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3.11.4 Assessment of Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

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

The department maintains a foster carer recruitment strategy, based on assessment of need and informed by management information regarding current resources and identified shortfalls in provision. This information is used to identify priority areas for recruitment.

There are separate procedures for the approval of foster carers and for the approval of relatives and friends - sometimes known as kinship carers or regulation 24 placements (See 3.2.2 Placement with Family and Friends (Regulation 24 Placements) Procedure).

Applicants wishing to foster will undergo a full assessment regarding their suitability using a Competency Based Assessment (CBA) model. Reports will be prepared using the CBA format.

RELEVANT CHAPTERS

Fostering Service Statement of Purpose

Approval of Foster Carers

RELATED GUIDANCE

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

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

NOTE

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

AMENDMENT

This chapter was extensively updated in June 2014 in line with the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013, which came into force on 1 July 2013, and revised Statutory Guidance. A new two-stage assessment process was introduced. The chapter should be re-read throughout.


Contents

  1. Responding to Initial Enquiries
  2. Assessment - Stage One
  3. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments
  4. Checks and References 
  5. Training Course
  6. Assessment - Stage Two

1. Responding to Initial Enquiries

All members of the public who make an initial enquiry by telephone, email or letter in relation to becoming a foster carer will be referred to the fostering service, specially the recruitment and assessment team. All enquirers will be treated as a potential resource and given a prompt response. They will be contacted by the duty fostering officer / advisor to provide and gather further information and for a general discussion about fostering.

Where the enquirers are simply requesting further information regarding fostering an information booklet will be sent out and their details recorded on the registration of interest spreadsheet. A fostering officer / advisor will offer to ring them back in 7 days should they wish.

Where the enquirer wishes to pursue an application to foster then the duty fostering officer / advisor will complete an initial contact form. Preliminary basic information should be obtained via the initial contact form e.g. numbers in the household, the availability of a separate bedroom for foster children (see Room Share Assessment Guidance) and working hours. At this point the applicant/s will have an account opened on Mosaic and all information gathered will be saved.

If the enquirer does not meet the departments initial criteria to foster then the duty fostering officer / advisor should inform them of the reason/s why. This shall then be followed up with a letter stating the reasoning behind this decision. If the enquirer is not satisfied with the reason/s stated then they can request to speak with the relevant team manager.

If the enquirer does meet the department’s initial criteria to foster then they shall be offered a home visit, normally within a seven day timescale.


2. Assessment - Stage One

Stage One of the assessment process is intended to provide the decision maker with basic information about the applicant to enable clearly unsuitable applicants to be sifted out without unnecessary bureaucracy or expenditure of time and resource by the fostering service or the applicant. More detailed information is collected in Assessment - Stage Two.

Where a person applies to become a foster carer and it is decided to assess their suitability to become a foster carer, the following information must be obtained as soon as reasonably practicable relating to the applicant and other members of their household and family:

  • Full name, address and date of birth;
  • Details of health (supported by a medical report);
  • Particulars of any other adult members of the household;
  • Particulars of the children in the family, whether or not members of the household, and any other children in the household;
  • Particulars of their accommodation;
  • The outcome of any request or application made by them or any other member of their household to foster or adopt children, or for registration as an early years provider or later years provider under Part 3 of the Childcare Act 2006), including particulars of any previous approval or refusal of approval relating to them or to any other member of the household;
  • If the applicant has, in the preceding 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 applicant and any other member of the applicant ’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 applicant lives, if different;
  • Where the applicant has previous been, or is currently, approved as a foster carer by another fostering service provider, or as a prospective adopter by an adoption agency, and consents, access may be requested to the relevant records compiled by that other fostering service provider/ adoption agency in relation to the applicant. That service/agency must provide access within 15 working days of a request being received.

Records compiled by another fostering service, or an adoption agency, can be used to inform the new assessment of the applicant’s suitability to foster. For instance, if previous partners have been interviewed in the past to verify facts, and the current assessing social worker is satisfied with the records in respect of these interviews, it should not be necessary to repeat the interviews if no further information is required. The assessing social worker should, however, satisfy themselves as to the quality and continuing relevance of the information before using it to inform the current assessment.

Where, having regard to any information obtained, it is decided (by Team Manager) that the applicant is not suitable to become a foster carer, the applicant must be notified in writing with reasons. This notification may be given whether or not all of this information has been obtained. Such a notification may not be given more than 10 working days after all the information has been obtained. The applicant has no right to make representations about the decision or to have their case reviewed under the Independent Review Mechanism. However, the applicant must be informed that they can complain via the fostering service’s complaints process if they are unhappy with the way in which their case has been handled. The complaints process should address whether or not the applicant’s case has been handled in a reasonable way, rather than the question of the applicant’s suitability to foster.

