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4.8.1 Fostering Panel

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

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

It should be read in conjunction with The National Minimum Standards for Fostering, Standard 14 Fostering Panels and the Fostering Services Decision Maker.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was amended in September 2011 in relation to the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, Associated Guidance and National Minimum Standards.


Contents

  1. Purpose and Function
  2. Membership
  3. Meetings
  4. Conflicts of Interest
  5. Appeals, Representation, Complaints


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 any relevant matters in relation to the fostering service and makes recommendations to Children's Services 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 Family and Friends Foster Carers);
  2. Exemptions from the limit to the number of children placed with foster carers;
  3. The continued suitability of the foster carers and whether the terms of the 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 of Foster Carers Procedure;
  4. Any other special matters relevant to a foster carer which the Chair of the Panel considers appropriate to be referred.

The Panel will also receive and consider any representations challenging a decision not to approve an applicant as suitable, or to terminate or revise the terms of a foster carer's approval - see Section 9, After the Approval, of Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.

The Panel will receive annually the Fostering Service'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 Group Manager (ILAC) 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

The Fostering Panel is drawn from a Central List of appropriately qualified and experienced people that must include:

  • An Independent Chair;
  • At least one social worker that has at least three years post qualifying experience in either fostering or children's placements in foster care;
  • Three other members from the Central List.

There is no limit on the amount of people on the central list, but there needs to be a pool of people with the required skills experience and qualifications to consider individual circumstances and avoid the postponement of meetings. The panel should not be so large that decisions are difficult to reach and that the meeting intimidates applicants and carers who are in attendance.

There must be one or two people who are appointed as vice chairs. If they act as the chair and they are not independent, the panel must include at least one other independent member.

The Agency Decision Maker may not be a member of the panel but they may attend panel in an observatory capacity to monitor the performance of the Panel chair.

Independent Panel members are entitled to claim attendance expenses on the same basis as elected members. Reasonable expenses relating to attendance can be met, including travelling expenses and childcare; attendance expenses can be claimed for training sessions.

All Panel members must have been the subjects of a satisfactory Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks before taking up their appointment. Personal and work references will also be obtained in writing and must be satisfactory.

Each member will be asked to sign an agreement with the Fostering Service, in relation to his or her membership, covering the service expectations - which they will receive in writing (including the requirement to report any involvement in criminal proceedings), confidentiality issues and commitment to anti-discriminatory practice.

A confidential file will be maintained in respect of each panel member containing:

  • Membership Agreement;
  • Confidentiality Agreement;
  • References that have been taken up;
  • Copies of qualifications for professional members;
  • Training attended;
  • Reviews of panel members;
  • Dates when DBS's completed and outcome.

All Panel members will also be required to attend at least one Panel meeting as an observer before taking up their membership and to attend an annual training day. The performance of panel members will be reviewed on an annual basis.

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.

Where there are concerns about a Panel member's behaviour either inside or outside the meetings, and this cannot be dealt with by advice, training and/or information, this will raised by the Chair with the ICS (ILAC). This manager will decide whether to end the appointment and if so, will advise the member in writing (giving one month's notice) giving clear reasons for the decision.

Panel members may resign by giving one month's notice to the ICS(ILAC).


3. Meetings

The Fostering Panel meets monthly. The Panel Administrator, with the Chair's authority, will arrange additional special meetings as necessary.

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, by attendance at Panel meetings or where this is not possible by telephone or an exchange of correspondence on individual cases in advance of the meeting as considered appropriate.

The Panel Administrator may arrange for observers to attend meetings, in consultation with the Chair, but no more than 2 observers may attend at any one time.

The Panel welcomes the attendance of prospective foster carers at meetings during consideration of their applications for approval - for the assessment and approval process in more detail - see Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.

The Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Chair, prepares the agenda for each meeting and sends out the agenda to Panel members one week before the meeting.

Those presenting reports to the Panel must send their reports to the Panel Administrator giving them sufficient time to distribute the papers to the panel members five working days before the meeting.

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.

The Panel Administrator will prepare the minutes in which reasons for recommendations and any disagreements or dissent will be fully recorded.

S/he will send the minutes and any other relevant papers to the Chair (and where relevant, the information from the Independent Review Mechanism) for approval of their accuracy, and then submit them to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) for approval of the recommendations made and this will be confirmed in writing within five working days.

The assessing social worker/fostering social worker will also ensure that applicants, foster carers and social workers are notified of Panel recommendations within one working day of the Panel. The Panel Administrator will provide social workers with a copy of the relevant minute after a decision has been made by the Agency Decision Maker.


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.


5. Appeals, Representations, Complaints

Where the panel recommends that a prospective carer should not be approved or that the agency should not proceed further with an assessment as the applicants are not likely to be approved, and the Agency Decision Maker is minded to accept that recommendation, the applicants should be advised in writing by the Agency Decision Maker. The applicants must be advised of their right to make representations to the agency or to apply to the Independent Review Mechanism. The applicants must be made aware that they cannot do both and must therefore decide which route to pursue.

If no representations are received, the Agency Decision Maker may proceed to make his or her decision.

If written representations are received within 28 days, the decision maker must refer the case to the fostering panel for further consideration. The applicants should be invited to attend the panel meeting to discuss their written representation. Applicants should be able to provide any further information they wish.

Panel will meet to consider the representation and make its recommendation. The decision maker can then make his/her decision.

As soon as possible after the decision is made, the fostering service must write to the applicants informing them of the decision.

End