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12.1 Fostering Panel

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter explains the membership, purpose, functions and arrangements for meetings of the Fostering Panel. It should be read in conjunction with the following procedures:

Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers Procedure

Exemptions and Extensions/Variations to the Foster Carer's Terms of Approval Procedure

Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure

Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure

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 14

The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013

The Care Planning and Fostering (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2015

Hofstetter v LB Barnet and IRM (2009)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in January 2016 and should be re-read throughout.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Function of the Fostering Panel (Regulation 25)
  3. Single Agency Panel
  4. Membership of the Fostering Panel (Regulation 23)
  5. Fostering Panel Manager
  6. Panel Coordinator
  7. Agency Decision Maker
  8. Fostering Panel Frequency
  9. Fostering Panel Quoracy (Regulation 24)
  10. Tenure of Fostering Panel Membership
  11. Disqualification of Independent Panel Membership
  12. Resignation
  13. Remuneration
  14. Declaration or Conflict of Interest
  15. Minutes
  16. Panel Recommendation
  17. Decision Making
  18. Business Activity
  19. Annual Reviews
  20. Training

    Appendix 1: Fostering Panel: Role Dimension and Person Specification for Panel Chair/Vice Chair and Panel Members

    Appendix 2: Panel Members’, Chair/Vice Chair’s Agreement for Inclusion on the Central List

    Appendix 3: Fostering Panel: Acceptance of Appointment and Confidentiality


1. Introduction

This policy and procedure is Nottinghamshire County Council's interpretation of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 and the Fostering Services National Minimum Standards 2011. Additionally, Nottinghamshire County Council has adopted the 2011 CoramBAAF guidance on regulations, process and good practice in fostering panels in England.


2. Function of the Fostering Panel (Regulation 25)

The role of the fostering panel is to:

  1. Recommend whether or not a person is suitable to act as a foster carer and the terms of approval therein. This recommendation is made within eight months of receipt of the prospective foster carer's application to be assessed;
  2. Recommend whether or not a person is suitable to continue to act as a foster carer and whether or not the terms of approval remain appropriate;
  3. Consider any case referred to it under Regulation 27 (approvals) or Regulation 28 (reviews and terminations of approval);
  4. Give advice and make recommendation on any such matters or cases as the fostering service may refer to it and to monitor the range and type of foster carers available to the authority in comparison with the needs of children. The panel should inform the fostering service where it is deemed that the foster carer population is not adequate to meet the needs of children;
  5. Monitor the quality of all reports referred to it and give advice/feedback/make recommendation to the fostering service provider as appropriate.


3. Single Agency Panel

Within Nottinghamshire County Council there are no arrangements for setting up a joint panel. Nottinghamshire County Council operates a single agency panel.


4. Membership of the Fostering Panel (Regulation 23)

The constitution and membership of the fostering panel is as prescribed in Regulation 23 of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011. Recruitment to the fostering panel will be undertaken by the Fostering Panel Manager (role dimension) and person specification as in Appendix 1: Fostering Panel: Role Dimension and Person Specification for Panel Chair/Vice Chair and Panel Members and Appendix 2: Panel Members’, Chair/Vice Chair’s Agreement for Inclusion on the Central List). A central list has been established from which panel membership is drawn. The number, skills, knowledge and experience of persons on the central list are sufficient to enable the fostering service to constitute panels that are equipped to make competent recommendations to the fostering service provider.

All fostering panel members will be required to undertake an enhanced DBS check. No appointment can be made until such time as checks have been satisfactorily completed. Upon appointment, panel members are required to sign the Agreement for inclusion on the Central List (Appendix 2: Panel Members’, Chair/Vice Chair’s Agreement for Inclusion on the Central List).

Although not prescribed in these regulations, Nottinghamshire has a professional panel adviser. The primary role of the professional panel adviser is to advise the panel on regulations, policy and procedure; and to assist panel in its quality assurance function in respect of all reports provided to panel.

The adviser is not a voting member of the panel, and does not participate in making recommendations.

The adviser is employed by the authority. In Nottinghamshire, the role is undertaken by the Fostering Panel Manager.


5. Fostering Panel Manager

The Fostering Panel Manager shall be a social worker who has at least five year’s relevant post qualifying experience and relevant management experience. In Nottinghamshire there is 1 Fostering Panel Manager who acts as a professional adviser to fostering panel The Fostering Panel Managers is line managed by the Fostering Service Manager.