Where all the specified information has been obtained and notification has not been given within 10 working days that the applicant is not suitable, then the application must proceed to Assessment - Stage Two.

Please note that within Leeds City Council that Stages One and Two of the assessment process are carried out concurrently, but the Stage One information must be sought as soon as possible, and the decision about whether an applicant has successfully completed Stage One must be made within 10 working days of all the information required in that Stage being received.

On receipt of the completed application form, consent to medical checks and authorisations for the statutory checks/references, the administrative staff will input the date of the application and details of the household members on the electronic records.

The Fostering Panel must make its recommendation on the application within eight months of the applicant first applying to be assessed.

A member of the administrative staff will book the applicants on to the Foster Carers Preparation/Training Course and the manager will set a provisional panel date for assessing social worker and applicant/s to work towards. Leeds City Council run additional foster carer pre approval taster evenings throughout the year and all applicants will be encouraged to attend, however these taster evenings are not mandatory - 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 applicant's conduct or suitability to foster/adopt that has caused concern should be shared even if the individual has refused consent. If there are no such concerns, and the individual has refused consent, information should not be shared. This may require documents to be redacted to remove information relating to individuals who have refused consent.

Requests for access to information should be accompanied by the written consent of the applicant to the sharing of their information.

3.3 Timescales

The receiving service should acknowledged 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 administrative staff will arrange for the following checks to be made on all members of the household aged 18 and over: DBS (a new check may not be necessary if the applicant has subscribed to the Disclosure and Barring Service Update Service, Health Trust, Education, Children and Families' Services (including the list of children with a child protection plan and SSAFA if the applicant has been a member of the ‘Armed Forces’). Where the applicants live or have lived outside the local authority area, the checks must be made with the local authority where the applicants live/have lived within the last 10 years. 

Where the applicant or any member of the household has been known to Children and Families' Services, information should be obtained from the relevant social worker.

Where applicants have lived abroad over the age of 18 years old checks will be made through CFAB Protecting Children and Uniting Families Across Borders (formerly known as International Social Services) and/or the relevant Consulate.

If the applicant/s are unable to gain clear evidence from the relevant country that they are 'not known' to the authorities then they must be willing to provide an additional character reference to vouch for their conduct while abroad, preferable someone who was with them or visited them.

The Assessing Social Worker will make a home visit referral to West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service to ensure the applicants home is fit to foster and the applicants have received appropriate information regarding smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

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

On receipt of the statutory checks, the administrative staff will update the electronic records.

Where there are concerns about an applicant's circumstances as a result of the information obtained from the above checks, this should be referred to the manager and the applicant may be advised to withdraw from the fostering process.

Where the checks reveal that the applicant or a member of the household is a Disqualified Person (Foster Carer), see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure.

Where the information relates to an offence which does not automatically disqualify the applicant, for example because the applicant is seeking approval in relation to a specific child only, the manager must consider whether the application should still proceed. Such convictions will not necessarily preclude an application, but this will depend on the seriousness of the offence and how long ago it was committed. In a case where the conviction would usually disqualify an applicant, the case should be referred to the fostering panel and the agency decision maker for a preliminary decision - see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure. In any other case where there is doubt, an early referral should be made to the fostering panel and / or agency decision maker.

Information relevant to the application that has been obtained from the DBS may only be retained on the applicant's file for a limited period and should be destroyed when a decision is made on the application. The manager should note on the file that the DBS information has been destroyed and that the information led to a particular view, without citing the information itself.

Fostering services should seek to identify, as part of the approval process for a potential carer, 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. However, DBS checks may be carried out but there is no requirement to do so and professional judgement should be used 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.

4.2 References

Where the applicant has been a foster carer within the preceding 12 months and was approved as such by another fostering service provider, a reference must be requested from that other fostering service provider. There is no requirement to also interview personal referees (see below). However, additional verbal and/or written references may be sought from personal referees. If the previous fostering service, for whatever reason, does not provide a reference, interviews with two personal referees must be conducted.

Otherwise each applicant will be asked to provide the names of two personal referees, who are adults, have known the applicant for at least two years and are not related to the applicant. A family member reference would be treated as an additional ‘character reference’. All referees should be people who know the applicants well in a personal capacity.

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

A written reference must be obtained from each applicant's current employer regardless of the applicant's occupation. This may be one of the four references provided. In addition, where the applicant has frequently changed jobs, written references should also be obtained from past employers. Self employed applicants can provide co-workers / co-owners or a regular client.

