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Permanence Planning Guidance

Scope of this chapter

Please be aware that in Leeds City Council we use localised language of Children Looked After rather than Looked After Children.

Children Looked After and Care Leavers in Leeds have differing views about the language used when discussing contact, depending on their circumstances. They thought that the options 'Contact', 'Family Time', 'Contact with family', and 'Family time with birth family' could all be used depending on the child or young person's situation.

Related guidance


This chapter was updated in February 2023 in line with local procedure.

February 9, 2023

Permanence is the long term plan for the child's upbringing and provides an underpinning framework for all social work with children and their families from family support through to adoption. It aims to ensure a framework of emotional, physical and legal conditions that will give a child a sense of security, continuity, commitment, identity and belonging.

The objective of planning for permanence is to ensure that children have a secure, stable and loving family to support them through childhood and beyond and to give them a sense of security, continuity, commitment, identity and belonging. It is also important to remember that older children and young people also need to achieve permanence in their lives although they may not wish (for a variety of reasons) to be in a foster home or to be adopted. For example, they may prefer to live in a children's home where they can also achieve a sense of security and belonging.

The question "how are the child's permanence needs being met?" must be at the core of everything we do.

Where it is necessary for a child to leave their family:

  • This should be for as short a time as is required to secure a safe, supported return home; or
  • If a child cannot return home, plans must be made for alternative permanent care. Family members and friends should always be considered in the first instance with the permanence secured through the appropriate legal order to meet the child's needs;
  • Where it is not in the child's best interests to live within the family network, it will usually be in the interests of the child for alternative permanent carers to be identified and the placement secured through adoption, long term foster care, Child Arrangements Orders or Special Guardianship Orders;
  • Residential group living is provided only when a need for this is identified within the care plan and when substitute family care is not appropriate;
  • For older children arranging for their independent living must be considered.

Where it is clear that families and children are unable to live together, planning must be swift and clear to identify permanent alternative settings.

Wherever possible, care should be provided locally unless clearly identified as inappropriate.

Contact with the family, connected persons and extended family should be facilitated and built on (unless clearly identified as inappropriate).

The professionals involved will work in partnership with parents/families. The wishes and feelings of the child will be taken into account. The older and more mature the child, the greater the weight should be given to their wishes.

Whilst it is important, when undertaking permanence planning, to promote the child's links with their racial, cultural and religious heritage, this should not be allowed to introduce delay in achieving permanence for the child. Note that due consideration no longer has to be given to a child's religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background when matching a child and prospective adopters (see also Section 5, Assessing and Planning for Permanence).

The first stage within permanence planning is work with families and children in need to support them staying together. Staying at home offers the best chance of stability. Research shows that family preservation has a higher success rate than reunification. This of course has to be balanced against the risk of harm to the child.

If the assessment concludes that the child cannot safely remain at home, every effort must be made to secure a placement with a family member or friend/connected person as their carer. This will be either as part of the plan to work towards a return home or, if a return home is clearly not in the child's best interests, as the preferred permanence option. It is very important to establish at an early stage which relatives or friends might be available to care for the child, to avoid the kind of delays that can happen during court proceedings where this work has not been done.

See Placement for Adoption Procedure for detailed procedures.

Adoption transfers Parental Responsibility for the child from the birth parents and others who had Parental Responsibility, including the local authority, permanently and solely to the adopter(s).

The child is deemed to be the child of the adopter(s) as if they had been born to them. The child's birth certificate is changed to an adoption certificate showing the adopter(s) to be the child's parent(s). A child who is not already a citizen of the UK acquires British citizenship if adopted in the UK by a citizen of the UK.

Research strongly supports adoption as a primary consideration and as a main factor contributing to the stability of children, especially for those under four years of age who cannot be reunified with their birth or extended family.

Adopters may be supported, including financially, by the local authority and will have the right to request an assessment for support services at any time after the Order is made. See Adoption Support Procedure for detailed procedures. A child subject to an Adoption Order will be entitled to additional education and Early Years support. This will be accessed through the designated teacher in the child's school/Early Years setting (for further information, see Supporting the Education and Promoting the Achievement of Children with a Social Worker, Looked After and Previously Looked After Children Procedure).

