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3.11.5 Approval of Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter covers the procedure for approving all foster carers including short break carers.

OTHER RELEVANT CHAPTERS

Fostering Service Statement of Purpose

Assessment of Foster Carers Procedure

See also Flow Chart - Stages 1 and 2: Foster carer assessment & approval process

AMENDMENT

In December 2015, the following information was added into Section 7, The Panel Recommendation: Where a brief report is submitted for the consideration of the panel, the panel can recommend that the applicant is not suitable to foster, or they can request that a full report is completed. Equally, where an assessment report does not contain all the required information, the panel is able to recommend a further report which includes all the required information.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Underpinning Principles
  3. Defining Appropriate Terms of Approval
  4. Approval Categories and the Payment for Skills Scheme
  5. After the Approval
  6. Register of Foster Carers
  7. The Panel Recommendation
  8. After the Panel Recommendation
  9. Representations / Independent Review Procedure
  10. Making Placements Outside a Foster Carer’s Terms of Approval
  11. Smoking
  12. Procedure for Making Changes to a Foster Carer’s Terms of Approval
  13. Changes to a Foster Carer’s Approval that have to go back to Panel
  14. Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances


1. Introduction

In relation to the terms of approval of foster carers, please note the following:

  • Foster carers do not have to have terms of approval;
  • Terms of approval, where they do exist, can be changed through a review process without consideration by the fostering panel;
  • When terms of approval are changed, 28 days must be allowed for a potential appeal by the foster carer before the change can be implemented. This applies even if the foster carer agrees to the proposed change in their approval terms;
  • A foster carer can accept a child outside their terms of approval for up to six working days, but the child must then be moved because, as stated in the previous point, it is not possible to amend a foster carer’s terms of approval without allowing 28 days to elapse.


2. Underpinning Principles

Leeds City Council is committed to the following principles in relation to terms of approval:

  • There is an increased likelihood of positive outcomes for children when there is good quality matching between the needs of children and the skills, experience and competencies of foster carers;
  • Establishing terms of approval remains an important requirement for determining the type of children that carers can be expected to care for. Approval terms should cover only those proposed placements that a carer can realistically accept;
  • Leeds fostering service is committed to ensuring that foster carers are not placed under any pressure to take placements beyond their skills, experience and competence;
  • The preferences of foster carers will be respected in all potential matching processes;
  • Terms of approval should not be set in an unnecessarily restrictive way. For example, a child’s chronological age may not say very much about how the child is functioning or how her/his needs can be met on a day to day basis;
  • Approval terms and preferences need to be established and reviewed in close consultation and collaboration with prospective and approved foster carers;
  • Although not required by regulation, foster carer reviews which recommend significant amendment of approval terms e.g. in relation to taking on a new type of fostering with specialist skill requirements, will be considered by the fostering panel rather than being passed straight to the agency decision maker. Judging whether a proposed change to approval terms is sufficiently significant to warrant fostering panel consideration will fall within the discretion of the service delivery manager for fostering and adoption.


3. Defining Appropriate Terms of Approval

Leeds fostering service is to retain some measure of approval terms (i.e. not simply approving carers as foster carers in general) it is important to clarify how best to determine the most appropriate terms of approval.

Leeds fostering service will take a balanced approach to this judgement in all agency decisions. Leeds takes the view that it would be inappropriate to leave foster carers without any terms of approval, although this is possible under the 2011 regulations. Equally, it would be inappropriate to set approval terms so broadly that they become meaningless.

However, it is not appropriate to make approval terms unnecessarily restrictive.

The approach to be taken by Leeds fostering service can be summarised as follows:

Extending the approval terms to cover all reasonable eventualities, rather than seeking to describe the ideal match for full time placements.

3.1 Leeds fostering service will seek to approve all new carers with a wide age range, either 0 to 18 or 5 to 18 (if the carers smoke and/or the carer’s bedroom are on a different level to that of the foster child). All foster carers will be asked to state a ‘age preference’ within their approval. An age preference ensures that the fostering service is aware of the carer’s experiences and strength’s while ensuring that inappropriate referrals are avoided. Age preference should be a minimum of five years where ever possible. Example of the above - Approved 0 to 18 years (preference 5 to 15 years).
3.2

Regarding the number of children a foster carer is approved for, the department will seek to approve to the number of bedrooms the foster carer has identified as ‘available for fostering’ up to a maximum of three children. Example detailed below:

One single bedroom - one child One double - one or two children
Two single bedrooms - two children Two doubles - two or three children
Three single rooms - three children Three doubles - three children

 

Foster children, who are siblings, are permitted to share their bedroom if the department deems it appropriate; Supervising Social Workers should complete the room share assessment form and if appropriate the risk assessment form.

Leeds fostering department use a variety of approval categories, however the primary categories used are:

  • Short Breaks;
  • Respite;
  • Emergency;
  • Short term;
  • Long term.

