Foster Care Approval and Matching Panel
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter explains the membership, purpose, functions and arrangements for meetings of the Foster Care Approval & Matching Panel.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was updated in January 2019.
1. Role of the Foster Care Approval Matching Panel
The Panel will recommend approval/non-approval of applications from prospective Foster Carers and Connected Person Carers. The Panel currently also considers applications from the Home & Away Short Breaks Scheme and Support Lodgings carers (these areas of work are currently under review). The decision-maker for the local authority in respect of the Fostering Service will be the Service Manager Children Looked After & Care Leavers.
Recommendations regarding the approval of carers must include the terms of approval, which will be specified as follows:
- Short-term; long term; emergency same day; bridging placement;
- Planned short breaks (formerly referred to as respite care);
- Parent & child assessment and/or support placements;
- Applications for approval made under Regulation 24;
- Applications for extension of approval under Regulation 25;
- Permanency linked to the long term matching of the child to their foster carers.
The recommendation regarding the terms of approval must also include:
- Age Range;
- Number of Placements.
As part of their function, the Panel oversees the conduct of assessments and annual reviews of approved foster carers, advises on any relevant matters in relation to the fostering service and makes recommendations to Children and Families Services about quality issues and performance standards.
In particular, the Panel makes recommendations as to the following:
- The suitability of applicants to act as foster carers and terms of their approval (including Connected Persons);
- Exemptions from the limit to the number of children placed with foster carers which exceed six months;
- The continued suitability of the foster carers and whether the terms of the approval remain appropriate (after the first annual review of foster carers, the third annual review and any other review where significant changes or termination of approval is recommended - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure);
- Any other special mattes relevant to a foster carer which the Chair of the Panel considers appropriate to be referred;
- Referrals to the Independent Review Mechanism - see Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers Procedure, Representations / Independent Review Procedure.
The Panel will also receive and consider any representations challenging a decision not to approve an applicant as suitable, or to terminate or revise the terms of a foster carer's approval - see Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers Procedure, Representations / Independent Review Procedure.
The Panel will also make recommendations concerning:
- The continued approval of any Foster Carer where a significant complaint, allegation of abuse or standards of care issue has been raised. Termination of approval will be recommended where necessary;
- Any Foster Carer review where there has been a significant change in the carer's circumstances and/or which highlights particularly complex or contentious issues;
- Any proposed change to the original terms of the Foster Carer's approval which require Panel's consideration.
The Panel will be notified of all resignations of Foster Carers no longer wishing/able to foster for Swindon Borough Council and the reasons for this.
As of 1st July 2018, all children and young people in long term placements will be matched with their foster carers at the Panel. This is part of an improvement plan to improve outcomes for children and young people while ensuring foster carers receive the right support. The Foster Care Approval & Matching Panel will undertake the matching for all long term fostering arrangements whether the foster carers are in-house or IFA carers. The aim of the matching process is to ensure that children and young people can remain with their foster carers on a permanent basis which is expected to extend to a Staying Put arrangement.
The Panel will monitor the quality of assessments and foster care being offered and give feedback where appropriate to the relevant Service Manager and/or Agency Decision Maker through the Agency Advisor.
The Panel will monitor the range and type of carers available in comparison with the needs of children.
The Chair will communicate any issues of concern to the Agency Advisor and take part in quarterly meetings with him or her and the Vice Chair, to review the Panel's functioning and report on the quality of work being presented to Panel, to ensure good standards are maintained.
At the quarterly meetings, the Panel Administrator will provide statistical information in relation to the Panel business, together with information on the numbers of foster carers used by the local authority and the number of children looked after by the local authority. This will enable an appraisal of the extent to which the fostering service is meeting the demand for placements.
The Chair of the Panel will produce a yearly report detailing relevant statistical information, analysis of trends and evaluation of the quality of the Fostering Service being provided to children and young people. The annual report will form part of the Fostering Service's Annual Report prepared by the Team Manager, Fostering Services which will include the number of complaints, allegations, standards of care concerns received during the preceding year, as well as an overview of activity undertaken by the Service.
There is no fixed panel membership or maximum number of members or maximum tenure of office.
The membership must be drawn from a Central List of persons with the appropriate qualifications and/or experience, including one or more social workers who have at least three years' relevant post-qualifying experience.
Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List, they must be given one months' notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their inclusion on the list. The Chair will be appointed by the Agency Decision Maker and will be an independent person with experience of chairing meetings and with a solid understanding of foster care and permanency. The Panel must also appoint up to two Vice Chairs, whose role is to chair the Panel when the Chair is unavailable.
All potential Panel members will have an interview with the Agency Advisor and the Chair of the Panel. Personal and work references along with a DBS check will be taken up and these will be assessed by the Agency Advisor. Upon receipt of satisfactory checks and references, the Agency Advisor will inform the potential Panel Member of their appointment to the Central List.
Each member must be provided with written information on appointment of their performance objectives, including their participation in induction and other training and safeguarding the confidentiality of records and information submitted to Panel. They will be asked to sign an agreement with the fostering service, in relation to his or her membership, covering the service expectations (including the requirement to report any involvement in criminal proceedings), confidentiality issues and commitment to anti-discriminatory practice.
