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1.8 Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter covers the procedure for assessing and approving all foster carers including short break carers.

This procedure should be read in conjunction with the Bedroom Sharing Policy

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in May 2016 and links to the Fostering network updated.


Contents

1. Responding to Initial Enquiries
2. Part 1 Application Initial Profile
3. Initial Telephone Discussion and Interview Visit
4. Transfer of Foster Carers from Another Agency
5. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments
6. Checks and References 
  6.1 Checks
  6.2 References
  6.3 Health
  6.4 General
7. Training Course
8. Assessment
9. Assessment of new Partners as Foster Carers
10. Fostering Network - Skills to Foster Assessment
11. The Panel Recommendation
12. After the Panel Recommendation
13. Representations / Independent Review Procedure
14. Criteria for Foster Carers
15. After the Approval
16. Register of Foster Carers
17. Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances


1. Responding to Initial Enquiries

All members of the public who make an initial enquiry by telephone, email, web form or letter in relation to becoming a foster carer will be referred to the Fostering Service. All enquirers will be treated as a potential resource and given a prompt response. They will be contacted to gather further information and for a general discussion about fostering. Enquirers who download the web information pack receive an automated email inviting them to contact the service to take their enquiry further. The service sends out a follow up email if they have not contacted the service after a month has elapsed. 

With telephone contact the ICS Form will be completed in relation to all new enquiries. Preliminary basic information should be obtained - numbers in the household, the availability of a separate bedroom for foster children, working hours etc. so that inappropriate enquiries can be filtered out. In addition, a check will be carried out in relation to enquirers and all members of their household on Children's Services records. NOT DONE UNTIL REPLY SLIP RECEIVED

The enquirer will be sent an electronic Information Pack, or hard copy version in the event of no email address. The Information Pack will be sent within 2 working days of the enquiry. To take the next step the enquirer should complete the reply slip to request an initial telephone discussion and visit.

Where the enquirer or a member of the household is known, the enquiry will be passed to the manager for a decision on how to proceed. At this early stage, it may be appropriate to advise these enquirers against pursuing fostering if they clearly do not meet the basic criteria (see Section 14, Criteria for Foster Carers). The manager's decision will be communicated to the person concerned, with reasons given, and the decision will be recorded. Where the decision is not to proceed the referral will be closed. Where the decision is to proceed, the enquirer will be sent an Information Pack and the same procedure will be followed as for all other enquirers. NOT DONE UNTIL REPLY SLIP RECEIVED

If there is no response after a month, the enquirer will sent a follow up email.

When a response is received, the records will be updated by the administrative staff; any required follow up calls made by the MO and the SSSW will allocate the next SSW.


2. Part 1 Application Initial Profile

Potential applicants are asked to complete an Initial Profile. It is a detailed form which should be completed by the person or persons who will be looking after the child (unless there are exceptional circumstances, e.g. a disabled applicant) - however they may need support in completing it.


3. Initial Telephone Discussion and Interview Visit

The allocated social worker will contact the enquirer within 5 working days of the allocation and make arrangements to undertake an Initial telephone interview and then Visit. 

The purpose of the Initial telephone interview is to identify any reasons why an applicant would not meet the Criteria at this time. The guidance should be used and the template form completed on ICS.

If it is decided to progress further an initial visit visit will be undertaken. The allocated Social Worker will complete the Initial Interview Form on ICS. The initial visit is undertaken to give further information to the potential applicants about the tasks expected of foster carers and the skills, experience, knowledge and aptitudes necessary for fostering, as well as to describe the assessment and approval process.

At the Initial Visit, as a part of the initial assessment process, the social worker will also discuss any relevant health, criminal, accommodation, employment and financial issues with the potential applicants, and consider with them the next steps and whether it may be appropriate to move to a formal application.

Potential applicants and other adults in the household will be asked to complete a DBS Form and verify identification. These checks will be progressed only if the potential applicant is offered a place on the Skills to Foster training course.

A second visit may be required for some potential applicants to cover areas not explored at the first visit or to explore further any areas of concern highlighted during the Initial Visit. This may be by the social worker alone or jointly with another social work colleague. If there continues to be concerns about the potential applicant, the advice of the manager should be sought.

Prospective applicants should be specifically asked to identify anything that they know may preclude them from fostering.

If any factors emerge which may have an adverse effect on an application, appropriate advice will be given about withdrawing from the process or about the possible need to make early checks, for example in relation to health issues, before any decision can be made to invite an application to be made.

The allocated worker should record the outcome of the visit(s) on the Initial Assessment Form.

The outcome of the visit should be shared with the manager, who will decide whether it is appropriate to proceed with the application, based on the information obtained so far.

If there are reasons for not inviting an application, the manager will write to the enquirers setting out the decision not to proceed and the reasons. Advice should be given of steps they may take if they disagree with the decision. This will include information about the Complaints Procedure. The outcome will be recorded and the referral will be closed.

