PART VII FOSTERING, REGULATIONS 21 TO 32
These regulations cover the approval of carers, including derivative approval; agreements with foster carers; reviews and terminations of approval; placement with foster carers; death or absence of a foster carer; notification of placement with foster carers; short term placements and case records for foster carers.
References to local authorities and their duties in the guidance for Parts VI, VII, VIII and X include references registered fostering providers, unless the reference relates directly to those local authorities' looked after duties which cannot be delegated. Regulation 48(2) lists the functions which local authorities may delegate to registered fostering services and fostering under Part VII are included in these.
Regulation 21, Foster carers,
Regulation 21 allows local authorities, and by delegation, registered fostering services, to approve carers for looked after children, to be known as foster carers.
Regulation 22and Schedule 3, Approval of foster carers,
Regulation 22(2) and Schedule 3 cover the information that must be gathered about a prospective carer and presented to the fostering panel when asking for a recommendation for approval. Regulation 22(3) and (7) provides the timescales for the decision by the agency decision maker after the panel recommendation, 14 days, and for the notification of the decision to the prospective carer, 7 days.
In deciding whether to recommend approval, the panel should receive the information in Schedule 3 and "such other information or observations as" the local authority consider appropriate. Schedule 3 is very much a minimum of what is required and authorities should have a clear process for the preparation and assessment of applicants to foster, and the format for reporting this to the panel.
Schedule 3 contains three broad areas of information:
- a range of factual information that describes the applicants and their lifestyle;
- information about their identity and the details needed for the range of checks and references;
- 'assessment' aspects termed as 'capacity' and 'an analysis of motivation'
In considering potential foster carers, authorities need a clear understanding of the nature of the fostering task; the needs and challenges of the children who may be placed; and the qualities and skills required to provide them with safe care which promotes development and addresses the deficits of poor or abusive earlier experiences. Each step of the process, from initial expression of interest to approval, must be consistent with the aim of a robust assessment that prepares applicants for the task and provides evidence of their potential to meet its demands.
Authorities should normally aim to complete an assessment within six months of receiving an application. The stage of making an application is therefore an important one. Authorities should have clear procedures about the ways they provide information to potential applicants, enabling them to decide if they wish to proceed to making an application. These procedures should also address the nature of the assessment, general criteria for approval and the checks and references necessary to ensure safe care of children. Authorities may use a combination of general information and an initial interview, where potential applicants can discuss any personal issues that might affect their application or may be relevant to the agency in considering whether there are any barriers to embarking on an assessment. The aim of these is to establish that the applicant has a basic understanding of the fostering task, is applying to undertake a type of fostering that is in demand by the agency and appears not to have a background which would preclude him or her from fostering.
The most likely areas which arise and could affect the potential suitability of applicants at this stage are in relation to information from criminal records checks and health issues. Where appropriate, early checks may be carried out to inform this discussion and contentious issues may be referred to the fostering panel for advice.
Who can apply?
Regulations no longer specify the categories of people with whom a child may be fostered. There may be an effect in opening fostering to certain types of family structure which were previously prohibited, in particular same-sex relationships, although these were not the only situations affected by the earlier regulations. Applications to foster may come from a wide range of different family structures and many authorities make a point of reflecting this openness in recruiting new carers. This needs to be followed through in all the subsequent stages of assessment, approval and placement of children. The values and attitudes that prospective and approved foster carers meet in all written material provided, at preparation groups, at the fostering panel and in their ongoing contact with all staff through the placement of children should be consistent. The diversity of family structures in Scotland is a reality for both carers and for the children placed. What this highlights for authorities is to clarify what they wish to achieve in providing family based care for children. It has been part of authorities' policy for many years to seek fostering placements rather than residential care for a significant number of children who need to be placed, especially younger children. Apart from the general concept of 'normalising' life for looked after children, what are the specific positives in family life that can be assessed regardless of the particular family structure? For children whose experience of family life may have been neglectful, abusive or emotionally damaging, what do authorities hope they may experience in another family as a different model?
These may include evidence within any particular family structure or network of:
- positive, respectful relationships between adults;
- appropriate relationships and boundaries between adults and children;
- valuing each individual within the family group;
- containing and managing a whole range of behaviours and emotions within the family unit;
- celebrating, supporting and learning to problem solve together.
Some of the information in Schedule 3 will provide a starting point for an individualised assessment which addresses the issues that are pertinent for each application. This will apply whether the application is from a married couple who may have children of different ages, co-habiting or reconstituted families, single applicants or same sex couples.
As well as diverse family structures, valuing diversity also relates to welcoming applications from families from different ethnic, religious or cultural backgrounds. Where the applicant is from an ethnic, religious, or cultural minority, or his or her first language is not English, the social worker should be allocated with special regard to this. Expert advice should be sought and, where applicable, an interpreter used. An interpreter should be well prepared by the worker and familiar with the fostering task. The interpreter should be acceptable to the family being assessed, as otherwise they may not be willing to divulge personal information. He or she should not, however, be a member of the applicants' family. It is important in these situations that authorities have given careful thought to the provision of an ongoing service to these applicants, and have considered how they will be used. It will not be helpful to applicants if early expectations are raised, either about the further steps in the process or their active involvement in placements, but which cannot later be fulfilled. This is especially so when there is an expectation of approved foster carers carrying out ongoing tasks for the local authority.
Making an application
The application form should be based on Schedule 3 of the regulations and applicants should be made fully aware of the range of checks which will be made. Applicants must have to be asked to complete the application form for Disclosure Scotland for an Enhanced Disclosure check. Applicants need to know about the documents which must be seen as proof of identity to support the application, such as passports, driving licenses, household bills, etc. Disclosure Scotland provide detailed information about the process, including completing the forms and checking the identity of applicants for disclosures. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exclusions and Exceptions) (Scotland) Order 2003, SSI 2003/231, as amended, applies to such checks.
It is also necessary to apply for Disclosure Scotland checks for all other members of the household over 16, and this requires them to complete application forms and produce documents for identification. This is in terms of regulation 22 and Schedule 3, paras 2 and 12, which require authorities to obtain particulars of all adults in the household. In practice, Enhanced Disclosures are the way to obtain this information. Adult means someone who is 16 or over.
Any record of convictions should be discussed with applicants. Convictions will not necessarily preclude approval but will require careful consideration of all surrounding circumstances and consultation with senior staff. Authorities and applicants receive a copy of the Enhanced Disclosures, but applicants' ones do not include any additional, non-conviction information. This is provided separately to authorities' recognised countersignatories. Applicants need to be told about possible restrictions on authorities sharing third party information which emerges from this and other checks, and/or from references.
Local authorities should check their own current and previous records in respect of the applicants and other members of the household. In particular, this is aimed at checking if there is information about any former applications to care for children and whether the outcome was positive or of relevant concern; and also whether there is any information about concerns about the applicants' care of children in the past. Where applicants live in the area of other authorities, information from and the views of the other authorities must be sought. Where there have been previous applications to foster or adopt, the relevant agencies should be consulted. Application forms should gather all the necessary information about previous addresses to facilitate these enquiries and applicants need to be clear about the different checks that will be made.
Schedule 3 also requires the agency to obtain references on the character and suitability of the applicants. The purpose of this is to obtain independent corroboration of the information provided by applicants. Authorities' procedures should indicate the minimum required. This should be no less than two; and it is recommended that normally two references are obtained from people not related to the applicants and a third one, which may be from relatives who have good knowledge of the applicants and may be offering support to them. As practice is developing in this area, individual authorities may expand on this and ensure new applicants know what is required.
