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EalingChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Fostering Panel

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This policy covers the responsibilities of the Fostering Panel and the procedures for social work staff when presenting cases at this panel.

Legislation, Regulations and Guidance:

  • Children Act 1989 and 2004;
  • Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011;
  • The Fostering Services National Minimum Standards 2011;
  • The care Planning, Placement and case Review (England) regulations 2010;
  • The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 4: Fostering Services.

RELATED CHAPTERS

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in June 2019 in order to add local information to chapter.

Contents

Panel Roles and Responsibilities

  1. Introduction and Scope
  2. Aims and Objectives
  3. The Role of the Fostering Panel
  4. Remit of the Fostering Panel
  5. The Central List Membership
  6. Tenure of Office of Persons on the Central List
  7. Quorum
  8. Monitoring and Review
  9. Consultation with Service Users

Protocol for all Panel members

  1. Protocol for all Panel Members
  2. The Independent Chair
  3. The Vice-Chair
  4. The Professional Advisor
  5. Medical and Legal Advice
  6. Confidentiality
  7. Conflict of Interest

Panel Procedures

  1. The Panel Administrators
  2. Before Panel Meetings
  3. Panel Meetings
  4. Minutes of Panel Meetings
  5. The Agency Decision Maker
  6. Notification of Agency Decision
  7. Non - Approvals and Representations
  8. Paperwork to be Submitted to the Fostering Panel
  9. Panel Member's Responsibilities when Considering Assessments / Reports
  10. Attendance of Social Work Staff and Presentation of Cases
  11. Attendance of Applicants or Approved Carers
  12. Appendix 1: Performance Objectives for Persons Appointed to the Central List
  13. Appendix 2: Statement Regarding Confidentiality of Information Presented to the Panel
  14. Appendix 3: Job Description for Panel Members
  15. Appendix 4: Person Specification for Panel Members
  16. Appendix 5: Procedures for the Recruitment of Independent Panel Members

1. Introduction and Scope

Ealing Council is a Fostering Service Provider. Decisions regarding the approval of prospective foster carers and the placement of children are made following the recommendations of the Fostering panel.

It is departmental policy to maintain two panels: The Fostering Panel and the Adoption and Permanency Panel (whose responsibilities are set out in separate procedures).

This policy covers the responsibilities of the Fostering Panel and the procedures for social work staff when presenting cases at this panel.

Membership of the Fostering Panel, its responsibilities in respect of approving, reviewing and terminating approvals of foster carers are set out in the Fostering Services Regulations 2011.

The Fostering Services National Minimum Standards 2011 also highlight the standards expected of panels which should lead to the following outcome:

'The fostering panel and decision maker make timely, quality and appropriate recommendations/decisions in line with the overriding objective to promote the welfare of children in foster care'.

These regulations and standards form the framework for this policy and procedure. It should be read in conjunction with Ealing Council's Statement of Purpose for the Fostering Service. Further detailed practice guidance is also available in the CoramBAAF publication: "Effective Fostering Panels".

2. Aims and Objectives

The aim of Ealing Council's Fostering Panel is to ensure the provision of a high quality service that safeguards and promotes the welfare of children looked after by the local authority and in need of fostering.

The panel is committed to anti-discriminatory practice and will carry out its duties in accordance with Ealing Council's Diversity Policy and will not discriminate on the grounds of gender, race, religion, sexuality or disability.

In all matters the panels will hold the welfare of children to be paramount.

3. The Role of the Fostering Panel

The Fostering Panel's role is to provide independent, thorough and critical consideration of all cases presented to it and to make sound and appropriate recommendations to the agency decision maker.

It is the Agency Decision Maker, who is the Director of Children's Services who makes the final decision taking into account the panel's recommendation.

4. Remit of the Fostering Panel

The Fostering Panel has several functions. These are:

  • To make recommendations about the approval of foster carers:
  • To recommend any terms of approval;
  • To consider the first review of carers, and any other review if requested by the Fostering service, and to recommend the continuing approval of carers;
  • To advise, where appropriate, on the procedure for reviews of cares and periodically to monitor their effectiveness:
  • To oversee the conduct of assessments carried out by the Fostering service;
  • To give advice, and make recommendations, on other matters or cases referred to it by the fostering service.

5. The Central List Membership

Panel members are appointed from a Central List of persons considered suitable to be a panel member. The central list aims to have persons on it who have experience of fostering, education, short break care and family and friends care, are gender balanced and reflect the diversity of the local community.

There is no legal requirement to have fixed membership or maximum number of panel members. However, Ealing has adopted the fostering guidance 5.4, which states that in order for the panel to have the ability to function cohesively and with a level of consistency - this is best achieved by having at least a core membership. The core members are invited to attend Panel regularly, with other central list members attending on a less regular basis.

There is no set limit on the number of people, who may be appointed to a Panel, but it should not be so large as to make it difficult to Chair or intimidating to prospective fosters carers or anyone else attending the meeting.

6. Tenure of Office of Persons on the Central List

There is no prescribed maximum or minimum tenure, although the Professional advisor and chair will review membership of the Central List annually to address any issues of turnover and to ensure commitment to the role.

