SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter covers the procedure for assessing and approving all foster carers including short break carers. Most assessments will be carried out by the Fostering Recruitment Team. However, the assessment process in respect of short break carers will be carried out by a designated CONNECT social worker.
- Responding to Initial Enquiries
- Assessment – Stage One
- Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments
- Checks and References
- Training Course
- Assessment - Stage Two
- The Panel Recommendation
- After the Panel Recommendation
- Representations / Independent Review Procedure
- Criteria for Foster Carers
- After the Approval
- Register of Foster Carers
- Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances
- Alterations to Categories of Approval
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 contact centre where the enquirer’s household details will be taken. Preliminary basic information should be obtained-location, numbers in the household, bedroom space, working hours etc., so that inappropriate enquiries can be filtered out. All enquirers will be treated as a potential resource and given a prompt response. They may be contacted by a duty worker within 5 working days to provide and gather further information and for a general discussion about fostering. If it is not possible to contact them by telephone, a text message or a letter will be sent inviting them to contact the duty officer.
On receipt of the enquiry, administration will forward the enquiry to the Fostering Recruitment Team Manager for signing off and it will then be sent to the administrative staff who will enter the details on the Fostering Enquiry Database (FED). A check on the department’s computerised systems will be carried out by administrative staff in relation to enquirers and all members of their household. The Team Manager will sign off the enquiry prior to the information pack being sent out. The information pack will be sent within 7 working days of the preliminary discussion.
Where the enquirers are not previously known, they will be sent an Information Pack and letter informing them that a social worker shall be contacting them to arrange a home visit.
Where the enquirer or a member of the household is known, the enquiry will be passed to the Fostering Team Manager for a decision on how to proceed. At this early stage, it may be appropriate to advise enquirers against pursuing fostering if they clearly do not meet the basic criteria (see Section 10, 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 administrative staff will update Foster Enquiry Database (FED) and Care Director, and 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.A home visit will be arranged where a social worker from the fostering team will visit and discuss fostering in greater detail with the enquirers and their household. An initial visit and assessment shall be completed and a recommendation will be made whether or not to proceed with an application to begin Stage One of the process. The Fostering Recruitment Team Manager will view the assessment and make a decision as to whether or not to proceed to Stage One of the Assessment process.
2. Assessment – Stage One
Stage One of the assessment process is intended to provide the decision maker with basic information about the applicant to enable clearly unsuitable applicants to be sifted out without unnecessary bureaucracy or expenditure of time and resource by the fostering service or the applicant. More detailed information is collected in Section 6, Assessment - Stage Two.
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 12 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 Disclosure and Barring Service 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 has previously been, or is currently, approved as a foster carer by another fostering service provider, or as a prospective adopter by an adoption agency, and consents, access may be requested to the relevant records compiled by that other fostering service provider/ adoption agency in relation to the applicant. That service/agency must provide access within 15 working days of a request being received.
Records compiled by another fostering service, or an adoption agency, can be used to inform the new assessment of the applicant's suitability to foster. 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 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 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.
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 6, Assessment - Stage Two.
Note that Stages One and Two of the assessment process can be carried out concurrently, but the Stage One information must be sought as soon as possible, and the decision about whether an applicant has successfully completed Stage One must be made within 10 working days of all the information required in that Stage being received.
On receipt of the completed application form, consent to medical checks and authorisations for the statutory checks/references and social media checks, administration will inform the Fostering Team Manager and the administrative staff who will input the date of the application and details of the household members in FED and Care Director.The Fostering Panel must make its recommendation on the application within 8 months of the applicant first applying to be assessed.
At this stage they will be booked on to the Skills to Foster Training-a 3 day course. See Section 5, Training Course.
3. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments
3.1 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.
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.
The receiving service should acknowledged the request within 2 working days, seek consent from all others referred to in the information within 5 working days and the information, redacted where necessary, should be provided within 15 working days.
4. Checks and References
The administrative staff will arrange for the following checks to be made on all members of the household aged 18 and over: Probation, Health Trust, Education Service (including with education Psychology), Children's Social Care 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. In addition to the above a check of social media shall be undertaken in regard to applicant(s).
Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks for all members of the household aged 18 or over must also be made.
Where the applicant or any member of the household has been known to the Children and Young People Service, 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 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) may 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 local authority's computerised systems. The Fostering Recruitment Team Manager will monitor this process and chase up any late returns.
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 Fostering Recruitment Team 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 a case where the conviction would usually disqualify an applicant, the case should be referred to the Placements Service Manager for a preliminary decision with a brief report outlining the nature of the offence and potential risks in making a placement - see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure. In any other case where there is doubt, an early referral should be made to the Placements Service Manager.