Applicants should be given guidance on choosing a spread of referees who:
- have known the applicants for some time;
- between them have a balanced knowledge of all existing family members;
- may have known them through periods of particular relevance for the assessment, such as former relationships or times of stress;
- will be part of their support network;
- may have information about areas in individual's chronology such as periods abroad when full records checks may not be available;
- have relevant understanding of the task of fostering.
Best practice requires that contact is made with applicants' former partners especially where relationships involved care of children; and also talking to grown up children living elsewhere. This can be a complex area where social workers carrying out the assessment may need to use their discretion if these individuals cannot be traced or do not respond. Where this arises, reports to panel should include an explanation of the factors taken into account and how workers and their line managers reached a conclusion.
Best practice also requires that contact is made with applicants' employers, including, if appropriate, former employers.
The applicants should be informed that they will be required to have a full medical examination. Application forms ask for information about their GP. The role of the medical adviser to the panel should be explained. Where there are any health issues, these could mean that the medical adviser may need to seek further information from any specialist consultant who was or continues to be involved. Applicants should also be aware from the outset about authorities' policy on smoking, covering both age restrictions on children who can be placed if there is a smoker in the household; and also the broader local authority view of the importance of a smoke-free environment for children, and modelling healthy lifestyles. These issues may broaden to include any local authority policies on other lifestyle issues.
Staffing the fostering service
The quality of the assessment of new foster carers will depend on the knowledge and experience of the staff carrying out the task. The agency must ensure that it has sufficient appropriately qualified social workers to prepare and assess applicants. This includes having the skills, knowledge and confidence to carry out the task, supported by a robust management and training structure. Assessing workers need opportunities, both to develop their skills and to keep in touch with best practice in preparing, assessing and supporting carers and also with information about placement outcomes for children.
This also requires workers to have: an ability to establish a reflective and open relationship with applicants; a commitment to anti-discriminatory practice; good communication skills; a clear awareness of what is needed for the task and how to identify those attributes and skills in others; an ability to work with all members of households, children or adults; and an ability to balance positives and risks as objectively as possible.
All aspects of the recruitment, preparation and assessment of prospective carers should be carried out in compliance with the regulations and also in line with the National Care Standards: foster care and family placement services ( Care Commission website for the National Standards). The Standards address all aspects of the service to prospective and approved foster carers.
Wherever possible, the assessment process should include both group preparation and the individual home study. The size of the local authority and geography will influence the frequency and pattern of preparation groups. Authorities may wish to form preparation and training groups quite early in the process, so that more informed discussions can take place subsequently in the individuals' homes. Where such groups follow a formal application and are clearly part of the assessment process, the applicants should be aware how their participation is being recorded. Some group preparation material includes formats for applicants to note what they learnt from each session and the implications, as well as feedback from the group trainers.
Prospective foster carers should understand the need for visits from social workers, the timescale of assessment and the information required. Applicants from a culture or background where alternative family arrangements are made in a more informal manner, or with no direct knowledge of fostering looked after children, may require careful explanation of the foster carer role alongside the statutory responsibilities of local authorities.
A wide range of prospective foster carers should be sought for the wide range of children requiring fostering. However, no one has the right to foster and not all applicants will be able to provide a suitable environment for the care and nurture of children. The decisions to approve applicants as foster carers must centre on an understanding of what is required to fulfil a skilled task. To do this, authorities need to have a framework for the key areas to be covered in the assessment. And the assessing workers, their line managers, panels and agency decision makers need to have a shared understanding of the factors that indicate that applicants have the skills and potential to provide care for looked after children which meets with the expectations of authorities.
Assessing workers should be given the time to carry out thorough assessments. The recommended time for completing assessments is six months, as set out in National Care Standards, Standard 6.4. this should only be disregarded under exception circumstances such as where rigorous work by the assessing worker requires the continuation of the assessment for a longer period. This work may require more time or put pressure on applicants who may themselves also need more time. Where more time is needed, this should be negotiated with the applicants and the reasons for any extra work identified, agreed and noted.
The perspective of applicants' children and extended family should be actively sought during the assessment process, using a variety of methods including direct contact, family meetings, group work, books and games. Consideration should be give to the establishment of an easily accessible resource bank where workers could access ideas and information about different methods and strategies for working with applicants and children.
No single approach to the assessment task fits all situations, but assessing workers must be able to describe and report their method of working and any adaptations for the particular circumstances of the applicants. The perspective of the applicants on the process should be actively sought and reflected in the assessment report. The quality assurance function carried out by supervisors, fostering panels and agency decision makers should be facilitated by a clear distinction in reports between description, analysis and recommendations. Assertions about applicants' capacities should be supported by evidence and examples. Reports should identify why a particular conclusion has been reached so that discussion can take place about the validity/reliability of the final assessment.
At the end of the assessment, the information needs to be presented to the fostering panel which makes the recommendation to the agency decision maker. The local authority therefore needs to have regard to the quality of the reports used for this purpose, and monitor their effectiveness. Two key areas are: the rigour with which the line managers of the assessing workers monitor what is presented to panel before signing off reports; and also the opportunities for the panel to feed back any concerns based on the reports they receive.
A number of these concerns involve a balancing act between some very obvious strengths in an application, perhaps from very pertinent experiences that applicants bring to the fostering task, and also areas of vulnerability. Guidelines cannot resolve such issues, but they must be clearly laid out; and at each stage the conclusions of the different people and bodies who consider the application must be articulated with reasons.
At present, authorities may use either of the formats produced by BAAF and The Fostering Network for presenting assessments of potential foster carers to panel, or an local authority version possibly adapted or modified from what is available. These all aim at attaining more consistency by providing a framework within which to carry out assessments. One area of consideration is whether, in evidencing the potential of applicants to become foster carers, the emphasis should be on what sort of people they are (their qualities and attributes which are likely to be a combination of their personality and life experiences); or the skills they can demonstrate, the competency approach. In reality, these are not mutually exclusive and some of the evidence for skills may come from reflecting on significant formative past experiences.
The toolkit developed by the Scottish Recruitment and Selection Consortium for safer recruitment and selection for those working in child care - including foster carers- took a more formal human resources approach to trying to identify the qualities found in 'good carers.' These are mirrored by the skills identified within the competency approach, which grouped the necessary skills under four main areas:
- caring for children;
- safe caring;
- working as part of a team; and
- own development.
These indicate the twin concerns of the assessment: the challenges of the children who need foster care; and the implications for potential carers of being approved for the task.
From the perspective of an local authority assessing foster carers, an important marker of the effectiveness of the process is its ability to prepare, approve, train and support carers who are equipped to work towards good outcomes for looked after children. Good outcomes include:
- children have positive experiences of growing up in foster care with carers who have the skills, flexibility, empathy, emotional awareness, tenacity, humour and understanding of young people's needs to help them to grow and develop;
- children are placed with carers who can provide skilled and consistent care to them despite challenging behaviour;
- children are placed with carers whose background and ability to provide safe care has been carefully checked and have been assessed as safe and fit to care;
- children are placed in long-term placements that promote their well being and meet their needs for stability and certainty by workers who are skilled and experienced in assessing foster carers and are aware of the needs of the child and of the foster carers' skills and approach to care;
- children's views are taken into account through the process.
Report to panel
The report on the applicants that is presented to panel needs to state clearly the recommendation made by the assessing worker and be signed by his or her line manager. The assessing worker's report should also be shared with the applicants, subject to possible exclusion of third party information, before being sent to panel members. They should be asked to sign it and any aspects with which they disagree should be identified and their views on these included in writing with the report.
