Placements in Foster Care
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies to all planned placements of Children Looked After in foster care including Shared Care and Respite placements, and placements with Independent Fostering Agencies.
Children may also be placed in foster care having acquired Looked After status following a Remand to Local Authority Accommodation - see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was amended in December 2022 to add a link to the NYAS 'My Things Matter' Report – support and respect care-experienced children and their belongings when they move (see Section 2.4, Placement Planning).
1. Consultation and Planning
At the point that it is determined that a placement may be required, and throughout the subsequent process of identification, planning and placement, the social worker must consult and take account of the views of the following people:
- The child;
- The child's parents;
- Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for or looking after the child;
- Other members of the child's family who are significant to the child or who have a Contact Order in their favour in relation to the child;
- The child's school or education authority;
- The Youth Offending Service, if the child is known to them;
- Any other relevant person, e.g. nursery, health care professional, Children's Guardian.
The views of these people should be given by them, in writing, or should be recorded by the social worker. If the child's wishes are not acted upon, the reason should be given.
See Decision to Look After Procedure for procedures relating to the initial decision to look after a child, and the drafting and approval of the Care Plan and other essential documentation including the Placement Plan
2. Placements Process - Planned Placements
A Planned Placement is the placement of a child in a foster home following an assessment and planning process whereby, at the time of the placement, a Care Plan and Placement Plan are in place.
Where the above plans are not in place, the placement is deemed to be an Emergency.
In all other cases, where a decision has been made that a child requires a foster placement, the child's social worker should complete a Placement Referral Form.
The Placement Referral Form (ART referral Form) will contain information about the child, the type of placement sought, the Care Plan, the date by which the placement is required, the likely length of time for which the placement is required and the expected level of contact between the child and parents.
A check will then be made on the availability of an in-house placement throughout the Borough.
If an in-house placement is available or if there is a possibility of a placement by the required date, the social worker will be advised and a matching grid form will be completed to demonstrate the match of child to the foster carer and how the foster carers will meet the child's needs.
The social worker should then contact the Fostering Team directly to discuss any of the available placement vacancies further. The fostering team will complete a matching grid proforma to ensure the child's needs can be met by the foster carer(s).
If no in-house placements are available throughout the Borough, contact should be made with the Fostering Team if the child can be placed on a waiting list for consideration when an in-house placement becomes available.
If no in-house placements are available and the child requires a placement without delay, the social worker must obtain the approval of the Head of Service before a placement search is made and the final decision will be made via resource panel and ultimately by the AED.
Careful matching contributes to the stability of placements and the retention of foster carers. The matching process should consider the child's needs especially regarding the following key areas:
- The child's education;
- The expectations around contact with relatives and friends;
- The child's identity/race/culture;
- The child's history;
- The child's behaviour;
- The Child's health;
- The focus of the placement.
The matching process should also consider the carer's availability and:
- Their experience;
- Their strengths;
- The family composition;
- The distance from the foster home to the child's school;
- Other children in the placement;
- The foster carers children.
Where an in-house resource is identified, the duty Fostering social worker will contact the foster carer, the foster carer's social worker and the child's social worker to agree the proposed placement. The child's social worker will need to meet the prospective carer to discuss the child's needs in detail. Wherever possible, the child's social worker should visit potential carers and as required consult with other professionals, prior to a decision about the appropriateness of a placement being made.
In relation to the sharing of bedrooms, each child over 3 should have their own bedroom, or where this is not possible, the placing authority must agree to the sharing of the bedroom and this must therefore be addressed during the matching process. Consideration will be given for siblings and where appropriate social workers will complete assessments.
The proposed placement will then be presented to the social workers Team Manager for approval of the matching.
If the Team Manager approves the in-house foster placement, the Placement Planning process can start - see Section 2.4, Placement Planning. If the placement is outside of the usual fostering limit an exemption would be required, this would be sent to for the consideration of approval to the Agency Decision Maker (Assistant Director who has responsibility for Knowsley Adoption and Fostering Service) from the fostering Team Manager. This will be monitored by the Fostering Panel and overseen by the Agency Decision Maker.
In order to avoid placements that disrupt a child's education, the Nominated Officer must approve any change of placement affecting a child's education except in an emergency/ where the placement is terminated because of an immediate risk of serious harm to the child or to protect others from serious injury - see Avoidance of Disruption in Education Procedure. Wherever possible a child should remain in the same school to ensure they have the least disruption.