Where the prospective applicant 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. If the applicants were previously in assessment with another agency the manager may direct the fostering officer to visit the relevant agency to read the archived files.

Interviews with adult children who are no longer household members will be undertaken, as will interviews with ex-partners or spouses particularly if they have cared for children together (see ex-partner questionnaire).

Where there are existing children in the household, contact with health visitor, nursery or school.

The administrative staff will send requests for written references to each referee.

Where foster carers are approved by other agencies and elect to transfer to Leeds social care, please see our internal transfer protocol. The majority of applicants would require a full assessment and statutory checks.

On receipt of the references, the administrative staff will update the electronic records.

4.3 Health

The applicants will be provided with the relevant medical form to fill in with their details and send to their GP with a covering letter requesting that the GP complete the Form and send it to the manager. On receipt the Administrator will pass the information to the medical adviser for comment.

Where the medical information suggests that the applicant may not be suitable for health reasons, this should be discussed in detail with the applicant(s) and withdrawal may be advisable at this stage. Additional advice may be sought from the Medical Adviser or the Medical Adviser may raise questions with the GP where this is appropriate. It may be necessary for reports from other health professionals also to be obtained and presented to the medical adviser and the fostering panel.


5. Training Course

The foster carers preparation / training course (Skills to Foster website) 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.

Applicants will be booked on the course once their completed application forms are received. All prospective foster carers will be required to attend this training, which is an integral part of the assessment process.

The objectives of the course are:

  • To raise awareness and understanding of the key issues which need to be addressed by all foster carers;
  • To assist applicants to consider more thoroughly the implications of fostering;
  • To assist applicants to determine the type of resource they can offer to the children needing foster placements.

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.

Applicants are expected to attend the course. Attendance is generally a requirement and failure to complete must be identified in the report presented to fostering panel, with a clear explanation of the reasons and circumstances.

Where issues emerge during the training as a result of which the manager decides that it is not appropriate to proceed with the application, the applicants should be visited by the Assessing 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.


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.)

All applicants must be the subject of a full Competency Based Assessment. Where an existing relationship ends, both partners will be subject to reassessment should they wish to continue fostering.

Once the applicants file has been made, statutory checks are under way and the applicants have been booked on the relevant training course, if they are not in ‘early checks’ the manager will allocate a qualified Assessing Social Worker to undertake the assessment. It is only at this point that the applicants officially enter the assessment process, will receive a letter stating such and have regress to the IRM (Independent Review Mechanism) should the outcome of their fostering assessment not be positive. The allocated worker will not necessarily be the same as the Assessing Social Worker carrying out the initial home visit. Where the allocated Assessing Social Worker is not experienced, he or she will conduct the assessment alongside an experienced worker. The assessment can run alongside the training course.

The CBA model will be used.

The time taken to complete the assessment after a formal application has been received will be no more than six months from the receipt of the application.

The purpose of the assessment is to demonstrate that the applicant(s) have the necessary skills and personal qualities to enable them to provide safe, nurturing care for a child unable to live within their own family.

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 BAAF Form F, which will record all appropriate factual information and address issues including the applicants' understanding of the following areas:

  • Child rearing;
  • Caring for children born to someone else;
  • Contact between children and their families;
  • Helping children to make sense of their past;
  • Sexual boundaries and attitudes;
  • Awareness of sexual and other forms of abuse;
  • Health and health promotion;
  • Promotion of education;
  • Approaches to discipline;
  • Awareness of how to promote secure attachments between children and appropriate adults;
  • Religion;
  • Standards of living and lifestyles;
  • Racial, cultural and linguistic issues;
  • Experiences of disability and attitudes to disability;
  • Awareness of equal opportunities.

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. 0 - 5’s or 0 -18, short term or long term.

The suitability of the carer's accommodation should be considered (see Room Share Assessment Guidance).

If the applicants own a dog, reference should be made to the Dogs and Pets Policy and Guidance.

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. Any adult children of the applicant(s) living away from home may also be contacted.

Applicants will be encouraged to be actively involved in contributing towards the assessment, and supported to provide their own written report/portfolio for panel to evidence their capabilities and to support their application.

The safety of accommodation will be checked via a health and safety inspection completed by the assessing social worker. A pet questionnaire will be completed for all pets and should the assessing social worker have any concerns regarding the safety of a pet then a vet check will be completed.

This will be done using the A 10 report, health and safety checklist.

The carer’s assessment reports will be supported by portfolios of evidence which are returned to them following consideration by fostering panel. A safe care plan will also be completed by the Carer in partnership with the assessing social worker as part of the assessment.

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.

End