The duties of the Fostering Panel Manager are:

  • To assist the agency with the appointment, termination and review of appointment to the Central List of panel members;
  • To be responsible for the induction and training Central List panel members;
  • To share the joint responsibility with the panel chair for the annual performance review of panel members;
  • To be responsible for the day-to-day management of the panel system, in conjunction with the Panel Coordinator;
  • To discuss all issues pertinent to fostering panels with the Fostering Service Manager;
  • To be responsible for liaison between the agency and the fostering panels, monitoring the performance of the fostering panels and the administration of the fostering panels;
  • To brief the panels on policy, practice and procedural issues and identify training needs;
  • To ensure that the panels are consulted about relevant developments in fostering practice within the agency. This may be achieved through the six monthly panel review meeting which involves panel chairs and vice chairs or by circulating information to all panel members;
  • To act as the professional adviser to panels, providing such advice as the panels may request in relation to any case or generally;
  • To deal with complaints arising from the business of the panels, in consultation with the Fostering Service Manager where necessary.


6. Fostering Panel Coordinator

The business of fostering panel is conducted in a fair, transparent and open manner. Foster carers and prospective foster carers are invited to attend all panel hearings pertaining to them. (Prospective) foster carers are able to have a supporter/adviser with them at panel. This can include a legal adviser in certain situations. In such circumstances, the role of the legal adviser is to advise his/her client and is not one of direct advocacy on behalf of the (prospective) foster carer.

In Nottinghamshire the role of Panel Coordinator is undertaken by Business Support Administrators. The Panel Coordinator provides administrative support to the Fostering Panel Manager and works in conjunction with the Fostering Panel Manager to ensure the smooth running of all aspects of panels. The duties include:

Meetings of the Fostering Panel

  • Set panel dates and booking venue;
  • Circulate dates to panel chairs and members, advisers, agency decision makers and other interested parties;
  • Receive and respond to requests for panel dates;
  • Maintain an online panel booking and quoracy system;
  • Constitute a rota for Agency Decisions Makers for each panel;
  • Receive and collate reports for panel, arranging for them to be copied and sent to panel members in advance of panel;
  • Work with the Fostering Panel Manager in setting the panel agenda;
  • Receive apologies from panel members and monitor implications for quoracy;
  • Ensure that a minute taker is available for each panel meeting and that minutes are produced promptly.
  • Alert the Fostering Panel Manager to any difficulties or problems arising from any of the above.

Panel Membership

  • Set up and maintain personal files on panel members;
  • Co-ordinate DBS checks;
  • Send out appointment letters;
  • Check that all Central List members have references;
  • Monitor attendance at panel;
  • Maintain contact details of Central List members;
  • Maintain information sheet re Central List members;
  • Work with the Fostering Panel Manager to coordinate the annual reviews of all Central List members.

Panel Training

  • Work with the Fostering Panel Manager to set dates for panel training throughout the year;
  • Circulate dates to panel chairs, panel members, agency advisers, agency decision makers and other interested parties;
  • Arrange venues and refreshments;
  • Send out invitations and programmes etc;
  • Copy hand-outs;
  • Monitor attendance;
  • Distribute and collate evaluation forms;
  • Provide administrative support at the training events themselves.


7. Agency Decision Maker

The Agency Decision Maker will be a senior manager within Nottinghamshire County Council with at least three years post qualification in social work and experience of managing children's services. This senior manager will not be in a position that has managerial responsibility or accountability for the recruitment and retention of foster carers. In Nottinghamshire there are currently 3 Agency Decision Makers who are all senior managers.


8. Fostering Panel Frequency

At present Nottinghamshire County Council has two fostering panels. One panel is held on a Tuesday and one panel is held on a Friday. Each panel meets monthly.

This is considered to be of sufficient regularity to meet the business needs, both urgent and planned.


9. Fostering Panel Quoracy (Regulation 24)

A fostering panel cannot conduct its business unless at least five of its members, including the appointed independent chairperson or vice chairperson, a social work member with three years post qualification experience (this member need not be employed by the fostering service) and a member providing independence if the chair is absent and the vice chair is not independent, are present.

Nottinghamshire County Council's fostering panel has an independent chairperson and two  independent vice chairs. The intention is that one of these parties  will be available to chair the fostering panel.


10. Tenure of Fostering Panel Membership

Under the Fostering Services Regulations 2002, the maximum tenure of the fostering panel membership was amended to three terms of three years. The Fostering Services Regulations 2011 do not prescribe the tenure of fostering panel membership.

The annual review of each fostering panel member will address issues of continued fostering panel membership and any changes therein.


