Berkshire Safeguarding Children Board Procedures
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6.2.3 Fostering Panel

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter explains the membership, purpose, functions and general arrangements for meetings of the Fostering Panel. For the specific arrangements for SCST panel please see Slough Childrens services trust fostering panel – process for referral and consideration of cases.

RELEVANT CHAPTERS AND LEGISLATION / GUIDANCE

The Fostering Services Regulation 2011 (regs. 23-25)

Assessment and Approval of Foster Parents Procedure, Representations/ Independent Review Procedure

Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

Independent Review of Determinations; Adoption & Fostering Regulations 2011

IRM website and publications

AMENDMENT

In January 2017 this chapter was revised and updated throughout and should be re-read in full.


Contents

  1. Purpose and Function
  2. Memberships
  3. Meeting
  4. Agency Decision Maker
  5. Conflicts of Interest


1. Purpose and Function

The Fostering Services Regulation 2011 (regs. 23-25) requires every Fostering Service to set up a Fostering Panel to carry out the functions of its Fostering Service. Fostering panels play a very important quality assurance role, providing objectivity and ability to challenge practice that is felt to fall short of the Regulations or National Minimum Standards. The Fostering Panel approves and reviews the continuing approval of foster carers available to the local authority, and contributes to the improvement of standards within the fostering service.

The Fostering Panel only makes recommendations, not decisions. The authority to make decisions is vested in the Agency Decision Maker rather than the Panel. No member of the panel may take part in any decision made by the agency. The Slough Fostering Panel will make recommendations to the Agency Decision Maker- who will make decision on behalf of the Slough  Children’s Services Trust.

Functions of the Fostering Panel are:

  • To consider and recommend the suitability of applicants to act as foster carers and advise on the terms of their approval (including Connected Persons);
  • To recommend 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 at three yearly intervals thereafter;
  • To recommend a permanent match between a child(ren) and identified foster carers;
  • Any other special mattes relevant to a foster carer which the Chair of the Panel considers appropriate to be referred;
  • 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 where the carer has requested this following an ADM decision that they disagree with- see Assessment and Approval of Foster Parents Procedure: Section 9, Representations/ Independent Review Procedure;
  • To comment on the conduct of assessments carried out by the fostering service;
  • To monitor and comment on procedures for undertaking annual reviews of approved foster carers.

The Panel will receive annually the Independent Panel Chair's annual report on the Panel's business, including statistical information about approvals, reviews, termination of approvals, children where a recommendation was made for permanent foster care, matches for those children, 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 Agency Decision Maker and the Panel Advisor and take part in regular meetings with them 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 these meetings, the Panel Advisor and 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 tenure of panel membership or maximum number of members although every panel requires at least 5 members in attendance to be quorate (see below)
  • The Slough Childrens Services trust Family Placement Service must maintain 'central list' of people who have the appropriate qualifications and experience to serve as panel members;
  • The members of the panel must be drawn from a Central List of persons with the appropriate qualifications and/or experience, and each panel meeting must include one or more social workers who have at least three years' relevant post-qualifying experience;
  • The Chair will be appointed by the Designated Manager (Head of Placements and resources) and will be an independent person possessing the necessary skills and experience ( a person is not independent if they are approve by its Fostering Service as a foster carer, an elected member of a local authority for the purpose of the Fostering Service or child protection or placement or employed by or a trustee of the Fostering Service);
  • The Designated Manager must also appoint up to two Vice Chairs, whose role is to chair the Panel when the Chair is unavailable;
  • The Panel is only quorate when at least five members are present(or six in the case of the joint panel) provided that the following are present;
  • Either the Chair or one of the Vice Chairs (in the absence of the chair). If the meeting is conducted by the vice chair who is not independent, there must be at least one other member of the panel who is independent;
  • One of the social worker representatives with at least three years post qualifying experience;
  • Three other members.

All Panel members must have been the subjects of a satisfactory Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks before taking up their appointment. These DBS checks should be kept up to date and recorded, including the date when the checks were made. Two personal and work references will also be obtained in writing and must be satisfactory.

The Panel members will have to sign an agreement with the fostering service, in relation to his or her membership, covering the service expectations (including the requirement to report any involvement in criminal proceedings), confidentiality issues

Fostering Panels performance

Each member must be provided with written information on appointment of their performance objectives, including their participation in induction and other training and safeguarding the confidentiality of records and information submitted to Panel. An annual appraisal will be carried out with each panel member to help identify how they are meeting these objectives.

Training

All Panel members will also be required to attend at least one Panel meeting as an observer before taking up their membership. Panel members should complete induction training within 10 weeks of joining the Central List and have access to appropriate training and skills development and have the opportunity to attend joint training with fostering staff at least annually.

Resignation or Termination of Panel Member

Panel member may ask to be removed from the central list by giving one months notice.

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 be raised by the Chair with the Designated Manager (Fostering Panel Appointments).

The Designated Manager will decide whether someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List and therefore to end the appointment and if so, will advise the member in writing giving one month's notice and clear reasons for the decision.

Role of the Medical and Legal Advisor

There is no requirement to appoint a legal advisor or a medical advisor to a fostering panel.

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 by telephone or an exchange of correspondence on individual cases in advance of the meeting as considered appropriate. The Panel Medical Advisor will also offer advice via the telephone or a face to face meeting to foster carers where a permanent match is being presented to the panel.


3. Meetings

Preparation and Circulation of Panel Papers – Please see procedure for up to date information.