Children who are new in placement are welcomed sensitively and with careful and considered planning. Before the child is placed, the child's social worker will liaise with the foster carer and the foster carer's social worker (where the placement is with in-house carers) or the independent fostering agency to arrange a Placement Planning Meeting, chaired by the Children's Team Manager, Fostering manager (for an in-house foster placement) or the Children's Social Care Manager for the social worker (in the case of an agency placement). The meeting will usually be in the new placement.
Participants will include:
- The parent;
- The child (if appropriate);
- The carer;
- The Supervising social worker, if the carer is a foster carer;
- The Designated Teacher for children looked after;
- Anyone else considered appropriate or to have a role in the Placement Plan, e.g. relative, nursery, health care professional, YOS worker.
The purpose of the Placement Planning Meeting is to confirm that the Referral and Information Record is completed, finalise the Placement Plan recorded on the Placement Information Record and discuss the Care Plan and Delegated authority. This will involve a discussion of the child's needs to ensure careful matching, including the child's personal history, religious persuasion, cultural and linguistic background and racial origin, as well as the child's health and education needs and how these are to be met. It will also include the arrangements for registering the child with local health professionals (GP, dentist and optician).
In addition the placement planning meeting will consider the type of introduction process required, for example whether arrangements should be made for the child, parents and the social worker to visit the foster home and/or whether it may be appropriate to have an introductory overnight stay. Children should be able to visit the foster home and talk in private with the carer. If this is not possible, arrangements may be made for the carers to visit the child and parents; or for information about the foster carers to be sent to the child and/or the parents, for example about routines in the foster home, bedtimes, meals, visitors, pocket money, school, privacy and the overall expectations in relation to the child's behaviour within the home.
For children placed in foster care, the Placement Plan should cover the following issues in addition to those for all placements set out in the Decision to Look After and Care Planning Procedure:
- The type of accommodation to be provided and the address;
- Where the authority has, or is notified of, Child Protection concerns relating to the child, or the child has gone missing from the placement or from any previous placement, the day to day arrangements put in place by the appropriate person (placement provider) to keep the child safe;
- The child's personal history, religious persuasion, cultural and linguistic background and racial origin;
- Where the child is Accommodated:
- The respective responsibilities of the Local Authority and parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility;
- Any delegation of responsibility by parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility to the Local Authority and /or the foster carer(s) in relation to the following matters (and identifying any of these matters on which the local authority/parents/persons with Parental Responsibility consider that the child may make a decision):
- Medical and dental treatment;
- Leisure and home life;
- Faith and religious observance;
- Use of social media;
- Any other matters upon which the local authority/parents/others with parental responsibility consider appropriate.
- The expected duration of the arrangements and the steps to bring the arrangements to an end, including arrangements for the child to return to live with parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility;
- Where the child is aged 16 or over and agrees to being provided with accommodation under Section 20 Children Act 1989, that fact.
- The circumstances in which it is necessary to obtain in advance the Local Authority's approval for the child to take part in school trips or overnight stays;
- The Local Authority's arrangements for the financial support of the child during the placement;
- The obligation on the carers to comply with the terms of the foster care agreement.
The meeting also provides an opportunity to ensure that the carers have a copy of any relevant court order.
Except in emergency placements, the Placement Planning Meeting should be held before the placement and plan any introductions to the placement. Where this is not possible, it should be held at the latest within 5 working days of the placement.
The child's social worker will complete and arrange for the circulation of the Referral and Information Record, Care Plan and Placement Plan to the child, parents and foster carers before or at the time of the placement.
The child should be provided with relevant information such as an introduction booklet/leaflet and they should be provided information about how they can make a complaint. This should be provided in a manner that is commensurate with their level of understanding.
In addition, the social worker should ensure that any other information about the placement that is available for the child is obtained and given to him/her. Children must understand house expectations before the placement is made.In all cases, the child should be accompanied to the placement by the social worker and helped to settle in. Suitable luggage should be used and a child's belongings should never be transported in bin-bags or other inappropriate containers (see NYAS, My Things Matter Report).