All Panel members will also be required to attend at least one Panel meeting as an observer before taking up their membership. Panel members should complete induction training within 10 weeks of joining the Central List, have access to appropriate training and skills development and have the opportunity to attend joint training with fostering staff at least annually.
The quorum is 5 provided that the following are present:
- Either the Chair or one of the Vice Chairs (in the absence of the chair). If the meeting is conducted by the vice chair who is not independent, there must be at least one other member of the panel who is independent;
- One of the social worker representatives with at least three years post qualifying experience;
- Three (or in the case of a joint panel, four) other members;
- The Agency Advisor.
Panel members may request any relevant information or assistance they require, including medical or legal advice, from the fostering agency and, if so requested, this must be provided by the fostering agency.
All Panel Members will have an annual appraisal meeting with the Chair of the Panel. Feedback will be requested from all Panel Members with a self-assessment form being completed prior to the appraisal meeting. The Agency Decision Maker will conduct the annual appraisal of the Chair. At the appraisal meeting the performance of the Panel Member will be discussed which will include attendance and preparation for meetings, participation at meetings and feedback from panel members. Where necessary the termination of the appointment will be considered.
Where there are concerns about a Panel member's behaviour either inside or outside the meetings, and this cannot be dealt with by advice, training and/or information, this will be discussed with the Agency Advisor by the Chair.
The Agency Advisor in consultation with the Chair of the Panel, or the Agency Decision Maker if the matter concerns the Chair, will decide whether someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List and therefore to end the appointment and if so, will advise the member in writing giving one month's notice and clear reasons for the decision.Panel members may resign by giving one month's notice to the chair.
The Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Agency Advisor and with the Chair's authority, will arrange additional special meetings as necessary.
The Panel Administrator will arrange for the Legal Advisor to attend the Panel if required by the Chair or by the worker presenting a report.
The Panel's Medical Advisor will provide medical advice on matters to be brought to the Panel, by attendance at Panel meetings or where this is not possible by telephone or an exchange of correspondence on individual cases in advance of the meeting as considered appropriate.
The Panel Administrator may arrange for observers to attend meetings, in consultation with the Chair, but no more than 2 observers may attend at any one time.
The Panel expects the attendance of prospective foster carers at meetings during consideration of their applications for approval. Applicants as well as approved foster carers can attend with a supporter and 'be heard' at fostering panel meetings whenever their approval is being considered - for the assessment and approval process in more detail - see Assessment and Approvals Carers Procedure.
The Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Agency Advisor, prepares the agenda for each meeting and sends out the agenda to Panel members at least five working days before the meeting.
Those presenting reports to the Panel must send their reports to the Panel Administrator at least 10 working days before the date of the Panel. The Panel Administrator will arrange for the documentation to be distributed to Panel members, by secure electronic means. It is the responsibility of panel members to keep all material sent to them, in whatever format, safe and secure. Any breaches of data must be reported to the Panel Chair, Advisor and Administrator as soon as known.
The Chair's role is to ensure that all members participate fully in the meetings (unless an interest has been declared - see below) and that each member has an opportunity to raise questions or offer comments on each matter considered, that sensitive regard is paid to foster carers while keeping the child's welfare paramount, that consensus is achieved wherever possible and that the Panel has clear reasons for its recommendations.
Where there is a serious difference of opinion among members, the Chair may ask for more information to be made available to the Panel before a recommendation is made. Serious reservations expressed by individual Panel members about a particular recommendation must be recorded in the Panel minutes for consideration by the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering).
At the end of meetings, the Panel Administrator will collect the preparation sheets from each Panel member which will be uploaded onto their personal file to be used in their annual appraisal and in Ofsted inspections. All electronic communications relating to the Panel Meeting must be deleted.
The Panel Administrator will prepare the minutes in which reasons for recommendations and any disagreements or dissent will be fully recorded.
(S)he will send the minutes to the Agency Advisor for a first quality assurance check before sending to the Chair for approval of their accuracy, and then submit them to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) for approval of the recommendations made. The Agency Advisor will ensure that following receipt of the decisions from the Agency Decision Maker that appropriate letters and Foster Care Agreements (if appropriate) are sent to the applicants/foster carers within two working days of the decision being made.
The assessing social worker/supervising social worker will also ensure that applicants, foster carers and social workers are notified of Panel recommendations within one working day of the Panel. The Panel Administrator will provide social workers with a copy of the relevant minute after a decision has been made by the Agency Decision Maker.
The Agency Advisor will report back any issues of practice to the relevant social workers and their managers if necessary following each Panel Meeting.
Conflicts of Interest
Panel members should consider any conflicts of interest in relation to Panel agenda items. A potential conflict arises if an interest may be seen to adversely affect a Panel member's capacity to act without prejudice or preference in a matter.
It is anticipated that in many circumstances there may be professional knowledge of a case which should be notified to the Chair but which will not affect a member's capacity to participate in the Panel. In other circumstances there may be a personal interest or connection which would require the Panel member to refrain from participation. It may be less clear in some cases when advice should be sought.
In the case of a potential conflict of interest where advice is required, Panel members should consult the Chair or Legal Advisor, giving as much advance notice as possible particularly having regard to the implications for the quorum.