If there appear to be issues of concern in relation to the prospective applicants' health, the Medical Adviser should be consulted for advice before a decision is made. Where advised by the Medical Adviser, the potential applicants should be requested at this stage to obtain a medical report from their GP. Dependent on the outcome of the health information received and the medical advice from the Medical Adviser, the manager will decide whether to proceed with the application and the decision will be communicated to the enquirer in writing with reasons.

When it is decided to proceed further, the manager will book the applicants on to the Foster Carers Preparation/Training Course - see Section 7, Training Course.

After completion of the preparation course, the course facilitator will meet with the co-facilitator and observer and decide who can be recommended for progression to formal application and assessment. The feedback from attendance at the training will be provided in a report to inform the assessment or reasons not to proceed.

At the preparation training proof of identity will be established, e.g. by seeing a passport or birth certificate, as well as receiving forms for Disclosure and Barring Service checks (for all members of the household aged 16 and over) and consent for medical checks - see Section 6, Checks and References. Applicants will also be asked to complete Medical consent forms.

Where a decision is made to proceed, the manager will inform the administrative staff and will ensure the potential applicant(s) are sent (and assisted to complete if necessary) an application form.

On receipt of the completed application form, consent to medical checks and authorisation's for the statutory checks/references, the administrative staff will input the date of the application and details of the household members on the electronic records.

The Fostering Panel must make its recommendation on the application within eight months of the receipt of the formal application.


4. Transfer of Foster Carers from Another Agency

When a foster carer approved by another agency enquires about transferring to Northumberland from another fostering agency. The Fostering Network - Transfer of Foster Carers Protocol will be used as a guide.

Any foster carer transferring from another agency will require a full re-assessment, though the original assessment can inform the new assessment. For instance, if previous partners have been interviewed in the past to verify facts, and the current assessing social worker is satisfied with the records in respect of these interviews, it should not be necessary to repeat the interviews if no further information is required. The assessing social worker should, however, satisfy themselves as to the quality and continuing relevance of the information before using it to inform the current assessment.

Where, having regard to any information obtained, it is decided (by the Agency Decision Maker) that the applicant is not suitable to become a foster carer, the applicant must b e notified in writing with reasons. This notification may be given whether or not all of this information has been obtained. Such a notification may not be given more than 10 working days after all the information has been obtained. The applicant has no right to make representations about the decision or to have their case reviewed under the Independent Review Mechanism. However, the applicant must be informed that they can complain via the fostering service’s complaints process if they are unhappy with the way in which their case has been handled. The complaints process should address whether or not the applicant’s case has been handled in a reasonable way, rather than the question of the applicant’s suitability to foster.


5. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments

5.1 Information-sharing

Sharing information about a person that is held in their existing foster carer or adopter records is permitted for the purposes of informing a new assessment of a person’s suitability to foster or adopt. For instance, if previous partners have been interviewed in the past to verify facts, and the current assessing social worker is satisfied with the records in respect of these interviews, it should not be necessary to repeat the interviews if no further information is required. The assessing social worker should, however, satisfy themselves as to the quality and continuing relevance of the information before using it to inform the current assessment.

Information that should be shared, upon request, in order to inform a new assessment of a person’s suitability to foster or adopt includes:

  • The report of the original assessment of the person’s suitability to foster or adopt (if it is considered by the body requesting the information to be recent enough to be relevant);
  • A copy of the report of the last review of the individual’s continuing suitability to foster or adopt and any other review report considered useful to understanding the person’s current suitability to foster or adopt;
  • Details of any concerns about standards of practice and what if anything is being done/has been done to address them;
  • Details of allegations made against the foster carer/adopter or their household members; and
  • Any other information considered to be relevant to the assessment of the person’s suitability to foster/adopt.

5.2 Consent

Information should only be shared with the informed, explicit consent of all parties referred to in the information, including young people where they have sufficient understanding to consent to the sharing of their information (if they do not have sufficient understanding, the consent of a person with Parental Responsibility would need to be obtained). This means that the person giving consent needs to understand why their information is to be shared, what will be shared, who will see their information, the purpose to which it will be put and the implications of sharing that information.

If consent is refused, the current fostering service or adoption agency should consider whether there is any information in the records that is a cause for concern. Any information about an applicant’s conduct or suitability to foster/adopt that has caused concern should be shared even if the individual has refused consent. If there are no such concerns, and the individual has refused consent, information should not be shared. This may require documents to be redacted to remove information relating to individuals who have refused consent.

Requests for access to information should be accompanied by the written consent of the applicant to the sharing of their information.

5.3 Timescales

The receiving service should acknowledged the request within two working days, seek consent from all others referred to in the information within five working days and the information, redacted where necessary, should be provided within 15 working days.


6. Checks and References

6.1 Checks

Once an applicant has been booked on to the Skills to Foster training course, the administrative staff will arrange for the following checks to be made on all members of the household aged 16 and over: Disclosure and Barring Service, Probation, Health Trust, Education and Children's Services (including the List of Children with a Child Protection Plan), and whether the applicants have a right to work in the UK. Where the applicants live or have lived outside the local authority area, the checks must be made with the local authority and health trust where the applicants live/have lived. These checks should be recorded including the date when the checks were made.