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 agency should note on the file that the Disclosure and Barring Service information has been destroyed and that the information led the Fostering Service to form a particular view, without citing the information itself.
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 (see below). 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.Otherwise, each applicant will be asked to provide the names of two personal referees, who are adults, have known the applicant for at least 5 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 4 references provided. In addition, where the applicant has frequently changed jobs, written references should also be obtained from past employers. In the event that an applicant is unemployed then a reference will be sought from the most previous employer. Where an applicant has worked with either children or vulnerable adults in the past consideration will be given to obtaining additional references.
Where the prospective applicant has made a previous application to foster or adopt, permission must be sought to liaise with the relevant agency who must be asked to confirm in writing the outcome of the application and provide a written reference. Should the applicant refuse to permission then this could affect the decision to proceed and would need to be referred to the Fostering Recruitment Team Manager. FED and Care Director will be updated by the administrative staff if the applicants are withdrawn and a letter will be sent explaining the reasons.
The administrative staff will send requests for written references to each referee onto the approved template.
The Fostering Recruitment Team Manager and administration team will monitor this process and chase up any late returns.
The applicants will be asked to complete Form AH and send it to their GP with a covering letter from the fostering service requesting that the GP complete the Form. Once completed the form is returned to the Fostering Recruitment Team Manager for checking and then this is sent on 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.
The role of the medical adviser is to offer advice to the Fostering Panel. The medical advisor will outline any medical issues and possible impact that any health issues might have on the task of fostering. The health needs of any prospective carer will need to be balanced against the information that is collated within the full assessment report.
Medical reports are provided to panels to assist in the matching of prospective foster carers with vulnerable children. The role of being a foster carer can be very demanding and as such the service requires evidence of a prospective carers ability to cope with the needs of individual children.
It is useful for contentious health issues or any health issues that might impact on the role of being a foster carer to be discussed early stage with the panel advisor and/or senior managers of the agency. This will highlight those areas that will need to be explored in the social work assessment. In some cases we may need to discuss the need for applicants to withdraw as this will avoid unfairly putting prospective carers through a long and stressful assessment process only to be turned down.
The service will work with prospective carers in an honest and open manner and keep carers fully informed of the process involved. In cases where prospective carers are taking a form of prescribed medication for pain relief or a health issue such as a mental health problem it would be important that the level of functioning and ability to care for children is considered.
We recognise that some prospective carers may have faced some difficulties that led to decision to take medication in order to help with a mental health problem. The service would not preclude applicants on this basis, however, any fostering assessment would need to look at the carers view of the mental health problem and ability to care for looked after children.
The service would need to obtain as much information as possible from the prospective carer and this may involve requesting further specific information from any health professionals involved. This information will be useful to gain an understanding of any precipitating factors, nature of the mental health problem, response to treatment, prognosis, any history of relapses and how these were recognised and treated, and the self-awareness of the applicant.
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 Fostering Recruitment Team 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 FED and Care Director.
5. Training Course
Dates for Skills to Foster Training and a birth children's group are planned a year in advance by the Fostering Recruitment Team. A minimum of 4 courses will be arranged each year and social workers, foster carers and Looked After Children will be identified to facilitate each course. Administrative staff will be involved in the practical arrangements e.g. booking venues.
The course will cover in detail all aspects of the fostering task, including the need for approved foster carers to notify the Fostering Supervision Team 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 13, Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances for the procedure to be followed where such changes occur.
The Fostering Recruitment Team Manager will book applicants on to Skills to Fostering Training Course - a 4 day 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 Groups 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;
- To assist birth children in understanding the needs of Looked after children and how fostering can affect their lives and what they would need to do if they required support.
Those facilitating the course will provide written feedback on issues relating to the applicants for the assessment social worker which must be used in their assessment. Any issues of concern should be referred to the Fostering Recruitment Team Manager.
Once all relevant checks requested are returned, the Fostering Recruitment Team have 10 days in which to explore any concerns and decide whether or to proceed to Stage Two of the Assessment Process. A decision not to proceed will be provided in writing to the applicants, and the right to access the local authority's complaints process shall be provided.
6. 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, the following must be undertaken:
- Obtain the following information relating to the applicant and other members of the household, together with any other relevant information:
- Details of personality;
- Religious persuasion, and capacity to care for a child from any particular religious persuasion;
- Racial origin, cultural and linguistic background and capacity to care for a child from any particular racial origin or cultural or linguistic background;
- Past and present employment or occupation, standard of living, leisure activities and interests;
- Previous experience (if any) of caring for their own and other children;
- Skills, competence and potential relevant to their capacity to care effectively for a child placed with them.