The Social Worker should ensure that these organisations are informed of the placement:
- Relevant health trust, NB The responsibility for the child's health needs remains with the home CCG even when the child is placed in another area;
- The relevant local Children's Services (if the placement is outside the Borough);
- The Educational Support Team (if the placement is in Knowsley) which is situated in the QAU;
- Or the appropriate education service (if the placement is outside the Borough); and
- The child's GP.
The child's social worker will notify all family members consulted and involved in the decision-making process of the placement.
The notifications should be before the start of the placement, wherever possible or within 5 working days.
The allocated Independent Reviewing Officer will be notified of any changes or, if it is the first Looked After Placement, the Quality and Review Unit of the placement. This notification will trigger, if necessary, the appointment of an Independent Reviewing Officer, and the administrative staff will make arrangements for a Looked After Review.
These notifications must be made in writing, advising of the placement decision and the name and address of the person with whom the child is to be placed.
The child's social worker should also notify - preferably in writing but it may be verbally - all those involved in the day to day arrangements for the child, including nursery/school and any health professional or YOT worker actively involved with the child.
It will necessary for the social worker to ensure the child is registered with a GP, Dentist and Optician, either retaining practices known to him or her (which is preferable) or in the area where they are placed - with in-house foster placements, the foster carer will actually make the necessary arrangements.
In relation to a first Looked After placement it will also be necessary for the social worker to arrange a Health Care Assessment (see Health Care Assessments Procedure).
Every effort should be made to enable the child to remain at the same school unless there are reasons which would be detrimental to his or her wellbeing. No changes in school can be made without the agreement from a Head of Service and acknowledgement that it is in the child's best interests. The Head of the Virtual School should also be made aware of any changes in school and involved in finding a suitable alternative.
The social worker must contact the Designated Teacher for Children Looked After at the child's school and complete a Personal Education Plan (see Avoidance of Disruption in Education Procedure.
3. Support, Monitoring and Ending of Placements
The child's social worker must visit the child in the placement within one week of the placement and then at specified intervals; see Social Worker Visits to Children Looked After Procedure.
The foster carer will also receive support and supervision from their link worker (for in-house placements) and from the independent fostering agency (for agency placements).
A Looked After Review should be convened where:
- The child is, or has been, persistently absent from the placement;
- The placement provider, parents or area authority are concerned that the child is at risk of harm; or
- The child so requests, unless the Independent Reviewing Officer considers that the review is not justified.
See also Child Looked After Reviews Procedure.
The child's Social Worker must update the Protocol database when a placement ends. They must also ensure that the allowances or fees (in the case of an independent Fostering Agency) cease when the child leaves.
Children must, when they leave the home, be helped to understand the reasons and be supported with the transition - including when they are returning home and independence.
Foster carers must be supported to maintain links with children who leave their care where appropriate.
All written information on the child, which the foster carer holds, should be transferred to the foster carer's link worker for transfer to the child's social worker.
4. Permanent Placements
Where a child's proposed placement with a foster carer is to achieve Permanence or the plan is for the existing placement to become permanent, the child's social worker should liaise with the Fostering Team contact at the earliest opportunity to discuss in appropriate cases the need or the likely need for a family placement to be identified.
Where a new placement is required, a copy of the most recent assessment of the child, the Care Plan, and the most recent Looked After Review minutes or the Action and Assessment Record should be sent with the placement request, or the information as otherwise agreed. A Single Assessment would also inform the process to look for a long term placement and will be required to match any placement at Permanence Panel. It should be noted that any match will require the foster carer to be approved as a long term foster carer and this would need to be a panel recommendation and ADM decision before the matching meeting occurs.
The Fostering's Team Manager will initially identify available suitable families to match with the child.
A matching meeting should be held to identify the most suitable placement. The meeting may include:
- Children's Team Manager, Fostering Team Manager;
- Child's social worker;
- Substitute families' social worker;
- Birth family (where appropriate);
- The child (depending on his or her age and understanding).
At the matching meeting the comparative strengths and weaknesses of each family will be looked at until a decision has been made as to the most suitable family. The child's social worker has the deciding vote where the decision is not unanimous.
The matching meeting is recorded using the matching meeting form.
The chosen family is put on hold as being a potential match for the child and the other families are prioritised as reserves, although not put on hold.
The Fostering supervising social worker will then visit the first choice family to see if they wish to be matched with the child. The Fostering supervising social worker will provide the family with full information about the child, including the child's profile, and will discuss any information that has implications for the family.