Foster carers can be approved for only one or several of the above categories. Those carers who wish to be approved ‘short term; or ‘long term’ will generally have ‘respite’ and ‘emergency’ added as a matter of course.

In order to provide appropriate flexibility, issues of gender and detailed specification of the anticipated child to be placed (e.g. in relation to disability) are best described in the expressed preferences of a foster carer, rather than being built into the approval terms.


4. Approval Categories and the Payment for Skills Scheme

Most foster carers are part of the Leeds PFS fostering scheme. Placements are financed by making maintenance payments to carers and by paying a fee.

Payment for skills has four levels linked to a Task, Skills and Competency (TSC) Framework, and fees are paid to carers on levels 2, 3 and 4. Kinship and level 1 carers are not paid a fee.

The TSC framework sets out a list of competencies that foster carers must be able to demonstrate at each PFS level. It also sets out training and support group attendance requirements at each level.

Each level adds more to the previous level, so that level 4 carers develop higher level skills and competencies, and have a more demanding range of tasks that they must undertake. In return they are paid the highest level of fee.

The department has a number of specialist fostering schemes where placement is made with the aim of achieving specific objectives. Scheme carers are PFS level 4 carers who give a full time commitment to fostering children with more complex needs.

A foster carer's registration will specify:

  • Their PFS approval level;
  • The type of fostering for which the carer is approved;
  • The number of children the carer is approved to take;
  • The age and gender of the children who may be placed.

All of these are subject to an appropriate fostering panel recommendation and subsequent agency decision.

The approval letter, subsequent foster carer review letters, and foster carer agreement, all confirm the PFS approval level and other registration details of the carer.


5. After the Approval

Once approved, the administrative staff will enter the foster carers' approval details, including their first review date, on the fostering register database (see Section 6, Register of Foster Carers) and update the electronic records. They will also send notice of the outcome to all agencies consulted during the assessment and approval process.

The foster carer will be allocated a supervising social worker - see Supervision of Foster Carers Procedure. If the social worker does not know the new carer, he or she will read the BAAF 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 foster carers will receive, within one week of their approval, a letter which will include:

  • Foster care agreement;
  • Payment for Skills terms and conditions;
  • ID registration and request form;
  • Bank details form;
  • Training and support group information.

An induction session will also be undertaken by the Supervising Social Worker to follow up the above issues. The foster care agreement should be used by supervising social workers at the carers post approval induction session, to explore and develop carers' understanding of their roles and responsibilities, foster carer tasks, and what carers may expect from the fostering service. 

The foster carer will be given two copies of the foster care agreement 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 team manager will also sign the agreement.

The foster care agreement will contain the following information:

  1. Leeds social care operates a payment for skills fostering scheme. Foster carer terms and conditions, and the signed foster carer agreement, form the basis of the on-going agreement, between Leeds City Council and its foster carers. The carers will be advised which level of the scheme that they have been approved for;
  2. The terms of the foster carer's approval including number, age range gender and type of placements;
  3. The support and training to be provided to the foster carer;
  4. The procedure for the review of the foster carer's approval;
  5. The procedure for placements of children;
  6. The procedure for making representations and complaints;
  7. The requirement to inform the fostering service of any change of circumstance, address or in the household composition, or of any registration as a child minder or application to adopt or of any offence;
  8. The requirements in relation to confidentiality and internet usage;
  9. The procedures for behaviour management and unauthorised absences of children placed with the foster carer including the ban on corporal punishment;
  10. The procedures for informing the supervising social worker of the child's progress and any significant events relating to the child;
  11. The need to give 28 days' notice in writing of they wish to cease fostering;
  12. The need to allow access to the Regulatory Authority;
  13. The duty to promote the child's well being and in particular to promote their health and education.

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 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 the Disclosure and Barring Service (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.


6. 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 person with whom a child is placed under Regulation 24 who is a relative or friend (but not an approved family and friends foster 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.


7. 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 make a recommendation to the agency decision maker regarding the suitability of the applicant for fostering.

Where a brief report is submitted for the consideration of the panel, the panel can recommend that the applicant is not suitable to foster, or they can request that a full report is completed. Equally, where an assessment report does not contain all the required information, the panel is able to recommend a further report which includes all the required information.

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.


8. After the Panel Recommendation

The agency decision maker 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 seven working days of the panel meeting and must be recorded, together with reasons. Applicants should be advised in writing of the appeals and representations process in respect of contentious issues.

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 five 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.

Following registration carers will only need to undergo a full medical examination if the medical adviser wishes to keep a particular health issue under review, or where new information concerning a carer's health indicates that the medical adviser may need to express an opinion on their suitability to care.

Minutes of the relevant part of the fostering panel meeting which relates to the carer must be kept on foster carer files.

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 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 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 is if he or she is regarded as disqualified as a result of a conviction or caution for a specified offence - see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure.

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.

The panel administrator will advise the applicant within seven 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 either confirming or amending their previous views, which the agency decision maker will consider before a final decision is made.