11. Disqualification of Independent Panel Membership

A person may not be appointed as an independent panel member if:

  1. He/she is a foster carer approved by the fostering service provider;
  2. He/she is employed by the fostering service provider;
  3. He/she is concerned in the management of the fostering service provider;
  4. He/she is an elected member of the Local Authority.

A person will not be regarded as suitable to act as a panel member if he/she has been convicted of a specified offence committed at age 18 or over, or has been cautioned by the police in respect of any such offences, which at the time the caution was given, he/she admitted. Where the fostering service is of the opinion that any panel member is unsuitable, or unable to remain in office, it may terminate his/her office at any time by giving one month's written notice.


12. Resignation

A fostering panel member can resign from office at any time by giving one month's notice to the Fostering Panel Manager.


13. Remuneration

Independent fostering panel members are paid a daily rate of £150, which includes recognition for panel preparation. This amount is subject to an annual inflationary increase, determined by Nottinghamshire County Council. Individual agreements are negotiated between the fostering service and the persons occupying the positions of chairperson and vice chairperson. Payment is made through the Nottinghamshire County Council's financial systems.

Travel expenses and car parking costs, to facilitate panel attendance, are reimbursed for panel members but not the Chair and Vice-Chair as these positions attract an annual fee to cover such expenses. The mileage rate is as determined by the national business mileage rate.


14. Declaration or Conflict of Interest

A panel member is required to declare any prior knowledge of any case to be considered by the fostering panel. Discussion with the panel chairperson/vice chairperson, and the professional panel adviser, will determine the panel member's participation in the case in question.


15. Minutes

The minuting of the fostering panel will be undertaken by the Business Support Administrators. The minute taker is not a member of the fostering panel.

The minutes will be provided to the agency decision maker within seven working days of the panel having made its recommendation.

The Agency Decision Maker will make the decision within five working days of receiving the final panel minutes.

The Agency Decision Maker's decision will be conveyed orally to the foster carer/prospective foster carer within two working days of the decision having been made. This task will be undertaken by the supervising social worker/Team Manager responsible for the supervision of the foster carer/assessment of the prospective foster carer.

The Agency Decision Maker's decision will be confirmed in writing within two working days of the decision having been made. This task will be undertaken by the Panel Coordinator.

The minutes of the panel meetings will be accurate and informative, and will clearly record the key issues and views expressed by panel members. The minutes will record the panel's recommendation, the reasons for its recommendation and its advice. If the panel does not reach a consensus on its recommendations, the panel's minutes will clearly set out the reasons. The panel chairperson/vice chairperson is responsible for ensuring that the panel's minutes are accurate.

Those affected by a panel recommendation are able to seek disclosure of minutes under the Data Protection Act 2018. Where the agency considers that disclosure may be prejudicial to the discharge of social care functions, legal advice should be sought.


16. Panel Recommendation

Once a panel is ready to reach its recommendation it has three options available:

  1. A person is suitable to act as a foster carer and the terms on which the approval is given;
  2. A person is not suitable to act as a foster carer;
  3. To defer making a recommendation in order for further information to be made available.

Each panel member should be asked whether he or she supports a proposed recommendation. Where panel members have serious reservations, the chairperson/vice chairperson should ensure that these are clearly recorded in the panel's minutes.

If the panel is evenly split, the panel chairperson/vice chairperson has the casting vote. Whilst the provision of affording the panel chairperson/vice chairperson is not outlined in the Fostering Service Regulations 2011, Nottinghamshire has adopted this practice as it is in line with Adoption Regulations which afford the panel chairperson/vice chair person the casting vote and also as in doing so, panel can progress to a majority recommendation.

Any dissenting views to the proposed recommendation should be clearly recorded in the panel's minutes.

Abstentions are not acceptable.

The fostering panel, at the conclusion of its business, makes a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker.


17. Decision Making

In Nottinghamshire County Council the role of the Agency Decision Maker is undertaken by a Group Manager who is not connected with the management of the fostering service provider.

The Agency Decision Maker is not a member of the fostering panel.

The Agency Decision Maker must take into account the panel's recommendation, and must see the final minutes before proceeding to make a decision. The Agency Decision Maker can choose to make a different decision to that recommended by the fostering panel. A clear rationale for so doing must be recorded by the Agency Decision Maker. The Agency Decision Maker must record their decision in a manner which is Hofstetter v LB Barnet and IRM (2009) compliant.

Should the Agency Decision Maker, after taking into account the panel's recommendation, decide that the person is not suitable to act/continue as a foster carer, Regulation 28 and 29 apply, i.e.:

  1. Give the person written notice that it proposes not to approve the person as suitable to act as a foster carer (a "determination"), together with its reasons and a copy of the fostering panel's recommendation;
  2. Advise the person that within 28 calendar days of the date of the notice the person may:
    1. Submit any written representations that the person wishes to make to the fostering service provider; or
    2. Apply to the Secretary of State for a review by an independent panel of the determination (IRM); or
    3. Accept the qualifying determination.