- Consider whether the applicant is suitable to be a foster parent and whether the applicant 's household is suitable for any child;
- Prepare a written report on the applicant which includes the following matters:
- The information required to be obtained, as set out above;
- Any other relevant information;
- An assessment of the applicant's suitability to be a foster parent;
- Proposals about any terms of approval.
(There are no specific regulatory requirements about the way in which assessment information must be collected or presented to panel).
Where, having regard to the information obtained during Stage Two, it is decided that the applicant is unlikely to be considered suitable to become a foster parent, notwithstanding that not all the Stage Two information has yet been obtained, a Brief Report may be prepared and submitted to the fostering panel in the same way as for a full assessment report. (There is no prescribed length or format for a brief report).
The assessing social worker will:
- Familiarise themself 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 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 CoramBAAF Form F, 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;
- Awareness of safe caring;
- 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 their 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.
The assessing social worker may 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.
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 years old should have their own bedroom. Where this is not possible, the sharing of the bedroom must be agreed by the placing authority. A risk assessment must be conducted in regard to pets.
The applicant must be notified that the case is to be referred to the fostering panel, be given a copy of the report and be invited to send any observations in writing within 10 working days beginning with the date on which the notification is sent.
At the end of the 10 working days, (or when the applicant's observations are received, whichever is sooner), the report, the applicant's observations on that report, if any, and any other relevant information obtained, must be sent to the fostering panel.
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 Fostering Recruitment Team Manager. Where the issues cannot be addressed by training the applicants are advised to withdraw, see Section 4.4, General for the actions that should follow.
7. The Panel Recommendation
The assessing social worker will attend the Panel meeting (and their manager where appropriate), together with the applicants if they so wish. The decision to attend rests with the applicants and a wish not to attend will not prejudice consideration of their application.
Applicants who decide they wish to attend 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 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 Kinship/Connected Person Foster Carer) or conditions as to the age range or number of children to be placed in the foster home will also be specified.
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.
8. 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. The categories are respite short term, bridging, long term, permanent, child specific or Connect (short breaks). Applicants can be approved for more than one placement category.
Where a Brief Report has been submitted to the fostering panel, the Agency Decision Maker will, taking into account the fostering panel's recommendation, make a determination about whether to terminate the assessment or whether the full assessment should be completed.
The decision must be made within 7 working days of the Agency Decision Maker receiving the panel’s recommendation and final set of panel minutes and must be recorded, together with reasons.
The Fostering Recruitment Team Manager will arrange for the applicants to be given verbal notification of the decision within 24 hours and written notice of the decision, with reasons, signed by the Recruitment Team Manager, within 5 working days of the decision. If the decision is to refuse approval, the Fostering Recruitment Team Manager will outline the right of appeal process in accordance with the Fostering Regulations.
Upon approval, foster carers should be issued with an agreed form of identification to enable their role as a foster carer to be verified.
9. Representations / Independent Review Procedure
If, at Stage Two of the assessment process, the Agency Decision Maker gives a Qualifying Determination that they propose not to approve the applicants as foster carers, the applicant will be advised that if they wish to challenge the decision, applicants should be advised they have a right to submit representations within 28 days of the date of the written notice of the decision to the Agency Decision Maker. 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 under the Independent Review Mechanism. Any such application must be made in writing within 28 days of the decision and supported by reasons.
The foster carer will not have the right to request a review by an Independent Review Panel if they are regarded as disqualified as a result of a conviction or caution for a specified offence – see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure.
Where it is decided at Stage One of the assessment process that the applicant is not suitable to become a foster carer, there is no right to have the case reviewed under the Independent Review Mechanism.If no written representations or notification of a request for a review are received within this period, the Agency Decision Maker will decide whether or not to approve the applicant as a foster carer (following a full assessment) or continue the assessment (following a Brief Report).
If written representations are received within the period, the Recruitment Team Manager 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 working 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 a recommendation, which the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) will consider before a final decision is made.
If the decision remains not to approve the application, the Fostering Recruitment Team Manager will arrange for the applicants to be informed verbally within 2 working days. The Recruitment Team Manager must send written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, to the applicant within 10 working days of the Panel meeting. 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 CoramBAAF; 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 11, After Approval will be followed.
10. Criteria for Foster Carers
10.1 Individual and Joint
Applications will be considered from married couples, civil partners, unmarried couples or single people.
Applications will be considered from people of any or no religious persuasion. All applicants will be expected to bring a child up with a sense of moral values regardless of their own personal religious beliefs.
