • That commitment may require input from a range of services and may have far-reaching resource implications. These will always include children's social care services but in many cases may also involve an input from health and education. If this is the case, an agreement should have been reached with these agencies in respect of services included in the Care Plan;
  • Where the child's proposed placement is outside the local authority's own area, it will also be necessary to discuss and agree the provision of appropriate services to meet the child's needs with local agencies and for these to be included in the Care Plan.

    The relevant Pod Team Manager of the team should endorse the Care Plan for the final hearing, as an authority wide statement of its commitment to the plan.

In exceptional cases and where the Court considers it necessary, a designated officer or other senior manager may be required to attend Court and give evidence on behalf of the local authority. This might cover wider considerations which may have influenced the authority's choice within the Care Plan, such as the overall aim of the plan or the selection of a particular placement or other resource.

9. Care Plans and Assessment

The Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families applies to all Children in Need, not just those where child abuse has been identified or is suspected. Using the Assessment Framework, children's needs are assessed and the assessments focus on the developmental needs of the child, the Parents' capacity to respond to those needs, and the wider family and environmental factors which may have an impact on the child or young person and family. The Integrated Children's System reinforces the principles of the Assessment Framework and provides a structure for planning for all Children in Need. The impact of interventions in achieving better outcomes for children or young people and families is dependent upon effective planning which is in turn informed by good quality assessments. The completed assessment should provide a clear evidential base for the judgements made by Social Workers and subsequent decisions.

The development of plans should always follow an assessment of a child or young person.

Plans should:

  • Be developed from an up to date assessment;
  • Involve children and young people, and families;
  • Be responsive to changes in a child and young person's needs or circumstances;
  • Involve all relevant agencies/organisations;
  • Identify specific and measurable outcomes for the child and young person;
  • Enable practitioners to evaluate the impact of actions taken and services provided.

Children and young people and families should be involved as much as possible at all stages in the planning process. It is important that the child or young person (in keeping with their age/understanding) and family members are consulted about the content of the plan, have helped to identify the actions and services required and participate in discussions about the way in which they are to be provided. The plan is not only a plan for professionals and it is important that it identifies the actions required by the child or young person and family members to achieve the plan's aim and meet the child or young person's identified developmental needs.

All children and young people receive services from a number of different agencies. All agencies working with the child or young person should be involved with the development of the plan. Agencies working with a child or young person should ensure that planned interventions are co-ordinated in a manner which will support the child or young person and family in achieving planned outcomes.

The effectiveness of interventions should be monitored and evaluated. Planned outcomes should be agreed and recorded for every intervention. The actual outcome should then be recorded at the review or closure. This will help the practitioner determine whether the planned action or service has been (and if necessary, continues to be) appropriate for the child or young person's identified developmental needs.

10. Child in Need Plan

The Child in Need Plan is informed by the Strengthening Families Assessment, and should set out how the following will be addressed:

  • The identified developmental needs of the child or young person;
  • Factors which impact on the Parents' capacities to respond to the needs of the child or young person;
  • Wider family and environmental factors which may have an impact on the child or young person.

The plan should be specific about the proposed intervention, and who is responsible for each action.

In CareAssess the Child in Need Care Plan is separated into 2 records. Care Plan (Part 1) relates to consultation, whilst Care Plan (Part 2) is the actual plan. The Care Plan (Part 2) has three sections, Care Plan Summary, Copied to, and Interventions.

These sections should be completed as follows:

The Child in Need Care Plan should be reviewed at a maximum of six months from the authorisation date. Where the plan is of a complex nature consideration should be given to reviewing the plan every three months. The review paper work consists of a Child in Need Social Worker's Report which should be completed before the review meeting and a Child in Need Review Chair's Report which should be completed following the review meeting. These reports should be completed at a maximum of 6 monthly periods and represent the formal child in need Care Planning process.

The Child in Need Plan can be formally updated or changed as appropriate only as part of a CIN Review. There may be minor adjustments to the plan between the reviews with the agreement of the Pod Team Manager.

The Child in Need Review meetings should continue within required timescales until:

  • The child is no longer unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development; and
  • The child's health or development is no longer likely to be significantly impaired; and
  • The child becomes subject to a Child Protection Plan; or
  • The child becomes Looked After.

If the child is considered to be at continuing risk of Significant Harm requiring safeguarding by means of a Child Protection Plan, the planning process is continued via the Child Protection Review process.

If the child becomes looked after by the Local Authority, the planning process is continued via the Statutory Review process.

11. Child Protection Plan

The Child Protection Plan is outlined at a Child Protection Conference, it is then the responsibility of the Core Group to formulate and implement the detailed Child Protection Plan following the conference.

The outline Child Protection Plan must be drawn up at Initial and Review Conferences, following the decision to develop a Child Protection Plan or continue with the plan.

