South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures
South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures South West Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures

6.1.3 Recruitment, Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers

RELEVANT CHAPTER

Fostering Agency Transfers Procedure

Placement with Connected Persons Procedure

AMENDMENT

This chapter was extensively updated in May 2018. It should be re-read in its entirety.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Statutory Guidance
  3. Initial Enquiries
  4. Initial Visit
  5. Application
  6. Stage One Checks
  7. Stage Two Checks and References
  8. Stage Two Assessment
  9. Skills to Foster Training
  10. Prospective Foster Carers Report
  11. Fostering Panel
  12. Agency Decisions
  13. Representations Procedure
  14. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments


1. Introduction

The Local Authority's Fostering Service intends to only recruit Foster Carers who are able to meet the needs of children and young people in care.

This procedure is in place to ensure that the Fostering Service carries out a robust and thorough assessment on applicants who wish to become Foster Carers in order to secure the best possible outcomes for children and young people who are to live in their care.

This procedure also outlines the training provided by the Fostering Service for applicants who wish to become Foster Carers. This training focuses on the skills required to provide high quality care to meet the needs of each child or young person placed in their care.


2. Statutory Guidance

Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004

The Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004 set out how all Local Authorities should provide services and support for children, young people and families, including Children in Care.

Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 4: Fostering Services (amended July 2013) and Working Together to Safeguard Children (2015) set out how organisations and individuals should work together to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and young people in accordance with the Children Act 1989 and Children Act 2004.

The Fostering Services National Minimum Standards and Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, as amended by the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013 are applicable to Local Authority Fostering Services, Independent Fostering Agencies and voluntary organisations providing fostering services under s59 of the Children Act 1989. In relation to this procedure regulations 23, 24, 25, 26, 27 and 28 have particular relevance.

Standard 13 of the National Minimum Standard:

Click here to view Standard 13: Recruiting and Assessing Foster Carers who can meet the Needs of Looked After Children.

The Fostering Service recruits, assesses and supports a range of Foster Carers to meet the needs of children they provide care for and is proactive in assessing current and future needs of children.

Standard 14 of the National Minimum Standard:

Click here to view Standard 14: Fostering Panels and the Fostering Service's Decision-Maker.

The Fostering Panel and Agency Decision Maker make timely, quality and appropriate recommendations / decisions in line with the overriding objective to promote the welfare of children in Foster Care.

Schedule 3

Click here to view The Fostering Services Regulations 2011, Schedule 3, as amended by the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013.

Schedule 3 provides a list of information to be obtained by the Fostering Service through the assessment of applicants to be Foster Carers and other members of their household and family.


3. Initial Enquiries

On receipt of an enquiry (received via the website, by email, telephone or in writing), the Fostering Recruitment Advisor will undertake an initial check against the eligibility criteria, see Foster for Plymouth (Plymouth Council website). If the criteria are met the Fostering Recruitment Advisor will complete an 'Initial Contact Questionnaire'. The assessment is recorded on CareFirst (Word document on SAN for ease while on the phone). If the enquirer is a Foster Carer from another Independent Fostering Agency or Fostering Service please follow the supplementary procedures relating to Fostering Agency Transfers Procedure.

As part of recording the initial enquiry and in accordance with Regulation 26 (1)(d) (which states consult and take into account the views of the local authority in whose area the applicant lives), a check is to be made on CareFirst by the Fostering Recruitment Advisor to ascertain if the enquirer and their family are known to Children's Social Care. By 'known' we mean the enquirer has an open or closed case on CareFirst.

Completed Initial Contact Questionnaire is passed to the Fostering Team Manager for review and a decision regarding whether to proceed. If proceeding, an Information Pack and invite to the next Information Evening will be sent out within five working days. If the enquirer has transferable experience or has already been visited by an IFA, the Fostering Team Manager may request that an Assessing Social Worker complete an Initial Visit rather than wait for an Information Evening.

If the enquirer has not responded to the information Evening invite by the given date, the Fostering Recruitment Advisor will make a follow up call to ascertain if the enquirer will be attending the Information Evening or requires another date.

At the Information Evening all enquirers who wish to proceed with their enquiry will be asked to complete a 'Take the Next Step' form.

An Assessing Supervising Social Worker will be allocated to complete an Initial Visit to each enquirer who wishes to proceed. The Assessing Social Worker will contact the enquirer within ten working days to arrange an Initial Visit.


