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12.3 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 Volume 4 (2011) Chapter 5

Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011, Standard 13

See also Fostering Panel Procedure

The Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) is of Group Manager level.

NOTE

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

AMENDMENT

In July 2018, Section 8, After the Panel Recommendation has been updated to clarify the decision as to the suitability of the applicant must be made within 7 working days of receipt of the panel’s recommendation and final set of panel minutes – The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 4: 5.39 and Standard 14 (14.9) Fostering panels and the fostering service’s decision-maker.


Contents

1. Responding to Initial Enquiries
2. Assessment - Stage One
3. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments
4. Checks and References 
  4.1 Checks
  4.2 References
  4.3 Health
5. Training Course
6. Assessment - Stage Two
7. Home Study Report
8. The Panel Recommendation
9. After the Panel Recommendation
10. Representations / Independent Review Procedure
11. Criteria for Foster Carers
12. After the Approval
13. Register of Foster Carers
14. Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances
  Appendix A: Risk and Impact Assessment
  Appendix B: Bedroom Sharing in Fostering Households
  Appendix Ba: Bedroom Sharing Assessment and Arrangements Form


1. Responding to Initial Enquiries

All members of the public who make an initial enquiry by telephone, in person at a recruitment event, email or letter in relation to becoming a foster carer will be referred to the Fostering Service Recruitment and Project Team. 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 and records entered into an episode on the NCC Mosaic system. Where possible, preliminary, basic information should be obtained - numbers in the household, the availability of a separate bedroom for foster children, working hours etc., so that inappropriate enquiries can be filtered out. In addition, a check will be carried out in relation to enquirers and all members of their household on Children's Services records.

Where the enquirers are not previously known, they will be sent an information pack which includes a fostering brochure, covering letter, visit request form, a fact sheet entitled 'Smoking advice for prospective foster carers and adopters', fire safety information and a pre-paid reply envelope. The Information Pack will be sent within 5 working days of the enquiry.

Where the enquirer or a member of the household is known and the information is a contra-indicator, the enquiry will be passed to the Team Manager of the Recruitment and Project Team 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 11, Criteria for Foster Carers). The RPO Team Manager may discuss with the TM responsible for the area. The managers' 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 same procedure will be followed as for all other enquirers, but with all known information recorded in the enquiry episode opened on framework.

If there is no response within 4 weeks, the enquirer will sent a follow up letter or an electronic chase up file via email where the enquirer email address in known.

When a response is received and further information is provided - additional household members, previous or other names - further checks on Children's Services records will be undertaken. The Mosaic records will be updated by the RPO's and the enquiry episode finished which sends an enquiry task to the local fostering TM. The enquirer will be sent an email or letter acknowledging receipt of the visit request and confirming which team they have been referred to with the contact details of the Team Manager. Where new information is contra-indicator the same procedure will be followed as detailed above.

Once the referral has been passed to the responsible Fostering Manager, the enquirers will be offered a visit within 5 working days. The purpose of the initial visit will be to give information about fostering and to make a preliminary assessment of the enquirers’ suitability to foster. Two initial visits will normally take place. The assessing worker should consult with the team manager after the first visit. Unless the enquirers are assessed as unsuitable, they will be given a Registration OF Interest Form following the second visit.

On receipt of the Registration Of Interest Form, the Fostering Service has 5 working days to decide and notify enquirers of whether their interest is accepted.


2. Assessment - Stage One

Stage One of the assessment process is intended to provide the decision maker with basic information about the enquirer to enable clearly unsuitable enquirers 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 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 enquirer 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 enquirer and any other member of the enquirer’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 enquirer lives, if different;
  • Where the enquirer 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 will be requested to the relevant records compiled by that other fostering service provider / adoption agency in relation to the enquirer. 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 enquirer’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 that the enquirer is not suitable to become a foster carer, the enquirer 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 enquirer has no right to make representations about the decision or to have their case reviewed under the Independent Review Mechanism. However, the enquirer 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 enquirer’s case has been handled in a reasonable way, rather than the question of the enquirer’s suitability to foster.

Where all the specified information has been obtained and notification has not been given within 10 working days that the enquirer is not suitable, then the assessment must proceed to 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 enquirer 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 Registration of Interest form, the business support staff will input the date of the Registration of Interest and details of the household members on Framework.

The Fostering Panel must make its recommendation on the application within eight months of the prospective carer first enquiring to be assessed.

The prospective carer will be booked on to the Foster Carers Pre-Approval Training 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.

3.2 Consent

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

If consent is refused, the current fostering service or adoption agency should consider whether there is any information in the records that is a cause for concern. Any information about an enquirer’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 enquirer to the sharing of their information.