If the 'first choice' family decide not to proceed with this child the other families are considered in preferential order and follow the usual procedure.
The following must occur in order to obtain the necessary approval prior to the placement:
- The plan for long-term fostering must be ratified by the child's Looked After Review. The child's social worker should invite a representative from the Fostering Team to that review;
- Where the identified foster carers are not already approved as long-term foster carers, it will be necessary to conduct an assessment to obtain such approval.
When complete, the assessment should be presented to the Fostering Panel, who may recommend to the Agency Decision Maker that the foster carers be approved as long term - see Permanency Policy and Care Planning Procedure, Care Planning.
- The Assessment and matching of the child will be considered at the Fostering Panel.
Once the approvals have been obtained, a Placement Planning Meeting should be convened, where the following additional issues should be considered:
- Any proposed name changes; a child's name cannot be changed without the permission of the birth parents and legal advice on this issue should be sought.
It would be unusual for a child to have a surname change in situations other than adoption. The child's age is relevant in this issue and her/his views should be considered - see Change of Name Procedure;
- Any additional fostering allowances to be paid;
- Arrangements to ensure that life story work is completed;
- The sharing of full information about the child with the carers who should be fully cognisant of the child's background, including details of any abuse both to meet the child's needs and to afford them protection from allegations;
- The arrangements for contact with the birth family and how this will be managed;
- The level of support to be given to the carers, the child and birth family.
A Placement Planning Meeting should be held even where the child is already placed with the prospective permanent carers to consider these long term issues.
The meeting should be recorded and the minutes kept on the child's file and the permanent family's file.
The permanent carers should be asked to confirm in writing whether they wish to proceed with the introductions. Where they choose not to proceed, the proposal containing the information on the child should be retrieved.
The child's social worker must keep the child informed of the placement developments throughout the process. The social worker should also keep the birth parents informed of such information that has been agreed throughout the process.
Where the child is to move to the permanent placement, the arrangements for introductions should have some flexibility built in to allow for the needs of the child.
During introductions, the carers will be supported by their link worker from the Fostering Service and the child will be supported, visited and reviewed by his/her social worker.
A review of introductions should be held to monitor the progress and identify any problems that require to be addressed. The introductory stage may be stopped if the placement looks as if it will not work.
The review of introductions meeting should decide whether the placement should be confirmed.
5. Disruption and Pre-disruption Meetings
5.1 Definition of Disruption
A 'disruption' is the premature ending of a foster or residential placement of a Looked After Child that has been in a placement for a minimum of three years. A Disruption Meeting must take place in this instance.
A disruption can be at the request of the foster carer, the placing authority or the foster child / young person.
5.2 Purpose of Disruption Meetings
The purpose of the Disruption Meeting is not to attribute blame; it is important that all participants are aware of this. The purpose of Disruption Meetings are instead to:
- Provide all participants with an opportunity to share information, feelings and views about the causes of disruption;
- Agree the factors that have led to the disruption;
- Reassess the needs of Children Looked After and carers involved. Information gained can be used to inform future levels of support;
- Seek to identify learning opportunities, actions and areas of policy development for all agencies involved.
5.3 When Pre-disruption and Disruption Meetings Should be Held
If the social worker and or supervising social workers believe a placement will reach crisis point and or the foster carers or children require support, a Pre-disruption meeting should be held. The purpose of the meeting is to ascertain the support and requirements to maintain the placement and or if it is believed that the child's needs cannot continue to be met a plan should be devised to reduce the risk of placement breakdown.
A Disruption Meeting must take place:
- If a placement breakdown occurs after a Child Looked After has been in placement for at least three years;
- If a Child Looked After has experienced a number of disruptions within a short space of time. A request for a Disruption Meeting in this instance will be at the discretion of the child's social worker and will be held once agreement to do so has been reached by the relevant Fieldwork and Fostering Service Managers. If an agreement cannot be reached, the final decision will be made of the Head of Service.
Disruption Meetings are not appropriate when dealing with:
- Bridging placements;
- Short-term placements, unless there has been a breakdown in more than one of these placements and a pattern is emerging.
The timing of the Disruption Meeting may vary. It is important that the meeting is not held too soon after the placement breakdown when participants may be defensive, or too long after when participants may be less able to recall the contributing factors.
