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6.1.2 Fostering Panel

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AMENDMENT

This Chapter was substantially revised in March 2014 and should be re-read in full.


Contents

  1. Statutory Function of The Fostering Panel
  2. Membership
  3. Chair
  4. Conduct of Panel
  5. Minutes
  6. Applicants'/Carers' Attendance at Panel
  7. Medical Adviser
  8. Legal Adviser
  9. Quality Assurance
  10. Training
  11. Recommendations and Decision Making
  12. Representations and the Independent Review Review Mechanism (IRM)
  13. Panel Process
  14. Approved Paperwork to be Presented to Panel


1. Statutory Function of The Fostering Panel

The Fostering Panel is constituted in accordance with the Fostering Service Regulations:

Hertfordshire Supported Lodgings Carer(s)s are approved under fostering regulations. Applications to become Hertfordshire Supported Lodgings Carers are heard by the West Fostering Panel, that will be deemed the ‘Supported Lodgings’ Panel.

  • To consider each application for approval and to recommend whether or not a person is suitable to act as a foster carer or supported lodgings carer;
  • To recommend whether or not a person remains suitable to act as a foster carer, or supported lodgings carer and whether or not the terms of approval remain appropriate on the occasion of the carer's first review or any subsequent review referred to the Panel;
  • To receive management information about the outcome of foster carers' and supported lodging carers’ annual reviews;
  • To advise on procedures, in particular the procedure for the review of foster carers' and supported lodging carers’ approval;
  • To provide a quality assurance function by monitoring and reviewing the assessment process;
  • To monitor the range and type of carers available to the authority in comparison with the needs of children;
  • To give advice and make recommendations on other matters/cases referred to it.


2. Membership

The Services Manager, Family and Friends and The Services Manager, Fostering are responsible for appointing to membership of the Fostering Panel. In doing so, the Fostering Service is committed to ensuring wherever possible that the membership of the Panel reflects the cultural diversity of the wider community.

S14 of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 (FNMS 2011) makes a number of changes to the way in which Fostering Panels are formed and function as follows:

Fostering Panels are no longer expected to have fixed membership or a maximum number of members. The concept of a Core Membership is however accepted and Hertfordshire's traditional ten person panel may therefore be redefined in this way.

The Members of the Panel must be drawn from a Central List of persons with appropriate qualifications and/or experience, including one or more social workers who have at least three years relevant post-qualifying experience.

Those included on the Central Panel must have been subject of satisfactory DBS and agency checks before taking up appointment and the dates of such checks must be recorded.

Panel members must be provided with written information on appointment of their performance objectives, including their participation in induction and other training and safeguarding the confidentiality of records and information submitted to Panel. They should sign their written agreement to achieving these objectives.

There must be a process for reviewing the performance of Panel members (including the review of the Panel Chair by the Agency Decision Maker) and for performance management of members and where necessary the termination of the appointment. If the member has not sat on a panel during the year it will be difficult to do a review and it might be decided that they should not remain on the Central List.

Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List they must be given one month's notice in writing and provided with details of the reasons for the decision to end their inclusion on the list.

S14 sets out that there is no longer a maximum period of tenure for members of Fostering Panel and nor is there a requirement that the Panel includes an elected member of the authority.

A Panel can be quorate with five members providing that the following are present:

  • The independent chair (or one of two vice chairs);
  • One social worker with at least three years post-qualifying experience;
  • Three other members.

(If the meeting is conducted by a vice chair who is not independent there must be at least one other member of the panel present who is independent).

S23 of the FNMS 2011 requires that prospective panel members must be enabled to attend panel before becoming members and that they should complete induction training within 10 weeks of joining the central list.

Personal and work references will also be obtained in writing and must be satisfactory.

Where possible independent members will include members who have particular knowledge in education or child health.

One of the independent members, where possible, will be someone who has themselves at some time been placed with foster carers or who has had a child placed with foster carers.