3.3 Timescales

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


4.Checks and References

4.1 Checks

The business support staff will arrange for the following checks to be made on all members of the household aged 18and over: Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), (a new check may not be necessary if the enquirer has subscribed to the Disclosure and Barring Service Update Service, Probation (if the person is known to Probation), Child Health/Health Visitor, Education if there are school age children or young people, Children's and Safeguarding Children's Services. All must give their consent for checks to be undertaken. Failure to give this signed consent means that the application is invalid and cannot proceed.

Police Checks

DBS checks should be undertaken on enquirers and all members of the household (and others likely to have unsupervised access in the foster home) over the age of 18 years.

The Disclosure and Barring Service will not accept "special urgent" telephone reference checks.

Where the enquirers live or have lived outside the Local Authority area, the checks must be made with the Local Authority where the enquirers live/have lived. These checks should be recorded including the date when the checks were made. Where the enquirer or any member of the household has been known to Children's Services, information should be obtained from the relevant social worker.

Where an enquirer is or has been a member of the Armed Forces, enquiries should be made from SSAFA organisation.

Where enquirers have recently moved to the UK, or have lived for significant periods in other countries, checks will also be made through International Social Services and/or the relevant Consulate on all members of the household.

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

On receipt of the statutory checks, the business support staff will update Framework.

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

If the enquirer withdraws, the business support staff will update Framework. If the enquirer does not agree to withdraw, the case will be presented to NCC Fostering panel. The enquirer will have recourse to the IRM.

Offences:

Where the information relates to an offence, which does not automatically disqualify the enquirer, the service manager must consider whether the application should still proceed. The assessing worker will submit a risk and impact assessment to the service manager (fostering) see Appendix A 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 enquirer, the case should be referred to the Fostering Panel and the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) for a preliminary decision. In any other case where there is doubt, an early referral should be made to the Fostering Panel and/or Agency Decision Maker (Fostering).

4.2 References

Where the enquirer 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 set of enquirers will be asked to provide the names of two personal referees, who are adults, have known the enquirer for a substantial amount of time and are not related to them. Further referees who may be family members or personal friends can be provided. All referees should be people who know the enquirer well in a personal capacity.

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

A written reference must be obtained from each enquirer's current employer regardless of their occupation. In addition, where the enquirer has frequently changed jobs, written references should also be obtained from past employers. If an enquirer has worked in a care capacity at any time, references will be sought.

Where the enquirer 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 business support staff will send requests for written references to each referee.

On receipt of the references, the business support staff will update Framework.

4.3 Health

The enquirers will be provided with the relevant medical form (BAAF Form AH Adult Health Report for mainstream enquirers and Medical Reference form for child specific enquirers) to fill in with their details and send to their GP with a covering letter requesting that the GP complete the Form and return it to the manager.

Where the medical information suggests that the enquirer may not be suitable for health reasons, this should be discussed in detail with them 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.


5. 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 14, Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances for the procedure to be followed where such changes occur.

Enquirers will be booked on the course once their completed Registration of Interest 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 enquirers to consider more thoroughly the implications of fostering;
  • To assist enquirers 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 assessment, the enquirers 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 transracial placements are made, the foster carer will be provided with additional training, support and information to enable the child or young person to be provided with the best possible care and to develop a positive understanding of their heritage.

Where the enquirer disagrees with the decision and/or is not willing to withdraw and is in the Stage 2 process, a brief report on the application should be presented to the Fostering Panel and the procedure to be followed should be the same as if the report was a full report on the applicants (see Section 8, The Panel Recommendation to Section 10, Representations / Independent Review Procedure).


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 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 him or herself with the application form;
  • Contact the applicant(s) and arrange a visit;
  • Draw up a written agreement setting out the dates for the assessment visits and the 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 the competency format, which will record all appropriate factual information and address issues including the applicants' understanding of the following areas:

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

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

A safe caring policy document and a Health and Safety document will also be completed in the course of the assessment and a copy retained by the carers post approval. Those documents will be reviewed annually.

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. 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 will also be interviewed.

Applicants will be encouraged to be actively involved in contributing towards the assessment, for example write about themselves, their family, their relationship.

The foster home will also be thoroughly checked to ensure it provides appropriate and safe for the child, as well as safe transport. Each child over 3 has their own bedroom or, where this is not possible; the sharing of the bedroom has been agreed by the placing authority and a bedroom sharing assessment undertaken and agreed (see Appendix B). 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 manager. Where the issues cannot be addressed by training, the applicants will be advised to withdraw.


7. Home Study Report

The information gathered during the assessment, the Preparation/Training Course and the checks and personal references, will form the basis of the assessment. Applicants will be assessed to the BAAF FORM F Format. This authority has adopted and adapted a competency framework but discretion exists regarding the format to be used, for example the BAAF form.

Once the assessing social worker has completed a draft, it should be submitted to the manager for discussion in order to identify whether there are any issues that are unclear or need further work before the assessment is completed.

