Assessment of Prospective Foster Carers
AMENDMENTIn January 2020, a link was added to information published by HM Government on Attending an IRM Panel. See Section 10, Representations/Independent Review Procedure.
The application stage begins once a fully completed application form has been received by the Fostering Service.
Assessment of applicants can begin once enquirers have completed a registration of interest form, engaged in a telephone screening conversation, received an initial visit and attended the Skills to Foster preparation group.
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 member on the electronic records.
The Fostering Panel must make its recommendations on the application within 8 months of the applicant first applying to be assessed.
2. Assessment - Stage One
Please note that Stages One and Two are carried out concurrently, however there are different courses of action for information received for each of Stage One and Stage Two.
Stage One of the assessment process is intended to provide the Agency Decision Maker with basic information about the applicant to enable those who are 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 Section 5, Assessment - Stage Two.
In Stage One 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 12 months, been a foster carer 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 check from the Disclosure and Barring Service;
- 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 as a result of Stage One enquiries, it is decided by the Fostering Service 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 Section 5, Assessment - Stage Two.
Note that Stages 1 and 2 of the assessment process will be carried out concurrently, but the Stage 1 information must be sought as soon as possible, and the decision about whether an applicant has successfully completed Stage 1 must be made within 10 working days of all the information required in that Stage being received.
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.
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.
The receiving service should acknowledge the request within 2 working days, seek consent from all others referred to in the information within 5 working days and the information, redacted where necessary, should be provided within 15 working days.
4. Checks and References
5. 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:
- 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 carer 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 carer;
- 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. Calderdale uses the Fostering Network Skills Assessment and attendant paperwork, including a portfolio produced by applicants themselves with the assistance of the assessing social worker).
The assessing social worker will:
- Familiarise themselves 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 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;
- Standards of living and lifestyles;
- Racial, cultural and linguistic issues;
- Experiences of disability and attitudes to disability;
- Awareness of equal opportunities;
- Understanding and dealing with young people's behaviour including encouraging children to take responsibility for their behaviour and helping them to learn how to resolve conflict.
The list is not exhaustive – other issues relevant to the individual applicant and their family may need to be addressed. The skills and personal qualities that need to be evidenced will be different according to the type of fostering the applicants want to do e.g. babies and toddlers, short or long term or permanent.
The assessing social worker may contact the previous partners of the applicants (taking care not to disclose confidential personal information about the applicant). Where there were any children of the relationship, or where children were cared for jointly, the social worker will arrange to interview them face-to-face wherever practicable. All adult children of the applicant(s) living away from the 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 the Panel to evidence their capabilities and to support their application.
The foster home will also be thoroughly checked to ensure it provides appropriate and safe accommodation for the child, as well as safe transport. Each child over 3 has their own bedroom, or where this is not possible, the sharing of the bedroom has been agreed by the placing Authority. A risk assessment must be conducted in regard to pets.
The applicant must be notified that the case is to be referred to the Fostering Panel, be given a copy of the report and be invited to send any observations in writing within 10 working days beginning with the date on which the notification is sent.
At the end of the 10 working days, or when the applicant's observations are received whichever is sooner, the report, the applicants observations on that report, if any, and any other relevant information obtained must be sent to the Fostering Panel.
Where, having regard to information obtained during Stage 2, it is decided that the applicant is unlikely to be considered suitable to become a foster carer, notwithstanding that not all the Stage 2 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, however all reasons for considering an applicant to be unsuitable must be presented, having been shared with the applicant prior to panel appearance.
6. Prior to Panel
The applicants should be assigned a supervising social worker who makes at least one visit to them in their home and accompanies them, together with the assessing social worker, to Panel.
7. Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters
8. The Panel Recommendation
The assessing social worker will attend the Panel meeting, together with the applicants if they so wish. The decision to attend rests with the applicants and a wish not to attend will not prejudice consideration of their application.
Applicants who decide they wish to attend should be fully prepared as to the procedure prior to their attendance.
The Panel will consider the reports together with all the supporting documentation, and make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) regarding the suitability of the applicant for fostering.
The recommendation, with reasons, will be recorded in writing and, where approval is recommended, the category of fostering, any limitations of the approval to named children (for example in the case of a Connected Persons 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.
9. After the Panel Recommendation
The Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) will make a decision as to the suitability of the applicant, based on the reports presented to the Fostering Panel and the minutes detailing the Panel's recommendation. Where the decision is to approve the applicants as foster carers, the Agency Decision Maker will specify the terms of the approval i.e. the number and age range of children to be fostered, the type of placement and any specific inclusions / exclusions. Applicants can be approved for more than one placement category.