As part of collecting third party information in the form of references, medicals, statements from former partners, adult children away from home or current or former employers, there should be discussion with applicants and with those offering their views about any aspects, where information is given in confidence. Where concerns have been voiced from any source, these need to be addressed in the report and the conclusion of this included in the final recommendation. This should be in a separate part of the portfolio of information presented to the panel. It should be clear in the report what has been shared with the applicants with the agreement of the person providing that information, and what is confidential to the panel. Wherever possible, the person expressing concerns should be encouraged to share these with the applicants or allow the worker to do this. Where it has not been possible to share the concerns as expressed by the third party directly with the applicants, an alternative way needs to be sought, to explore the issues identified with the applicants. The recommendation should reflect what has been made explicit within the application and the extent to which any concerns have been addressed or resolved. While every effort should be made to respect the confidentiality of third party information, it must be explained to the third party that, if a particular application is not approved and this is appealed, complete confidentiality cannot be guaranteed.
The completed assessment needs to enable the panel to make a recommendation about:
- firstly, whether the applicants are suitable to foster,
- secondly, to state whether the applicants should be approved in respect of a particular child, any child or certain categories of children; and
- thirdly, the number of children whom they may have in their care at any one time.
The issue of maximum number of children who may be placed should be covered in the report by the assessing worker, and then considered by the panel to enable them to fulfil their responsibilities in making a recommendation.
The report should also cover, among other matters:-
- how the applicants might address not only the practical needs of children but also have the time and reflective ability to engage with the children's emotional needs;
- how applicants might ensure adequate privacy and space for each child and also facilitate safety for each member of the household;
- how applicants might manage the shifting and potentially uncomfortable relationships between unrelated children, who may enter or leave the household at different times and have varied needs;
- if siblings may be placed, how applicants might manage the different challenges of working with the pre-existing sibling relationships, which may or may not be supportive within the wider group in the household;
- the stage of understanding of the applicants' sons and daughters and how their needs will be monitored in the early stages of fostering;
- explicit discussion with the applicants about the possibility of stress, how they will recognise this and use supports and seek opportunities to maintain their own wellbeing.
Please also see guidance on
Applicants should be invited to meet the fostering panel. While the regulations for approval of foster carers do not specifically replicate that for approval of adopters in requiring that the prospective foster carers have the opportunity to meet with the panel, it would be both inconsistent and contrary to the open, transparent and inclusive nature of the fostering service for this not to be made available.
In considering 'suitability to foster', the panel must be satisfied that all reasonable checks have been made to ensure the safety of any children placed, and that there is sufficient evidence that the applicants understand the fostering task and have the potential to meet its demands. The twin guiding principles must be: firstly, that the fostering service, in the form of its foster carers, can offer care that meets the needs of looked after children and encourage their wellbeing; and secondly, that prospective carers recognise the potential impact on themselves and all their family members and can manage this. The tests for these will be information about the outcomes for children in foster care and the level of retention and satisfaction amongst foster carers. The panel need to keep themselves informed about these matters.
Many local authorities have a combination of mainstream foster carers who can care for a broad range of children; and more focused schemes or identified carers with particular interests or skills, such as those who care for children with disabilities or children with special therapeutic needs, or those who can offer only time limited short breaks. Alongside each assessment report, panels need information about any specific requirements of particular schemes to ensure that recommendations are realistic. This may be about the availability of a full-time home based carer, separate bedrooms or aspects such as wheelchair access. Panels also must be kept up-to-date on any changing local authority policies relating to criteria for approval, such as smoking policy or policies on other lifestyle issues, which may not bar applicants but restrict the categories of children who may be placed.
Local authority decision about approval
Following the panel recommendation, to approve applicants or not approve applicants, the local authority must make their decision within 14 days of the panel, regulation 22(3). This decision is made by the agency decision maker, who should be provided with a copy of the panel papers and minutes as soon as possible after the recommendation. Each local authority should have procedures to make sure that these timescales are followed, particularly including the prompt production of the panel minutes.
After the decision is made, the local authority should give notice of it in writing, within 7 days, regulation 22(7). The notice of approval should state the terms of approval. Except where breach of confidence would occur, the reasons for any refusal should be explained. Information concerning the local authority's reconsideration or review processes and the complaints procedure should be included with the written notice. The outcome should also be notified to any professionals who have contributed to the assessment. The letter to the applicants should usually be followed up by a visit from a social worker to ensure that its contents have been understood.
Regulation 23, Derivative approval of foster carers
Under regulation 23, it is possible for a foster carer to be registered as an approved carer with more than one local authority. This is called "derivative approval" and should be differentiated from 'dual approval', where a carer has been fully assessed and approved by two different authorities. Dual approval is possible but would be unusual.
Regulation 23(1) allows a foster carer to be 'registered' with more than one agency, when he or she has already been approved by a local authority or registered fostering service and that approval has not been terminated. It can only apply if the second local authority is approving the carers for a similar range of children, (regulation 23(2)). If the second agency wants to alter the terms of approval, a new assessment and approval process must be carried out. Although the only other action required in this regulation is for the second agency to notify the first agency in writing, regulation 23(3), clearly this is an eventuality that should involve detailed communication between the agencies.
This is intended as an enabling provision in certain circumstances, not as one which should be regularly used. Normally, approved foster carers work in relationship with one agency which ensures they are properly supported and maintains an overview of the needs and numbers of children placed with the carers. In some instances, however, foster carers may move to a new area but continue caring for a child or children who are already placed on a long term basis with them. They may therefore continue to be approved by their original agency for the existing placement, but wish to offer their services in the new area.
In these circumstances it will be necessary for the second agency to undertake its own assessment and approval processes for the foster carers. It would be expected that, with the agreement of the foster carers, their original assessment report, the minutes recording the panel recommendation, any comments from the agency decision maker and their most recent review would be shared with the second agency. Where a foster carer has been approved by one agency and is in the process of being assessed and approved by a second agency, use of regulation 23 could allow a placement to be made.
The provision should only be used in an emergency situation to facilitate the placement of a specific child. It should not be used to circumvent the approval processes of the second agency.
Following any such derivative approval, an agreement should be established between the agencies covering:
- recognition of the needs of the child/ren already in placement;
- services which the original agency will provide for the child in placement;
- expectations of both agencies about sharing information of relevance to the ongoing use of the foster home;
- confirmation of who is responsible for support of the carers and ongoing reviews, including ensuring the parameters in respect of placements are maintained;
- arrangements about advising the original local authority about any changes in circumstances in the foster home or other matters which may affect the child/ren in placement;
- the requirement in regulation 25(5)(b) to give notice of decisions following reviews;
- protocols for managing any concerns or allegations.
Dual approval, where a foster carer has been fully and separately assessed and approved by more than one agency, is a potentially complex situation. It would be unusual but could occur when an agency clearly planned not to place any more children with the foster carer. When a foster carer has been dually approved, it is crucial that attention is paid to the care planning of all the children who are or may be placed with the foster carer.
After a foster carer is approved, the approving local authority must enter into a written agreement with him or her. This is, in effect, the local authority's contract with the carer. It should be distinguished from the specific foster placement agreement ( regulation 27 and Schedule 4) which is entered into for every individual child placed with the carer.
The foster carer agreement provides written information about the terms and conditions of the partnership between the local authority and the foster carer. The matters and obligations to be covered in the foster care agreement are set out in Schedule 6. The agreement covers:
(a) the services which the carer should expect from the local authority and the main procedures of which the carer should be aware;
(b) the foster carers' obligations to inform the local authority of any changes; and
(c) the carers' agreement to caring for any children placed in line with local authority policies and expectations as covered during the assessment.
The matters in Schedule 6 are a minimum that are standard across Scotland. Each local authority may wish to add others which will either apply to all their carers or which may be additional requirements for particular schemes. Every local authority should ensure that foster carers have a full understanding of what is expected of them as foster carers and of the local authority when a child is placed, in relation to the requirements of regulations, this guidance and the local authority's policies and procedures. A foster carer handbook, issued and regularly updated by the local authority, can be very helpful in this regard.