4. Initial Visit

The aim of the initial visit is to raise awareness of the nature of fostering and the effect it may have on family life. The enquirers attitudes to becoming a Foster Carer are to also be explored as part of the assessment process. The Initial Visit will also gather further information to provide the decision maker with basic information about the applicant to enable clearly unsuitable applicants to be sifted out without unnecessary bureaucracy or expenditure of time and resource by the fostering service or the applicant.

At the initial visit the Assessing Supervising Social Worker is to:

  • Obtain as much as possible of the information required by Part 1 of Schedule 3 of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 (as amended) (see below);
  • Inform the enquirer about the information the Fostering Service is required to obtain about them, the confidential nature of such information and how the information will be recorded, used and stored;
  • Assess the suitability of the accommodation in the home;

The Initial Visit is recorded on Carefirst6 and the Assessing Social Worker will make a recommendation. The assessment will be passed to the Fostering Team Manager for a decision if the Assessing Social Worker is not able to invite an application at this stage.

(Please see Personal Care and Relationships Procedure, Child Online Safety).


5. Application

The Application Form will require the following information to be obtained in relation to the applicant and other members of their household/family, as specified in Part 1 of Schedule 3 of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 (as amended):

  • Full name, address and date of birth of each applicant;
  • Details of GP for each applicant;
  • 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 twelve months, been a foster parent approved by another fostering service provider, the name and address of that fostering service provider;
  • Names and addresses of at least three persons who will provide personal references;
  • Details of current, and any previous, marriage, civil partnership or similar relationship;
  • Details of current and previous employers.

Upon receipt of the completed and signed Application Form the Fostering Team Manager will review the form and make a decision as to whether the application is accepted. If there is any missing information this may be requested prior to a decision being taken. The decision will be made within ten days and communicated in writing to the applicant.


6. Stage One Checks

Stage One of the assessment process is intended to provide the decision maker with basic information about the applicant to enable clearly unsuitable applicants to be sifted out without unnecessary bureaucracy or expenditure of time and resource by the fostering service or the applicant.

Upon receipt of an application, a Carefirst6 check will be completed for the applicant(s), their children and any other household members who have given signed consent to checks.

Where an application to foster is accepted into Stage One, an Assessing Social Worker will be allocated and will complete a Stage One Agreement with the applicants. The Assessing Social Worker will complete the Fostering Checks Checklist and pass to the Fostering Recruitment Advisor to be prepared and sent out.

Stage One Checks will include the following and may include any of the Stage Two checks that are deemed necessary:

  • Carefirst Record Checks;
  • DBS Checks for applicants and all adults over the age of 18 in the household;
  • Personal Referees;
  • Out of County Checks.

DBS Checks

An application is to no longer continue if the applicant has been:

  • Convicted of a specified offence which was committed at the age of 18 or over; or
  • Cautioned by a constable in respect of any such offence which was admitted, when the caution was given.

In accordance with Regulation 26 (6) a 'specified offence' means:

  • An offence against a child;
  • An offence specified in Part 1 of Schedule 4 of The Fostering Service Regulations 2011;
  • An offence contrary to section 170 of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 in relation to importing pornography and indecent images of children under the age of 16 years;
  • Any offence involving bodily injury to a child or young person.

In the case of disclosures received from the Enhanced DBS check, the Assessing Supervising Social Worker is to notify the Fostering Team Manager and, upon instruction, undertake an interview with the applicant and complete a report. The Fostering Team Manager is to comment on this report prior to it being sent to the Registered Manager/Service Manager for Permanency. (See Process for Permanency Decision Procedure). The Service Manager is to consider this report and decide whether the application is to continue. The Service Manager may consult the Agency Decision Maker if necessary.

Local Authority Checks

Where applicants live outside the Plymouth area or have lived outside the Plymouth area as adults, checks must be made within the relevant Local Authority.

If the applicants have lived outside the UK as an adult, where possible the applicant is to provide a 'certificate of good conduct' and checks may also be made through CFAB (previously International Social Services) and/or the relevant Consulate, on all members of the household aged over 16 years. If this is not possible there is to be a discussion with the Service Manager, who is to decide whether to continue with the BAAF form F assessment.

Where applicants have recently moved to the UK, (within the last 10 years), checks will also be made through Protecting Children and Uniting Families Across Borders (CFAB) (formerly known as International Social Services) and/or the relevant Consulate on all members of the household aged 10 and over.

Where the applicant has previous been 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.