All practicing religions must be compatible with the ethos of the agency and the needs of Looked After Children.
Applications will be considered from people of any race or culture.
The minimum age for foster carers is generally 21 years. In exceptional circumstances, e.g. with some kinship carers, the minimum age may be reduced to 18. There is no specific upper age limit. Although there is an expectation that any applicants will have a reasonable expectation of retaining their health so as to be able to meet the many and varied demands of caring for children from birth to 18 years. Refer to Section 10.8, Health.
Applications will be considered from people of either sex and from same sex couples.
10.6 Sexual Orientation
Applications will be considered from people of any sexual orientation.
10.7 Income and Work Commitment
Applicants will be considered from people who may be in work or not. However, any applicant in employment must have the flexibility to meet the needs of any child placed. It is expected that carers are available to attend appointments, meetings and visits from the social work team. This would be discussed with the applicant at the pint of initial enquiry and during an initial visit.
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 their full potential. This would encompass attention to nutrition, exercise, routine and hygiene.
Children under 5 or a child vulnerable to chest complaints would not be placed in a smoking household - see Smoking Policy and Guidance.
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.Any evidence of current involvement in illegal drug use will disbar an application.
10.9 Criminal Convictions
A person who is seeking approval as a foster carer will not be considered if they or any adult member of the household is a Disqualified Person (Fostering) 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.
Other convictions will not necessarily preclude an application, but this will depend on the seriousness of the offence and how long ago it was committed. All such cases will be referred to the Fostering Recruitment Team Manager who may also consult the Placements Service Manager.
Applicants may own their own home or live in rented accommodation. In the event that the home is rented then due consideration would need to be given to the circumstances around the prospective foster carer renting and the conditions of the lease.
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. Any exceptional circumstances for sharing of bedrooms would need to be discussed with the Recruitment Team Manager.
In cases where applicants do not have a spare bedroom and wish to foster babies the service will consider an initial approval age range from 0-2 years old. However, a full discussion will be needed as part of assessment as to the impact on the fostering household. The assessment would need to consider the prospective applicants need for privacy and the appropriateness of having a child placed in the bedroom.
It is important that the home environment is welcoming to children, safe and meets the fostering standards of 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.
10.11 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.
10.12 Family Contact
All applicants must be prepared to facilitate contact between any foster child and their parents and significant family members.
10.13 Child Minding
Applications will be accepted from registered child-minders or those with similar informal child-minding arrangements. However, thorough attention must be paid to child-minding in initial consideration and then assessment of prospective carers, Prospective carers must be able to demonstrate an awareness of the risks inherent in having numbers of children in placement in these circumstances and have the capacity to manage those risks safely with regard to the age and needs of each child involved. It is good practice that no more than 3 non related children (either child-minded or looked after ) are cared for together. Where more than 3 non related children are proposed to be looked after by childminders this will need to be agreed by Fostering Team Manager.
11. After the 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 (FR) (see Section 12, Register of Foster Carers) and update FED and Care Director. 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, preferably the one who has undertaken their assessment - see Supervision, Support and Training of Foster Carers Procedure. If the social worker does not know the new carer, they will read the CoramBAAF Form F 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 administrative staff will ensure that the carers are allocated an Independent Reviewing Officer for the purposes of their review within 10 working days.
The supervising social worker will visit the foster carers within 1 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 their 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 file, 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:
- The terms of the foster carer's approval;
- The support and training to be provided to the foster carer;
- The procedure for the review of the foster carer's approval;
- The procedure for placements of children;
- The procedure for making representations and complaints;
- The requirement to inform the fostering service of any change of circumstance, address or in the household composition, or of any registration as a childminder or application to adopt or of any offence;
- The requirements in relation to confidentiality and internet usage;
- The procedures for informing the fostering social worker of the child's progress and any significant events relating to the child;
- The procedures for informing the supervising social worker of the child's progress and any significant events relating to the child;
- The need to give 28 days' notice in writing of they wish to cease fostering.
New foster carers will also be given their personal copy of the Foster Carer's Handbook, which contains information about membership with of a fostering support organisation, fostering in Wakefield and covers policies, procedures (including Placement Planning Meetings, Placement Plans, Looked After Reviews, Behaviour Management, Missing Children, Complaints and Allegations), 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, Support and Training 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 13, Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances - and the need to repeat Disclosure and Barring Service checks on themselves every 3 years (unless they have subscribed to the Disclosure and Barring Service Update Service) - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.