Some aspects included in Schedule 6 are likely to have featured significantly within the assessment. Carers need to be aware of the content of the foster carer agreement throughout that process and understand the complexity of what is included. Wording such as caring for each child "as if the child was a member of that person's family" (para 6(c)) signals a wish that looked after children should not face further disadvantage or stigmatisation by being fostered but this does not address the children's identity needs or their feelings about their place within their birth family. Used positively, agreements should indicate that the carers and the authorities have the same hopes and aspirations for looked after children as they would for their own children. But as so many children in foster care have been disadvantaged or damaged by their earlier experiences, they may need additional help beyond that required by carers' own children.
The content of these agreements should be reviewed at intervals by the authorities and any proposed changes or additions explained and discussed with carers. Equally, carers should have the opportunity to make suggestions and comments to their local authority on any issues of relevance to the agreement between them.
Regulation 25, Reviews and termination of approval
As with other regulations in Part VII, references to local authorities and their duties under this regulation include references registered fostering providers.
Regulation 25(1) and (2) provides clear specific timescales within which the first and subsequent reviews of a foster carer must be carried out. Panel reviews for a carer must be carried out within one year of the original decision to approve; and every three years following that first review (regulation 25(1)(a) and (b)). In addition, the local authority must review a carer's approval at panel where they think it "is necessary or appropriate to safeguard the welfare of any child who has been placed with that carer" (regulation 25(1)(c) and (8)).
The National Care Standards: foster care and family placement services state that there should be an annual review, to look at all matters including training and support to carers, the information provided to them and the levels of supervision, Standard 11.1.
Where authorities have well established annual review or appraisal processes, these should be continued, and all authorities should aim for this as good practice. These reviews may be arranged in a different way from the more formal presentations to panel for review of continued approval in regulation 25(1) and (2). They should balance an appropriate level of objective reflection about how carers are responding to the challenges of the task, with an opportunity to value the contribution of the carers. They should identify both what the carers might do to develop their skills and also what the local authority should do in supporting them and providing training opportunities.
Regulation 25(5)(ii) provides some flexibility around the requirement for referral to the fostering panel for a recommendation on the continued suitability of the foster carers. This requires a written report of "any meeting arranged by the local authority at which the approval of the foster carer is reviewed". This raises the possibility of the main review discussion happening outwith the fostering panel, with a report of the review and supporting documentation brought to panel for the recommendation. Where the full review discussion is happening at a separate meeting, local authority procedures should define how it will be managed. It should be chaired by someone independent of the foster carer and not the line manager of the carer's support worker. The local authority should also define circumstances in which the complete review must be conducted at the fostering panel. This ensures that the panel has direct understanding of the subsequent development of the carers they recommend for approval, the carers receive full recognition of their importance in the fostering service and the panel have the opportunity for a substantial discussion of any complex issues.
Where not all reviews are carried out at the panel, the following may be considered as possible indicators for a panel review to be arranged:
- the first review;
- where termination is being considered;
- where there is a request to vary the terms of approval;
- where there are contentious issues or disagreement between carers and social workers;
- where there has been an allegation;
- where there has been a significant change of circumstances;
- to celebrate long service;
- progression to the next level of a skills-based fostering programme, where this exists.
Any significant change may signal the need for an early review. Authorities need to distinguish between times where there the family placement service need to oversee the foster carers, such as the ill health of a carer or an allegation, and when this may need to be followed by an early review if there are implications for the ongoing approval of the carer.
The review is a formal opportunity for the carer and the local authority to consider whether the expectation of both have been met, particularly at the first review following the carer's experience of the reality of fostering. It should explicitly validate the strengths and skills demonstrated, as well as acknowledge any stresses experienced and any areas where further training and support is required. While there is a specific requirement in regulation 25(2)(a), for the panel to make a recommendation about the continued suitability of the carer to foster, the review is most likely to be productive if it is experienced by the carer as both a review of his or her progress, and also as an opportunity for him or her to comment on the service received from the local authority, and any others charged with services to the children in placement.
Regulation 25(2)(c) indicates those who should be consulted and asked to provide views in advance of the review. This is a minimum and authorities should have further guidance and mechanisms for staff to ensure that all relevant views are considered, covering at least the following list.
- Any child or children placed. Consideration should be given to how the views of children in foster care are gathered and who should do this in relation to their view of their particular foster home. This includes recording any views expressed by children who have joined and left the foster home during the year. There is scope for creative ways of doing this.
- The foster carers should be asked to provide their comments in writing in advance of the review.
- All members of the foster carers' household should have the opportunity to contribute their views. In particular, the sons and daughters of foster carers should be able to express their views independently.
- The foster carers' social worker should be required to provide a report for the review and the local authority may wish to provide a standard framework for this. It should include details of the original terms of approval and the extent to which the carers have met or exceeded the potential for the task identified at the time of approval.
- The social workers for any child in placement during the year under review should be asked to provide a report and when any child leaves the foster home, end of placement comments should be obtained and recorded in the carers' record.
- Any comments of birth parents and any other members of the children's families may be noted in records, but authorities should also consider specifically how they seek the views of birth family members on their experience of their child in foster care.
- As foster carers are encouraged to work as part of a team, note should be made of any other feedback from other workers who have contact with the foster carers and where relevant, their permission received to share such comments with the carers.
In all feedback from other staff within the local authority and their use of the fostering service, it is important to record not only any issues arising that need to be addressed, but also commendations which can be made explicit.
Regardless of the precise format and procedures for the review, panels are required to make a recommendation on the suitability of the foster carers. This is to enable the local authorities, in the form of the agency decision maker, to decide whether to confirm the approval, vary the terms of the approval or to terminate the approval. Where authorities have a number of different fostering schemes, for example specialist therapeutic fostering or schemes where carers have extra preparation to meet the needs of children with disabilities, family placement teams should have clear information about when carers require to complete extra preparation, time to reflect on this and an updated assessment before seeking an alteration in their terms of approval. Panels need to be aware of any such agency provisions in making their recommendations.
One of the frequent areas for discussion at reviews is about the use made of the foster home in question. It is important to explore the extent of the cohesion between the local authority's need for the type of resource offered by the carers; the carers' ability to meet the needs of the children actually placed; and whether the children placed conform to the terms of approval as they stand. At one end of the spectrum, it is frustrating for carers to be approved for certain categories of children and be rarely used. At the other end are carers who are very willing to respond to children's needs and are stretched to the limit. Reviews may pick up situations where it could be argued that the local authority has a duty of care towards hard pressed carers or where some placements come under pressure or some children's needs may be overlooked because carers are asked to do a potentially overwhelming task. It is the role of the review, and panels making recommendations, to explore any such issues in an objective manner.
Training and support of foster carers
Regulation 25(2)(b)(i) and (ii) expects the review to address both the continued suitability of the foster carers for the task and also their own development. This is a two way process requiring firstly, the availability of opportunities for development to be provided by the local authority; and secondly the willingness of carers to access these opportunities.
Local authorities should have a mix of training provision that meets with the needs of their particular size and geographical location. This should include regular core areas that all carers need post approval; skills development and access to new ideas to extend their abilities; and focused training that meets carers' need in looking after particular children. Such training may be provided internally, by paying for carers to attend external training or by the provision of materials for carers to access at home. In addition to written material, this increasingly includes use of online information. After approval, the social worker and foster carers should agree on what further preparation and training is needed, before a child is placed and continuing beyond placement. The early months as foster carers can have particular importance as a period when skills and confidence can develop rapidly or, on the other hand, may be undermined. The responsibility for the provision of training opportunities and making arrangements to enable carers to access these lies with the local authority. To balance this, there needs to be an explicit expectation that newly approved carers will take up such opportunities. Reviews and panels need to look at both aspects and make recommendations accordingly.