Upon receipt of all Stage One checks, the Assessing Social Worker must complete the Stage One Decision Sheet and pass their recommendation to the Fostering Team Manager for a decision regarding the suitability to continue with assessment. The applicant must be notified of the outcome in writing within ten working days. The applicant will then progress to Stage Two of the assessment.

Where it is decided by the Fostering Team Manager that the applicant is not suitable to progress to Stage Two, the applicant must be notified of the outcome in writing with reasons within ten working days of the final Stage One check being obtained but can be given before all information is received. The outcome will be recorded and the referral will be closed.

Where the decision is taken not to progress to Stage Two, the applicant has no right to make representations about the decision or to have their case reviewed under the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM). However, the applicant must be informed that they can make a formal complaint 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 8, Assessment Stage Two.

Note that Stages One and Two of the assessment process can be carried out concurrently, but the Stage One information must be sought as soon as possible, and the decision about whether an applicant has successfully completed Stage One must be made within 10 working days of all the information required in that Stage being received.


7. Stage Two Checks and References

Stage Two checks and references will usually be sent out at the same time as Stage One checks, but may be held until Stage One is completed in certain circumstances.

Stage Two Checks will include the following; additional checks may be added with the consent of the applicants, adult children and household members over the age of 16. References will be requested using the Coram BAAF templates to ensure consistent references that provide all of the required information:

  • Medical;
  • Children, including adult children;
  • Personal referees;
  • Former partners;
  • Probation Service (Where DBS Check has disclosures);
  • Current employer (including voluntary positions);
  • Previous employers (including voluntary positions) where the work involved children or vulnerable adults;
  • Previous fostering services or adoption agencies;
  • CAFCASS;
  • Schools, colleges and nurseries attended by children in household;
  • Health visitors currently allocated to children in household;
  • NSPCC.

Medicals

All applicants will complete an AH1 Medical with their GP. The applicants will be provided with the relevant medical form to fill in with their details and send to their GP with a covering letter requesting that the GP complete the Form and send it to the manager.

On receipt the manager will pass the information to the Medical Adviser for comment.

Where the medical information suggests that the applicant may not be suitable for health reasons, this should be discussed in detail with the applicant(s) and withdrawal may be advisable at this stage. Additional advice may be sought from the Medical Adviser or the Medical Adviser may raise questions with the GP where this is appropriate. It may be necessary for reports from other health professionals also to be obtained and presented to the Medical Adviser and the Fostering Panel.

Children (Including adult children)

All adult children who do not live with the applicant may be contacted as part of the assessment process. This is to ascertain their views on the applicants wish to become a Foster Carer.

Children living within the household will be interviewed and included in the assessment (see Section 8, Stage Two Assessment).

Personal References

Applicants must identify personal referees to provide written references that meet the following criteria:

  • Single applicants must nominate three referees;
  • Joint applicants must nominate three referees who know them as a couple or two referees who know them as a couple and a further referee specific to each applicant;
  • Referees are to have known the applicant(s) for a minimum of three years and only one reference may be received from a relative.

Employment References

Written references must be obtained from applicants' current employers and previous from the last five years, including voluntary positions.

If any applicants have worked in a childcare capacity, references from all relevant employers must be gathered about their care of children.

Health Visitor/School/Nursery Checks

Where the applicant has children, Health Visitor checks will be carried out with the relevant health authority.

Where the applicant has school age children, the relevant nursery, school or education provider is to be contacted for information regarding the applicant's ability to promote the child's education.

Previous applications to foster or adopt

Where the prospective applicant has made a previous application to foster or adopt, the relevant agency must be asked to confirm in writing the outcome of the application and provide a written reference.

If you have been referred to this section from the Assessment and Approval of Connected persons procedures it is the Form C that is used rather than the Form F. Some of the Form F information may not be required for the Form C Assessment.


8. Stage Two Assessment

Where an application to foster progresses to Stage Two, the Assessing Social Worker will complete a Stage Two Agreement with the applicants and book a Fostering Panel date within the required timescale. The National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services 2011 state that the suitability of a prospective foster carer must be decided upon within eight months of their application to foster.

The BAAF form F assessment is to be carried out by a qualified Social Worker with suitable experience in accordance with the relevant guidance. The BAAF form F assessment is to comprise of a series of interviews, the majority of which are to take place in the applicant's home; applicants are to be interviewed together but are to be interviewed at least once alone. Other members of the household are also to be interviewed; including children who are to be interviewed individually unless it is not appropriate to do so. All information provided by the applicant must be independently verified where possible.