Where the applicant or any member of the household has been known to Children's Services, information should be obtained from the relevant social worker.

Where applicants have recently moved to the UK (within the last 10 years), checks will also be made through Protecting Children and Uniting Families Across Borders (formerly known as International Social Services) and/or the relevant Consulate on all members of the household aged 10 and over.

In addition, where the applicant has school age children, the relevant school(s) will be contacted, with the permission of the applicant, for information regarding the applicant's ability to promote the child's education.

On receipt of the statutory checks, the administrative staff will update the electronic records.

Where there are concerns about an applicant's circumstances as a result of the information obtained from the above checks, this should be referred to the manager and the applicant may be advised not to proceed with the application.

If the applicant withdraws, the administrative staff will update the electronic records. If the applicant does not agree to withdraw, see Section 6.4, General.

Where the checks reveal that the applicant or a member of the household is a Disqualified Person (Foster Carer), see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure.

Where the information relates to an offence, which does not automatically disqualify the applicant, for example because the applicant is seeking approval in relation to a specific child only, the manager must consider whether the application should still proceed. Such convictions will not necessarily preclude an application, but this will depend on the seriousness of the offence and how long ago it was committed. In such circumstances the allocated Social Worker should interview the applicants regarding the offences and their attitude to them and undertake a risk assessment as required in the Criminal Disclosure Risk Assessment Procedure. The Family Placement Manager and Children Services Manager Looked After Children will determine if the applicants can proceed.

In a case where the conviction would usually disqualify an applicant, the case should be referred to the Fostering Panel and the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) for a preliminary decision - see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure. In any other case where there is doubt, an early referral should be made to the Fostering Panel and/or Agency Decision Maker (Fostering).

Information relevant to the application that has been obtained from the Disclosure and Barring Service may only be retained on the applicant's file for a limited period and should be destroyed when a decision is made on the application. The manager should note on the file that the Disclosure and Barring Service information has been destroyed and that the information led to a particular view, without citing the information itself.

There may occasionally be a potential conflict of interest in an applicant’s intention to foster for Northumberland County Council. For example, they may be an employee of the service or be related to an employee. These potential conflicts should be reported and considered by the Family Placement Manager with reference to the Conflict of Interest Policy.

6.2 References

Each applicant will be asked to provide the names of two personal referees, who are adults, have known the applicant for at least five years and are not related to the applicant, and two other referees who may be family members or personal friends. All referees should be people who know the applicants well in a personal capacity.

Where there is a joint application, referees should know both applicants, or additional referees will be required.

A written reference must be obtained from each applicant's current employer regardless of the applicant's occupation. This may be one of the four references provided. In addition, where the applicant has frequently changed jobs, written references should also be obtained from past employers.

Where the prospective applicant has made a previous application to foster or adopt, the relevant agency must be asked to confirm in writing the outcome of the application and provide a written reference.

Where the applicant has been a foster carer within the preceding 12 months and was approved as such by another fostering service provider, a reference must be requested from that other fostering service provider. There is no requirement to also interview personal referees. However, additional verbal and/or written references may be sought from personal referees. If the previous fostering service, for whatever reason, does not provide a reference, interviews with two personal referees must be conducted.

The administrative staff will send requests for written references to each referee.

On receipt of the references, the administrative staff will update the ICS records.

6.3 Health

The applicants will be provided with the relevant medical form to fill in with their details and send to their GP with a covering letter requesting that the GP complete the Form and send it to the Administrative Support Manager. On receipt the manager will pass the information to the Medical Adviser for comment.

Where the medical information suggests that the applicant may not be suitable for health reasons, this should be discussed in detail with the applicant(s) and withdrawal may be advisable at this stage. Additional advice may be sought from the Medical Adviser or the Medical Adviser may raise questions with the GP where this is appropriate. It may be necessary for reports from other health professionals also to be obtained and presented to the Medical Adviser and the Fostering Panel.

6.4 General

Where there are concerns about an applicant's circumstances at any point, for example where there are concerns about their health or about the information obtained from referees, this must be referred to the manager and the applicant may be advised not to proceed with the application. Any such advice must be confirmed to them in writing and the reasons explained. A further visit may also be arranged to the applicants to explain the decision.

If the information leading to a decision not to proceed relates to a previous conviction of one of two joint applicants or a member of the applicant's household, the details of the offence can only be disclosed to the applicant with the consent of the relevant person; without such consent, the applicant can only be informed that the reason relates to information obtained from the checks but no details can be given.

If the applicant withdraws, the administrative staff will update the ICS records.

Where the applicant disagrees with the decision and/or is not willing to withdraw, a brief report on the application should be presented to the Fostering Panel outlining the circumstances and reasons why approval is not recommended. The procedure to be followed should be the same as if the report was a full report on the applicants (see Section 11, The Panel Recommendation to Section 12, Representations / Independent Review Procedure). The applicants will be contacted by a social worker - preferably the same social worker as undertook the Initial Visit - to explain the process and seek the applicant(s) views so these can be taken into account.


7. Training Course

The Foster Carers preparation/Training Course will cover in detail all aspects of the fostering task, including the need for approved foster carers to notify the manager of any changes in their home circumstances, for example any new relationships they have where they wish their new partners to become a member of the household - see Section 17, Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances for the procedure to be followed where such changes occur.

Applicants will be booked on the course once their completed Part 1 Initial Profile application forms are received. All prospective foster carers will be required to attend this training, which is an integral part of the assessment process.

The objectives of the course are:

  • To raise awareness and understanding of the key issues which need to be addressed by all foster carers;
  • To assist applicants to consider more thoroughly the implications of fostering;
  • To assist applicants to determine the type of resource they can offer to the children needing foster placements.

Those facilitating the course will provide written feedback on issues relating to the applicants for the assessing social worker which must be used in his or her assessment. Any issues of concern should be referred to the manager.

Where issues emerge during the training as a result of which the manager decides that it is not appropriate to proceed with the application, the applicants should be visited by a social worker and notified in writing of the decision, with reasons. Advice should be given of any steps they may take in order to meet the criteria or of how they might pursue their interest elsewhere, if appropriate.

Where the applicant disagrees with the decision and/or is not willing to withdraw, a brief report on the application should be presented to the Fostering Panel and the procedure to be followed should be the same as if the report was a full report on the applicants (see Section 11, The Panel Recommendation to Section 13, Representations / Independent Review Procedure).


8. Assessment

Once the formal application and checks and references have been returned, the case will be allocated for a full assessment to a qualified social worker. The allocated worker will not necessarily be the same as the social worker carrying out the Initial Visit. Where the allocated social worker is not experienced, he or she will conduct the assessment alongside an experienced worker. The assessment can run alongside the training course.

The time taken to complete the assessment and present the report of the assessment to the Fostering Panel after a formal application has been received will be no more than eight months from the receipt of the Part 2 formal application.

The purpose of the assessment is to demonstrate that the applicant(s) have the necessary skills and personal qualities to enable them to provide safe, nurturing care for a child unable to live within their own family.

The assessing social worker will:

  • Familiarise him or herself with the application form;
  • Contact the applicant(s) and arrange a visit;
  • Draw up a written agreement setting out the dates for the assessment visits and the planned date for the presentation to the Fostering Panel;
  • Interview couples individually and together and ensure the children of the applicant or other significant members of the family/household are seen alone;
  • Contact ex partners (see below);
  • Inform the applicant(s) of any revised timescales if there are delays.

The assessing social worker will complete all parts of Fostering Network - Skills to Foster Assessment, which will record all appropriate factual information and address issues including the applicants' understanding of the following areas:

  • Child rearing;
  • Caring for children born to someone else;
  • contact between children and their families;
  • Helping children to make sense of their past;
  • Sexual boundaries and attitudes;
  • Awareness of sexual and other forms of abuse;
  • Health and health promotion;
  • Promotion of education;
  • Approaches to discipline;
  • Awareness of how to promote secure attachments between children and appropriate adults;
  • Religion;
  • Standards of living and lifestyles;
  • Racial, cultural and linguistic issues;
  • Experiences of disability and attitudes to disability;
  • Awareness of equal opportunities;
  • Understanding and dealing with young people's behaviour including encouraging children to take responsibility for their behaviour and helping them to learn how to resolve conflict.

The list is not exhaustive - other issues relevant to the individual applicant and his or her family may need to be addressed. The skills and personal qualities that need to be evidenced will be different according to the type of fostering the applicants want to do, e.g. babies and toddlers, short term or permanent.

As well as providing a written reference, two (or more, if considered appropriate) personal referees will also be interviewed during the assessment. Referees and any other family members spoken to during the preparation of the report should be informed in writing about the position in relation to confidentiality. A written reference will not be shown to an applicant unless the applicant requests disclosure and the referee consents to disclosure. The same applies to information and opinions shared in the course of conversation. These will not be disclosed to an applicant without permission. However, referees and others should be made aware that it will often be necessary to discuss with applicants information and opinions expressed although where this happens, the particular source of the information or opinion will not be disclosed. Referees should be sent a written record of the discussion held with the assessing social worker and be asked to sign their agreement to it being a true record.

The assessing social worker will also contact the previous partners of the applicants (taking care not to disclose confidential personal information about the applicant). Where there were any children of the relationship or where children were cared for jointly, the social worker will arrange to interview them face-to-face wherever practicable. All adult children of the applicant(s) living away from home will also be contacted.

Applicants will be encouraged to be actively involved in contributing towards the assessment, and supported to provide their own written report/portfolio for Panel to evidence their capabilities and to support their application.

The foster home will also be thoroughly checked to ensure it provides appropriate and safe accommodation for the child, as well as safe transport. Each child over 3 has their own bedroom or, where this is not possible, the sharing of the bedroom has been agreed by the placing authority. A risk assessment must be conducted including as regards to pets. A Safer Carer Policy will be completed.

Applicants (other than connected persons for a named child) will be required to provide a Foster Carers Profile for young people to be included in t6he assessment documentation for Fostering Panel. (A full list of documents required for Fostering Panel are contained in the Fostering Panel Document List)

Where there are concerns about the suitability of the applicant that arise at any point during the assessment, the assessing social worker should discuss these with the applicants and consult the manager. Where the issues cannot be addressed by training and the applicants are advised to withdraw, see Section 5.4, General for the actions that should follow.


9. Assessment of new Partners as Foster Carers

Informing prospective and existing carers of the New Partner Assessment

The New Partner Assessment process must be explained to single prospective carers by the assessing social worker at the point of application.

The New Partner Assessment process must also be explained to carers who have become separated or divorced whilst fostering, as part of their assessment as single carers by the assessing social worker. Reference should be made to the process at the point of the initial application.

Foster Carer enters new relationship with no contact with fostered Children

Where a single foster carer enters into a new relationship, but their new partner has no contact with foster child(ren) or home, the (prospective) foster carer must inform the assessing / supervising social worker. The assessing / supervising social worker must reiterate that an assessment will be needed if the relationship progresses further.

The assessing / supervising social worker should recommend that the foster carer informs the new partner of their fostering status as soon as possible and informs them that this may lead to their own assessment.

New partner becomes a visitor to the foster home

Where a new partner is a visitor to the carers home and has contact with the foster child(ren) contact between the new partner and foster child (or children), must be supervised by the foster carer at all times. In no circumstances should the new partner and the foster child (or foster children) be left alone.

The carer must notify their supervising social worker of their new partner’s first visit to the carer’s home, and/or the new partner’s first contact with the foster child(ren). The new partner’s first contact with the foster child(ren), or first visit to the carer’s home will initiate the process below.

Within one month of the new partner’s first visit to the carers home, or first contact with the foster child(ren), the following should be completed.

The supervising social worker should meet with the new partner to explain the assessment process and the possible need for additional assessments in the future. This meeting must take place within seven days of the new partner’s first contact with the foster child(ren), or visit to the carer’s home.

  • A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check application should be completed and sent for processing by the supervising social worker;
  • Written notification should be sent by the supervising social worker to the child’s social worker, informing them of the situation;
  • An informal meeting between the fieldwork social worker and foster child(ren) should be arranged. The meeting will focus on gaining the child’s (or children’s) understanding of the situation and ascertaining their views and feelings.

New Partner stays over night at carer’s home and/or has unsupervised contact with foster child(ren)

New partners are forbidden to stay overnight while foster children are in place, or have unsupervised contact with foster children until a DBS check has been completed and shows no offences relating to children or vulnerable adults.

A Confidentiality Statement must be signed by the new partner and information on the allegation procedure must be given to them by the supervising social worker.

The supervising social worker must arrange a meeting with the new carer and foster carer to:

  • Outline and agree expectations of the new partner;
  • Outline and agree how involve the new partner can, or will be in relation to childcare responsibilities.

New Partner moves into carers home

Under no circumstances can a new partner permanently reside in a carers home while a foster child or foster children are in placement until such a time as they are assessed and approved as a foster carer or with the express agreement of the Family Placement Manager.

Foster carers must inform the supervising social worker of their intentions to live permanently with their new partner. The carer should be reminded that their status as a single foster carer would require re-assessment and that a joint decision between them and their new partner to continue as joint carers would need to be made.

In instances where the decision is made to apply for joint foster carer status; the carer must inform the supervising social worker who will initiate;

  1. A new Fostering Network application for the new partner;
  2. A new Fostering Network Skills Assessment that includes a full assessment, checks and references of the new partner, a new assessment of the couple relationship and an update of the previous assessment of the existing foster carer, including an update on references.

In instances where the decision is made not to apply for joint foster carer status the carer must inform the supervising social worker.

It is our policy that couples should normally both be approved. In exceptional circumstances one carer only may be approved, however, both adults would need to be considered as a part of the assessment and the existing carers re-assessed on the basis of the new relationship. The full active co-operation and participation in the assessment would be required of the new partner. The new assessment would require consideration and recommendation at Fostering Panel.

Where an existing foster carer does not wish to be re-assessed on the basis above or their new partner declines to be assessed or actively participate in their partner’s re-assessment, a professionals Meeting will be held to plan for the ending of the placement of any child in placement.

A Foster Carer Review held to consider if any recommendations to enable continued fostering and any recommendation for Fostering Panel.


10. Fostering Network - Skills to Foster Assessment

The information gathered during the assessment, the Preparation/Training Course and the checks and personal references, will form the basis of the assessment set out in Fostering Network - Skills to Foster Assessment.

Once the assessing social worker has completed a draft, it should (along with all other documents for Fostering Panel) be submitted to the Fostering Panel Advisor for discussion and review at least 10 working days in advance of final submission to Family Placement Administrative Support for distribution. This is in order to identify whether there are any issues that are unclear or need further work before the assessment is finally completed.

The final draft of Skills to Foster assessment will then be sent to the applicants. The applicants should be asked to sign and return the report, if agreed, and/or send their comments in writing to the assessing social worker. It should be explained to them that they have 28 days to do this, (or they can be asked to sign a disclaimer stating they do not wish to take 28 days to comment) and that any written comments they make will be circulated to Fostering Panel members, with the report.

The Skills to Foster Assessment and related documents will then be passed to the manager to be endorsed and counter-signed.

The applicants should also be advised of their right to attend the meeting of the Fostering Panel, which considers their application.

The social worker will then send the Skills to Foster Assessment, the applicants' written comments (if any), a full health report from the Medial Advisor, and any other relevant documents identified in the Fostering Panel Document List, to the Family Placement Administration Support for sending Panel Administrator at least 10 working days before the relevant Fostering Panel meeting.

The date, time and venue of the Fostering Panel meeting will be communicated to the applicants as soon as possible. together with written information about the Panel process, who will attend and their respective roles. If the applicants know a particular Panel member, the applicants may request that the Panel member stand down. (Panel members are in any event expected to declare an interest in these circumstances - see Fostering Panel Procedure).


11. The Panel Recommendation

The principles of good practice which apply to the panel deliberations are:

  • To act in the best interests of children and young people placed in foster care;
  • To consider an assessment report about the prospective foster carers;
  • To conduct the process in a fair and transparent way.

Northumberland County Council uses an evidence based assessment model that requires prospective foster carers to provide evidence of their abilities to undertake the necessary tasks required. Evidence of competence is required which meets the seven CWDC standards and also those national minimum standards of foster care 1-12 which set out what children in foster care need from their carers.

It will be the role of the panel to examine the assessment report and consider whether there is evidence in two main areas.

  1. Suitability, which relates to the statutory checks and references carried out, in combination with a history of life experiences/ education /employment and their impact on the individual;
  2. Abilities, which is the evidence of skills which the individual brings to the fostering task.

The assessing social worker will attend the Panel meeting, together with the applicants.) Panel would expect applicant s to attend unless there are particular reasons. Panel would consider deferment or alternative arrangements to support applicant attendance. However, attendance at meetings is a requirement of the fostering role.

Applicants should be fully prepared as to the procedure prior to their attendance.

The Panel will consider the reports together with all the supporting documentation and any additional information presented verbally, and make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) regarding the suitability of the applicant for fostering.

The recommendation, with reasons, will be recorded in writing and, where approval is recommended, the category of fostering, any limitations of the approval to named children (for example in the case of a Family and Friends Foster Carer) or conditions as to the age range or number of children to be placed in the foster home will also be specified. Match preference will also be identified where appropriate.

The panel will recommend approval in one of three age bands:

  • 0 -18 years;
  • 0 - 11 years;
  • 12 -18 years.

The categories of foster carers recruited by the service to meet the needs of children who are in care and require a service from foster carers are:

  • Connected persons (Family and Friends) either time limited or without time limit;
  • Short break / respite for carers;
  • Time limited;
  • New Start Specialist therapeutic fostering scheme;
  • Long term.
Where the applicant does not attend the Panel meeting, the social worker undertaking the assessment will advise the applicant of the Panel recommendation within 24 hours of the Panel meeting. This will be verbally, by telephone or, where appropriate, a home visit.


12. After the Panel Recommendation

The Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) will make a decision as to the suitability of the applicant, based on the reports presented to the Fostering Panel and the minutes detailing the Panel's recommendation. Where the decision is to approve the applicants as foster carers, the Agency Decision Maker will specify the terms of the approval i.e. the number and age range of children to be fostered, the type of placement and any specific inclusions/exclusions. Applicants can be approved for more than one placement category. A matching preference will also be specified where appropriate.

In reaching their decision the Agency Decision maker will have regard to the views of the Panel and consider Hofstetter v LB Barnet and IRM (2009) EWCA 328 (Admin) guidance on approaching a case.

The decision must be made within 7 working days of the Panel meeting and must be recorded, together with reasons. The Panel Administrator will notify the Family Placement Service within 2 working days of the decision.

The manager will arrange for the applicants to be given verbal notification of the decision within 3 working days and written notice of the decision, with reasons, signed by the Agency Decision Maker, within 5 working days of the decision

If the decision is to refuse approval, the assessing social worker and manager will assess the need for further counselling and arrange any necessary follow-up action.


13. Representations / Independent Review Procedure

If a decision is made to refuse an application, the applicant will be advised that if he or she wishes to challenge the decision, applicants should be advised of their right to submit representations within 28 days of the date of the written notice of the decision to the manager. In addition, as an alternative, they may exercise the right to apply to the Secretary of State to request a review of the decision by an Independent Review Panel. Any such application must be made in writing within 28 days of the decision and supported by reasons.

The only circumstances where the foster carer will not have the right to request a review by an Independent Review Panel is if he or she is regarded as disqualified as a result of a conviction or caution for a specified offence - see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure.

If no written representations or notification of a request for a review are received within this period, the decision to refuse the application can be confirmed.

If written representations are received within the period, the Panel Adviser will arrange for the reports and other documentation to be reconsidered by the Fostering Panel, taking into account the written representations, and make a new recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering).

The Panel Administrator will advise the applicant within 7 days of the date of the Panel meeting when they can attend and their written representations will be considered.

In these circumstances, applicants who wish to attend the meeting of the Fostering Panel can arrange for a friend or supporter to accompany them.

After considering the representations, the Panel will make further recommendations either confirming or amending their previous views, which the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) will consider before a final decision is made.

If the decision remains not to approve the application, the manager will arrange for the applicants to be informed verbally within 2 working days. Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant by the Panel Adviser within 7 working days of the Panel meeting. Information about the Complaints Procedure must also be sent. A copy of the report to the Panel, the Panel's recommendation and the decision, with reasons, must be retained on the applicant's case file.

If the applicant decides to refer the matter to an Independent Review, the relevant Panel reports, any new information obtained since the Panel meeting, a record of the decision made and reasons, a copy of the written notification of the decision and a copy of the Panel minute, if different, will be sent to the Independent Review within 10 working days of their written request.

The procedure for the Independent Review is carried out by BAAF; the applicant and two representatives of the fostering agency will be invited to attend the Independent Review.

After considering the representations, the Independent Review may make a recommendation, which the Agency Decision Maker will consider before a final decision is made.

Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant within 7 working days of the receipt of the Independent Review recommendation.

Where the decision is to approve the application, the procedure set out in Section 15, After Approval will be followed.


14. Criteria for Foster Carers

14.1 Individual and Joint

Applications will be considered from married couples, civil partners, unmarried couples or single people.

14.2 Religion

Applications will be considered from people of any or no religious persuasion.

14.3 Ethnicity

Applications will be considered from people of any race or culture.

14.4 Age

The minimum age for foster carers is generally 25 years, though the Criteria for Foster Carers may specify a higher age. In exceptional circumstances, e.g. with some Family and Friends Carers, the minimum age may be reduced to 18. There is no specific upper age limit.

14.5 Gender

Applications will be considered from people of either sex and from same sex couples.

14.6 Sexual Orientation

Applications will be considered from people of any sexual orientation.

14.7 Income and Work Commitment

Applicants may be in work or not.

14.8 Health

Applicants will be required to have a full medical and undergo any further tests/checks that may be required by the Fostering Panel's Medical Adviser. The Medical Adviser will advise on the applicants' ability, from a health point of view, to meet the needs of a child who is fostered. Any comments or advice given by the Medical Adviser must be taken seriously by the applicants and will be addressed during the assessment process.

Applicants are expected to positively promote a healthy life-style which will enable a child to reach his or her full potential. This would encompass attention to nutrition, exercise, routine and hygiene.

It is expected that foster carers will comply with nationally recommended alcohol consumption levels and that children's needs and safety will be met at all times.

Applicants who smoke will not be approved to care for children 5 years old or under. (Exceptions may be made for Connected Persons if they do not smoke in the house or in the presence of the child.)

14.9 Criminal Convictions

A person who is seeking approval as a foster carer will not be considered if s/he or any adult member of the household is within the category of Disqualified Persons (Foster Carer) unless the application is to foster a child who is already living with the applicant(s) and at least one of the applicants is a relative of the child, in which case the caution/conviction will not automatically preclude the application but will be taken into account when assessing the suitability of the applicant - see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure.

Other convictions will not necessarily preclude an application, but this will depend on the seriousness of the offence, the attitude of the applicant to the offence and how long ago it was committed. All such cases will require the allocated Social Worker to interview the applicant in order to undertake a Criminal Records Disclosure Risk Assessment Form with recommendation. This will be provided to the Family Placement Service Manager who will consult the Service Manager Looked After Children. (See Criminal Records Disclosure Risk Assessment Procedure)

14.10 Accommodation

Applicants may own their own home or live in rented accommodation.

They will need living and sleeping accommodation appropriate to the number and ages of the children they are seeking to foster. They must be able to offer separate bedrooms for each foster child. Only in exceptional circumstances would sharing bedrooms be allowed and this would NEVER be with adult sons or daughters of the foster carer.

It is important that the home environment is child-friendly, welcoming to children, safe and meets reasonable levels of hygiene.

All applicants will have a safety check on their home. This will include the outdoor space, animals (including the sleeping and toileting arrangements for any pet) and the holding of any firearms.

14.11 Child Care Experience

It is important that the applicant who is going to be the main carer has some experience of 'hands-on' care of children of the age group in which the applicants are interested.

14.12 Family Contact

All applicants must be prepared to facilitate contact between any foster child and his or her parents and significant family members.


15. After the Approval

Once approved, the administrative support staff will enter the foster carers' approval details, on the Fostering Register database and ICS (see Section 16, Register of Foster Carers).

The foster carer will be allocated a supervising social worker - see Supervision of Foster Carers Procedure. If the social worker does not know the new carer, he or she will read the Skills to Foster Assessment Form and the supporting documentation presented to the Fostering Panel including the references prior to introducing him or herself to the carers and arranging to meet the carers, their family and members of their support network as appropriate.