Opportunities for continuing training should be available for all foster carers. Many foster carers, as they become more experienced, will welcome the opportunity to undertake more complex placements; others will want to change the type of fostering that they do or the age range that they foster; and others will find that as their foster children grow and develop the problems they face change. Foster carers will often need training in order to give evidence in court, take part in a children's hearing or participate fully in a reviews. Foster carers should be encouraged to take part in the local authority's staff training programme, but courses specifically for foster carers, at times that are convenient for them, should also be organised. Some experienced foster carers will welcome the opportunity to undertake training leading to a recognised qualification.
While training will also often provide a support function, carers also need time and space to reflect on the impact of fostering on them. This may be a general reflection on their experience of the reality of the fostering task post approval or a more focused opportunity to look at how a particular child is affecting them or other family members. Times of change and upheaval, or the move of a child who has become very much part of the family, can be emotionally demanding. The effective use of support in managing the emotional impact of fostering is part of enabling carers to continue with a difficult task. Recognition of this and establishing explicit communication in this area forms part of the support package alongside ensuring carers are familiar with all the practical supports available. Much of this should be contained in the foster carer handbook but will be most effective if combined with the building of an open relationship between carers and social workers.
In planning ongoing training and support, attention should be paid not only to the approved foster carers but also to other members of their family, especially children and other adults in the household.
Where carers go beyond their terms of approval in an emergency
In an emergency, a local authority may place a child with an approved foster carer for not more than 3 working days (regulation 36(1)(b)). Such a placement may involve a carer exceeding the terms of his or her approval, in terms of how many children may be placed with him or her. In this situation, the local authority should review the carer's approval at a fostering panel as soon as possible.
In placing a child in an emergency, the local authority must also carry out their duties under regulation 36, and review the child's case in terms of regulations 38 and 39.
(Please also see guidance on EMERGENCY MEASURES)
Frequency of checks etc within the review structure
As indicated, local authorities should have review foster carers' approvals annually whether these involve the fostering panel or not. Questions then arise as to how often there should be further Disclosure Scotland checks and medical examinations. Up-to-date enhanced disclosures should be sought for approved carers every two years. An enhanced disclosure check should be sought for any young person in the household who becomes 16. This should be carried out when the 16 th birthday is reached, not simply at the carer's next review. Such a check should also be carried out when anyone who is 16 or over joins the household, as soon as this happens.
For medical checks, there should be a medical update as part of every annual review, considered along with the original medical assessment. In addition, and as a minimum, a full health assessment should be carried out again at the second 3 year review, i.e. the seven year review; and thereafter every six years. A full health assessment should also be carried out when circumstances indicate this is needed; or when there is to be a significant change in the carer's remit; or when there are significant health concerns.
Notices of re-approval, revision of approval, or withdrawal of approval must be sent to the foster carer and to any other local authority using the foster home (regulation 25(5)(b)). As a matter of good practice, the outcome of the review should normally be discussed with any other authorities who may have a child in placement before a final decision is reached. If the outcome is that a recommendation for termination of approval is to be made, plans for ending the placement of any children placed in the foster home will need to be made and where relevant, a Children's Hearing review arranged. If a child has to be removed immediately to safeguard and protect his or her welfare, a child care review should be held as soon as possible. If the child is subject a supervision requirement, such a removal, an 'emergency transfer', must be notified to the Principal Reporter immediately, in terms of s72 of the 1995 Act. There has to be a review hearing within seven days of the move (s72(2)).
The foster carer's right to complain about or ask for reconsideration (under regulation 26) of any decisions resulting from a review must be explained to him or her. If a foster carer decides to make a complaint or ask for reconsideration, the child may be allowed to remain in the placement until the complaint is investigated, or the decision reconsidered, provided this will not be detrimental to his or her welfare.
Termination of approval
Approval of foster carers may be terminated for many different reasons which need to be recognised. These can range from the retirement of long-serving foster carers through those who choose to move to another type of employment or to another fostering authority or agency, to those for whom termination of approval has been sought following investigation of an allegation.
The main principles in considering these different situations are:
- ensuring that children's interests are kept to the fore;
- maintaining a positive perception of carers and fostering authorities and agencies by valuing the good work of foster carers;
- learning from experiences of losing carers through weaknesses in the training and support services offered to carers;
- fairness in managing situations where there are disagreements.
In arranging a review which is considering termination of approval, the foster carers should understand this in advance. Where carers are retiring, the timing of the review should dovetail with their plans, including the planned ending of any placement and any formal marking of their contribution.
All reviews should, as a matter of course, pay attention to any comments made by carers on their need for training and support, and there should be a system for monitoring any agency concerns arising out of reviews. Special attention should be paid where such concerns may contribute to the loss of foster carers. Carers may, of course, choose to cease caring for personal reasons or circumstances at a stage in their lives.
Where the review is being asked to consider terminating approval at the initiation of the local authority, the reasons for this need to be clearly laid out and shared as fully as possible with the foster carers prior to discussion at the review. Third part information will usually be withheld unless permission to share has been given. It should be noted that it is not possible to guarantee total confidentiality to third parties.
The carers should be given an opportunity to submit representations and encouraged to provide their views in writing prior to the panel. Representations by carers are allowed when there is a review or appeal panel, regulation 26(c), and this would also be good practice when there is a recommendation for termination of approval at review under regulation 25.
Reasons for seeking a termination of approval include where carers are under stress because of events in their own lives and the family placement worker considers they need a break or a suspension for a period; where carers have demonstrated very limited skills and are rarely used; and where investigations into allegations have been upheld. Regardless of whether the carers have chosen to resign or their social worker is requesting termination of approval, it is important that a recommendation to terminate approval both states the reasons for this; and also makes a statement about whether at a later date the carers would be able to re-apply to that local authority, and what would need to be addressed if this should occur. Carers should also be aware that this information would be shared with any other local authority or agency they might approach in the future.
The aim for any local authority in providing a fostering service should be to keep to the minimum the number of contentious terminations of approval. Achieving this first of all requires a robust assessment and preparation process. This must be followed by effective provision for the support and ongoing training and development of foster carers' skills and understanding. This includes being very open about any concerns emerging.
Investigation of allegations about foster carers
Safe care for children is essential and authorities require to take all reasonable steps to ensure this, especially as they hold responsibility for many children who are have been removed from unsafe care. The most strenuous checks cannot provide an absolute guarantee of safety. There is always a risk, fortunately small, that someone not known to be a threat to children, but with that potential, will be approved as a foster carer. Other carers who may be naïve or inexperienced may be confronted with a child whose only experience of life is abusive and be sucked into a pattern of interaction which leads to abuse. Other children or young people either deliberately, perhaps to bring a placement to an end, or because of complex internal reasons, may make a false allegation. Yet other children may misinterpret carers' actions or responses and make inaccurate links with former abuse. Safe caring will have been covered during the carers' preparation and assessment periods. Following approval, this is an area that may need further training and support and may be a source of anxiety, especially in relation to allegations.