If you have been referred to this section from the Assessment and Approval of Connected Persons procedures it is the Form C that is used rather than the Form F. Some of the Form F information may not be required for the Form C Assessment.

Involving children in the BAAF form F assessment

Children living at home are to be involved in the BAAF Form F assessment process as fully as possible, having regard to their age and understanding. Children are to be seen at least once on their own to ascertain their wishes and feelings about their parents' application and to assess how well prepared they are for becoming a member of a fostering household.

A Fostering Family Support Worker can be allocated to complete a piece of work with children in the household if this is deemed appropriate.

All children of the applicants, who do not reside in the household, are to be contacted and interviewed unless there are exceptional circumstances.

A Second Opinion Visit can be requested at any stage of the process where there are issues of concern identified by the assessor, where there is some doubt about whether to recommend the applicant/s as suitable, or where there have been difficulties in the working relationship between the assessor and applicant/s.

Where, having regard to information obtained during Stage Two and after a Second Opinion Visit, it is decided that the applicant is unlikely to be considered suitable to become a foster parent, notwithstanding that not all the Stage Two 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).

Interviewing Personal Referees - In accordance with Regulation 26 (1)(c) the Assessing Supervising Social Worker is to interview two personal referees as part of the assessment process and prepare written reports. At the start of the interview, the referee is to be informed that the written report of the interview will not be shared with the applicant but that any issues arising during the interview may be discussed.

The interview is to include discussions on the following:

  • The applicant's personality;
  • The stability of the applicants' relationship (if applicable);
  • The referee's impression of the applicant's general physical and emotional well being;
  • The referee's opinion on the applicant's ability to relate to children, and the basis of the opinion;
  • An opinion about whether fostering is appropriate for the applicant;
  • Any reservations the referee may have about any aspect of the application;
  • Whether the referee wholeheartedly supports the application;
  • What support the referee is able to offer the prospective Foster Carers;
  • Whether the referee has any reason to believe the applicant would harm the children in their care.

Interviewing Ex-Partners - The Assessing Supervising Social Worker is to contact and interview all the applicant's previous and recent partners. This includes relationships where:

  • Any children were parented together, even if they are not the applicant's biological children; and
  • There are adult children who are living away from home.


9. Skills to Foster Training

'Skills to Foster' is preparatory training which the Fostering Service provides to ensure that Foster Carers are trained in the skills required to provide high quality care and meet the needs of each child/young person placed in their care. All applicants will need to attend Skills to Foster Training in Stage Two (It may be agreed that this take place in Stage One with the agreement of the applicants). Where the application is for a couple, both applicants are required to attend the training and all applicants are expected to attend the full three days.

If the group leaders have concerns that an applicant should not continue with the assessment, they are to discuss this sensitively with the applicant first, outside the group. If these concerns remain, the group leader is to discuss these issues with the Assessing Supervising Social Worker who is to inform the Fostering Team Manager if these concerns remain unresolved.

Applicants are required to complete a Self-Evaluation after each training day and the facilitators will provide feedback to support their reflection and learning.

Applicants are to be informed that written observations will be undertaken by the group leaders and passed to the Assessing Supervising Social Worker. These observations will form part of the assessment process and be incorporated into the assessment report. Facilitators will complete a Training Report after the course has concluded and the Self-Evaluation has been received.

Applicants will be invited to attend a Young People’s Panel following their attendance at Skills to Foster which will inform their assessment.

If you have been referred to this section from the Assessment and Approval of Connected Persons procedures, applicants will be invited to a Connected Carer Workshop rather than Skills to Foster.


10. Prospective Foster Carers Report

The information gathered during the assessment process, including the 'Skills to Foster' course and the checks and references), are to form the basis of the Foster Carers Assessment Report (BAAF Form F report). The BAAF form F is to contain all the information set out in Schedule 3 of The Fostering Service (England) Regulations 2011 (as amended). The report should address diversity issues and contain a summary of the assessed strengths and vulnerabilities of the applicant, together with a recommendation for approval.

Once a stage two assessment has been started it must be completed, unless:

  • The assessment is terminated following a Brief Report; to panel;
  • The applicant withdraws from the process; or
  • The applicant is deemed unsuitable as a result of Stage One of the assessment (where stages one and two have been carried out in parallel); or
  • It becomes apparent that the applicant or an adult member of their household has been convicted of, or cautioned for, a specified offence (defined in regulation 26(6)).

