References and Checks


The purpose of this guidance is to define the rationale and requirements for references and their use in the assessment of prospective foster carers with Knowsley Fostering Team.


This chapter was reviewed and refreshed in December 2020.

1. Introduction

Those assessing prospective carers are required to ensure that children are kept safe through assessment by using a number of references and checks.

The requirements for submitting checks and references for prospective Foster Carers is set out in the Fostering Services Regulations 2011.

The range of checks, including DBS checks, seek to identify any information held which may immediately make an individual unsuitable to become a Foster carer. References give the assessing social worker a different perspective of the applicant which comes from knowing the applicant over a number of years and in a different context.

2. Purpose of References and Checks

References and checks can serve a number of functions, including:

To establish their potential to care for children in a way in which their needs are met and they maximise their opportunity to develop secure attachments.

Where applicants are in a partnership, to assess them as individuals and the stability and permanence of that partnership.

To confirm information given by applicants to establish the congruence and trustworthiness of their application.

To reduce the possibility of approving those who:

  • Have abused children in the past;
  • Have had a history of violence within relationships;
  • Have a history of substance abuse.

To identify issues from the past which are likely to impact upon their ability to meet children's parenting needs in the present.

3. Requirements for Checks

The following checks are required for foster carers:

Disclosure and Barring Service

Enhanced DBS checks renewed every three years on any member of the household over 18 years of age, including those young people who are Staying Put where other children remain in foster care. Delegated Authority should be used to ensure children can stay with family and friends where appropriate. If regular overnights take place the fostering team will consider the need for DBS checks to take place as good practice.

Where applicants have lived abroad for an extended period then it should be possible to obtain the equivalent of a DBS check from the country in which they lived.

Any DBS checks that have adverse information should be presented to the Head of Service on the relevant ICS risk assessment.

Medical Reports

The content of the medical checks required for panel is set out in Fostering Service Regulations 2011. Information for medical reports should be updated regularly and at a minimum of every three years for all prospective and then approved foster carers.

Other Checks

In addition, checks will be made with the following agencies to check whether they have any comment to make on the application:

  • Probation;
  • Home Local Authority and other Local Authorities if the applicants have lived there within the last ten years or more if a person has resided in an area for a significant period of time;
  • NSPCC;
  • The applicant has a right to work in the UK.

The following checks should be made where appropriate:

  • School - where there are school age children;
  • Health Visitor - where there are children under school age;
  • SSAFA - where an applicant has been a member of the armed forces.

4. Requirements for References

It is recognised that applicants will select referees that are likely to support their application. However, care should be taken when applicants select referees to ensure that there is no reason why the referees may feel unable to be honest or open in their comments, such as an employee or someone who is indebted to the applicant. If you are unsure about this matter then advice should be sought from the Fostering Team Manager.

Wherever possible DfE guidance should be followed with regard to the following:

  • One of the referees should have known the applicant for five years or more;
  • For joint applicants, two of the referees should know the applicants as a couple rather than having knowledge of only one partner.

A letter will be written to the applicants explaining the purpose of the reference and outlining the information which will be required. Initial information will be sought in writing prior to checks being made.

The letter should explain that though usually confidential to panel, although an application can be made for disclosure with the referee's permission under the Data Protection Act 1998.

Referees should be interviewed face-to-face and, if it becomes clear that the referee has insufficient knowledge of the applicant, or has no sound basis for the views they express then the interview should be terminated and another referee sought.

Where concerns are raised during the interview the assessor will seek further advice from their manager.

Former Partners

It is an expectation that all applicants will provide details which allow a reference to be sought from ex- partners where they have jointly parented unless there are exceptional reasons.

It is appreciated that this may present difficulties for some prospective foster carers and it is important that assessors reassure applicants that this is standard practice and that the information given will be set in an appropriate context.

If significant concerns are raised by the applicant, including where the approach could provoke a hostile or violent reaction, then the assessor should look at the risks involved in undertaking the reference to both themselves and the applicant and any children involved. Such concerns should be discussed with the relevant Team Manager and considered with a risk assessment.

When it has not been possible to obtain such a reference then there needs to be a clear explanation in the body of the report as to why this has not been possible.

Where an applicant has worked for an organisation where they have been caring for children and or involving children a reference will be required.


References from employers should be obtained and should consider:

  • Role and duration of employment;
  • Relevant disputes and disciplinary procedures;
  • Care of children (where relevant).

Applicants should be advised that the agency may seek a reference from other employers if they think it is necessary.

Where the applicant has not told the employer about the application then there should be discussion about the reasons for this and when the reference should be taken up.

Again, when it has not been possible to obtain such a reference then there needs to be a clear explanation in the body of the report as to why this has not been possible.

5. Format for References

All references should consider the issues detailed below:

Standard Reference

  1. How long have the referees known the applicant(s)?
    • How often do they see them?
    • How do you know them?
    • What is your relationship with them like?
  2. What is their opinion of the applicants' individual personalities?
    • What sort of people are they?
    • How would you describe their character?
  3. What is their opinion of the stability of the applicant's relationships?
    • If they are in a partnership, comment on the partnership;
    • How do they manage disagreement?
    • Does the referee have any knowledge of previous relationships which might be relevant?
    • Do they seem equally motivated to foster?
    • How do they get on with other family members?
    • How might they work with the other agencies involved in the child's life?
  4. What is their opinion of the applicant's abilities with children?
    • Comment on their own children;
    • Other children;
    • If there is a specific child or other children in placement - please comment.
  5. What is their opinion of the strengths of the applicant's support networks, e.g. family, friends?
    • Who provides their emotional and practical support?
    • How do they cope with stress?
    • How do they manage conflict?
  6. Have the applicants discussed fostering with the referees, and do they appear to understand the implications?
    • What adjustments will have to be made - are there any potential difficulties?
    • How will their relationships be affected by fostering?
    • How have they coped with major life changes in the past?
  7. What are the benefits the children will gain from being placed with the applicants?
    What will the child's experience be with regards:
    • Social and Personal development?
    • Health and education?
  8. Do the referees have any concerns about the ability of the applicant(s) to care for a child. It is important they share these?
    • Do the referees feel they will be able to keep the child safe from abuse?
    • How will they discipline the child?
  9. Do the referees have any special knowledge or experience which may add weight to their opinion?

Specific Issues for Interview with a Former Partner

  • How much contact do they have with the applicant?
  • What is their view on why the relationship ended?
  • Were there any issues of violence or abuse within the relationship or outside the relationship?
  • How would they describe the relationship?
  • How long did it last?
  • If there were children from the partnership how would they describe the applicants parenting ability?
  • What is contact like now?
  • How might their children be affected by fostering?
  • What were the relationships like with the extended family?
  • Are there any concerns regarding the application or reason why the application should not proceed?

Specific Issues for Interview with Adult children

  • Are they aware of the plan to foster?
  • What is their understanding of fostering?
  • What is their relationship with their parents?
  • How do they view the prospect of their parents caring for another child and the impact on them?
  • How would they describe being parented by them?
  • How would they describe their parents' relationship:
    • Their support network;
    • Their ability to work in partnership.
  • Had they been harmed in any way by either parent during their childhood?
  • Will a child placed with them be safe?
  • Do they know of any reason why their parent should not be approved as a foster carer?