If the decision remains not to approve the application, the team manager will arrange for the applicants to be informed verbally within two working days. Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant by the panel adviser within seven 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 requests the matter to be referred to the Independent review panel, all the panel reports, any new information obtained since the panel meeting, a record of the decision made and reasons, and a copy of the written notification of the decision 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 Coram Children’s Legal Centre; 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 seven working days of the receipt of the independent review recommendation. Here the decision is to approve the application, the procedure set out in Section 5, After the Approval will be followed.


10. Making Placements Outside a Foster Carer’s Terms of Approval

A placement can only be made for six working days outside a foster carer’s approval terms. Any child’s placement that is made in an emergency and is outside a foster carer’s approval terms will therefore be moved before the six days have elapsed.

Although this means that a brief respite placement, for example, a weekend stay, could be made using this emergency provision in the regulations, this was not the intention and spirit of the re regulation, which was designed to discourage, making placements beyond a carer’s terms of approval.

Leeds fostering service will therefore endeavour to ensure that the approval terms are sufficiently broad to take account of the greater flexibility that can be achieved for respite placements. In this way, foster carer approval terms will accurately reflect the anticipated use of all foster carers approved by Leeds fostering service.


11. Smoking

Additional Procedures for Foster Carers - Smoking Policy

In relation to approved foster carers the department will work towards the above smoking policy however discretion can be used in regards to the length of time a foster carer has ceased smoking if the needs of a placement are judged to be greater.


12. Procedure for Making Changes to a Foster Carer’s Terms of Approval

If the fostering service wishes to change a foster carer’s terms of approval it must carry out a review of the suitability of the foster carer and their household to continue to foster and of the appropriateness of their terms of approval. The regulations do not make provision for changing approval terms on a temporary basis or without a review, or for reviewing terms of approval in isolation.

If having considered the review report, the agency decision maker feels it is appropriate to change the foster carer’s terms of approval, a qualifying determination must always be issued giving the foster carer 28 days to make representation or to apply to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM). Even if the foster carer is in agreement with the proposed change to their approval terms, they must still be given 28 days to object to the changes proposed in the qualifying determination before the decision can be made. The regulations do not allow the foster carer to waive this period of notice in order to permit a change of approval to be made any faster.


13. Changes to a Foster Carer’s Approval that have to go back to Panel

13.1 Changes to Approval Which Need to Go Back to Panel

If this is a first review after approval it must be considered by the fostering panel. Leeds also requires a return to panel for endorsement of a change of approval in the following circumstances:

  • Short break to long / short term;
  • Short to long term;
  • Increase in the number of children from one to three children.

13.2 Changes to Approval Which Does Not Need to Go Back to Panel

Unless specifically prohibited by the original panel approval process (or a first review) the following changes may be agreed by the SDM though the review process without referral to panel:

  • Age range of carer’s approval. This is particularly relevant as their own children get older and move out, or if people move house etc;
  • Changes of approval which represent a less onerous task than that on the original approval e.g. short break / respite care for carers approved as long / short term carers.


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 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.

14.1 Foster Carer's Partners

Where the proposed new member of the household is a partner of the foster carer, there will be a presumption that he or she will have a part to play in caring for any child in the placement and therefore a full Form F assessment of his or her suitability for this role must be completed before the partner moves into the foster home. 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 in accordance with the preceding paragraphs of this chapter. There will be no presumption that any such assessment will be approved.

Pending the completion of the full assessment, where the foster carer wishes his/her partner to stay overnight before the full assessment is completed, a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) enhanced check must be carried out, and a risk assessment must also be completed to determine the level of additional checks required, before agreement to overnight stays can be given. The risk assessment should take account of, amongst other things, the number and ages of the children in the placement, their views about the foster carer's partner, the significance and stability of the relationship (including how long they have known each other) and the foster carer's history of fostering. Any agreement to overnight stays must be endorsed by the Service Manager.

See DBS Risk Assessment for Prospective Foster Carers, Approved Foster Carers and Family Members aged 18 Plus.

14.2 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 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.

Where adult children do not live in the household and do not have a part in caring for the children they do not automatically require a DBS check. No disclosure check can be carried out on those who simply come into contact with the foster child.

Fostering services should seek to identify, as part of the approval and reviewing process any individuals who may play a significant role in providing support for those carers. These may be back-up carers, regular baby-sitters, or family. There is no requirement to assess or approve these people as foster carers. In some cases, it may be appropriate for checks such as DBS checks to be carried out, but there is no requirement and professional judgement should be used (see also Delegated Authority Policy for Carers). In order for a disclosure check to be requested, the fostering service would need to be aware of such arrangements, and so the individual’s involvement would need to be agreed by the fostering service.

For exemptions to the usual limit of three children and alterations or other extensions to approval, see Exemptions and Extensions/Variations to Foster Carer Approval Procedure.

End