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

6.1.2 Fostering Panel

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter explains the membership, purpose, functions and arrangements for meetings of the Fostering Panel.

AMENDMENT

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


Contents

  1. Purpose and Function
  2. Membership
  3. Panel Adviser
  4. Panel Meetings
  5. Panel Minutes
  6. Agency Decision Maker
  7. Independent Review Mechanism


1. Purpose and Function

The Fostering Panel monitors the range and type of foster carers available to the local authority in comparison with the needs of children, and plays a key role in the improvement of standards within the fostering service.

As part of this function, the Panel oversees the conduct of assessments and annual reviews of approved foster carers, advises on the procedure for review of carers and their effectiveness, and any relevant matters in relation to the fostering service. It also makes recommendations to Children's Social Care about quality issues and performance standards.

In particular, the Panel makes recommendations as to the following:

  1. The suitability of applicants to act as foster carers and terms of their approval (including Connected Persons);
  2. The continued suitability of foster carers and whether the terms of their approval remain appropriate (after the first annual review of foster carers and any other review where significant changes or termination of approval is recommended - see Review and Termination of Foster Carers Procedure). The agency may also refer three year reviews to the Fostering Panel;
  3. The permanent match of children and young people with approved foster carers;
  4. Any other matters relevant to a foster carer which the fostering service provider refers to Panel.

The Panel will receive annually the Fostering Service Manager's annual report on the Panel's business, including statistical information about approvals, reviews, termination of approvals, the number of children in placement and complaints received about foster carers during the preceding year.

The Chair will communicate any issues of concern to the Fostering Service Manager and take part in quarterly meetings with him or her and the Vice Chair to review the Panel's functioning and report on the quality of work being presented to Panel, to ensure good standards are maintained.

At the quarterly meetings, the Panel Administrator will provide statistical information in relation to the Panel business, together with information on the numbers of foster carers used by the local authority and the number of children looked after by the local authority. This will enable an appraisal of the extent to which the fostering service is meeting the demand for placements.


2. Membership

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.

When setting up a Fostering Panel, members will be drawn from this Central List. The same people do not have to be appointed to every Panel meeting.

The Central List should include:

  • An independent Chair;
  • One or two vice chairs (who may or may not be independent);
  • One or more social workers with at least 3 years' relevant post qualifying experience in child care social work, including direct experience of fostering, either within a fostering service or in placing and supervising children in foster care (not necessarily employed by the agency);
  • Other independent persons such as people with experience of fostering, the health and education of Children in Care. Elected members, as representatives of the corporate parent, may also make a valuable contribution as panel members.

Panels should be gender balanced as far as possible and reflect the diversity of the local community.

The Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) on fostering matters must not be included on the Central List.

The agency should decide how many people should sit at each Panel meeting, provided that there is a quorum of 5, one of whom must be the Chair or Vice Chair, one of the social worker representatives and at least one independent member.

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.

2.1 Appointments to Central List

Those on the Central List are appointed by the Designated Manager (Fostering Panel Appointments) and will be able to continue their membership as long as they are able to carry out their duties.

All those on the Central List should have undergone a recruitment process that includes interviews, identity checks, verification of qualifications and right to work in the UK, references and Disclosure and Barring Service checks, which are recorded. Disclosure and Barring Service checks must be renewed every three years and must complete self-declaration forms when requested to do so.

New appointees will be asked to give signed agreement to checks being undertaken as above and cannot take up their appointment until the outcome of the checks are known. They are excluded from panel membership if they have any offences against children or of violence. They are required to notify the Panel Adviser immediately if they receive such a conviction or caution while on the Central List.

They should have the opportunity to observe a Fostering Panel meeting before they sit as a member and to attend an annual joint training day with fostering service staff; have induction training completed within 10 weeks of inclusion on the list and access to appropriate training and skills development and are kept abreast of changes to legislation, regulation and guidance.

They should also have access to the agency's whistleblowing policy.

Written information about the expectations arising from their appointment should be given to new appointees to the Central List (in relation to their performance objectives, participation in induction and other training, safeguarding the confidentiality of information provided to the Panel and their general conduct - see Section 2.2, Confidentiality and Section 2.3, General Conduct) and they should be asked to sign a written agreement confirming their acceptance of these before taking up their appointment.

2.2 Confidentiality

All written and verbal information given to Fostering Panel members in the course of their duties is strictly confidential. Before taking up their appointment, Fostering Panel members are required to sign a written agreement confirming that all information they receive remains confidential.

Fostering Panel members are expected to keep all written information in a secure place and return all Fostering Panel documents to the Fostering Agency immediately after each Fostering Panel meeting.

Fostering Panel members must not copy, in part or in whole, any documents that relate to a case.

If a Fostering Panel member has some knowledge of a case, whether in a personal or professional capacity, they are to declare an interest and inform the Panel Adviser. This is to be done at the earliest opportunity on receipt of the Fostering Panel papers to ensure the panel is able to remain quorate.