Where a brief report has been submitted to the fostering panel, the Agency Decision Maker will, taking into account the fostering panel's recommendation, make a determination about whether to terminate the assessment or whether the full assessment should be completed.
The decision must be made within 7 working days of receipt of the panel's recommendation and final set of panel minutes and must be recorded, together with reasons.
The manager will arrange for the applicants to be given verbal notification of the decision within 24 hours and written notice of the decision, with reasons, signed by the Agency Decision Maker, within 5 working days of the decision.
If the decision is to refuse approval, the assessing social worker and manager will assess the need for further counselling and arrange any necessary follow-up action.
Upon approval, foster carers should be issued with an agreed form of identification to enable their role as a foster carer to be verified.
10. Representations / Independent Review Procedure
If, at Stage 2 of the assessment process, the Agency Decision Maker gives a Qualifying Determination that they propose not to approve the applicants as foster carers, the applicant will be advised that if they wish 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.
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 by the applicant 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 if they are 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 applicant will not be approved and the assessment will cease.
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.
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 a recommendation, 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 via the Independent Review Mechanism, 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 minutes, if different, will be sent to the Independent Review within 10 working days of their written request. See also: Prepare for a Review Panel - Foster Carers and Adopters (GOV.UK).
The procedure for the Independent Review is operated by Coram Children's Legal Centre on behalf of the Department for Education; 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, however the Agency Decision Maker is not obligated to concur with the recommendation of the Independent Review.
Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant within 7 working days of the receipt of the Independent Review recommendation.
Where the decision is to approve the application, the procedure set out below in Section 11, Following the Approval will be followed.
11. Following 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 12, 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 given two copies for signature, and will retain one signed copy. The other will be kept on the foster carer's file, together with the report and supporting documents presented to the Fostering Panel, a copy of the Panel's recommendation and a copy of the approval decision.
The Foster Care Agreement will contain the following information:
- The terms of the foster carer's approval;
- The support and training to be provided to the foster carer;
- The procedure for the review of the foster carer's approval;
- The procedure for placements of children;
- The procedure for making representations and complaints;
- The requirement to inform the fostering service of any change of circumstance, address or in the household composition, or of any registration as a childminder or application to adopt or of any offence;
- The requirements in relation to confidentiality and internet usage;
- The procedures for behaviour management and unauthorised absences of children placed with the foster carer including the ban on corporal punishment;
- The procedures for informing the supervising social worker of the child's progress and any significant events relating to the child;
- The need to give 28 days' notice in writing if they wish to cease fostering;
- The need to allow access to the Regulatory Authority / Ofsted.
New foster carers will also be given the details of how to access the online 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 understanding as to how to access the handbook 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 Safer Caring Policy.
The supervising social worker will continue to provide support and supervision to the foster carer up to, during and after all placements - see Supervision and Support of Foster Carers Procedure and ensure that they understand the need to undertake Disclosure and Barring Service and other checks and assessments on any new member of the household - see Section 13, Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances - and the need to repeat Disclosure and Barring Service checks on themselves every 3 years (unless they have subscribed to the Disclosure and Barring Service Update Service) - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.
12. Register of Foster Carers
A register of all approved foster carers will be maintained by the fostering service containing the following particulars:
- The name, address, date of birth, gender and ethnic origin of each foster carer;
- The date of approval and of each review of the approval;
- The category and current terms of the approval;
- The name, address, date of birth of each Connected Person with whom a child is placed under Regulation 24 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 and who has been granted temporary approval as a foster carer, together with the date and terms of the temporary approval.
Once approved, the administrative staff will be informed and will enter the foster carers' approval details, including their first review date, on the Fostering Register database.
13. Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances
The supervising social worker will ensure that any newly approved foster carer is clear about their 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, member of the household including children returning to the family home, pregnancy or bereavement. New members of the household over 18 are obliged to have Disclosure and Barring Service checks prior to moving in, even if family members.
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.
13.1 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 they will have a part to play in caring for any child in the placement and therefore a full Fostering Network assessment of their 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 (Fostering) 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 their partner to stay overnight before the full assessment is completed, a Disclosure and Barring Service 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 Fostering Service Manager.
13.2 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 Disclosure and Barring Service 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 Fostering Network 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.
For Exemptions to the usual limit of three children and Alterations or other Extensions to Approval, see: Fostering Exemptions and Extensions and Variations of Approval Procedure.