12. Register of Foster Carers
The manager of the Fostering Service will maintain a register of all approved foster carers containing the following particulars:
- The name, address, date of birth, sex and ethnic origin of each foster carer;
- The date of approval and of each review of the approval;
- The category and current terms of the approval;
- The name, address, date of birth of each person with whom a child is placed who is a relative or friend (but not an approved Named Carer) and who has entered an agreement to provide care for the child placed, together with the date and terms of the agreement.
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 (FR).
13. Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances
The supervising social worker will ensure that any newly approved foster carer is clear about their responsibility to notify the supervising social worker 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 Fostering Supervision Team 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.
13.1 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 they will have a part to play in caring for any child in the placement. Therefore a full Form F assessment of their suitability for this role must be completed before the partner moves into the foster home. Part of the assessment will focus on the new relationship, the change in circumstances for the carer and the fostering household. 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.
In situations where the new partner will be a significant visitor and wishes to stay overnight but will not be moving in to the household, the Fostering Service has a duty to safeguard the children in their care, therefore, a Disclosure and Barring Service check will be carried out in the first instance on the new partner, and other checks deemed necessary by the service including suitable references. It may be that a GP health check is also requested and interviews with a previous partner and children carried out. However, this should be discussed with the partner and their comments taken into account. The service will undertake a significant person's assessment covering such areas as understanding/attitude to fostering, safe caring, the current relationship and any previous relationship. Aspects of the assessment must include the views of the foster carer. The assessment should also 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. The new partner should not have unsupervised access to fostered children until these checks have been carried out and no overnight stays will be authorised until the assessment has been presented to the fostering team manager and service manager.
The only exception to this would be carers who offer respite or Connect care only and where overnight stays will not coincide with children being in placement. The Fostering Service may also find it necessary to consider the amount of time the new partner spends in the fostering placement and what constitutes living in the household. This will be determined by the assessment undertaken by the fostering team.
Following the completion of the risk assessment any decision taken will be conveyed in writing to the foster carer by the fostering team manager. In the event that the foster carer does not agree to the decisions made, a foster carer review must be held (please see the Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure) and the issues considered at the review. If they cannot be resolved at this stage, the matter must be presented to the Fostering Panel. In circumstances where the foster carer is found to have not worked in accordance with any agreement or decisions set out by the fostering team manager, a suspension of the foster carers approval will be considered. Where concerns about the arrangements are not found to be suitable then the Fostering Service Provider will outline their position with the foster carer.
13.2 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.
In circumstances of adult placements being considered clear consultation must take place between adult services and the fostering service prior to any adult placement being made. A report must be provided to both panels outlining the terms of approval including future placements.
13.3 Visitors to the Fostering Household
The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 and the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 includes those who foster children and those over the age of 18 who reside on the same premises of those who foster. The guidance on Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks does not include visitors to the household, which would include casual babysitters and extended family members, therefore visitors are not entitled to DBS checks. However, the fostering service would expect that any approved foster carer would act as a 'good parent' and take sensible precautions where people are not subject to a DBS check. Depending on the frequency and nature of the visits made to a fostering household the fostering service might deem it appropriate to undertake a DBS check in some circumstances. Any checks that are needed will be discussed with the carer. We recognise the importance of Looked After children being provided with an environment of 'family life' but it is also important that we safeguard the children in our care.
13.4 Foster Carer Support
Many fostering providers will however seek to identify, as part of the approval process for a prospective carer, any individuals who may play a significant role in providing support for those carers. These may be back-up carers such as family members, friends or regular babysitters (aged over 18 years of age) who will have regular and unsupervised access to Looked After children and in these cases an Enhanced DBS check will be carried out.
13.5 Activities Outside of the Fostering Household
Guidance for foster carers emphasises that children in foster care should, as far as possible, be granted the same permissions to take part in normal and acceptable age-appropriate peer activities as would reasonably be granted by the parents of their peers.
Consequently, DBS checks on any individuals who are outside of the fostering household should be very much the exception and in the majority of cases it will be for the foster carer, in consultation as necessary with the provider, to make a decision about the appropriateness of the activity, in the same way as any other parent.
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.
14. Alterations to Categories of Approval
The following alterations may be agreed by the Fostering Supervision Team Manager, without the need to refer the case back to the Fostering Panel, unless they were specifically prohibited at the time of the original approval process:
- The age range of a foster carer's approval, endorsed at a foster carer review;
- Changes which represent a less onerous task than that on the original approval, e.g. permanent to respite or relief;
- Whether a foster carer is available for emergency placements.
Where a Foster Carer Review endorses a change, the Fostering Panel should be notified at the next available meeting or as soon as practicable - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.