This chapter explains the membership, purpose, functions and arrangements for meetings of the Fostering Panel.
Since April 2009 there has been an Independent Review Mechanism for foster carers.RELATED CHAPTER AMENDMENT
This chapter was reviewed and refreshed in December 2020.
Knowsley's Children's Social Care provides a fostering service as part of the function of the Family Placement Service.
The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 require every fostering service provider to have arrangements for ensuring that Fostering Panels are established Regulation 23.
The National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services 2011 outline minimum standards of practice.
The role of the Fostering Panels is to make recommendations about fostering matters. The Panels must operate within clearly defined parameters.
2. Constitution of the Fostering Panels
There is no fixed panel membership or maximum number of members or maximum tenure of office.
The membership must be drawn from a Central List of persons with the appropriate qualifications and/or experience, including one or more social workers who have at least three years' relevant post-qualifying experience.
As a matter of good practice the Panel will endeavour to reflect ethnic minority representation within the local community. The Panel may also consider the requirements in relation to the recommendations required from the agenda items.
Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List, they must be given one months' notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their inclusion on the list. The Chair will be appointed by the Executive Assistant Director. As from 1st October 2011 an Independent Chair must be appointed.
The Fostering Manager must also appoint up to two Vice Chairs, whose role is to chair the Panel when the Chair is unavailable.
Reasonable expenses relating to attendance can be met, including travelling expenses. Consideration will be given to an allowance for attending training sessions plus travel expenses.
All Panel members must have been the subjects of a satisfactory Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check before taking up their appointment. These DBS checks should be kept up to date and recorded, including the date when the checks were made. Personal and work references will also be obtained in writing and must be satisfactory. No Panel members are allowed to begin work until all checks have been satisfactorily completed.
Each member 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 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 and or complete Quality assurance forms for each panel item considered), confidentiality issues and commitment to anti-discriminatory practice.
All Panel members will also be required to attend at least one Panel meeting as an observer before taking up their membership and to attend an annual training day. Panel members should complete induction training within 10 weeks of joining the Central List, have access to appropriate training and skills development and have the opportunity to attend joint training with fostering staff at least annually.
The quorum is five, provided that the following are present:
- Either the Chair or one of the Vice Chairs (in the absence of the chair). If the meeting is conducted by the vice chair who is not independent, there must be at least one other member of the panel who is independent;
- One of the social worker representatives with at least three years post qualifying experience;
- Three (or in the case of a joint panel, four) other members.
Panel members may request any relevant information or assistance they require, including medical or legal advice, from the fostering agency and, if so requested, this must be provided by the fostering agency.
There must be a process for review of the performance of Panel members (including of the Panel chair by the Agency Decision Maker) and for the performance management of members. Where necessary the termination of the appointment must be considered.
Where there are concerns about a Panel member's behaviour either inside or outside the meetings, and this cannot be dealt with by advice, training and/or information, this will raised by the Panel Chair with the Fostering Manager who will decide whether to end the appointment and if so, will advise the member in writing giving clear reasons for the decision.
The Fostering Manager will decide whether someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List and therefore to end the appointment and if so, will advise the member in writing giving one month's notice and clear reasons for the decision.
Panel members may resign by giving one month's notice to the Fostering Manager and Fostering Panel chair.
There is no prescribed tenure for Panel Members, however membership of the Central List will be reviewed on an annual basis in line with the annual appraisals of Panel members.
On appointment, new Panel members will be provided with an information pack, including a copy of the CoramBAAF Guidance for Local authorities, fostering agencies and Panel members in England "Fostering Panels" and will have the opportunity to observe a Panel and meet with the Panel Chair prior to their commencement. (References are also taken up for Panel Members).
Panel meetings are often busy with a number of items to consider so in order to discuss business items, specific meetings could be called or the first half hour of a Panel be devoted to business items.Good practice requires that Panel has opportunities for training and at least one days training be provided annually for Panel members.
3. The Agency Decision Maker
The Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) is not a member of the Panel but is a person or persons representing the Foster Service Provider who can make decisions on behalf of the Agency in relation to matters upon which the Panel have made a recommendation.
The Agency Decision Maker does not attend Panel. He or she must not have been involved in the direct management or assessment of any applicant involved.