The aim of the plan is to:

  • Assist the Core Group to form a clearer focus of work with the family and to explicitly define individual professional responsibilities.

There should be no reduction in service level or significant change to the Child Protection Plan without:

  • The recorded agreement of other Core Group members; and
  • The recorded agreement of the first Line Manager; and
  • Consulting the Conference Chair by email; and
  • Consideration with the Chair and Line Manager of any need to reconvene the Conference.

The plan based on the findings of the Strengthening Families Assessment should cover:

  • A description of identified developmental needs, strengths and difficulties with regard to health, education, emotional and behavioural development, identity, family and social relationships, social presentation, self care skills and family and environmental factors;
  • Services or actions designed to respond to the identified needs;
  • Start date, frequency and length of each input;
  • Person/agency responsible, including family members;
  • Planned outcomes of each intervention, including required progress to be achieved within specified timescales;
  • Frequency of reviews of the plan and the date of the next core group meeting.

See Pan Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures, Record of Children with a Child Protection Plan and Enquiries of the Record for further information.

In CareAssess the Child Protection Plan is separated into 2 records. Care Plan (Part 1) relates to consultation, whilst Care Plan (Part 2) is the actual plan. The Care Plan (Part 2) has three sections, Care Plan Summary, Copied to, and Interventions.

These sections should be completed as follows: the Child Protection Plan should be reviewed within 3 months of the original plan being made. Further reviews of the plan must be held at intervals of not more than 6 months, for as long as the child remains in need of a Child Protection Plan.

12. Care Plans and the Looked After Children System

When a child becomes Looked After, the Strengthening Families Assessment is used to inform the Looked After Child Care Plan. It is important that the child or young person, the family and Carers are clear about the purpose of care and accommodation from the beginning of the placement. Therefore the LAC Care Plan should be completed before a child or young person becomes Looked After. In some cases, for example in emergencies where this is not practicable, the LAC Care Plan should be completed as soon as possible and within 14 days of the child or young person being placed.

Looking after a child or young person either through accommodation or being the subject of a Care Order is a provision of service and a means of achieving the overall aim of the child's Care Plan. The LAC Care Plan should identify this aim, and the time period appropriate to have a Care Order or for the young person to be Accommodated, and formulated planned outcomes which are measurable.

The purpose of the period of accommodation or care, type of placement and action and services provided should be informed by an up to date assessment. For children and young people becoming looked after this will be provided by a Strengthening Families Assessment, which will have been completed prior to or within 35 days of the child or young person becoming Looked After.

The Looked After Children Care Plan is not suitable as it stands for use as a Court Care Plan. It has to be suitable for the needs of children in accommodation as well as those involved in Care Proceedings and therefore needs to encompass a broader range of issues.

The LAC Care Plan should be completed in the cases of all Looked After Children including those receiving short break care (in such cases discretion is to be used in the completion of the Care Plan as sections may not always be relevant).

The LAC Care Plan should be reviewed regularly in accordance with the Children Act 1989 and Review of Children's Cases Regulations and Guidance. They should be seen as part of the continuous planning process and not in isolation.

A change to the LAC Care Plan can only be confirmed at a statutory review. In this Manual this is referred to as a "Me and My World Review".

A child or young person's first Me and My World Review must be held within 28 days of the child or young person first becoming Looked After, and the second review within 3 months of the first Review. Consideration should be given to convening an early Me and My World Review if the Care Plan needs changing. Subsequent reviews must be held at least every 6 months. For further details, see Looked After Reviews Procedure.

All looked after children should also be the subject of Personal Education Plans and Health Care Plans

If a child is receiving short break care, and the number of Looked After instances total less than 120 days per year, and where no single placement is for a period of more than 4 weeks, then the LAC Care Plan is formally reviewed at a Me and My World Review at least every 12 months. In such cases the LAC Care Plan will reviewed on a more informal basis (Mid Term Review) at the 6 month point between each Looked After Review.

The LAC Care Plan is a single record in CareAssess. The Looked After Review paperwork consists of a Me and My World Review Social Worker's Report which should be competed before the review meeting and a Me and My World Review Chair's Report which should be completed following the review meeting. Where relevant the Mid Term Review paperwork is also to be located within CareAssess

13. Care Plans and disabled children

A substantial minority of Looked After Children are disabled, about one quarter according to the best available if rather outdated figures - Department of Health 1998, Disabled Children: Directions for their Future Care. There is also evidence that disabled children are placed in residential care more often than non-disabled children, and that disabled children tend to remain away from home for longer periods. The Care Plans for disabled children will have to show that what is proposed is the best way to meet the assessed needs of the particular child in question. The plans should pay particular attention to any physical or other characteristics in the environment, which exacerbate the impact of any impairment the child may have. The education component of the plan should be informed by the DfEE's policy of promoting more widely the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream education. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires service providers to take reasonable steps to change practice, policies or procedures which make it impossible or unreasonably difficult for disabled people to use a service; to provide auxiliary aids or services which would enable disabled people to use a service; and to overcome physical barriers by providing a service by a reasonable alternative method.