When the BAAF form F report is completed, it is to be passed to the Fostering Team Manager for approval and then the Fostering Panel Advisor for scrutiny.

When the BAAF Form F report is approved, it is to be shown to the applicant for signature and their comments. Applicants are not to be shown any comments made by referees or any other third party information. The applicants must be notified that the case is to be referred to the fostering panel, and invited to send any observations in writing within 10 working days.

Brief Report Regulation 26(3) provides that if, before the assessment is complete, information comes to light indicating that the applicant is unlikely to be suitable to foster, a Brief Report can be compiled setting out details of the assessment done and the reasons for considering the applicant unsuitable. The applicant must be:

  • Notified that the Brief Report is to be sent to the panel;
  • Provided with a copy of the Brief Report; and given 10 working days from the date of the notification to send their observations to the fostering service.

The Brief Report should then be presented to the Fostering Panel for consideration, along with any observations submitted by the applicant and any other relevant information. The decision maker’s determination about whether to terminate the assessment following a Brief Report must take account of the recommendations of the Fostering Panel.

When an assessment is successfully completed the Assessing Supervising Social Worker is to send the BAAF form F report, together with any written comments, to the Fostering Panel Administrator at least ten working days before the Fostering Panel meeting.


11. Fostering Panel

The date of the Fostering Panel meeting is to be communicated to the applicant as soon as possible, together with an invitation to attend. The applicants are to be provided with a leaflet containing written information about their right to attend the Fostering Panel meeting, the Fostering Panel process, its membership and their respective roles. If an applicant knows a particular Fostering Panel member, they may request that the Fostering Panel member stands down (Fostering Panel members are in any event expected to declare an interest in these circumstances (see Fostering Panel Procedure, Panel Meetings).

The Fostering Panel must make a recommendation on approval within eight months of the application to be assessed.

The BAAF form F report is to be presented to the Fostering Panel by the Assessing Supervising Social Worker.

The Fostering Panel is to consider the BAAF form F report together with the applicant's written comments, all the supporting documentation and any additional information presented verbally

The Fostering Panel is to then make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker regarding the suitability of the applicant to foster children. The recommendation is to be recorded in writing and, where approval is recommended, advice given about the number of children the prospective Foster Carer may be suitable to foster, the age range, sex, likely needs and background. Reasons for the recommendations and any advice as set out above are to also be recorded in the Fostering Panel minutes.

The Assessing Supervising Social Worker undertaking the assessment is to advise the applicant of the Fostering Panel recommendation within 24 hours of the Fostering Panel meeting. This can be verbally, by telephone or by a home visit.

If you have been referred to this section from the Assessment and Approval of Connected Persons procedures it is the Form C that is used rather than the Form F. Some of the Form F information may not be required for the Form C Assessment.


12. Agency Decisions

The Agency Decision Maker is provided with the Fostering Panel minutes, Fostering Panel recommendation and the reports submitted to the Fostering Panel to consider the case within three working days of the Fostering Panel meeting.

The Agency Decision Maker is to consider all the available information in deciding whether the Applicants are to be approved. The Agency Decision Maker is to make their decision within seven working days (maximum of 15 working days) of the Fostering Panels recommendations being made.

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 Assessing Supervising Social Worker is to arrange for the applicant to be verbally informed of the decision within two working days. The Fostering Panel Administrator is to send written notice of the decision, signed by the Agency Decision Maker, within five working days of the decision.

If the applicant has been approved, the Fostering Panel Administrator is to send the approved applicant a letter outlining the terms of any approval; for example, whether it is in respect of a particular named child, the number and age range of children, placements of any kind or particular circumstances and two copies of the Foster Carers agreement for signature. The Foster Carer agreement is to include the matters and obligations outlined in Schedule 5 of The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011.

The Fostering Team Manager will arrange for the applicants to be sent a Welcome letter from the registered Manager and a Welcome Pack.

The newly approved foster Carers will be allocated a Supervising Social Worker and a handover visit with the Assessing Social Worker will be arranged. The Assessing or Supervising Social Worker will collect one copy of the Foster Carer Agreement for the case records.

Upon approval, Foster Carers will be asked to supply photographs and will then be issued with Foster Carer ID Cards to enable their role as a foster carer to be verified.

Where the Agency Decision Maker does not intend to accept the Fostering Panel's recommendation, they may wish to discuss this with another senior person in the Fostering Agency (who is not a Fostering Panel member). The outcome of the discussion is to be recorded on the appropriate case record by the Assessing Social Worker.