The Agency Decision Maker should understand all aspects of fostering work and should be of sufficient standing within the agency to endorse or challenge a Panels recommendation.
In Knowsley the Agency Decision Maker is the Children's Social Care Assistant Executive Director.The Fostering Manager, in consultation with the Panel Chair, determines the suitability of nominees and who will serve on the Panel.
If a nominee feels he or she has been unfairly excluded the matter can be referred to the Agency Decision Maker.
4. Frequency of Panel Meetings
The Fostering Panel meets generally once per month. Additional Panels may be held during the 12 month period. The Panel will hold meetings to review their performance and identify training needs.
The Panel Administrator will circulate dates of Panels for the following twelve months.
5. Written Records
The Fostering Panels will make a written record of their proceedings and the reasons for their recommendations.
A record of those attended panel is made on the Fostering Panel minutes.
Each recommendation including the reasons for the recommendation will be completed and recorded in respect of each relevant item for Panel.
6. Management and Administration of the Panel
The Fostering Team Manager has executive responsibility for the work undertaken by the Directorate as a fostering agency.
The administrative responsibilities for the panel are:
- Circulation of schedule of Panel meetings;
- Booking room and arranging hospitality;
- Invitations and case papers are sent out for each Panel;
- Taking of apologies and consequent liaison with Chair prior to Panel to ensure quoracy;
- Applications are received;
- Collection of case papers after each Panel and shredding/confidential disposal of any surplus copies of reports/minutes etc.
- Recording of minutes/decisions;
- Circulation of written decisions;
- Circulation of minutes;
- Collation and maintenance of Panel business. Records will be archived at the end of each financial year to an appropriate secure storage.
The Panel Administrator will liaise with the Panel Chair and the Fostering Team Manager responsible for Panel administration. The Fostering Manager will have responsibility for ensuring there is appropriate liaison with the Panel Administrator in the administration of the Panel.
It is the responsibility of the Panel Administrator to record recommendations and place them before the Chair for approval.
7. Panel Agendas
All Panel items will be supported by a front/covering sheet which will outline the basis of the item. Reports are not required to be anonymised.
The agenda closing date will be ten working days prior to each Panel date. Agendas and relevant papers are distributed to all Panel Members, the Fostering Manager and the panel advisor. Each Panel member will have a full set of papers.
The successful operation of the Panel meeting itself is dependent upon every Panel Member thoroughly reading the reports and preparing their questions prior to the Panel meeting.
Panel Members and any other person attending a Panel Meeting must at the close of the Panel, return all paperwork received in connection with Panel business to the Panel Administrator.
The Panel Administrator will ensure that all surplus copies of reports/minutes/paperwork are appropriately shredded or disposed of within confidential waste.
8. Monitoring and Quality Assurance
The Fostering Panel oversees the conduct and quality of assessments and complete quality assurance forms for each item. The fostering panel also write, review and monitor tasks and recommendations within an action log.
In particular, the Panels monitor and review the work of the assessors; provide feedback; identify problems; and ensure that there is consistency of approach in assessment across the service, that it is fair to all applicants and that it has been completed in a thorough and rigorous way.
Inadequate or poor reports will be challenged and recommendations deferred, if necessary, for better quality information and assessments to be provided. The speed of assessments should be monitored so carers are not waiting unduly for their applications to be approved.
Where the Panel Chair (or Vice Chair in his or her absence) considers that an assessment does not meet the required standard, or the assessment process has been unduly delayed, he or she will notify the report writer and the report writer's manager prior to the panel date. A copy of the notification should also be sent to the Fostering Manager and Head of Service. Such notification will be in writing, setting out in which way the standard has not been met. Where necessary, an amended report will be requested.
The fostering manager will provide the fostering panel with performance data based on the team at each panel. They will also provide any information on the number of regulation 24 placements, exemptions made for Knowsley area by the Agency Decision Maker and also report on the number of carers and placements.
It is the responsibility of the Panel Administrator to record a full minute of the Panel meeting. The minutes must be completed within two working days of the Panel.
Minutes must bear the signature of the Chair. Minutes will be circulated to Panel members with agenda papers and will not be retained, but returned to the minute taker at the end of Panel.