If no representation is received from either the person or the IRM, the Agency Decision Maker may proceed to make his/her final decision.

If the person applies to the IRM the IRM processes apply. At the conclusion of this process the IRM will make recommendation to the fostering service provider. The Agency Decision Maker may then proceed to make his/her final decision.

If written representation is received by the fostering service provider the representation is heard by the fostering panel which made the original recommendation. The written representation should invite the fostering panel to reconsider its recommendation based on new information. The fostering panel makes a final recommendation based on the representation submitted. The Agency Decision Maker then makes his/her own final decision, taking into account the fostering panel's final recommendation.

Persons submitting a representation can be accompanied by a supporter at the fostering panel, e.g. a friend, a solicitor, or an officer from the Fostering Network Advice and Mediation Service. The panel chairperson/vice chairperson should be advised, in advance, as to intended attendance by a solicitor, and should seek legal advice, regarding the conduct of the representation, in advance of the panel meeting. The fostering panel is not a court of law and, as such, the role of a solicitor at a panel is to advise and support his/her client. The role is not one of cross examination of the parties concerned.


18. Business Activity

The business activity, of the fostering service provider, is presented to the fostering panel on an annual basis by the fostering service provider. This ensures that the fostering panel is provided with management information about the outcome of foster care applications and reviews, and the overall performance of the fostering service provider.

Review meetings, with the panel chairperson/vice chairperson, Fostering Service Manager, Agency Decision Makers and the Fostering Panel Manager will take place on a six monthly basis. The purpose of these meetings is to enable discussion between the fostering panel and the fostering service provider regarding recruitment and retention of foster carers, performance of the fostering service provider, and to enable panel feedback to be communicated directly with the fostering service provider.

This is the primary method by which the quality assurance function of the fostering panel, in relation to assessment and review processes, is achieved.


19. Annual Reviews

An annual review of a panel member's and vice chairperson's performance will be undertaken by the panel chairperson/vice chairperson and the Fostering Panel Manager.

An annual review of the panel chairperson's performance will be undertaken by the Agency Decision Maker and the Fostering Panel Manager.

The reviews will consider, amongst other factors, a panel member's ability to deal with ineffective or disruptive behaviours or attitudes.

Both the review of the panel member, and that of the panel chairperson/vice chairperson, will include feedback from evaluation forms, completed by attendees at a fostering panel.


20. Training

A person appointed to the central list for fostering panel membership will, within ten weeks of joining the central list, complete an induction programme which includes the Training, Support and Development Standards' induction standard. As part of this induction programme, all new fostering panel members will observe a fostering panel before commencement of his/her duties.

A minimum of two training events per annum will be provided, by the fostering service provider, to fostering panel members. At least one of these training days will be a joint learning event between the fostering panel members and the fostering service provider and may at times involve foster carers. Fostering panel members can also make application to the fostering service's practice seminar programme, to the foster carer training plan, and to any conference convened by the fostering service provider.

The aim of training, in conjunction with fostering panel business meetings, is to promote good practice, consistency of approach, and fairness by the fostering panel in reaching their recommendations.


Appendix 1: Fostering Panel: Role Dimension and Person Specification for Panel Chair/Vice Chair and Panel Members

Role Dimension and Person Specification for Panel Chair/Vice Chair and Panel Members (Fostering Panels)

Role dimension – All

  1. To read the circulated papers carefully before the meeting and to attend the meeting prepared to raise issues and to contribute to the panel discussion;
  2. To take responsibility for participating in the making of a recommendation, on each case, drawing on both personal and professional knowledge and experience;
  3. To attend meetings of the panel as specified in your agreement with the agency;
  4. To be prepared to attend additional panels if possible, if requested;
  5. To promote diversity and anti-discriminatory practice;
  6. To safeguard the confidentiality of all information;
  7. To participate in induction and training, which will be at least one day per year and to take responsibility for building up own knowledge of fostering;
  8. To participate constructively in the annual review of your central list and panel membership;
  9. To attend panel training each year and to contribute if appropriate.

