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Best practice guidance for consent: Information for SENCos and associated school staff[1]

Introduction


Applied Psychologies takes the position that informed consent is an ongoing, fundamental, guiding principle of our practice not a one off action to ‘tick a box’. Applied Psychologies is committed to ensuring that all team members and schools with which we work understand and apply the below principles of informed consent rigorously and consistently. The practical application of these principles is summarised below for SENCOs and associated school staff to understand and implement.


Recording of consent

  • Explicit, written consent should be obtained from the appropriate adult/s with parental responsibility at the outset of work. For children under the care of the Local Authority written consent should be obtained from the appropriate adult/s with parental responsibility (if suitable) and from the designated social worker.

  • Consent should be handwritten, dated and completed on an Applied Psychologies’ request for involvement form.

  • Other information included on the request for involvement form should include as a minimum: the child’s full name and date of birth, the referring school’s name and a reason for the referral.

  • Request for involvement forms should be completed every two years as a minimum. Request for involvement forms should be completed more frequently if circumstances change or there are reasonable grounds to believe that consent needs to be re-discussed.

  • Ideally explicit, written consent should be obtained from all adult/s with parental responsibility. Work should not be prevented if one adult with parental responsibility has given explicit, written consent and it is deemed reasonable that all adult/s with parental responsibility would/do consent to work proceeding. If anyone has reasonable grounds to believe that any adult/s with parental responsibility does not want work to occur then work cannot go ahead until all adults with parental responsibility have given explicit, written consent. If anyone has reasonable grounds to believe that dissent constitutes a safeguarding concern then appropriate safeguarding procedures should be followed.

  • Some situations do not require consent and this should be discussed and agreed with the Applied Psychologies team member. For example (but not limited to): discussing children anonymously during planning meetings or whole class consultations. Good practice would include a general letter to adult/s with parental responsibility in this instance.

Ongoing checking of consent


Adult/s with parental responsibility and children have a right to withdraw their consent at any point during involvement. This should be made clear when initial consent is gained and ongoing consent should be checked. Other adults (e.g., teachers) can also refuse consent e.g., to being observed so work should also be discussed with them beforehand.


Power dynamics involved


Adults gaining consent must be aware of the power dynamics inherent in this process and seek to minimise this where possible. For example being explicit about the right to refuse consent and withdraw consent, explaining the reason for the referral in neutral terms and giving all individuals sufficient time to process information, ask questions and raise any worries they may have.


Children and adult/s with parental consent should be given appropriate and sufficient information in advance of being asked to complete the consent form / assent to activities. Adult/s with parental consent and children should also be encouraged to discuss and reflect on the referral where appropriate (e.g., with appropriate external professionals or within personal support systems) prior to giving consent. A suggested minimum time-frame is 2 days.

Information sharing

  • Adults gaining consent must communicate to children and adult/s with parental responsibility what information will be shared and not be shared and with whom.

  • Adults gaining consent must be clear about the safeguarding principles and what would occur in this situation.


Informing children and adult/s with parental consent about the role of the Applied Psychologies’ team member

  • Adults gaining consent should be fully informed as to the role of the Applied Psychologies team member.

  • The Applied Psychologies team member will re-explain their role and regain verbal consent / assent at appropriate points.

  • If the Applied Psychologies team member has reasonable grounds to believe that the adult/s with parental responsibility or child is not giving fully informed consent then work will not be completed at that time.


Ages of consent/assent

  • 0-16 years old and over 16 years old without mental capacity: Written, explicit consent from the adult/s with parental responsibility. Assent gained from child at the beginning of direct work and ongoing assent regained / monitored during direct work.

  • 16-18 years old with mental capacity: Written, explicit consent from the child and adult/s with parental responsibility. The decision of the child overrides the adult/s with parental responsibility if there is a disagreement.

  • 18+ years old with mental capacity: Written, explicit consent from the individual concerned only.