Each member will be asked to sign an agreement with the fostering service, in relation to his or her membership, covering the service expectations (including the requirement to report any involvement in criminal proceedings), confidentiality issues and commitment to anti-discriminatory practice.

S23 of FNMS 2011 requires that Panel members have access to appropriate training and skills development and have the opportunity to attend joint training with fostering staff at least annually.


3. Chair

An independent member of the Panel or senior manager employed by Children Schools and Families and who does not hold any responsibility for the day to day management of the fostering service shall be appointed as Panel Chair.

Up to two Vice Chairs may also be appointed from the Central List (S14 FNMS 2011).

In addition to Panel members a non-voting professional advisor attends Panel to support the Panel members.


4. Conduct of Panel

The Fostering Panel is appointed by the Fostering Service Provider to make recommendations on:

  • Whether, on the basis of either ‘brief reports’, or full assessments, presented to Panel, applicants demonstrate that they meet, or do not meet, the competencies to become foster carers and therefore should be approved or not. For some applicants this will mean that the assessment process is not completed;
  • Where recommending approval, the number, age range and gender of children to be placed with, subject to the usual fostering limit of 3 placements unless the children are all siblings to each other;
  • The category of approval;
  • Any changes of approval following review of the carers;
  • Termination of approval where the standard of care is unsatisfactory.

Panel members are expected to declare any conflict of interests and for this to be minuted. Together with Chair a decision will be reached as to whether it is appropriate for the member to continue to attend panel.

In the event that Panel cannot agree on their recommendation, either unanimously or by a majority, the rationale for both recommending approval and non-approval will be set out in the Panel minutes and a recommendation of non-approval will be passed to the Agency Decision Maker.


5. Minutes

Each Panel shall have an appointed minute taker to accurately record the discussion and decision, following an agreed format. All recommendations and any disagreements and dissent will be fully recorded. Any third party information must be recorded separately. Copies of the minutes must be kept on the carer's files, sent to Panel members for verification and sent to the carer (excluding any third party information). Minutes will be sent to the Chair for approval before being submitted to the Agency Decision Maker for approval of the recommendations.


6. Applicants'/Carers' Attendance at Panel

There is an expectation that all prospective and approved foster carers will attend Panel when their case is presented unless there is a good reason that prevents this. Where the carers are a couple they will both be expected to attend. Potential foster carers are invited to attend Panel (with a supporter if they wish) where they are seeking approval and should attend for subsequent reviews. Where there has been an allegation or serious complaint against a carer or where the Fostering Service is recommending de-registration (against the carer's wishes) the carer should attend Panel.

Any observations made by the applicants about the brief report or full assessment should be provided to the Foster Panel for consideration.


7. Medical Adviser

Although there is no Medical Adviser in situ to advise the Panel, all medical examination reports and medical update reports must be sent to the agency Medical Adviser for comments.

Should the Panel take the view that they do not wish to take the medical advice, the reasons for doing so must be recorded clearly on the minutes.


8. Legal Adviser

Similarly, although no Legal Adviser sits on panel the Child Litigation Unit should be consulted whenever the Panel deems this necessary.

Should the Panel take the view that they do not wish to take the legal advice, the reasons for doing so must be recorded clearly on the minutes.


9. Quality Assurance

In relation to Panel's role to oversee the conduct of assessments and to give advice and make recommendations on other matters/cases referred to it, Panel is required to alert the Head of Adoption and Fostering of any specific issues, trends or concerns.

The Panel Chair, in conjunction with the Panel Administrator must complete an annual report of Panel business in April each year and this report must be presented by the Head of Adoption and Fostering to the elected members.


10. Training

All Fostering Panel members are supported and expected to attend at least two days training per year.


11. Recommendations and Decision Making

S14.4 of the FNMS 2011 requires that the Panel must make its recommendations within eight months of the receipt of the fostering application.

The recommendations of Fostering Panel must be conveyed to the decision maker promptly after the Panel. The Decision Makers are The Services Manager, Fostering, The Head of Adoption and Fostering and The Operations Director act as agency decision-maker (ADM) in all cases except where s/he has had significant prior involvement in aspects of the matter being presented to Panel. In those circumstances, the decision must be referred to one of the other ADMs.