If after consideration of the Fostering Panel's recommendations, the Agency Decision Maker does not approve an application, the applicants must be notified in writing within five working days of receipt of the Fostering Panel minutes. This is referred to as the 'Qualifying Determination'. The letter is to include an explanation of the reasons, a copy of the recommendations of the Fostering Panel, including its reasons if different, and must explain the options open to them within 28 days of receiving the letter. Information and a leaflet about the Independent Reviewing Mechanism must also be included.

If no written representations or notification of a request for a review are received within the 28-day period, the Agency Decision Maker will decide whether or not to approve the applicant as a foster carer (following a full assessment) or continue the assessment (following a Brief Report).


13. Representations Procedure

Prospective or approved Foster Carers have three options if the Fostering Agency is proposing, at the end of the Stage Two Assessment, not to approve them as carers. They can:

  1. Accept the proposal;
  2. Appeal to the Agency Decision Maker or the Fostering Panel;
  3. Request for the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) to review the Fostering Panel's recommendation. Prospective or approved Foster Carers can request the IRM, in writing and with reasons, to review all the papers considered by the Plymouth Fostering Panel with whose recommendation the Foster Carers disagree.

Where it is decided at Stage One of the assessment process that the applicant is not suitable to become a Foster Carer, there is no right to have the case reviewed under the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM).

Appealing to the Agency Decision Maker or the Fostering Panel

The applicant can write to the Agency Decision Maker within 28 days and make representations as to why they disagree with the decision. Any new information is to be referred back by the Agency Decision Maker to the Fostering Panel where the recommendation is to be reviewed.

The Panel Administrator must receive notification of the applicants wish to attend or make written representations to the Fostering Panel within 28 working days of the date of the written notice of the decision.

If written representations or a request to attend the Fostering Panel are made within the period, the matter must be referred to the Fostering Panel for further consideration. The Fostering Panel Administrator is to advise the applicant within seven working days of the date of the Fostering Panel meeting when they can attend or when their written representations will be considered.

In these circumstances, applicants who wish to attend the Fostering Panel meeting can arrange for a friend or supporter to accompany them.

After considering the representations, the Fostering Panel is to make further recommendations either confirming or amending their previous views. The Agency Decision Maker is to consider the Fostering Panel's recommendation before a final decision is to be made.

Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant within seven working days of the Fostering Panel meeting.

A copy of the Form F report to the Fostering Panel, the Fostering Panel's recommendation and the decision must be retained on the applicant's case record.

Independent Reviewing Mechanism

Since 2009, the Independent Reviewing Mechanism (IRM) provides Foster Caring applicants in England with the option of applying to an independent body to review the Fostering Agency's determination not to approve them as Foster Carers (or to withdraw or vary the terms of an existing Foster Carer's approval). The IRM is operated by British Association of Adoption and Fostering (BAAF) on behalf of the Department for Education (Formerly Department for Children, Schools and Families).

Its purpose is to sit as an Independent Fostering Panel and to make a recommendation to the Fostering Agency about whether or not a person is suitable to act as a Foster Carer, whether they are to have their approval terminated or their terms of approval varied.

The IRM is not an appeal process; its function is to review anew all the documents and information that have been presented to the Fostering Panel and which have resulted in a 'Qualifying Determination' (a proposal with which the carers disagree).

The IRM is to review the qualifying determinations made by the Fostering Service and make a new recommendation having considered all the relevant information afresh. In accordance with Regulation 29 the Fostering Service must, within 10 days, of notification of referral to the IRM, supply the IRM with the documentation submitted to the Fostering Panel and any relevant information received subsequently along with copies of the notices of determination.

The IRM is to then make an independent recommendation back to the Agency Decision Maker. The IRM recommendation is to be considered together with the original recommendation and the Agency Decision Maker is to make a new decision.

This recommendation must be taken into account by the Agency Decision Maker when making their final decision. However, the final decision about approval rests with the Agency Decision Maker.

The IRM is not available to Foster Carers where they or a family member are turned down because they have been convicted of a specified offence, or been cautioned for such an offence where the offence was admitted to at the time, and they were over 18 at the time of the offence being committed (please see Section 7, Stage Two Checks and References, for details on specified offences).

The IRM is not available retrospectively.


14. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments

14.1 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 acknowledged the request within two working days, seek consent from all others referred to in the information within five working days and the information, redacted where necessary, should be provided within 15 working days.

End