Adoption has the following advantages as a Permanence Plan:

  1. Parental Responsibility is held exclusively by the carers;
  2. The child is no longer looked after;
  3. No future legal challenge to overturn the Adoption Order is possible;
  4. The child is a permanent family member into adulthood;
  5. As a previously Looked After Child, the child is entitled to additional education support throughout their school career.

Adoption has the following disadvantages as a Permanence Plan:

  1. It involves a complete and permanent legal separation from the family of origin;
  2. There is no review process.

Family finding should begin as soon as adoption is under consideration, and before the Agency Decision Maker decides that the child should be placed for adoption or a placement order is made.

The Children and Families Act 2014 imposes a duty to consider placements with carers who are approved as both adopters and foster carers and where a child is placed in a fostering for adoption placement, the relationship which the child has with the person who is a prospective adopter must be considered by the Court or Adoption Agency alongside other relevant relationships the child has with their relatives or other persons (see s.9 Children and Social Work Act 2017 amends section s.1(f) Adoption and Children Act 2002).

See Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters Procedure.

See Applications for Special Guardianship Orders Procedure for the detailed procedures.

Special Guardianship addresses the needs of a significant group of children, who need a sense of stability and security within a placement away from their parents but not the absolute legal break with their birth family that is associated with adoption. It can also provide an alternative for achieving permanence in families where adoption, for cultural or religious reasons, is not an option.

The following persons may apply:

  1. Any guardian of the child;
  2. A local authority foster carer with whom the child has lived for 1 year immediately preceding the application;
  3. Anyone who is named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live;
  4. Anyone with whom the child has lived for 3 out of the last 5 years;
  5. Where the child is subject of a care order, any person who has the consent of the local authority;
  6. Anyone who has the consent of all those with Parental Responsibility for the child (e.g. anyone, including the child, who has the leave of the court to apply).

The parents of a child may not become the child's special guardians.

Special Guardianship Orders offer greater stability and security to a placement than Child Arrangements Orders in that, whilst they are revocable, there are restrictions on those who may apply to discharge the Order and the leave of the Court, if required, will only be granted where circumstances have changed since the Special Guardianship Order was made.

Special guardians will have Parental Responsibility for the child and although this will be shared with the child's parents, the special guardian will have the legal right to make all day to day arrangements for the child. The parents will still have to be consulted and their consent required to the child's change of name, adoption, placement abroad for more than 3 months and any other such fundamental issues.

A Special Guardianship Order made in relation to a child who is the subject of a Care Order will automatically discharge the Care Order and the local authority will no longer have Parental Responsibility.

Special guardians may be supported financially or otherwise by the local authority and, as with adoptive parents, will have the right to request an assessment for support services at any time after the Order is made.

Special Guardianship has the following advantages as a Permanence Plan:

  1. The carers have Parental Responsibility and clear authority to make decisions on day to day issues regarding the child's care;
  2. There is added legal security to the Order in that leave is required for parents to apply to discharge the Order and will only be granted if a change of circumstances can be established since the original Order was made;
  3. It maintains legal links to the birth family;
  4. The child will no longer be in care and there need be no social worker involvement unless this is identified as necessary, in which case an assessment of the need for support must be made by the relevant local authority;
  5. A child subject to a Special Guardianship Order will be entitled to additional education support throughout their school career.

Special Guardianship has the following disadvantages as a Permanence Plan:

  1. The Order only lasts until the child is 18 and does not necessarily bring with it the same sense of belonging to the special guardian's family as an Adoption Order does;
  2. As the child is not a legal member of the family, if difficulties arise there may be less willingness to persevere and seek resolution;
  3. Although there are restrictions on applications to discharge the Order, such an application is possible and may be perceived as a threat to the child's stability.

Child Arrangements Orders were introduced in April 2014 by the Children and Families Act 2014 (which amended section 8 Children Act 1989). They replace contact orders and residence orders.

