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2.9 Written Undertaking

Legal advice should always be sought prior to a written undertaking being in place to determine whether grounds are met for this intervention.

This chapter was added to the manual in June 2019.


  1. Introduction
  2. What is a Written Undertaking?
  3. When to use a Written Undertaking
  4. Reasons to use a Written Undertaking
  5. Good Practice Standards
  6. Example of Written Undertaking

1. Introduction

Caption: Introduction
1.1 Written undertakings are sometimes used by social workers in their work with children and families. Typically such agreements are used to help ensure the safety and welfare of children during periods of assessment and/or intervention, by agreeing and negotiating with parents what is required from parents in terms of engagement with assessments and appointments, living arrangements or involving supervisory arrangements with other family members.
1.2 They are a useful tool, but in order to be effective they must be properly drawn up in collaboration with parents and family members, shared, monitored and evaluated. We all need to be mindful that a written undertaking will not in itself keep a child safe, which is why collaboration and negotiation with the family is essential.

2. What is a Written Undertaking?

2.1 A Written Undertaking is a means of obtaining evidence that a person has agreed to do or not do something.

3. When to use a Written Undertaking

Caption: When to use a Written Undertaking 1
3.1 Written Undertakings should only be used in emergencies and for short periods (hours/days) and when the practitioner judges that the individual is likely to agree and work in collaboration, even if they do not like it e.g. a grandparent who has temporarily assumed care of a child agreeing not to allow unsupervised contact with a parent for the duration of a Section 46 Enquiry.

In any event there must be a collaborative approach with parents and they MUST be provided with the signed copy of the document, with a clear understanding of their right to refuse to sign or withdraw consent at any time.

4. Reasons to use a Written Undertaking

Caption: When to use a Written Undertaking 2

Good Reasons to use a Written Undertaking;

  • To ensure that everybody is clear about the expectations of them, and why they are expected to behave in a certain way;
  • To ensure that everybody knows the consequences of not carrying out agreed actions;
  • To ensure that everybody is clear about the duration of the undertaking;
  • To clarify the aim or goal of work/planned actions;
  • To clarify timescales for work/planned actions;
  • To establish clarity about the consequences of success and failure of planned actions, and to be clear with parents about their rights;
  • To provide family members and professionals with clarity about the detail of what they have agreed to do.

Bad Reasons (i.e. when use of a Written Undertaking is inappropriate)

  • To try and force people to behave in a way they don't want to;
  • To replace a previous written undertaking that wasn't adhered to;
  • To delay other protective action being taken without just cause (e.g. if an urgent risk assessment is needed, an undertaking about contact would be OK for the duration of the assessment. If the assessment is complete, the next steps should be initiated and the undertaking should not be drawn out more than is absolutely necessary) we should always aim to review the arrangements in 72 hours to ensure that it is working for all parties;
  • As an attempt to put controls around a situation which has been out of control. Remember, it is only a piece of paper;
  • Because other attempts at control (legal orders, child protection planning) have been sought but not obtained. In these circumstances, a written undertaking could provide a dangerous illusion of cooperation.

5. Good Practice Standards

5.1 It should always be remembered that a Written Undertaking is a neutral hold position.

Always consider the implications on the family of the requests that the department are making.

E.g. If we are asking someone to leave the family home, how will this impact on the care of the children? Do we need to offer financial support for short term B&B?
5.3 Always consider the practical and emotional impact on the family.
5.4 The schedule/undertaking should be explained fully to all parties by the social worker and the implications of not adhering to these.
5.5 It should be explained fully to all parties that the documents are not legally binding; however they could impact on the planning for the family if not adhered to.
5.6 When considering the scenario in the written undertaking, whereby parents have identified an alternative carer for their child/ren, it is important that all options have been looked at and that there is no other option to ensure the safety of the child/ren.
5.7 All parties need to agree to this as an alternative arrangement pending the outcome of enquiries.
5.8 Written Undertakings should be clear, concise and not too long.
5.9 Written Undertakings should only be agreed when it can be demonstrated that this course of action is based on a clear risk assessment and that the risks are manageable.
5.10 Unannounced visits should always be made to ‘spot check’ that such undertakings are being adhered to. Parents should always be made aware that this will take place.
5.11 Changes cannot be made to Written Undertakings without prior discussion and agreement from the parents and young people, Team Manager and relevant multi agency forum, Pre proceedings, Core Group or Case Conference. The amended document should be distributed to all. Timescales and review dates should always be included.

If a parent withdraws consent or does not adhere to the agreement, breaches of the undertaking must be taken very seriously. The effectiveness of undertakings is seriously undermined if families are allowed to breach them repeatedly.

If the parent wishes to withdraw consent then we should always work with them to ensure that plans can be made together.
5.13 Contingencies should be made clear and can include a decision to end the schedule/undertaking, reconvene the Core Group or Conference, seek a legal planning meeting or initiate legal action. Parents should always be fully advised of this and supported in order to make informed decisions/choices.
5.14 Where a decision has been made to end the written undertaking, or it is no longer required, this decision should be communicated in writing to carers and parents and all the agencies involved with the family.
5.15 A written undertaking should NEVER remain in place if a case is closed.
5.16 When a social worker has discussed the requirement for a written undertaking with their manager, the agreement will be shared with the relevant group manager for final sign off.
5.17 A written undertaking should be reviewed in the first instance within 72 hours of being made, and should not last longer than 14 days. If the undertaking is still in place at 14 days then the situation is to be reviewed by the relevant group Manager.

6. Example of Written Undertaking


Reason for Undertaking

Billy has suffered an injury that Medical professionals feel was caused intentionally. Until investigations are completed about his injury, he cannot be alone with his mother or father, Mr and Mrs Jones, without being supervised by another adult.

What William's Grandparents will do:

  • Agree to care safely for Billy at their home and meet all his day to day needs;
  • Agree to take Billy to school every day and collect him every day;
  • Agree to supervise any contact between Billy and his parents – Billy must not be left alone with either or both of his parents at any time;
  • Agree to allow the social worker to visit Billy when requested and to speak with him alone;
  • Agree to inform the social worker, Sarah Taylor, of any concerns about this undertaking or how it is working; about Billy or about Billy’s parents.

If the Undertaking is not adhered to:

The social worker will seek further legal advice and take any necessary action to keep Billy safe. This may include moving him to live elsewhere.

How long this will Undertaking last for:

This undertaking will remain in place until the investigation into the cause of Billy’s injury is completed. It will only end with the agreement of the social worker, team manager and police officers involved. However parents need to be made aware that they can withdraw consent.

Person with PR _____________________        Date______________   
Grandmother _______________________        Date _______________
Grandfather ________________________        Date ________________
Copy of this agreement to be distributed to: