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7.1.4 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.

RELEVANT LEGISLATION AND GUIDANCE

Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011

The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 4: Approving and supporting foster carers (2011)

Fostering Services: National Minimum Standards 2011, Recruiting and assessing foster carers who can meet the needs of looked after children

See also: Foster Care Approval and Matching Panel Procedure

Note

The Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) is the Service Manager Children Looked After & Permanency.

For temporary approval as foster carers of approved prospective adopters, see Placements in Foster Care Procedure, Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters.

Councillors who are also or may wish to become Foster Carers - Conflict of Interest Guidance

AMENDMENT

In September 2019 a link was added to Attending an IRM Panel: information sheets. See Section 8, Representations / Independent Review Procedure.


Contents

1. Responding to Initial Enquiries
2. Assessment - Stage One
3. Checks and References 
  3.1 Checks
  3.2 References
  3.3 Health
4. Training Course
5. Assessment - Stage Two
6. The Foster Carer Approval Process
7. The Role of the Agency Decision Maker
8. Representations / Independent Review Procedure
9. Post Approval
10. Register of Foster Carers
11. 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 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.

The Initial Referral 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, although it must be noted that applicants without a spare bedroom can be considered for a child under the age of three years if their bedroom is sufficient to comfortably accommodate a cot, 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 and Families Services' records.

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 10, Register of 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.

When a response is received, the records will be updated by the administrative staff and the manager will be informed.

Enquiry Stage

All enquiries will be responded to by a staff member from The Recruitment and Assessment team within the fostering service. Enquiries will come from telephone, email, website, and face to face. The principle is to respond within one working day of the enquiry being received.

Wherever possible and appropriate an initial visit to the home to meet with the prospective carer and family members will be made within 10 working days however, if this is not convenient for the prospective foster carer(s) the time scale can be negotiated to meet their requirements.

There will be a number of foster carers who enquire at the early stages of fostering who are beginning their research and who will therefore only require information. The Recruitment and Assessment team will suggest a follow up contact agreed with the enquirers and will invite to an Information Event.

Initial Visits

Initial visits will be undertaken usually by a member of the Recruitment and Assessment Team however any other member from the Fostering Team may undertake some visits. The purpose of the visit is to provide further information as well as completing a further assessment and analysis especially in regards to motivation, attitude, understanding and safeguarding. Following the visit a report will be completed and sent to the Assistant Team Manager to agree if the applicant is able to proceed or not. At times it may be that a second opinion visit is needed to be undertaken by the staff member with a social worker present.

If the decision is that the prospective foster carer(s) meet the criteria the staff member will:

  • Send out an application form for completion and to be returned to The Recruitment and Assessment team - this will need to be returned before the attendance to the Skills to Foster training;
  • Upon receipt of the application form the prospective application is then booked to attend the Skills to Foster training.

If there are outstanding issues or concerns that the staff member undertaking cannot resolve then a second opinion visit may be required.


2. Assessment - Stage One

Where a person applies to become a foster carer and it is decided to assess their suitability to become a foster carer, the following information must be obtained as soon as reasonably practicable relating to the applicant and other members of their household and family:

  • Full name, address and date of birth;
  • Details of health (supported by a medical report);
  • Particulars of any other adult members of the household;
  • Particulars of the children in the family, whether or not members of the household, and any other children in the household;
  • Particulars of their accommodation;
  • The outcome of any request or application made by them or any other member of their household to foster or adopt children, or for registration as an early years provider or later years provider under Part 3 of the Childcare Act 2006), including particulars of any previous approval or refusal of approval relating to them or to any other member of the household;
  • If the applicant has, in the preceding twelve months, been a foster parent approved by another fostering service provider, the name and address of that fostering service provider;
  • Names and addresses of two persons who will provide personal references;
  • In relation to the applicant and any other member of the applicant ’s household who is aged 18 or over, an enhanced criminal record certificate;
  • Details of current, and any previous, marriage, civil partnership or similar relationship;
  • The views of, the local authority in whose area the applicant lives, if different;
  • Where the applicant was approved as a foster carer by another fostering service provider and consents, access may be requested to the relevant records compiled by that other fostering service provider in relation to the applicant;
  • Where the applicant has been approved as a prospective adopter by an adoption agency and consents, access may be requested to the relevant records compiled by that adoption agency in relation to the applicant;
  • Where the applicant has been previously in a relationship that resulted in having children, efforts must be made to contact the previous partner. If there are reasons as to why this is not advisable or possible, these must be outlined, in a written analysis of the situation and risks associated with not contacting the previous partners by the Assessing Social Worker. This must be submitted to the Fostering and Adoption Team Manager as soon as possible in the process, who will then make a decision as to proceed or not. They may defer to their senior manager in this matter. If the decision is made not to proceed the applicant must be informed within five working days of the decision being made.

Where, having regard to any information obtained, it is decided that the applicant is not suitable to become a foster carer, the applicant must be 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 or to have their case reviewed under the Independent Review Mechanism.

Where all the specified information has been obtained and notification has not been given within 10 working days that the applicant is not suitable, then the application must proceed to Section 5, Assessment - Stage Two. The Fostering Panel must make its recommendation on the application within eight months of the receipt of the formal application.


3. Checks and References

3.1 Checks

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, Children and Families Services (including the List of Children with a Child Protection Plan) and the NSPCC, and whether the applicant's 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 and Families Services, information should be obtained from the relevant social worker.

Where applicants have recently moved to the UK (within the last 10 years), checks may 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. Where any applicant has lived abroad for 12 months or more in the last 10 years they be prepared to get a Certificate of Good Conduct from the country where they lived.

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

A social media check will be undertaken on all applicants.

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

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, the assessing social worker will interview the applicant and provide a brief report to the Team Manager who will them make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker for a decision as to whether the assessment should continue. Convictions will not necessarily preclude an application, but this will depend on the seriousness of the offence and how long ago it was committed.

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.

3.2 References

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.

Otherwise, 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.

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

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

3.3 Health

All prospective carers are required to undertake a full BAAF AH medical examination by their GP as part of Stage 1 checks. They will be given a letter and the medical form for the GP to complete and send back to the Fostering Service who will then pass to the Agency Medical Advisor. The Medical Advisor will complete a report for the Fostering Panel’s consideration on the fitness of the applicant to foster.

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.


4. 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 11, 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 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 meeting must be held with them and the Assistant Team Manager to agree a period of deferment with actions to be fulfilled on a time limited basis.


5. Assessment - Stage Two

Where the Assessment - Stage One information has been obtained, and no notification has been given within 10 working days that the applicant is not suitable to be a foster carer, an assessment must be undertaken using the Coram BAAF Form F. Guidance on the completion of the form is included at the beginning of the Form F This assessment should be completed within 3months of the receipt of the applicant’s enquiry.

The average number of visits to be undertaken to the applicants is nine and should be in region of 2.5 hours per visit. Assessing social workers should have prepared a work plan of the visits in order that the applicants can undertake some home practice / learning prior to each session taking place. The applicants must be given the target date for the Foster Care Panel to consider their application at the first assessment meeting.

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 may 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 may also be contacted.

The applicants should be encouraged to complete their Family Book / profile which will need to be presented along with all other documents to the Foster Care Panel when the case is being considered.

There will be some cases where due to information coming to light during the assessment stage that the assessment may need to be stopped or put on hold for an agreed period of time. The assessing social worker should discuss any suggestion that this may be the case with their line manager. Once the report has been completed, all checks and references verified, H&S form satisfactorily completed and any issues have been resolved, pet assessments forms satisfactorily completed, family book completed and any other checks / references undertaken as part of the assessment, the document and attachments must be forwarded to the Assistant Team Manager for quality assuring. Once the reports have been deemed to be fit for purpose, then the assessing social worker must undertake a visit to the applicants to take them through the report, leaving a copy with them to read and sign. The applicants must be informed that they are able to make any observations on the report in the appropriate section of the Form F. The signed Form F should then be collected by the assessing social worker and submitted to the Agency Advisor for a final check and for submission to the Foster Care Panel.


6. The Foster Carer Approval Process

The assessing social worker will attend the Panel meeting, together with the applicants who will be fully prepared as to the procedure prior to their attendance. The assessing social worker should ensure that the applicants have a copy of the Foster Care Approval & Matching Panel brochure which introduces the panel members.

The Panel will consider the reports together with all the supporting documentation and any additional information presented to them. The Panel will wish to talk to the assessing social worker and the applicants and explore matters raised in the assessment which require clarification. The applicants will be given the opportunity to ask any question directly to the Panel Chair. Once the Panel have asked all their questions and the applicants have been given the opportunity to address any matters of concern to them, the applicants and the assessing social worker may be asked to leave the room while the Panel make their recommendation. The Chair of the Panel will inform the applicants and the assessing social worker of the recommendation they are making to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) regarding the suitability of the applicant to foster.

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. This recommendation will be presented to the Agency Decision Maker by the Agency Advisor once the minutes of the Foster Care Panel meeting have been agreed by the Chair.


7. The Role of the Agency Decision Maker

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.

The decision must be made within 7 working days of the final set of Panel meeting minutes being made available to the Agency Decision Maker.

The Agency Decision Maker upon considering the recommendation of the Panel can decide to:

  1. Endorse the Panel recommendation;
  2. Defer for further information;
  3. Not approve the applicants as suitable to foster.

The Agency Advisor will ensure that:

  1. A letter with two copies of the Foster Care Agreement is sent to all applicants who are approved as foster carers;
  2. The Assistant Team Manager understands the reasons for the Agency Decision Maker being unable to make a decision and the information which has been requested in order that a decision can be made. Upon receipt of the additional information the Agency Advisor will meet with the Agency Decision Maker who will then proceed with their decision. If approved then a) above will be instigated;
  3. A letter is sent to the applicants outlining the reasons for the negative decision and informing them of their right to appeal the decision and enclose a copy of the leaflet for applicants provided by the Independent Review Mechanism.

The assessing social worker will inform the applicants verbally of the decision within 24 hours 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 not to approve, the assessing social worker and manager will assess the need for further counselling and arrange any necessary follow-up action in consultation with the Agency Advisor.


8. 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 28 days of the letter sent by the Agency Decision Maker, the decision to not to approve the applicants as foster carers can proceed.

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 Agency Adviser within 7 working days of the Panel meeting minutes being available. 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. See also: Attending an IRM Panel: Information Sheets, (GOV.UK).

The procedure for the Independent Review is carried out by Coram Children's Legal Centre on behalf of the Department for Education; 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 9, Post Approval will be followed.


9. Post Approval

Once approved, the administrative staff will enter the foster carers' approval details, including their first review date, on the Fostering Register database (see Section 10, Register of Foster Carers) and update the electronic records. They will also send notice of the outcome to all agencies consulted during the assessment and approval process.

The foster carer will be allocated a supervising social worker from the Fostering Support & Supervision Team - see Supervision and Support of Foster Carers Procedure. The assessing social worker will arrange a handover visit to the foster carer together with the supervising social worker who will have read the BAAF Form F and the supporting documentation presented to the Fostering Panel including the references prior to the handover meeting with the carer(s), their family and members of their support network as appropriate.

New foster carers will also be given their personal copy of the Foster Carer's Hand-Book, 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 provide support and supervision to the foster carer, see Supervision and Support 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 11, Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances - and the need to repeat Disclosure and Barring Service checks on themselves every three years - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.


10. 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. The Fostering Network will also be notified and they will become members.


11. 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.

11.1 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 Form F assessment of his or her suitability for this role must be completed. 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 their 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 Service Manager Children Looked After & Permanency.

11.2 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 Form F 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 Variations of Approval Procedure.

End