A Child Arrangements Order is a court order regulating arrangements relating to any of the following:

  1. With whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact; and
  2. When a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person.

The 'residence' aspects of a Child Arrangements Order (i.e. with whom a child is to live/when a child is to live with any person) can last until the child reaches 18 years unless discharged earlier by the Court or by the making of a care order.

The 'contact' aspects of a Child Arrangements Order (with whom and when a child is to spend time with or otherwise have contact with) cease to have effect when the child reaches 16 years, unless the court is satisfied that the circumstances of the case are exceptional.

A person named in the Order as a person with whom the child is to live, will have parental responsibility for the child while the Order remains in force. Where a person is named in the Order as a person with whom the child is to spend time or otherwise have contact, but is not named in the Order as a person with whom the child is to live, the court may provide in the Order for that person to have Parental Responsibility for the child while the Order remains in force.

Child Arrangements Orders are private law orders, and cannot be made in favour of a local authority. Where a child is the subject of a Care Order, there is a general duty on the local authority to promote contact between the child and the parents. A Contact Order can be made under section 34 of the Children Act 1989 requiring the local authority to allow the child to have contact with a named person.

A court which is considering making, varying or discharging a Child Arrangements Orders, including making any directions or conditions which may be attached to such an Order, must have regard to the paramountcy principle, the 'no order' principle and the welfare checklist under the Children Act 1989. 

Interim Child Arrangements Orders can be made.

Where a child would otherwise have to be placed with strangers, a placement with family or friends/Connected Persons may be identified as a preferred option and the carers may be encouraged and supported to apply for a Child Arrangements Orders where this will be in the best interests of the child.

The holder of a Child Arrangements Order does not have the right to consent to the child's adoption nor to appoint a guardian; in addition, they may not change the child's name nor arrange for the child's emigration without the consent of all those with Parental Responsibility or the leave of the court.

Whilst support may continue for as long as the Child Arrangements Order remains in force, the aim will be to make arrangements which are self-sustaining in the long run.

As was the case with Contact and Residence Orders, any person can apply for a Child Arrangements Order. The following can apply for a Child Arrangements Order without needing the leave of the court. In addition, any person who is not automatically entitled to apply for a Child Arrangements Order may seek leave of the court to do so:

  • Any parent (whether or not they have Parental Responsibility for the child), guardian or Special Guardian of the child;
  • Any person named, in a Child Arrangements Order that is in force with respect to the child, as a person with whom the child is to live;
  • Any party to a marriage (whether or not subsisting) in relation to whom the child is a child of the family. This allows step-parents (including those in a civil partnership) and former step-parents who fulfil this criteria to apply as of right;
  • Any person with whom the child has lived for a period of at least 3 years - this period need not be continuous but must not have begun more than 5 years before, or ended more than 3 months before, the making of the application; or
  • Any person:
    • Who has the consent of each of the persons named in a Child Arrangements Order as a person with whom the child is to live;
    • In any case where the child is in the care of a local authority, who has the consent of that authority;
    • In whose favour a Child Arrangements Order has been made in relation to the 'contact' aspects and who has been awarded Parental Responsibility by the court (i.e. they would be able to apply for a Child Arrangements Order in relation to the 'residence' aspects);
    • Who has the consent of everyone with parental responsibility for the child.
  • A local authority foster carer is entitled to apply for a Child Arrangements Order relating to with whom the child is to live, and/or when the child is to live with that person, if the child has lived with them for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application;
  • A relative of a child is entitled to apply for a Child Arrangements Order relating to with whom the child is to live, and/or when the child is to live with that person, if the child has lived with the relative for a period of at least one year immediately preceding the application. (A relative is a child's grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (by full or half blood), or by marriage or civil partnership).

A Child Arrangements Order specifying with whom the child is to live has the following advantages:

  1. It gives Parental Responsibility to the carer whilst maintaining the parents' Parental Responsibility;
  2. The child will no longer be Looked After and there need be no social work involvement, therefore, unless this is identified as necessary;
  3. There is no review process;
  4. The child will not be Looked After and so less stigma is attached to the placement;
  5. A child subject to a Child Arrangements Order will be entitled to additional education support throughout their school career.