14. Race, culture, religion and language

It is important that Care Plans should fully reflect the dimensions of race, culture, religion and language in respect of the child and child's family. Relevant guidance was included in "Adoption - Achieving the Right Balance" (LAC (98)20 paragraphs 11 to 18).

15. Care Proceedings prior to an Adoption Care Plan

Note: The following paragraphs were first issued in "Adoption - Achieving the Right Balance LAC(98)20. These paragraphs were reissued in the amended form reproduced below in June 1999 (Chief Inspector letter C1(99)6), and have since been updated to take account of the Adoption and Children Act 2002).

In a minority of applications for a Care Order, it becomes apparent during the proceedings that Adoption will be the preferred option set out in the Care Plan, should a Care Order be made at the final hearing. Some Courts are presented at the final care application hearing with evidence about the preliminary steps that the local authority has taken to effect an adoption placement should a Care Order be made. Elsewhere, Courts are informed that no or only minimal preparatory work has been undertaken. This poses the likelihood of serious delay before placement and, as such, may well be detrimental to the child's welfare. Because each child and family situation is different. guidance setting out the preferred approach has to be flexible. Where adoption is the probable option, the Courts will need to be advised of the likely steps and time-scales to implement the plan. The following paragraphs offer a framework where adoption is envisaged which is intended to achieve greater consistency within both the Care Proceedings and the preparation of the Care Plan.

Where the facts of the case remain in dispute up to the final hearing, the choice of placement may significantly depend on findings of fact and, indeed, in some cases no Care Order is made at all. It is these cases where it is likely to be most difficult to effect much, if any, detailed preparatory work prior to the final hearing concerning possible adoptive placement. But even here, it should normally be possible to explain within the Care Plan, the principal steps which would need to be taken before an adoptive placement could be made and give estimated time-scales for each of the key steps. This would include those cases where it is necessary to time-table therapeutic work with the child before preparing the child for placement.

Even where the facts in certain cases of the care application are not disputed and the preferred option in the Care Plan is adoption, it is important that local authorities have satisfied themselves that sufficient assessment has taken place to rule out rehabilitation or placement with relatives, for example, under a Child Arrangements Order. In these cases, local authority procedures should facilitate the process of finding an adoptive placement. How much progress can be made before the final hearing will depend on a range of factors, including the overall time-scale of the Care Proceedings. In addition, sensitivity is needed to ensure that the child's Parent(s) understands that the care hearing under the Children Act is not the same as any later hearing under adoption legislation which would need to address questions of Parental consent, unless a Placement Order application is being considered at the same time (see paragraph 32 below).

In respect of the cases where the local authority has ruled out rehabilitation or placement with relatives and has confirmed adoption as the preferred option, the following should always be addressed, and the required procedure should be followed as set out in the Placement for Adoption Procedure:

  1. The local authority should take appropriate steps to co-ordinate information between the team responsible for the care proceedings application and those responsible for family finding and to allocate responsibilities for carrying out the necessary work;
  2. The Child's Permanence Report should be completed as far as possible, including obtaining from the Parent(s) relevant medical and other details, although there may be difficulty in obtaining the necessary medical and other information from the Parents;
  3. The Adoption and Permanence Panel should consider the case, with a view to making a recommendation on whether adoption is in the child's best interests;
  4. The local authority should have identified the key steps and timetable, including family finding and any necessary therapy, and issues of contact (for inclusion in the Care Plan) which would lead to an adoptive placement, if the Court made a Care Order;
  5. The Care Plan should include a contingency plan for use in specified circumstances if the preferred option for adoption cannot be achieved;
  6. Consideration should be given as to whether a Placement Order application is appropriate.

In relation to the issue of Parental Consent to Adoptive Placements, it is important that there is full discussion with the local authority's legal advisers to ensure that such cases are identified as early as possible so that evidence and time-tabling of the Court hearings can be co-ordinated. It is expensive for the local authority, stressful for the Parent and creates unnecessary further delay for the child to have a care application followed months later by a Placement Order application, both of which may be contested.

16. Care Plans and care leavers

In respect of a teenage child, the Care Plan may well need to consider the arrangements for leaving care. See 16 Plus Support (Leaving Care) Procedures in this Manual.

17. Reviewing the implementation of the Care Plan

Reviews of the Care Plan are undertaken at specified timescales as set out in the Looked After Review Procedure.

Monitoring individual children's Care Plans through the reviewing system will also generate management information about any difficulties, such as a lack of key services or other inputs, which may have contributed to delay in implementing a plan. This information may then usefully inform the children's services planning process.