Any allegation against carers of abuse or neglect must be investigated first and foremost to protect the child's welfare and within the local authority's child protection procedures. Such an investigation has special features when an allegation concerns a foster carer. The investigation must be approached in a measured and thoughtful way but should be as thorough as if the alleged event had happened in the child's own home. Welfare and safety considerations, and the views of the child, should dictate whether it is in the child's best interests, and the best interests of other children in the household, for the child to remain in the foster home while the investigation takes place. If the child or other children remain in the household, both they and the foster carers will need additional supervision and support. (Please also see Best Practice Guidance: Responding to Allegations Against Foster Carers)
Foster carers, like other families, find investigations stressful and they should receive appropriate information and support. The child's social worker will need to give priority to the child's welfare and protection. It will be difficult for him or her also to provide support to the foster carers. The foster carers' social worker should advise and support the foster carer but his or her paramount interest must also be the child's welfare, and the foster carers need to know that the worker's support will not be unconditional. Consequently, foster carers may also need separate advice, support and advocacy. Independent advice and information for foster carers may be obtained from the Fostering Network Scotland, through its Fosterline Scotland.
If allegations against carers are established, local authorities should have clear procedures about what further steps they will take, such as termination of approval. They also require procedures for who to notify about the allegations and action taken, and how and by whom this is done. Their child protection procedures should assist in this, and the Best Practice Guidance.
Even if the outcome of the investigation exonerates the foster carers, it may take a considerable period for them to rebuild their confidence in themselves and the local authority. They are likely to need additional support during this period. In cases where the allegation has been proven and, except where the claim is very minor, it will normally be necessary to terminate approval. Often, however, the outcome will not be clear. In these circumstances, the local authority need to assess the risk and reach a balanced judgement as to whether the foster carers can care satisfactorily for children. Any subsequent reports where the allegation is mentioned, including reports to the panel for a review, should clearly record the outcome of the enquiry into the allegation, and if evidence is limited or inconclusive, the reasons why it is considered safe for the carers to continue fostering.
In so doing reports and panels will need to take account of
- the seriousness of the allegation;
- the plausibility of its refutation;
- whether the child or other person making the allegation may have a reason for making a mistaken, false, or exaggerated allegation;
- the previous fostering history of the foster carers;
- the strengths and weaknesses of the foster carers; and
- whether there were any particular stresses in the placement which could have led them to act inappropriately (for example, a lack of support or over use of the foster carers by the local authority).
Where it proves necessary to review foster carers' approval and this leads to a recommendation for alteration or termination of approval, the reasons and the conclusions the local authority have reached should be explained carefully to them. As with all review decisions, the local authority must give written notice of their decision (regulation 25(5)((b)(i)) but the reasons should also be given and explained. And they should be told of their right to complain and separately to ask for a further review in terms of regulation 26.
Regulation 26, Review of approval: further provision
As with other regulations in Part VII, references to local authorities and their duties under this regulation include references registered fostering providers.
This is about reviewing decisions of authorities, as listed in regulation 26(1) and (2)(a)-(c):
- to approve applicants as foster carers;
- not to approve applicants as foster carers;
- to vary foster carers' terms of approval; or
- to terminate foster carers' approval.
These may be more generally called appeals against the decisions. The provisions in regulation 25 are for those arrangements by authorities in line with their responsibilities routinely to review carers. Regulation 26 applies to reviews requested by foster carers or prospective foster carers, when local authorities make one of the decisions listed and the carers or prospective carers wish the decisions to be reconsidered. The right is not open-ended: requests for reviews of/appeals against decisions must be made within 28 days of notice being given of decisions (regulation 26(3)).
It must be remembered that the right to seek a review under this regulation applies to prospective carers who have been approved under regulation 22(3), as well as to other decisions about approvals, etc. While carers who have been approved as they wanted are unlikely to ask for a review, there will be carers who have been approved but are not happy with the terms of the approval and wish to have a review.
From the beginning of their contact with local authorities, prospective foster carers should have written information about the difference between complaints against the way the local authority delivers its services and reviews of decisions made in relation to their wish to foster. Regulation 26 is purely about reviews of/appeals against decisions.
Local authority procedures should provide information about the precise steps that prospective and approved foster carers can take. As a matter of course, this should be included in any written communication of decisions about approval, variation or termination. Procedures should include provision for the social workers who may have been assessing or supporting the applicants or carers to be notified about the decisions and the possibility of requests for review, when carers or prospective carers are thought to be unhappy with what has been decided. These workers should make contact with the person(s) concerned, to ensure that they have received notice of the decision. This will help avoid any unnecessary debate about the timescale for making requests under regulation 26. If there has been any delay between the day on which notice of the decision was sent and the receipt of this, the local authority should take note of this and not bar the request.
Regulation 26(4) onwards lays out what the local authority must do when they receive a request for a review. They must refer the case to a fostering panel, a differently constituted one from that which originally made the recommendation (regulation 26(4) and (5)). There is no timescale within which the panel must be arranged. There are timescales about the final stages (regulation 26(8)). After the review panel makes its recommendation, the local authority's decision must be made within 14 days; and the foster carer or prospective foster must then be informed of the decision within 7 days. Local authority procedures should provide further details of how the review will be conducted and the local authority's time-frame. The review is likely to be an important event for the carer or prospective carer. For some there will have been a huge emotional investment in the wish to foster, and others may have seen fostering as a career and it is a significant part of his or her identity, particularly if he or she has been fostering for a period. Regulation 26(10) makes it clear that once a decision has been made under this review provision, there is no further right to review, so it is important for everyone, including the local authority, that the process is fair and well managed.
The time-frame between receipt of the request and the date of the panel is therefore important. It must reflect a balance between the avoidance of a protracted process and the need to ensure that the carer or prospective carer has time to consider any further evidence he or she would wish to put forward. It is recommended that the review panel should be held within a period of one to three months after receipt of the request.
There are two broad areas for agencies to consider in relation to this regulation:
1. establishing a "differently constituted fostering panel" and a different agency decision maker; and
2. further representations from the foster carer or prospective foster carer.
Differently constituted review panel and agency decision maker
It is clearly fair that, in the circumstances of a review request, a different panel and an alternative agency decision maker are used. Regulation 26(5) says that the panel must be "differently constituted" and it is good practice for authorities to use a different agency decision maker. They should all have had no part in the earlier recommendation and decision. For large local authorities, this may pose no difficulty. Small local authorities and small registered fostering services need to have established arrangements in advance of any such request, in order to be able to establish the necessary panel. In some instances, this may include making reciprocal arrangements with a neighbouring local authority or another comparable agency, service or supplementing existing panel members with an experienced person from another local authority or agency, someone who has expertise in the area of work. Where a specific issue such as a medical concern was a key factor, it will be important to ensure an alternative medical adviser can attend. Legal advice to the panel should also be considered.
Authorities and agencies should consider having more than one agency decision maker as a matter of general policy, to cover holidays, illness, etc. This will also be helpful for making decision after a regulation 26 review. If an local authority or agency only has one agency decision maker, they should make established arrangements with another local authority or agency, perhaps on a reciprocal basis, so that they are prepared for regulation 26 review decisions
Regulation 26(6) details the information that must be provided to the review panel. This is: the original decision and the reasons for it; the information provided to the panel which made the assessment when the carer or prospective carer was assessed under regulation 22; "any further representations" from the carer or prospective carer; and "any other relevant information". This gives scope for consideration of how the person requesting the review can put forward his or her case. These representations could include additional written information and references, and statements from others supporting him or her. As with other panels, questions may arise again about third party information and its confidentiality. (Please also see guidance on FOSTERING PANELS) well be more pressure at this stage, about obtaining further information on the reasons for turning down an application or terminating or restricting approval. It may be necessary to contact individuals who provided significant confidential information, to discuss their concerns further and the extent to which it is necessary to share some of that information. Legal advice should be sought on this.
The carer or prospective carer should also be invited to attend for all or part of the panel, and to bring someone with them for support. Independent advice and information for foster carers may be obtained from the Fostering Network Scotland, through its Fosterline Scotland.