A Child Arrangements Order has the following disadvantages:

  1. It is less secure than Adoption or Special Guardianship in that an application can be made to revoke the Order. However, the Court making the Order can be asked to attach a condition refusing a parent's right to seek revocation without leave of the court;
  2. There is no formal continuing support to the family after the Order is made although in some instances, a Child Arrangements Order Allowance may be payable by the local authority;
  3. There is no professional reviewing of the arrangements after the Order unless a new application to court is made, for example by the parents for contact or revocation (N.B. New applications to court may be expensive to defend, and the carers would have to bear the cost if not entitled to assistance with legal costs).

Please see the separate chapter Placements in Foster Care for details regarding the appropriate making of long-term foster placements.

For those children who remain looked after an important route to permanence is long-term foster care. Where the permanence plan for the child is longer-term foster care this may be where the current short-term foster placement is assessed to meet the long term needs of the child for permanence or where a new placement is identified for a child as a result of an assessment and matching process.

This option has proved to be particularly useful for older children who retain strong links to their birth families and do not want or need the formality of adoption and where the carers wish for the continued involvement of the local authority.

Long-term fostering has the following advantages as a Permanence Plan:

  1. The local authority retains a role in negotiating between the foster carers and the birth family over issues such as contact;
  2. There is continuing social work support to the child and foster family in a placement that is regularly reviewed to ensure that the child's needs are met;
  3. It maintains legal links to the birth family who can still play a part in the decision making for the child.

Long-term fostering has the following disadvantages as a Permanence Plan:

  1. The foster carers do not hold Parental Responsibility and this may delay or complicate decision making;
  2. Continuing social work involvement can be an intrusion into the child experiencing 'family life';
  3. Regular Looked After Reviews, which, can, sometimes, be regarded as an intrusion in a long standing and stable placement;
  4. Stigma attached to the child due to being in care;
  5. The child is not a legal member of the family. If difficulties arise there may be less willingness to persevere and seek resolution;
  6. Post care and/or post 18 the carers have no legal responsibility towards the young person.

Where a child is placed with long term carers, it is important that the child has access to the friends, family or community within which they were brought up and which form part of their identity and their long term support network. For these reasons children should be placed in local provision wherever possible.

Any decision to place a child away from their community should be based on the particular needs of the child, and considered within the context of a Permanence Plan. Where an alternative family placement is sought in the area of another local authority, the likely availability and cost of suitable local resources to support the placement must be explored. In the case of an adoptive placement, this will be required as part of the assessment of need for adoption support services (see Adoption Support Procedure), but should be carried out in relation to any permanent placement.

See also: Out of Area Placements Procedure.

Assessments of a child's needs in relation to their Permanence Plan must:

  1. Focus on outcomes;
  2. Consider stability issues, including the child's and family's needs for long-term support and the child's needs for links, including contact, with their parents, siblings, and wider family network.

Social workers must ensure the child's Permanence Plan is clearly linked to previous assessments of the child's needs.

A court in deciding whether to make a Care Order, is required to consider the 'permanence provisions' of the Care Plan for the child:

  1. The provisions setting out the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child - to live with a parent/family member/family friend; adoption; or other long-term care; and
  2. The plan's provisions in relation to any of the following:
    1. The impact on the child concerned of any harm that they suffered or was likely to suffer;
    2. The current and future needs of the child (including needs arising out of that impact);
    3. The way in which the long-term plan for the upbringing of the child would meet those current and future needs.

See s.8 Children and Social Work Act 2017 amends section 31(3B) Children Act 1989).

Appendix 1: Identifying Permanence Options presents a brief, research-based checklist of considerations about Adoption, Child Arrangements Orders, Special Guardianship Orders and Long-term Fostering.

In considering the child's needs, full consultation with family and community networks should be undertaken to establish the child's attachments and supports.

In all cases, the child's own wishes and feelings must be ascertained and taken into account.