Once the Chair approves the minutes for accuracy, they will be returned to the Panel Administrator who will then send the minutes on to the Panel Advisor and other panel members for accuracy, once this stage has been completed the panel administrator will then send them to the Agency Decision Maker, wherever possible within three further working days.
If the Agency Decision Maker agrees the recommendation, the pro-forma is signed and dated as the agency decision. The Agency Decision Maker will send the decisions to the Fostering Manager and the Panel Administrator within seven working days of receiving the agenda papers and recommendations.
In some situations the Agency Decision Maker may agree a recommendation subject to certain qualifications. If so, these will be set out in writing and attached to the pro-forma. If the recommendation is not agreed, the reasons why must be set out in writing and attached to the pro-forma. The pro-forma must bear the signature of the Agency Decision Maker and be dated and this then becomes the record of the agencies decision.
The Fostering Team Manager is responsible for advising the carers orally within two working days of the date of the decision and in writing within 5 working days of the agency decision.
All "hard copy" pro-forma, written decisions and standard letters must be sent to the Panel Administrator for appropriate storage/circulation as appropriate.
Any queries or clarifications which the Panel Administrator may have regarding the process of Panel administration should be addressed to the Fostering Team Manager responsible for Panel administration.
Where ADM decisions are made outside of the ICS system the administrator should ensure the ICS records are kept up to date and information is clearly recorded.
10. Panel Attendance
When social workers submit their reports they should indicate who will be attending the Panel meeting.
For reviews which go to Panel, any proposed change of approval details will require the social worker to attend (other than when the proposed change is incremental, for example, age of child increasing from 1 - 2 to 2 - 3 years).
The social worker does not need to attend Panel when the focus of the item is the issue of exemption to the usual fostering limit, nor when the item is resignation of a carer. However if they wish to have a view noted this should be completed by report and or in person.
Any item where it is considered that Panel may benefit from the attendance of the social worker will require his or her attendance. The Panel Administrator issues appointment times to the social workers involved.
Reports relating to prospective and existing foster carers are the responsibility of the Fostering Team and the applicants assessing or supervising social worker will be required to attend. Applicants/existing Foster Carers should also be encouraged to attend. An invitation letter and accompanying information about the Panel process should be sent out by the Fostering Team Manager. On occasion such as friends and family assessments and or matches for long term placements, the children’s social worker is also required to attend.
On request to the Panel Chair, carers/applicants are permitted to invite a friend/supporter to accompany them to Panel. If agreed, the supporter will be able to attend the Panel to support the carer but will not be permitted to ask questions. The supporter will also be required to sign a confidentiality statement. The process needs to be carefully explained to the carer/applicant by the social worker prior to the Panel.Team Managers are welcome to attend in support of the social workers as appropriate. Students preparing Foster Panel reports are required to be accompanied by their placement supervisor or the Children's Social Care Manager. In the case of Placement with Connected Persons Regulation 24 Placements, see (Placement with Friends and Family Carers Procedure) the child's social worker, or their representative should attend whether they support the application or not. Reasons for their non-attendance should be minuted.
11. Payment to Panel Members
The payment of fees and expenses will be made to all eligible members for all meetings of the Panel including Panel training and business meetings and to those attending when the meeting has not achieved a quorum and is postponed. This will be upon receipt of a claim form from the eligible members.
All officers of the Children's Social Care undertake Panel duties as part of their normal responsibilities and may claim travel and subsistence allowances as usual. For elected members who undertake Panel duties, it is recognised as an "approved duty" for which they are entitled to claim attendance fees and expenses. The fees and expenses of Health and Education representatives are met by their employers.
Panel members who are not employed by the fostering service or other statutory agencies are entitled to claim for expenses for travel and other costs. Claim forms need to be signed by the Panel Advisor and processed accordingly.
12. Declaration of Interest
In the event of a Panel member having personal, private knowledge of, or acquaintanceship with any applicant or child/birth family whose case is being considered by the Panel, the Panel member must inform the Chair no less than five working days prior to the Panel. The member must withdraw from the Panel whilst the case is considered. The Panel must still have a quorum (see Section 6, Management and Administration of the Panel).