The supervising social worker will visit the foster carers within one week of their approval and request the foster carer to sign a Foster Care Agreement between the local authority and the foster carer, which contains the information the foster carer needs to carry out his or her functions as a foster carer effectively, ensuring that the foster carer understands its contents.

The foster carer will be given two copies for signature, and will retain one signed copy. The other will be kept on the foster carer's ICS record, together with the report and supporting documents presented to the Fostering Panel, a copy of the Panel's recommendation and a copy of the approval decision.

The Foster Care Agreement will contain the following information:

  1. The terms of the foster carer's approval;
  2. The support and training to be provided to the foster carer;
  3. The procedure for the review of the foster carer's approval;
  4. The procedure for placements of children;
  5. The procedure for making representations and complaints;
  6. The requirement to inform the fostering service of any change of circumstance, address or in the household composition, or of any registration as a child-minder or application to adopt or of any offence;
  7. The requirements in relation to confidentiality and internet usage;
  8. The procedures for behaviour management and unauthorised absences of children placed with the foster carer including the ban on corporal punishment;
  9. The procedures for informing the supervising social worker of the child's progress and any significant events relating to the child;
  10. The need to give 28 days' notice in writing of they wish to cease fostering;
  11. The need to allow access to the Regulatory Authority.

New foster carers will also be given a secure lockable box for holding confidential documents, recording sheets and diary, their personal copy of the Foster Carer's Hand-Book or link to access on-line, which contains information about fostering in the local authority and covers policies, procedures, guidance, legal information and insurance details. Information about local foster carer support groups will also be provided.

The foster carer(s) must sign confirmation of receipt. The signed and dated confirmation of receipt will be placed on their file.

The supervising social worker will continue to provide support and supervision to the foster carer up to, during and after all placements - see Supervision of Foster Carers Procedure and ensure that they understand the need to undertake Disclosure and Barring Service and other checks and assessments on any new member of the household - see Section 17, Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances - and the need to repeat Disclosure and Barring Service checks on themselves every three years (unless they have subscribed to the Disclosure and Barring Service Update Service) - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.


16. Register of Foster Carers

A register of all approved foster carers will be maintained by the fostering service containing the following particulars:

  1. The name, address, date of birth, sex and ethnic origin of each foster carer;
  2. The date of approval and of each review of the approval;
  3. The category and current terms of the approval;
  4. The name, address, date of birth of each Connected Person with whom a child is placed under Regulation 24 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 and who has been granted temporary approval as a foster carer, together with the date and terms of the temporary approval.

Once approved, the administrative staff will be informed and will enter the foster carers' approval details, including their first review date, on the Fostering Register database.


17. Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances

The supervising social worker will ensure that any newly approved foster carer is clear about his or her responsibility to notify the fostering service before any change in the composition of their household occurs or where there is any significant change in their circumstances which affects their fostering, for example any new relationship, pregnancy or bereavement.

If the supervising social worker discovers that there has been a change in the foster carer's household without prior notice, the manager must be informed and an immediate review of the foster carer's approval must be convened - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure. In these circumstances, a suspension of the foster carer's approval may have to be considered at the review.

17.1 Foster Carer's Partners

Where the proposed new member of the household is a partner of the foster carer, there will be a presumption that he or she will have a part to play in caring for any child in the placement and therefore a full Skills to Foster assessment of his or her suitability for this role must be completed before the partner moves into the foster home. The same procedure for this assessment will be carried out as for any foster carer applicant and it will be presented to the Fostering Panel and the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) in accordance with the preceding paragraphs of this chapter. There will be no presumption that any such assessment will be approved.

Pending the completion of the full assessment, where the foster carer wishes his/her partner to stay overnight before the full assessment is completed, a Disclosure and Barring Service enhanced check must be carried out, and a risk assessment must also be completed to determine the level of additional checks required, before agreement to overnight stays can be given. The risk assessment should take account of, amongst other things, the number and ages of the children in the placement, their views about the foster carer's partner, the significance and stability of the relationship (including how long they have known each other) and the foster carer's history of fostering. Any agreement to overnight stays must be endorsed by the Fostering Service Manager or Deputy and agreement confirmed on ICS.

17.2 Other members of the household

Where a foster carer proposes that any person will join the household, notice must be given before this occurs in sufficient time to enable a Disclosure and Barring Service enhanced check to be carried out on the relevant person and an assessment at the appropriate level to be undertaken before the change in household composition occurs. The required detail of the assessment will depend on the extent to which the new member of the household will undertake a caring role in relation to any child placed. Where the new member of the household will play a part in caring for the child in the placement, consideration will be given to the need for a full Skills to Foster assessment as for any new partner of the foster carer. Otherwise, the assessment will be considered at a Foster Carer Review which should be convened to consider the change in the foster carer's circumstances - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure. This will determine whether any change to the foster carer's terms of approval is required and if so, a report to the Fostering Panel will be prepared.

For Exemptions to the usual limit of three children and Alterations or other Extensions to Approval, see Exemptions and Extensions/Variations to Foster Care Approval Procedure.

End