By the time of the second Looked After Review, the child must have a Permanence Plan (incorporated into the care plan), to be presented for consideration at the review.

Where the Permanence Plan includes a Parallel Plan, the social worker must ensure that the parents are informed of the reasons why two plans are being made to meet the child's needs and prevent unnecessary delay.

The following practice guidance is not exhaustive, it is drawn from research and consultation with young people, parents, carers and practitioners.

Research points to:

  • The importance of clearly communicating to the family what needs to happen to enable the child to return home, and within what timescales;
  • The importance of exploring family ties and long term relationships with family, school and community;
  • The use of Family Group Conferences as an effective way of facilitating both the above.

The permanency planning process, informed by multi-agency contributions, will identify which permanence option is most likely to meet the needs of the individual child, taking account of their wishes and feelings.

Issues to consider:

  • The assessment process must ask how stability for this child will be achieved;
  • Long term stability means the sense of a permanent home with the same family or group of people, as part of the same community and culture, and with long-term continuity of relationships and identity;
  • Short or medium term stability or continuity will be important for children who are going to stay in care for a brief period before going home and for children who are going to need new permanent arrangements. The quality of a child's attachments and life will be detrimentally affected by uncertainties, separations from what /who is known and changes of school and placement;
  • Educational experiences, links with extended family, hobbies and friendships and support to carers, contribute to guarding against disruption and placement breakdown;
  • The importance of carefully listening to what children want from the placement, helping the relationship between carer and child to build, making thorough plans around contact with family, providing vigorous support during crisis times and taking a sufficiently flexible attitude to adoption by carers;
  • The older a child is, the less likely it is that the child will secure a permanent family through adoption;
  • The larger the family group of children, the harder it is to secure a single placement that will meet all the needs of all the children.

Social workers are encouraged to consider working to this model; working towards a child's return home whilst at the same time developing an alternative Permanence Plan, within strictly limited timescales.

Where children's cases are before the court in Care Proceedings, the Court require twin track planning to be reflected in the care plan - see also Care and Supervision Proceedings and the Public Law Outline.

See also: Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters Procedure.

Wherever it is in the best interests of each individual child, siblings should be placed together. Being able to live with brothers and sisters who are also Looked After is an important protective factor for many Looked After children. Positive sibling relationships provide support both in childhood and adulthood and can be particularly valuable during changes in a young person's life, such as leaving care.

A number of factors however, can militate against achieving the positive placement of brothers and sisters together – they may have entered care at different times and/or they may have very different needs related to past experiences, current emotional and behavioural development and age, especially where there are significant age differences. There may be practical difficulties in accommodating large sibling groups together. In some circumstances a child may have been abused by a brother or sister. An understanding of family functioning and family history, providing appropriate support to all parties, as well as listening to the wishes and feelings of children, is therefore key to informing these judgements.

There are often some practical steps that can be taken to overcome some of the more logistical reasons for being unable to place sibling groups together. Where siblings placed together in foster care may be separated when one turns 18, consideration should be given to whether Staying Put arrangements may be beneficial for all the children involved. 

There will, however, always be circumstances in which it is not possible to place siblings together and children should be supported to understand why they cannot live with their siblings. In these circumstances where it is in the best interests of each individual child, sibling contact should be promoted and maintained.

If it is likely that brothers and sisters who are not able to be placed together at the start of a care episode will remain Looked After for the medium to long term, arrangements should be made as part of each child's Care Plan which will enable brothers and sisters to live together, taking into account the other factors.

Where the plan is for adoption, in order to reduce delay, an early decision should be taken as to whether it is in the best interests of each child to be placed together or separately, and the impact on each child of that decision. The decision should be based on a balanced assessment of the individual needs of each child in the group, and the likely or possible consequences of each option on each child. Factors that may need to be considered will include: the nature of the sibling group (do the siblings know each other/ how are they related); whether the children have formed an attachment; the health needs of each child; and each child's view (noting that a child's views and perceptions will change over time).

Contact must always be for the benefit of the child, not the parents or other relatives.