The final draft will then be sent to the applicants. The applicants should be asked to sign and return the report, if agreed, and/or send their comments in writing to the assessing social worker and that any written comments they make will be circulated to Fostering Panel members, with the report.

The report will then be passed to the manager to be endorsed and counter-signed. The Team Manager will not routinely be required to undertake a final visit Report.

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

The social worker will then send the report and supplementary information such as referees interviews, the applicants' written comments (if any), and evidence of statutory and personal checks to the local admin for copying at least 10 working days before the relevant Fostering Panel meeting. The worker will arrange for the copies to reach the panel coordinator the following day.

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


8. The Panel Recommendation

The assessing social worker will attend the Panel meeting, 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 any additional information presented verbally, and make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) regarding the suitability of the applicant for fostering.

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

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.

If an applicant is counselled out, panel should be notified. Applicants are invited to make representation to panel in the same way as other applicants.


9. After the Panel Recommendation

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

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 receipt of the panel’s recommendation and final set of panel minutes and must be recorded, together with reasons.

The 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 Agency Decision Maker, within 5 working days of the decision.

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

Upon approval, foster carers should be issued with an agreed form of identification to enable their role as a foster carer to be verified.


10. Representations / Independent Review Procedure

If at Stage Two of the assessment process, the Agency Decision Maker gives a Qualifying Determination that he/she proposed not to approve the applicants as foster carers, the applicant will be advised that if he or she wishes to challenge the decision, 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 through the Independent Review Mechanism under the Independent Review Mechanism. Any such application must be made in writing within 28 days of the decision and supported by reasons.

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 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 recommendations, which the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) will consider before a final decision is made.

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

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

The 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.


11. Criteria for Foster Carers

11.1 Individual and Joint

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

11.2 Religion

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

11.3 Ethnicity

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

11.4 Age

The minimum age for foster carers is generally 21 years. In exceptional circumstances, e.g. with some Family and Friends Carers, the minimum age may be reduced to 18. There is no specific upper age limit.

11.5 Gender

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

10.6 Sexual Orientation

Enquiries will be considered from people of any sexual orientation.

11.7 Income and Work Commitment

Enquirers may be in work or not.

11.8 Health

Enquirers will be required to have a health assessment, see Section 4.3, Health. Advice may be sought from a medical adviser. Any comments or advice given by the GP or a Medical Adviser must be taken seriously by the applicants and will be addressed during the assessment process.

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

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

11.9 Criminal Convictions

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

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 Service Manager who may also consult the Agency Decision Maker.

11.10 Accommodation

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

They will need living and sleeping accommodation appropriate to the number and ages of the children they are seeking to foster. They must be able to offer separate bedrooms for each foster child. Only in exceptional circumstances would sharing bedrooms be allowed. Please refer to NCC fostering service bedroom sharing policy.

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

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

11.11 Child Care Experience

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

11.12 Family Contact

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


12. After the Approval

Once approved, the business support staff will enter the foster carers' approval details, including their first review date, on the Fostering Register database (see Section 13, Register of Foster Carers) and update Framework. 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 of Foster Carers Procedure. If the social worker does not know the new carer, he or she will read the assessment report and the supporting documentation presented to the Fostering Panel including the references prior to introducing him or herself to the carers and arranging to meet the carers, their family and members of their support network as appropriate.

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

The foster carer will be given two copies for signature, and will retain one signed copy. The other will be kept on the foster carer's 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:

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

New foster carers will also be given 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.

Foster carers will be assisted by their supervising social worker to produce a Safe Caring Policy and Fire Plan. The foster carers will sign and retain a copy of the Safe Caring Policy and Health and Safety documents.

The supervising social worker will continue to provide support and supervision to the foster carer up to, during and after all placements - see Supervision of Foster Carers Procedure and ensure that they understand the need to undertake DBS and other checks and assessments on any new member of the household - see Section 14, Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances - and the need to repeat DBS checks on themselves every three years (unless they have subscribed to the Disclosure and Barring Service Update Service) - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.


13. 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 business support staff will be informed and will enter the foster carers' approval details, including their first review date, on the Fostering Register database.


14. 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 significant 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/or prior to the review dependent on the seriousness of the situation.

14.1 Foster Carer's Partners

Statutory checks should be undertaken on any new household member including new partners. Pending DBSs return, no new member will have unsupervised care of the foster children. For new partners' assessment please refer to this separate policy.

14.2 Other members of the household

Where a foster carer proposes that any adult person will join the household, notice must be given before this occurs in sufficient time to enable a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) 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.

Should a minor join/rejoin the household, the foster carer should attempt to give sufficient notice for an assessment of the changes to be undertaken.

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


Appendices

Click here to view Appendix A: Risk and Impact Assessment

Click here to view Appendix B: Bedroom Sharing in Fostering Households

Click here to view Appendix Ba: Bedroom Sharing Assessment and Arrangements Form

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