In order to allow sufficient time for analysis and reflection a Disruption Meeting should be held no earlier than 28 days and no later than 42 days after the disruption, unless a complaint is in process. In this instance, a Disruption Meeting should be held within 4-6 weeks of complaint resolution.
Where appropriate and or possible pre-disruption meetings should be held in order to support a child's placement and reduce the risk of placement breakdown. A decision should be made at the earliest convenience where issues are identified in a placement and or it is noted that a child is not meeting the expected outcomes. Any Team Manager can hold a pre-disruption meeting to ensure the child and carers' needs are being met. It may be that an immediate referral for additional resources would be made to Resource Panel.
5.4 Participants in Pre-disruption or Disruption Meetings
Participants required to attend the Meeting will vary depending on the nature of the disruption. Careful consideration must be made by the Children's Team Manager in regards to who should be invited (and ultimately, attend).
In addition to the Team Manager, the current Childcare Social Worker and Supervising Social Worker, consideration will be given to inviting the following participants:
- Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO);
- Carers involved in the disruption and their Supervising Social Worker at the time of disruption;
- Previous carers and their Supervising Social Workers for the duration of the Look After Child's placement;
- Present carers;
- Relevant Fostering Support Team Managers;
- Fostering agency representative;
- Child Looked After;
- Child's advocate / representative;
- Previous Childcare Social Workers, including child's social worker at the time of disruption;
- Fieldwork Team Manager of current and previous Childcare Social Workers, including child's social worker at the time of disruption;
- Head of Service of current and previous and childcare Social Workers, including child's social worker at the time of disruption;
- Designated Teacher from school currently attended, previously attended and at the point of disruption;
- Health representatives e.g. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, or Health Visitor;
- Birth parents / family.
Participants who decline an invitation or are unable to attend will be required to present their views in writing.
If a Child Looked After is unable to attend the Meeting, It is the responsibility of their current social worker to obtain their views and opinion.
It is the responsibility of the fostering service to obtain the views and opinion of current or previous carer who are unable to attend the meeting.
5.5 Preparing for the Pre-disruption and or Disruption Meeting
It is imperative that as much information is made available to the Chair in advance of the meeting to allow time for analysis. At the time of invitation to the Disruption Meeting, a written report will be requested from the following:
- Child's Social Work Team;
- Carers' Adoption & Fostering Service;
- Young People's Team;
- Agency Adoption Fostering Service;
- Education Service;
- Other significant agencies.
The child's Social Worker will also provide the Independent Reviewing Manager with access to the file in order to inspect the following documents:
- Child's Care Plan(s);
- Carer's Form F;
- Matching documents;
- Placement Support Plan(s);
- Children in Care Reviews.
5.6 Format of the Meetings
Meetings will cover the following areas;
- Purpose of the meeting;
- The reasons why the child came into care i.e. details of the child's early life experiences and the circumstances why the child came into care;
- Child's history since being in care;
- Selection process;
- Child and carer introduction process;
- Child's placement experience;
- Carer's placement experience;
- The plan for the child's future;
- Vetting and Barring;
- Learning points, recommendations and follow up actions.
5.7 Recording of Meetings
It is the responsibility of the Chair to ensure that an accurate account of the Meeting is recorded.
Minutes of the meeting should include a clear summary of the future needs of child and carers involved, as well as recommendations and follow up actions for agencies involved.
5.8 Meeting Process
Minutes of the meeting should include a clear summary of the future needs of child and carers involved, as well as recommendations and follow up actions for agencies involved.
6. Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters
A person who is approved as a prospective adopter may be given temporary approval as a local authority foster carer for a named Child Looked After, where the local authority consider that this is in the child's best interests.
Before giving such approval, the responsible authority must:
- Assess the suitability of that person to care for the child as a foster carer; and
- Consider whether, in all the circumstances and taking into account the services to be provided by the responsible authority, the proposed arrangements will safeguard and promote the child's welfare and meet the child's needs as set out in the Care Plan.
The temporary approval period expires when:
- The placement is terminated by the local authority;
- The approval as a prospective adopter is terminated;
- The prospective adopter is approved as a foster carer;
- The prospective adopter gives 28 days' written notice that they no longer wish to be temporarily approved as a foster parent in relation to the child; or
- The child is placed for adoption with the prospective adopter.