In the absence of the Decision Maker, his/her line manager will act as decision-maker.

The foster carer or prospective foster carer must be informed orally of the decision maker's decision within 2 working days of the panel and written confirmation must be sent within 5 working days of the panel. Once approved the foster carer must be asked to sign the Foster Care Agreement.

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 e.g. short or long term, short break care, inclusion in a particular fostering scheme, and any specific inclusions/exclusions. Applicants can be approved for more than one placement category.

The Decision Maker’s determination about whether to terminate the assessment following a brief report must take into account the recommendations of the fostering panel.

The decision must be made within 7 working days of the Panel meeting and must be recorded, together with reasons.

The Practice 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, will be sent 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.


12. Representations and the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM)

If

  • A decision is made to refuse an application, following a completed Stage 2 assessment or brief report; or
  • A decision is made to change a foster carer’s terms of approval.
The agency decision maker must write to applicant/foster carer with his/her decision, the reasons for it and provide a copy of any fostering panel recommendation

The applicant will be advised that if he or she wishes to challenge the decision, applicants should be advised of their right to submit representations within 28 days of the date of the written notice of the decision to the manager. 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 the Independent Review Mechanism. Any such application must be made in writing within 28 days of the decision and supported by reasons.

The only circumstances where 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.

If no written representations or notification of a request for a review are received within this period, the decision to refuse the application can be confirmed.

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 further recommendations either confirming or amending their previous views, 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 the IRM 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 following does not qualify for consideration by the IRM. At a foster carer’s review, a decision is made to change the terms of approval and the fostering service provides the foster carer with a written statement setting out whether they consider the foster carer’s household, including any children placed there, to have additional support needs as a result of a change. The statement identies what these support needs are, how they will be met and the foster carer provides their written agreement to the change.

The procedure for the Independent Review is carried out by BAAF; 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.


13. Panel Process

A Panel date must be booked by the Social Worker before completion of the assessment report, to avoid undue delay.

No less than 14 days before Panel, 1 copy of the assessment report and associated documents (see Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers Procedure) must be lodged with the Panel Administrator. Late papers cannot be distributed.

Papers must be distributed by the Panel Administrator to all Panel members, the Panel Advisor and Agency Decision Maker 10 days prior to Panel.

Each application or review must be given a specific time slot and the Panel Administrator must arrange the agenda accordingly.

Assessing Social Workers must be available to attend Panel and must take their file to ensure that they can answer Panel's questions in detail if required. Fostering Team Managers may attend Panel with their Social Worker at their discretion.

If the assessing Social Worker has any issues of concern in relation to the assessment, these must be made known to the applicants prior to Panel and they must be clearly stated in the assessment report. In rare circumstances where the issues of concern arise after completion of the assessment report, Social Workers must report any new information verbally at the Panel hearing.


14. Approved Paperwork to be Presented to Panel

Original papers must be retained by the Social Worker for the foster carer's file.

1 copy of the following must be sent to the Panel Administrator for distribution to Panel:

  • Panel front sheet;
  • Application form signed by the applicants;
  • Stage 2 assessment signed by the applicants, assessing social worker and the Fostering Team Manager;
  • Medical Advisers comments to be included within Form F;
  • Personal references, 6 are requested, 3 then selected for interview;
  • Record of interviews with the three referees, one who is a family member;
  • Reference from school and health visitor where applicable;
  • Employment reference(s) for the applicant(s) from the most recent employer;
  • Reference with ex-partners;
  • Other references or testimonials arising from any work with children, paid or unpaid.

DBS disclosure forms and the Health and Safety Checklist must be presented to the Fostering Team Manager who must endorse the assessment document to confirm that these have been satisfactorily completed.

Where the DBS check has produced a trace requiring a risk assessment to be signed off by the Head of Specialist Services, the decision to proceed must be recorded with reasons, supported by the risk assessment.

End