  • Papers must be submitted to the Panel Advisor at least 4 weeks prior to the panel so they can be checked and quality assured. Papers must be with the Panel Administrator at least 2 weeks prior to the date of the Panel;
  • It is the responsibility of the Assessing/Supervising Social Worker and their Line Manager (Practice Manager) to ensure that the panel papers are in order and submitted on time. The Line Manager is responsible for the overall quality assurance of any papers submitted and the panel advisor will make a final check on the papers before they are distributed to panel members;
  • In the event that papers are not in order for submission or there remain outstanding concerns the Panel Advisor will withdraw the case from the agenda and the Social Worker will need to book an alternative Panel date.

The Panel Administrator must prepare folders containing papers for circulation and prepare the panel agenda:

Social workers must make sure that their reports for panel contain:

  • Relevant reports to the particular cases including previous Panel minutes where appropriate;
  • All checks and references.
  • Report from the Legal or Medical Advisor;
  • Panel papers must be circulated to members at least 10 working days in advance of the panel. These must be sent by recorded delivery for external Panel members and a signature obtained as proof of receipt by the addressee. Internal Panel members will have their papers hand delivered. (NB the panel is currently working towards developing an electronic system of distribution of the papers.);
  • At the conclusion of each Panel, all papers must be left with the Panel Administrator. If a Panel member is unable to attend they should contact the Panel Administrator to arrange for the safe return of the papers. The Panel Administrator will ensure that all papers, other than file copies are shredded.

Meeting

  • The assessing/supervising Social Worker presenting the case must attend the Panel in person;
  • Foster carers and prospective foster carers are expected to attend panel in person in order to make their own representations and answer questions from the panel but will need to be excluded from discussions concerning third party information;
  • The Panel Chair must ensure that all members have an opportunity to raise questions or offer comments on each applicant;
  • Once Panel members have completed the process of seeking information and addressing any questions raised, the Chair should ask each member if they support a proposed recommendation. There is no requirement for a formal vote, with the Chair rather seeking to allow Panel to reach a consensus;
  • 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;
  • In all other cases the Panel must make a clear recommendation as to whether an applicant should be approved/child matched etc and may also offer advice about the terms and conditions of the approval match;
  • The Panel must ensure that it gives clear reasons for reaching its recommendations and these must be recorded in the minutes;
  • The Panel Administrator will minute each meeting. Draft minutes must first be checked by the Panel Advisor. Minutes must then be passed to the Panel Chair for approval;
  • Once the minutes have been read by the panel advisor and chair (within 4 days of the panel date), they are sent to ADM who will read the minutes, meet with the agency advisor and make a decision on each case within 7 working days of the panel meeting;
  • The assessing social worker/supervising 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 chair will inform everyone who attends panel of the recommendation on the 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. Agency Decision Maker

The fostering service provider's decision-maker makes a considered decision that takes account of all the information available to them, including the recommendation of the fostering panel and, where applicable, the independent review panel, within seven working days of receipt of the recommendation and final set of panel minutes.

The foster carer or prospective foster carer should be informed informed orally of the decision maker's decision by the lead social worker within two working days and written confirmation is sent to them within five working days of the ADM decision.

  • Agency Decision Maker must notify Family Placement Team Manager of that decision. This will be done via the panel advisor who will email the relevant FPS members following the meeting with ADM.

Panel Recommendations:

The panel chair will not be in a position to discuss the case with the Decision Maker and the recommendations should be passed on by way of the written minutes of the panel meeting, setting out the main points of discussion and reasons for the recommendation. The Panel advisor will meet with the ADM to provide any relevant advice and background information to help them make a decision. Staff of the fostering service who are involved in decision making about approval of carers, such as supervising social workers and team managers, can not be involved in a decision to approve a foster carer if they are on a panel.

Reasons for panel recommendations will always be noted in the minutes.

Expectations of Decision Making Process

In reaching a decision or making a decision, the decision maker should consider Hofstetter v LB Barnet and IRM [2009] EWCA 328 (Admin), in which the court set out guidance for the way in which an adoption agency decision maker should approach a case, whether it is a decision based on the agency panel's recommendation or the independent review panel's recommendation. This applies equally to fostering decision makers. The court said that it would be good discipline and appropriate for the decision maker to:

  • List the material taken into account in reaching the decision;
  • Identify key arguments;
  • Consider whether they agree with the process and approach of the relevant panel(s) and are satisfied as to its fairness and that the panel(s) has properly addressed the arguments;
  • Consider whether any additional information now available to them that was not before the panel has an impact on its reasons or recommendation;
  • Identify the reasons given for the relevant recommendation that they do or do not wish to adopt; and
  • State (a) the adopted reasons by cross reference or otherwise and (b) any further reasons for their decision.

All the decision will be recorded on decision sheet format and signed and dated by the ADM.

Annual Performance Review of Panel Chair

Each panel member's performance, including that of the chair, should be reviewed annually against agreed performance objectives. The Head of Performance and review should review the performance of the panel chair, and for this purpose may attend a proportion of panel meetings but only as an observer. Views about the chair's performance should be sought from other panel members and from those who attend panel meetings, such as prospective foster carers and social workers who present reports to the panel. For all other panel members, the panel chair should conduct the performance review.

  • Agreed performance objectives to be determined using new BAAF guidance;
  • Agency Decision Maker (s) to observe panel in order to meet requirements for reviewing panel chair.

Qualifying Determination

Independent Review of Determinations; Adoption & Fostering Regulations 2011. The Agency Decision Maker has to issue a qualifying determination if they do not decide to approve a person as a carer, or not to amend their terms of approval.

  • Agency Decision Maker has to follow required regulations and guidance, including the process outlined for the Independent Review Mechanism process. (See IRM website and publications for further details.)


6. 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.

End