If a Panel member has "professional" knowledge of any applicant or child/birth family, s/he should declare that knowledge and the decision regarding participation in the discussion will be made jointly by the Chair and the Panel member. In most cases, Panel members' personal or professional knowledge of a person will be evident when the papers are circulated prior to Panel. The resolution of such problems before the meeting will greatly assist the administration of the Panel. In the event that a member does not realise the prior knowledge before the Panel he or she must declare the interest to the Chair once such knowledge is apparent.
All Panel members will be required to sign a confidentiality undertaking upon their appointment.
Those attending Panel are expected to observe strict confidentiality. Matters discussed at Panel should not be divulged elsewhere and the substance of the discussion should not be shared with prospective foster carers, current carers, parents or any child/children.
In certain situations the Chair may give guidance as to what information other than the Panel's recommendation may be shared with the aforementioned parties.
All incoming mail marked "private and confidential" shall be opened by the addressee only or his or her manager in the case of absence.
14. Medical Issues
Any specific medical issues, which arise, that have not been addressed within the assessment reports and references, will in the first instance be discussed with the health representative for the Panel. If this is not appropriate or possible or the matter cannot be resolved in this way, the Chair will seek to address the issue by liaison with the Medical Adviser to the Directorate.
15. Panel Cancellation
A Panel will be cancelled when there is insufficient business for it to go ahead. The decision to cancel a Panel will be taken by the Fostering Team Manager responsible for Panel administration, in consultation with the Chair.
16. Fostering Panel Functions
The Fostering Panels are required to consider all cases referred to them.
The function of the Fostering Panels is to make recommendations in relation to the following:
- Approval of foster carer/s including Family and Friends (connected persons);
- Terms of Approval;
- Consideration of Representations relating to Panel recommendations;
- Foster carer's first review and any subsequent review referred to the Panel by the Agency or approval every 5 years;
- Termination of foster carers' approval;
- Revision of foster carers' terms of approval;
- An annual review of the procedures under which reviews of approval of foster parents are carried out;
- The conduct of assessments carried out;
- Monitoring of the range and type of placements available to the authority in comparison with the needs of children;
- Any proposed change of status of foster carers recommended, for example, exemption certificates and resignations as opposed to termination as above;
- To advise on reviews where there are issues of concern which fall short of a recommendation for termination of approval;
- To advise on cases that are controversial or where an outline plan requires discussion;
- To give advice and make recommendations on such other matters or cases as the fostering service may refer to it;
- Monitoring of the number of occasions where foster carer/s foster outside of the usual "fostering limit";
- Monitoring of any circumstances within which foster carer/s foster outside of the terms of their approval - Areas will report the number of exemption certificates on a quarterly basis;
- Notification of resignations by foster carer/s - to include reasons for such;
- An match for a long term placement between a child and foster carer;
- Monitoring the range and type of foster carer/s available to the area in comparison with the needs of the children.
Certain reviews will go to Panel, including:
- First annual reviews;
- Every review after 5 years and subsequent 5 years of approval;
- Reviews identified above.
18. Decision-making with Regard to Recommendations
The Chair (or Vice-Chair in his or her absence) will be responsible for formulating the recommendations, which follow Panel discussions. Such recommendations will reflect the balance of opinion within the Panel and will be decided by a majority with the Chair having a casting vote.
19. Representations Procedure
If an applicant/foster carer is not happy with a proposal made/decision outlined by the Agency Decision Maker (Children's Service Manager), he or she can, within twenty-eight days of the written notification of the decision, make written representation to the Agency Decision Maker.
In these circumstances, the Agency Decision Maker will ask the Fostering Panel to reconsider the recommendation, based on the written representations made.
The Fostering Panel will forward its recommendation, following reconsideration, to the Agency Decision Maker, who will make a decision.
The Agency Decision Maker will inform the Team Manager in writing of the decision, providing reasons if the decision was not to approve or to terminate approval of a foster parent. The Team Manager will notify the applicant/foster carer in writing.
An applicant can request for their case to be considered by the Independent Review Mechanism, however they then cannot also ask for the ADM to reconsider. In these cases the IRM can make recommendations to the local authority.