[1] This document has been prepared using: ‘Best practice for educational psychologists in gaining consent: Guidance Document’ from the Association for Educational Psychologists (AEP) (November 2022) and input from Applied Psychologies team members gathered via group supervision Spring 2023 and via email.





Appendix 1: Definition of key terms (Document from AEP guidance November 2022.

Full document available from Applied Psychologies on request).


Informed consent

Consent is a legally defined decision that must be made voluntarily by a person who is appropriately informed and has the capacity to consent to the involvement. For clients under 16 this will be a person with parental responsibility. For clients over 16 who do not have capacity, this may be a parent or carer or someone authorised under a lasting power of attorney or someone who is authorised as a court appointed deputy (see section 6 for more details.) In addition to being informed, this document will also refer to consent being valid, meaning that the consent is given voluntarily and without undue pressure. Under the UK GDPR consent is any freely given, specific, informed and an unambiguous indication of an individual’s wishes through a statement or clear affirmative action to signify his/her/their agreement.


Assent

Assent is the active agreement or engagement of a person who is not able to consent. For example, a pre-school aged child engaging in an activity as part of the psychological involvement. However, a person with parental responsibility would still need to provide informed consent.


Parental Responsibility

Parental Responsibility is defined in the section 3 of the Children Act 1989 (UK Government, 1989) as being: “All the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property”.


The term ‘Parental Responsibility’ attempts to focus on the parent’s duties towards their child rather than the parent’s rights over their child. Parental responsibility protects children while they are unable to make decisions for themselves and it diminishes over time as children develop the necessary skills and understanding to exercise their own rights. To reflect the diversity of families and care arrangements, the term ‘person/adult with parental responsibility’ will be used throughout this document.


Client

The person aged between 0-25 who is or may be in receipt of psychological involvement.

Note – when working in a context where a school, setting or parent has purchased EP time, it is important to recognise this relationship with the ‘customer’ is different to the relationship with the client. The views and experience of the person receiving the psychological involvement must always be centred, no matter who has commissioned the work.


Mental capacity

The term mental capacity is used when discussing clients aged 16 or over. Mental capacity is the ability to make decisions for oneself. People who cannot do this are said to ‘lack capacity’. This might be due to illness, injury, a learning disability, or a mental health issue that affects the way their brain works.


To have capacity a person must be able to:


• Understand the information that is relevant to the decision they want to make.

• Retain the information long enough to be able to make the decision.

• Weigh up the information available to make the decision.

• Communicate their decision by any possible means, including talking, using sign language, or through simple muscle movements such as blinking an eye or squeezing a hand.


People should be assumed to have capacity unless there is clear evidence that shows otherwise.


Further guidance about mental capacity is available in the Association for Educational Psychologists (AEP) ‘Best Practice for Educational Psychologists in Gaining Consent’ November 2022. In England and Wales, The Mental Capacity Act (UK Government, 2005) sets out provision and protections for people over 16 who are unable to consent for themselves. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2005/9/contents/. The Mental Capacity Act Code of Practice can be accessed here:


Request for involvement

The initial process, usually involving a consent form, where consent is gained and, after which, psychological involvement can proceed.


Must and should language

Must and should language is used throughout the document to distinguish between aspects of practice that are legally required and those which are considered to be best practice.


SENCo

The terms used for teachers responsible for coordinating support for children and young people with special/additional educational needs and disabilities varies between the four UK nations. For clarity, in this guidance, the role will be referred to as Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCo).


Consent giver

The person who gives consent to psychological involvement, either for themselves or on behalf of the client.


List of Applied Psychologies supporting documents (available from Applied Psychologies on request)


  • Applied Psychologies best practice guidance in gaining consent policy.

  • Educational Psychologist information leaflet for school staff.

  • Educational Psychologist information leaflet for adults with parental responsibility.

  • Example educational psychologist information leaflets for children.

  • One Page Profiles for Applied Psychologies team members.

  • Applied Psychologies initial discussion template.






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