It may serve one or all of the following functions:

  • To maintain a child's identity. Consolidating the new with the old;
  • To provide reassurance for the child;
  • To provide an ongoing source of information for the child;
  • To give the child continuing permission to live with the adoptive family;
  • To minimise the sense of loss;
  • To assist with the process of tracing;
  • To give the adopters a secure sense of the right to parent. This will make the parenting task easier.

Direct contact will generally work best if all parties accept/agree to:

  1. The plan for permanence;
  2. The parental role of the permanent carers;
  3. The benefit of contact;
  4. The adoptive parents being present.

Direct contact is not likely to be successful in situations where a parent:

  • Disagrees with the plan for permanence;
  • Does not accept the parental role of the permanent carer and their own minimal role with the child;
  • Has proved to be unreliable in their commitment to contact in the past;
  • Does not have a significant attachment with the child.

The wishes of the child to join a new family without direct contact, must be considered and given considerable weight at any age.

If direct contact is a part of the Permanence Plan, a formal agreement setting out how contact will take place, who with, where and how frequently must be negotiated before placement, and reviewed regularly throughout the child's life.

We do not all share the same sense of family - it means different things to different people. It helps when children are helped to understand to whom they are related, especially if they have complicated family trees including half-brothers or sisters living in different places. Identity is built on solid information.

Wherever possible, indirect contact between the child and their new family with people from the past should be facilitated:

  1. To leave open channels of communication in case more contact is in the child's interests in the future;
  2. To provide information (preferably two-way) to help the child to maintain and enhance their identity and to provide the birth relative with some comfort in knowing of the child's progress.

Indirect contact must be negotiated prior to placement, and all parties should be asked to enter into an agreement with one another about the form and frequency that the contact will take. Renegotiations of the contact should only take place if the child's needs warrant it.

All parties to the agreement will need to accept that as the child becomes older and is informed more fully about the arrangements for indirect contact, the child will have a view regarding its continuation. No contact arrangements can be promised to remain unaltered during the child's childhood. Those involved need to accept that contact may cease if it is no longer in the child's interests. Alternatively, an older child may need to change to direct contact.

  • Communicating a Permanence Plan effectively involves setting it out clearly and concisely as part of the Care Plan, in a way that acts as a useful reference to all involved during the Review process;
  • Good quality Care Plans set out clear, concise statements about intended outcomes;
  • Make timescales clear.

For younger children unable to be returned home where adoption is the plan, a Care Order and placement order are likely to be necessary unless parents are clearly relinquishing the child and are in agreement with the plan and the placement choice.

For children for whom adoption is not appropriate, each case will need to be considered on its merits. The decision between Special Guardianship Order, Child Arrangements Order and Long Term Fostering under a Care Order will depend on the individual needs of the child set alongside the advantages and disadvantages of each legal route.

Caption: Appendix 1: Identifying Permanence Options
Child Arrangements/Special Guardianship Orders Adoption Long Term Fostering
Child needs the security of a legally defined placement with alternative carers, but does not require a lifelong commitment involving a change of identity. Child's primary need is to belong to a family who will make a lifelong commitment. Primary need is for a stable, loving family environment whilst there is still a significant level of continued involvement with the birth family.
Child's relation, foster or other carer needs to exercise day to day parental responsibility and is prepared to do so as a lifelong commitment. Child's birth parents are not able or not willing to share parental responsibility in order to meet their child's needs, even though there may be contact. Child has a clear sense of identity with the birth family, whilst needing to be looked after away from home.
There is no need for continuing monitoring and review by the Local Authority, although support services may still need to be arranged. Child needs an opportunity to develop a new sense of identity whilst being supported to maintain or develop a healthy understanding of their past. There is need for continuing oversight and monitoring of the child's developmental progress.
Child has a strong attachment to the alternative carers and legally defined permanence is assessed as a positive contribution to their sense of belonging and security. Child expresses a wish to be adopted. Birth parents are able and willing to exercise a degree of parental responsibility.

Last Updated: February 9, 2024