Where this review follows a termination or variation of approval of an existing foster carer, there must be ongoing discussion with the social workers for any children in placement, and any other local authority or agency which may also have children in placement or where there is derivative approval. Regulation 26(11) requires the local authority to intimate the decision after the review to any other local authority or agency which has given derivative approval the carer; and that other local authority or agency must vary or terminate their approval as well, and notify the carer.
Regulation 27, Placement of child with foster carer,
Regulation 27 covers three elements relevant to the placement of a child with foster carers. These are :
- any prohibitions;
- what the local authority must satisfy themselves about before placing a child with foster carers; and
- the requirement for the carer to notify them of certain events.
To some extent, the wording in this regulation is negative. The local authority must not place a child where that would be contrary to a supervision requirement or any order under Part II, Chapters 2 to 4 of the 1995 Act, or a permanence order. They must not place a child where that would return the child to the care of someone from whom he or she was removed by any order, authorisation or warrant. They must not place the child unless they are satisfied about a number of criteria in relation to the placement, as listed in regulation 27(2)(a) to (h). And they must make sure that the foster carer knows that he or she must notify them if the child dies, suffers any serious illness or injury or "absents themselves or….is taken away from the foster carer's home."
Clearly a local authority would not wish to place a child in contravention of a legal order. What is important here is that the case records for the child have immediately accessible information about all orders etc.
The duties about notifications should have been covered in the foster carer agreement, Schedule 6, para 6(d) and therefore fully explored with the carer in preparation for signing this when approved. The foster carer hand book or any other general agency material for foster carers should also include information about handling such events. Social work staff should be prepared for responding to such notifications from foster carers. This will include both the responsibility of the child's worker for what needs to be done for the child; and also the need to make contact with parents or any one else with parental responsibilities., in terms of regulations 9 and 27(4). There are particular requirements about the notification of the death of a child, regulation 9. And in the event of a serious illness of the child, the information about who is able to consent to medical treatment for the child will be needed by the local authority, carers and others. Please also see guidance on and Child's plan.
All foster carers should have general information about what to do if children are abducted or run away. Some foster carers may need additional training or supports if they care for older children and adolescents where this is a more likely event or is a known pattern of individual children.
Regulation 27(2) is the provision covering what should be considered in foster carer placements which are not emergency placements, covered in Part X, regulations 36 to 41, Emergency measures. Regulation 27(2) lists a number of matters about which the local authority be satisfied before making the placement. Where the placement has been obtained through the established routes, some of these matters will be straightforward, such as knowing that the foster carer is approved and has signed a foster carer agreement.
There are a number of areas to consider when planning placements, including those listed in regulation 27(2).
- When considering whether a placement is in a child's best interests, local authorities should endeavour to achieve a 'matching process', especially where a placement is likely to be open-ended, may last for a significant period or has a defined purpose. It is also useful to have checklist of all the factors listed in section 17(1) to (4) of the 1995 Act, to establish the extent to which the proposed placement meets all those aspects of the child's needs. Regulation 27(2)(b) is really a requirement for a 'matching' of the child with particular carer(s).
- At the point at which a foster placement is planned and sought, it should be assumed that the alternatives of a child remaining at home under supervision or moving to kinship carers have been explored and are not appropriate. The alternatives should be re-stated here as the child moves into foster care, so that the carers know how the need for foster placement has been explained to the child and help the child understand the plan that is in place. If the plan is to ask for a supervision requirement with the proposed carers, the report for Children's Hearing should cover these matters too.
- At the point at which a foster placement is planned, the foster placement agreement, Schedule 4, should be prepared and signed by the carers and local authority. It will be helpful to have a style of a detailed foster placement agreement, which can be personalised and adapted for each child and placement.
Part X, Emergency placements, looks at the possibility of extending the terms of approval of foster carers in an emergency. Where there is some scope for planning a foster placement, there is an expectation that this will conform to the existing terms of the carers' approval. On the other hand, a child-centred placement service needs to be responsive to the needs of children, which may mean planning a placement where it is both necessary and appropriate to alter the terms of approval of carers. This is especially so if it enables siblings to come together where this is important for their well being; or if a carer knows a child through offering respite to other carers and is confident that the child will fit in with other children already in placement. Part of planning the placement should include the necessary procedures for altering the foster carers' terms of approval in the longer term. This will allow an objective look at the evidence that this is in the best interests of child and foster family.
Local authorities should have a system for a risk assessment in making a placement, and this should include: any health and safety issues; any known risks to the child from other people about which carers should be aware; and any potential risks to other members of the household, the carers' community and the child themselves from the behaviour of the child or anyone with whom the child has contact.
A high number of children who are placed in foster carer have siblings. (Please see guidance on Children in the same family) The regulations are largely written in relation to an individual child. In making a placement where siblings are concerned, the following should be taken into account:
- individual needs of each child and of the sibling group as a unit;
- protective and risk factors within the group;
- longer term consequences of placing siblings together or apart;
- roles within the siblings group;
- the impact of the sibling group within the wider context of the care setting.
To whatever degree it has been possible to plan a placement, it will also involve a planned move for the child. For children and young people, the process of moving, with attendant losses, can have long lasting effects. Local authorities should provide guidance and training for staff and foster carers about best practice in preparing children, the carers they are leaving and the new foster carer household for the move and in managing the transition.
Schedule 4 provides a framework for the foster carer placement agreement which should also include the specific requirements of the individual child. Time should be spent on going through this carefully, if possible with the parents and if appropriate with the child, as well as with the foster carers, so that all the details are in place to facilitate the move of the child into the placement. The foster carers should be seen as full members of the team responsible for the care of the child. As such, they should have all available information, to consider firstly their ability to meet the child's needs and any safety issues for the child or any other member of the household. They also need to begin planning for how they will support the child's wellbeing and development while in their care; and they will also need to prepare other members of the household for the arrival of the child. All foster carers will have addressed issues of confidentiality as part of their preparation and assessment. They will need to identify any particular issues for the individual child being placed. Where they have written information about the child, they should be provided with the necessary means to keep this safe.
Schedule 4, para 4 includes the facility to consider when it is necessary for the foster carer to obtain advance approval for the child to stay temporarily with someone else. When longer-term placements are being planned, this is an area of discretion that can help normalise a living situation for children. Spending overnights with friends, or spending a night at the weekend with extended family of the foster carers is all part of this. Some authorities and agencies also approve family members or close friends of the carers, as regular babysitters or to help out at holiday periods and this can also enrich the family experience for the child.
Regulation 28, Death or absence of foster carer
An unanticipated death or sudden absence of a foster carer will need an immediate response from the local authority. Regulation 28 is aimed at providing some breathing space in circumstances where it would be more disruptive for a child to be moved precipitously from a settled placement rather than be included in the adjustment to the distress in the fostering household. In many situations there will be no immediate problem if the household is based on two approved foster carers and the other remains. The focus of the local authority's work will be initially supporting the family members and any children placed, followed in due course by consideration of whether there should be any alteration in the placement. This will be influenced both by the attitude of the remaining carer and also by the child's circumstances, such as length of time in the placement and the child's plan.
