A contract of expectations, which is sometimes called a partnership agreement, a working agreement, or a written agreement, is used by local authorities (LA) to monitor parents where there are child welfare concerns.
Despite the use of words like “contract” and “agreement” in these documents, parents are not legally required to agree to the contract or sign it.
The agreement itself must be written in clear language. It must outline the LA’s concerns, and it must explain what the LA would like the parents to do to address those concerns. It must also explain what the LA will do to support the parents.
These agreements should only ever be used when there are genuine child protection concerns. They should also be properly drawn up, monitored and reviewed regularly.
A properly produced written agreement will include a clause which says that the document is not legally binding. This means that if a parent signs the document and then breaches one of the terms, the LA cannot sue the parent, or take them to court to enforce the agreement.
However the LA can mention the breach in court proceedings and may do so to try to show that the parent is not working with the LA and may even try to suggest the parent is behaving dishonestly.
If you are presented with a contract of expectations you always have the right to do the following:
- To read the document in full, and in your own time without being harassed, forced or intimidated
- To call someone who can explain the document to you, or attend your property to offer you support
- To call a lawyer or advocate for legal advice about the document
- To refuse to sign the form and ask the social worker to call you the following day to arrange a meeting at an appropriate time
In the event that you become involved with social services, we would advise organising the following in advance, so that you are prepared:
- Arrange for someone to be your “Emergency Buddy” – someone who lives nearby and can come and offer you moral or practical support with a visit from social services for the purpose of getting you to sign a form (the person should be calm and polite).
- Store a list of emergency numbers on your phone for local support services – a 24 hour legal helpline for legal advice, a 24 hour support helpline for parents involved in proceedings and so on.
- If you have a lawyer already, ask them if you can call out of hours if there is an emergency.
- Use this page to get familiar with your rights: you do not have to sign a written agreement, and you do not have to agree to anything you do not understand.
Steps to take if a social worker enters your home with a view to getting you to sign a written agreement:
- Record the interaction. You can use your phone or any recording device to make an audio or video record of the event. It is good to tell the social worker you are going to do this, out of courtesy, but they cannot stop you from recording, as the law allows it.
- Explain to the social worker that you are going to call your “Emergency Buddy” or someone who has agreed to be your support in the event a social worker comes to the house with a form to sign.
- Explain to the social worker that you are also going to call a lawyer to make sure the form is proper and you understand it fully.
- Ask the social worker to wait until your Emergency Buddy has arrived/ you have had a chance to read the document, at your own pace and until you understand it fully. The social worker may offer to explain the form to you: if you are not comfortable with this offer, you can say thank you but you would rather wait for your friend or lawyer to look it over with you.
- Read the form. Check that it contains: a clause saying the form is not legally binding; an explanation from the LA about the child welfare concerns; what the LA want you to do to address those concerns; and what the LA will do to support you.
- Decide whether or not you want to sign the form. If you don’t want to sign it, you have the right not to sign.
- You can then ask the social worker to leave (politely).
If you are under 18 and social services are trying to get you to sign a written agreement, you have the right to support from a child advocate.
Written agreements do not have a good reputation, and have been criticised by social workers in the past. A Community Care Survey in 2017 found that social workers called these agreements ‘draconian’; ‘unsafe’; ‘knee jerk reaction’ and; ‘shoddy practice.’ You do not have to feel intimidated if you are presented with a contract of expectations and any social worker that presents you with one must be courteous, helpful and supportive.
- Parents CAN Record Child Protection Meetings
- EXCLUSIVE: Child Protection Professionals Intimidating Parents Into Signing Illegal Undertakings
- Child advocates at Coram Voice
- Child advocates at the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS)
- Emergency support numbers for legal assistance
- Written Agreements with Families – Guidance for Practitioners (Leeds City Council)
- Effective written agreements (OFSTED)
- Should written agreements still be a common part of child protection practice? (Community Care article, 2017)
Many thanks to Tum Mum, who alerted us to this topic.