Failure to comply with the above may result in the member's appointment being reviewed by the Fostering Panel and potentially withdrawn.

2.3 General Conduct

Fostering Panel members must be committed to Plymouth City Council's equalities and diversity policy and, as such, must be prepared to consider each case on its own merit.

Prior to the Fostering Panel meeting, Fostering Panel members must read and give due consideration to the reports circulated in order to be prepared and have the ability to contribute to the Fostering Panel discussion.

The Chair, in conjunction with the Panel Adviser, is to review each Fostering Panel member's performance on a formal basis at an annual appraisal.

If there are concerns about the conduct or behaviour of a Fostering Panel member, the Chair and Panel Adviser are to be notified. The Chair or the Panel Adviser is to raise these concerns with the Fostering Panel member privately.

If concerns about a Fostering Panel member's conduct cannot be resolved informally, the Registered Fostering Agency Manager (also known as the Service Manager for Permanency and Placements) is to put the concerns in writing to the Fostering Panel member and include what action is proposed.

The Chair's performance is to be reviewed annually by the Panel Adviser and the Agency Decision Maker, taking into account the views of Fostering Panel members and those who attend Fostering Panel meetings, for example; Fostering Social Workers and prospective Foster Carers.

2.4 Conflicts of interest

Panel members should consider any conflicts of interest in relation to Panel agenda items. A potential conflict arises if an interest may be seen to adversely affect a Panel member's capacity to act without prejudice or preference in a matter.

It is anticipated that in many circumstances there may be professional knowledge of a case which should be notified to the Chair but which will not affect a member's capacity to participate in the Panel. In other circumstances there may be a personal interest or connection which would require the Panel member to refrain from participation. It may be less clear in some cases when advice should be sought.

In the case of a potential conflict of interest where advice is required, Panel members should consult the Chair or Legal Adviser, giving as much advance notice as possible particularly having regard to the implications for the quorum.

2.5 Resignation from Central List

Panel members are expected to give a minimum of one month's written notice, except where personal emergencies occur, e.g. accidents, illness. Resignation letters are to be addressed to the Fostering Panel Adviser.

Verbal resignations may be given, but must always be followed by a written resignation.

Fostering Panel members are not expected to temporarily withdraw their services because of disputes/disagreements over Fostering Panel practice or policy. Any Fostering Panel member taking such action is to be deemed to have formally resigned with immediate effect, even if no written resignation has been received.

Fostering Panel members wishing to withdraw a submitted written resignation must do so before the one month notice period expires by writing to the Fostering Panel Adviser), who reserves the right not to accept a withdrawal of notice and to allow the original letter of resignation to stand.

2.6 Termination of appointment

Where there are concerns about a Fostering Panel member's behaviour (either inside or outside the meetings) and attempts to resolve the difficulties informally have not been successful, the Panel Adviser is to decide in conjunction with the Panel Chair whether to propose the end of the appointment and, if so, is to advise the Fostering Panel member, in writing, giving clear justification for the proposal.

The Fostering Panel member is to be given the opportunity to make observations on the matter before the Registered Fostering Agency Manager makes a final decision.


3. Panel Adviser

The Fostering Panel has access to the advice of a professional adviser, known as the Fostering Panel Adviser. The Fostering Panel Adviser is to attend all Panel meetings but is not a member, does not have a vote, and is not to participate in making recommendations.

The Fostering Panel Adviser's role includes:

  • Advising the Fostering Panel on regulations, policies and procedures;
  • Ensuring that all the necessary reports are available for the Fostering Panel;
  • Providing updates on matters presented;
  • Receiving feedback about practice issues from the Fostering Panel and feeding this back to the Fostering Service;
  • Recruiting and appointing Fostering Panel members along side the Chair;
  • Arranging the induction, appraisal, annual review and training of Fostering Panel members;
  • Being involved in overseeing the quality of reports provided to the Fostering Panel.


4. Panel Meetings

The Fostering Panel will meet twice monthly.

The Fostering Panel Advisor and Administrator, with the Chair's authority, is to arrange additional special meetings as necessary, where there is a need to consider an urgent matter.

The Fostering Panel Administrator is to prepare and circulate an annual list of Fostering Panel dates and deadlines for the submission of reports every November for the following year.

The Fostering Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Fostering Panel Adviser, prepares the agenda for each meeting and ensures all the papers are in order.

In the event that papers are still incomplete or there remain outstanding concerns, the Fostering Panel Adviser may withdraw the case from the agenda and the Fostering Social Worker is to book an alternative Fostering Panel meeting date.

Fostering Panel papers and agenda are to be circulated to members at least five working days in advance of the Fostering Panel meeting by the Fostering Panel Administrator. Wherever possible they will be circulated earlier than the 5 working days. These must be delivered directly to Fostering Panel members either by internal Plymouth City Council mail or by recorded delivery and a signature obtained as proof of receipt by the addressee.

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.

The Panel Administrator will arrange for the Legal Adviser to attend the Panel if required by the Chair or by the worker presenting a report.