Where there is a single approved carer, there may be another adult able to assume care, at least in the short term. This may be an adult child of the carer or another adult in the household who will be known and checked, or a member of the carer's kinship network. In this case it may be necessary to carry out basic checks similar to those in emergency placements. In either case, if the person is willing to look after the child, knows the child and it is in the child's best interests to remain in the household at least for an interim period, then the local authority should make an emergency placement under regulation 36. The prospective emergency carer should sign a written agreement to carry out the duties in regulation 36(3). Please see guidance on EMERGENCY MEASURES
Following the immediate arrangements, including an emergency placement where that is the best course of action, plans should be initiated to explore more fully the longer-term implications of the death or absence, both for other members of the carer's household and children in placement. This will frequently call for sensitive timing and an immediate decision must be made about who will be the main support to the household and will monitor the situation. This person will be responsible for keeping all other relevant staff informed. Further decisions will then need to be made about the continuing placement of children within the changed household and whether this will require a fostering or kinship care assessment or a planned move for the child. If there has been an emergency placement, the local authority must review the child's case as set out in regulations 38 and 39.
Regulation 29, Notification of placement
Regulation 29 specifies who should receive written notification of the foster placement of the child. Notifications should include "particulars of the placement." There should be routine procedures in place for notifying:
- the education department;
- the health board for the area where the foster carers reside;
- the carers' local authority, including the education department, if the child is being placed outwith his or her own local authority area.
- parents and any person with parental responsibilities or rights.
Notifications must be "as soon as reasonably practicable" and should be recorded. Local authority procedures should ensure that there are checks on the efficiency of their systems. Notification to parents and/or any person with parental responsibilities is not required if they have already received a written copy of the child's plan under regulation 5 (regulation 29(2)). Whether they have received copies of the child's plan should be noted in records; and resultant non-notifications should also be recorded. The local authority is specifically forbidden to notify parents and/or anyone with parental responsibilities or rights in the circumstances listed in regulation 29(3). These are that the local authority are of the view it would not be in the child's best interests; or because a permanence order, supervision requirement or other order or warrant specifies that the child's address should not be disclosed. It will be necessary to record with reasons any circumstances where notifications are not made.
Regulation 30, Short term placements with foster carers
There is also a regulation about short breaks with kinship carers, regulation 14, please see guidance on Short term placements in kinship care
The purpose of regulation 30 is to simplify the arrangements for children who benefit from planned short term placements, often called respite placements or shared care. The important factor here is that these are short periods when children are looked after by approved foster carers, but they are part of a planned overall support to children and families. They are clearly different from those situations where children may need to be placed for short unpredictable periods due to family crises or chaotic lifestyles, where frequent re-admissions to foster care should be closely monitored. Some children who benefit from planned short breaks may continue to be looked after as part of a wider plan. These may be children on supervision requirements at home; or some challenging children already in foster carer, where foster carers are sustained by access to short breaks for the children.
Many short breaks schemes were initiated especially to offer support to families caring for a child with significant disabilities or a serious health condition. Short breaks of this nature are most effective when they are based on trust and the quality of the relationship between the child's parents and the carer(s), built up over a sustained period. Regulation 30 recognises this in enabling a number of planned short-term placements to be regarded as a single placement, and so not need to be treated as a fresh period of being looked after each time. This applies where no single placement lasts more than four weeks; all the placements occur within a period of not more than 12 months; and the number of days in that period does not exceed 120.
A number of children and families have been benefiting from short breaks for many years. They are valued by parents who consider that: the assurance of safe and informed care of their child for short periods enables them to manage often challenging care needs the rest of the time; time may be given to other children in the family; and the experience of the child with a disability is widened. At the same time, it is important that their parental responsibilities for their child are respected and that the looked after structure for planning and reviewing the child is sensitive to these family circumstances.
Alongside this is the need for the requirements for looking after these children well beyond the 12 month period need to be managed carefully, to ensure continuity of arrangements, avoidance of unnecessarily bureaucratic procedures and attuned monitoring of long lasting 'short-term' placements. In annual reviews of how well the arrangements are working for everyone, local authority procedures should therefore include a mechanism for checking if there are any changes to the original information gathered when the child first started using the service. Also, reviews should establish whether there are any alterations needed to the way in which the service is being delivered. It can then be agreed that the service should be renewed for a further 12 month period, and any alterations to the placement agreement noted. This should facilitate a simplified approach to a new period of the child being looked under these regulations.
Regulations 31 and 32, Case records for foster carers
As with other regulations in Part VII, references to local authorities and their duties under this regulation include references registered fostering providers.
Regulations 31 and 32 detail the specific requirements for the establishment and retention of records on foster carers. They should be read in the context of the overall responsibilities of local authorities for all case records.
In establishing such records, agencies need to consider two broad groups:
- Approved foster carers who have had children placed with them, regulation 31(1) to (3)
- Prospective foster carers, regulation 31(4) and (5).
There is no specific mention of approved foster carers who have not had children placed with them, but it would be good practice for authorities and agencies to treat their records as they would treat those of carers who have had placements. Approved carers who have not had placements will be rare, but they are not just prospective carers, so they should be treated as falling within the scope of regulation 31(1) to (3).
Regulation 31(2) and (3) defines the information which must be included in the record for approved carers. Local authority procedures should add any further information that will add to the usefulness of records. It is particularly important to ensure that records are clear about the reasons for all decisions taken, from the initial approval through any variations of the terms of approval and any allegations to termination of approval for whatever reason. Carers should be aware of the range of information in their records and their rights of access to them, especially if there are any contentious issues.
Regulation 31(3) addresses what should be in foster carer records about the placements they have offered. Agency procedures should be clear about the children's information which should be held in carers' records, as opposed to in the children's records. The provision specifies the basic information about children placed, with names and dates and also the circumstances of any terminated placements. The information gathered for carers' approvals and reviews should be in the carers' records, and this would include information from children's social workers, and also the views of children placed with the carers.
Many foster carers also keep daily diaries or logs. Local authorities and agencies will need to ensure that information contained in these, including that kept on computers, is retained in such a way as to be accessible in the future. This information is often very important to formerly looked after adults and/or when there are issues about the care received by children.
Authorities and agencies must also keep records on prospective foster carers and these are covered by the same retention requirements as other foster carers' records, in regulation 32. An enquirer should be treated as becoming a prospective foster carer when the local authority or agency commences preparation work. A prospective carer who is not approved by the local authority after assessment is covered by the term, as well as one who has withdrawn, for whatever reason, before going to the panel.
Authorities and agencies need to have clear procedures for the range of records they keep about prospective foster carers at the different stages of their applications. As well as conforming with the regulations, it is essential for management purposes to have information not only about prospective carers but also the way in which the applications are processed and progressed.
Some people may only make initial enquiries and go no further, so that no specific individual information on their circumstances will be known beyond name and address. The key point for starting an individual prospective foster carer record will be when he or she provides fuller information about his or her circumstances and preparation work is started. This will normally be either through an initial interview or when they complete an application form. When prospective foster carers do not progress to approved carers, there should consideration, firstly, about closing any record started; and secondly, about clarity for doing this. This may be a simple note that they did not wish to take their interest further, and which may or may not be accompanied by a reason for this decision. Other prospective foster carers may not proceed on the advice of the agency: a difficulty affecting their application may have been identified or there may have been a clear decision not to approve them. Where a prospective carer has been refused approval, the full report to the panel and others papers, along with the agency decision maker's reasons must be retained in the records.
Both the prospective foster carer and the local authority or agency need to be clear about the status of any information in these records and any disagreements should be noted. There are many reasons why prospective foster carers do not become approved foster carers. Some may enquire again, either to the same local authority/agency or to another one. Where information is being shared, it must be fair and accurate so that genuine concerns are identified to protect children, but prospective foster carers are not lost because there is an inaccurate or distorted record. Procedures should also cover how consent is obtained to share such information between authorities and agencies. Where local authorities are involved this will addressed through explaining the use of local authority checks.
Regulation 32 states that records on approved and prospective foster carers should be retained for 25 years. There is a requirement for keeping them in an accessible form; and they are confidential, with access only through the relevant legislation, the Data Protection Act 1998 or a court order.