Role Dimension – Chair

  1. To chair meetings of the panel and to ensure that all those attending panel are treated with respect and courtesy;
  2. To facilitate panel members in considering the information presented to them before making their recommendation, reaching a consensus wherever possible;
  3. To manage the process of identifying the questions which panel will explore with social workers and/or applicants and agreeing who will ask those questions;
  4. To meet with applicants prior to them joining the panel, to explain the process;
  5. To ensure that the panel is clear about the reasons for its recommendations and that these are recorded in the minutes;
  6. Where there is a split or contentious panel recommendation, to facilitate each panel member in turn to explain the reason for her/his views and to ensure that these are formally recorded in the minute;
  7. To enable those attending panel to contribute effectively (e.g. enabling social workers to present their case in a constructive manner);
  8. To ensure that the minutes of the panel are accurate and are signed and returned to the Agency in a timely manner;
  9. To attend any other meeting as required by the Fostering Service;
  10. To facilitate the panels in their role of monitoring the quality of work presented to the panel;
  11. To feedback any concerns about the management of cases through the appropriate channels;
  12. To attend the regular business meetings to review the management and the business of the panel;
  13. Together with the Panel Adviser, to undertake the annual review of the performance of Panel Members;
  14. To bring to the attention of the Panel Manager, situations in which panel members are not meeting the requirements of the central list agreement for panel members.

Role dimension – vice-chair

  1. To deputise in the absence of the Chair;
  2. To support the Chair in the management of the panel;
  3. To undertake occasional reviews of panel members;
  4. To deputise for the Chair on other occasions as required.

Person Specification

Abilities – All

  • Good listening and communication skills;
  • The ability to read, process and analyse large amounts of complex and sometimes distressing information;
  • The ability to form a view and make a recommendation, based on the written and verbal information presented to panel and the confidence to articulate this at panel;
  • The ability to use personal and/or professional knowledge and experience to contribute to discussions and decision making in a balanced and informed manner;
  • The ability to work co-operatively as part of a multi-disciplinary team;
  • The ability to attend panel meetings as required, arriving on time.

Abilities - Chair

  • The authority and competence to chair a panel, ensuring that business is covered and that panel operates according to regulations, guidance and policies;
  • Excellent interpersonal and listening skills;
  • The ability to communicate well and clearly, both verbally and in writing;
  • The ability to process and analyse large amounts of complex and sometimes distressing information;
  • The ability to identify key issues and possible solutions and to communicate these clearly;
  • The ability to facilitate the active participation of all panel members;
  • The ability to ensure that those attending panel are treated with respect whilst ensuring that panel members remain able to explore concerns;
  • The ability to manage strongly held views and conflict;
  • The ability to represent the panel in discussions with the Service;
  • The ability in conjunction with the Panel Manager to review panel members’ performances in a way that is constructive and purposeful.

Abilities vice-chair

  • The ability to chair meetings;
  • A level of preparedness that can allow deputising at short notice.

Whilst it is not expected that the Vice-Chair can meet all the requirements of the person specification of the Chair it is necessary for them to be familiar with these and to meet sufficient specifications in order to carry out these responsibilities when called upon.

Experience and qualifications – All

  • A social work qualification will be necessary for certain panel members.  Social work members must have at least three years’ post qualifying experience in child care social work, including direct experience in fostering work.

Experience and qualifications – Chair

  • Experience of chairing complex meetings.

Knowledge – All

  • An appreciation of the effects of separation, loss and developmental trauma on children;
  • Awareness of the richness of different kinds of families and their potential for meeting children’s needs;
  • Understanding of the purpose and function of the panel and the work of the Fostering Service;
  • An understanding of fostering and the looked after experience for children, either professionally or personally;
  • An understanding of fostering and the looked after experience for children, either professionally or personally;
  • An understanding of the fostering process and the related legalisation or the capacity to develop this quickly.

Attitudes and values – All

  • A commitment to keeping children within their own family or community where this possible and to maintaining contact between children living in foster families and their birth families where this appears to be in the child’s best interests;
  • A commitment to fostering as a way of meeting a child’s need for permanence, where this appears to be in the child’s best interests;
  • A valuing of diversity in relation to issues of ethnicity, religion, gender, disability, and sexuality;
  • An understanding of, and commitment to, the need for confidentiality;
  • A willingness to increase knowledge and understanding of issues through reading, discussion and training;
  • Recognition of the lifelong impact of fostering on all parties.


Appendix 2: Panel Members’, Chair/Vice Chair’s Agreement for Inclusion on the Central List

Click here to view Appendix 2: Panel Members’, Chair/Vice Chair’s Agreement for Inclusion on the Central List.


Appendix 3: Fostering Panel: Acceptance of Appointment and Confidentiality

Click here to view Appendix 3: Fostering Panel: Acceptance of Appointment and Confidentiality.

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