The Panel's Medical Adviser will provide medical advice on matters to be brought to the Panel, and this will be conveyed to Panel by the Health Representative who is a panel member.

The Panel Administrator may arrange for observers to attend meetings, in consultation with the Chair, but only one observer may attend at any one time.

It is expected that Fostering Service Social Workers and the child's Social Worker will present their case to the Fostering Panel. Only in exceptional circumstances can another person deputise and this must be either a Social Worker or a Team Manager with a sound understanding of the case.

The Panel welcomes the attendance of prospective foster carers at meetings during consideration of their applications for approval. Applicants can attend with a supporter and 'be heard' at fostering panel meetings that consider their approval - for the assessment and approval process in more detail - see Recruitment, Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.

The Chair's role is to ensure that all members participate fully in the meetings, (unless an interest has been declared - see below), and that each member has an opportunity to raise questions or offer comments on each matter considered, that sensitive regard is paid to foster carers while keeping the child's welfare paramount, that consensus is achieved wherever possible and that the Panel has clear reasons for its recommendations.

Where there is a serious difference of opinion among members, the Chair may ask for more information to be made available to the Panel before a recommendation is made. Serious reservations expressed by individual Panel members about a particular recommendation must be recorded in the Panel minutes for consideration by the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering).

At the end of meetings, the Panel Administrator will collect all reports and agenda from members (for shredding). Panel members who are unable to attend meetings will be asked to return papers to the Panel Administrator (for shredding) as soon as practicable.


5. Panel Minutes

The Fostering Panel minutes are always to record information in relation to:

  • The reports received;
  • Who attended and for which part of the discussion;
  • Medical advice;
  • Legal advice;
  • The Fostering Panel's discussions (main points) and conclusions;
  • The Fostering Panel's recommendations and reasons, including any reservations expressed by any Fostering Panel member;
  • Any advice given by the Fostering Panel.

When making its recommendation the Fostering Panel's aim is to achieve a consensus view. In cases where unanimity cannot be achieved, it is important for views to be expressed, discussed and recorded where appropriate.

The draft Fostering Panel minutes are to be written in an agreed standard format.

The Chair is responsible for ensuring that written minutes of Panel meetings are accurate and clearly cover key issues and views expressed and record the reasons for recommendation.

The Panel Chair and Panel Advisor are to check the draft minutes. These are to then be forwarded to Panel members and Social Workers to check. Final minutes will then be sent to the Agency Decision Maker. A copy must be kept on every child's and Foster Carers file as appropriate.


6. Agency Decision Maker

Final minutes from the Fostering Panel's discussion, Panel’s recommendation and the papers submitted to the Fostering Panel to consider the case are to be made available to the Agency Decision Maker.

The Agency Decision Maker is to consider all the available information in reaching their decision. The Agency Decision Maker is to make their decision within seven working days of receipt of the final minutes and Panel’s recommendation.

Where the Agency Decision Maker does not intend to accept the Fostering Panel's recommendation, they should 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 Panel Outcome sheet by the Agency Decision Maker and on the appropriate case record by the Supervising Social Worker.

The outcome and justifications of the Agency's Decision Maker's decision is to be recorded. The Fostering Panel is informed of agency decisions made at their next meeting.

If, after consideration of the Fostering Panel's recommendations, the Agency Decision Maker does not approve an application or decides to terminate / vary an existing Foster Carer's approval, the applicants must be notified. This is referred to as the 'Qualifying Determination'. The Foster Carers are to be notified of the Qualifying Determination in writing within seven working days.

The letter is to include a copy of the Fostering Panel recommendations and an explanation of the reasons, and must also explain the options open to them which must be acted upon within 28 calendar days of the date of the letter. Information and a leaflet about the Independent Review Mechanism must also be included.

If the Fostering Agency is proposing not to approve them as carers, or terminate their approval or vary their approval against their wishes prospective or approved Foster Carers have three options. They can:

  1. Accept the proposal;

    A letter is to be sent by the Agency Decision Maker to formerly confirm this.
  2. Make representations to the Agency Decision Maker or the Fostering Panel;

    The prospective or approved Foster Carer can make written representations to the Agency Decision Maker to request that the decision be reviewed. The Agency Decision Maker may choose to refer any new information to the Plymouth Fostering Panel for the original recommendation to be reviewed. This revised recommendation is then to be passed to the Agency Decision Maker who must take this into account when making the final decision.
  3. Refer themselves to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) to review the Fostering Panel's recommendation;

    Prospective or approved Foster Carers can refer themselves to the IRM, in writing and with reasons, to request an independent review.
The prospective or approved Foster Carers may only choose one of the above options. The IRM Panel will make a recommendation and send this, and a copy of the IRM Panel’s Minutes, to the Agency Decision Maker who must take this into account when making the final decision. There is no further appeal against this decision, although the applicants are to be advised of any rights they may have to challenge the way their case has been handled by way of Plymouth City Council's Complaints and Representations procedure.


7. Independent Review Mechanism

See Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure, Representations / Independent Review Procedure.

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