7. Quorum

In order for the Panel to conduct any business- Reg 24 prescribes a quorum which must always include:

  • The chair or a vice chair;
  • A social worker with 3 years post qualifying experience;
  • At least 3 other members;
  • In the event that the chair is not present a member (who could be one of the people listed above) who is independent of the fostering service.

8. Monitoring and Review

Under Reg 25.4 (6) The Panel is legally required to 'oversee the conduct of assessments'.

NMS 14.2 states
"Panels provide a Quality Assurance feedback to the fostering service provider on the quality of reports being presented to Panel."

The fostering panel does this by:

  • The professional advisor ensuring that inadequate or poor reports are challenged;
  • The panel deferring to make a recommendation, if necessary, until adequate information is provided;
  • The time taken to complete assessments is monitored so that carers are not waiting unduly for their applications to be approved.

Management information on the outcome of foster carer's reviews is provided annually by the fostering service to the panel.

An annual report will be presented to panel detailing the work of the fostering service, including the numbers and profile of foster carers and children, number of disruptions, recruitment and retention strategies, training and support, strengths and achievements of the service, performance target measurements and future areas of development. This report will be made available to all panel members, foster carers, elected members and managers and staff within the service.

9. Consultation with Service Users

All applicants, social workers and foster carers attending Panel will be asked to complete a questionnaire about their experience at panel. Feedback from these will be monitored and presented to panel by the professional advisor.

Panel members will complete a questionnaire after each case is heard to feedback about the quality of reports presented to panel, the quality of the social worker s presentation and the care planning and time taken to progress a case. This feedback will be presented to the Fostering Service Operations manager and Agency Decision Maker.

10. Protocol for all Panel Members

All panel members will have suitable qualifications and/or experience and are expected to comply with the panel's Performance Objectives (Appendix 1: Performance Objectives for Persons Appointed to the Central List).

All panel members will be expected to sign a confidentiality agreement (Appendix 2: Statement Regarding Confidentiality of Information Presented to the Panel).

All panel members will have a current enhanced disclosure from the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), which will be updated every three years. If not employed by the local authority, or acting as a representative of the local authority, two satisfactory written personal references will be required prior to their appointment to the panel.

Up to date, comprehensive personnel files will be maintained for each member of the Fostering Panel. Records will be kept of:

  • Qualifications;
  • Status as a panel member e.g.: independent, chair;
  • Date started as a panel member;
  • Application form, CV or expression of interest;
  • DBS Disclosure - to be renewed every three years;
  • References;
  • Experience of working with children;
  • Training undertaken;
  • Any complaints made against a panel member;
  • Disciplinary action.

All new panel members will be expected to observe at least one panel prior to full membership.

The professional adviser will ensure that all new members will receive a comprehensive induction pack. This will include appropriate policies and procedures, the Statement of Purpose for Ealing's Adoption and Fostering services and any other information relevant to fostering.

The professional adviser will ensure that new panel members receive appropriate induction training within 10 weeks of taking up their position. Regular support will be offered to independent members.

Panel members are expected to be present at a minimum of 80% of meetings that they are invited to attend in a year. Members unable to attend a panel meeting must ensure that apologies are sent in advance to the professional adviser. The professional adviser in consultation with the chair will discuss in private with any panel member where attendance is proving to be a problem.

Panel members will be committed to anti-discriminatory practice and will consider each case on its own merits.

All information presented to the panel is of a confidential nature and all panel members will respect this and will be expected to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Panel members must declare any personal or professional interest in any matter for consideration by the panel. They must put it in writing to the professional adviser if they personally know any of the applicants and should not read the panel papers but seek advice from the agency adviser.

Panel members should have read all panel papers carefully before panel and should come prepared to contribute to panel discussions.

Panel members are expected to keep up to date with developments in fostering and to avail themselves of training opportunities.

Panel members will be kept informed about current practice, issues and legislation in relation to adoption and fostering by means of updates from the professional adviser and training.

Panel members must inform Ealing Council at once if they have been convicted or cautioned for any criminal offence. They should notify the professional adviser to the panel in writing as soon as possible. Ongoing membership may be terminated in some circumstances.

A minimum of one annual training/business day will be offered to panel members. Members will be consulted on the content and format of the training.

A panel member may resign at any time by giving at least 28 days' notice in writing to the agency adviser.

If there are concerns about a panel member's behaviour or conduct in the panel or ability to attend the panel, the professional adviser in consultation with the panel chair will discuss these in private with the member to try and resolve them informally. If these concerns cannot be resolved informally and it is considered that the member is unfit or unable to hold office the agency adviser in consultation with the panel chair will put in writing the reasons for the termination of the panel member's appointment. Ealing Council reserves the ability to terminate membership if the overall needs of the panel or service require it.

Panel members who do not attend panel, as part of their paid employment will receive an allowance for each panel attended. This will be paid on receipt of a claim form.

11. The Independent Chair

The chair of the panel will be an independent person with significant experience of social work and fostering work, including at a senior management level. The chair must also have:

  • A sound understanding of the fostering process;
  • The authority and competence to chair a panel;
  • The ability to analyse and explain complex information;
  • The ability to identify key issues, problems and solutions;
  • Excellent interpersonal, oral and written communication skills;
  • The necessary skill to ensure that the panel's work is carried out efficiently and sensitively.

The chair will ensure that panel meetings are conducted in a professional and proper manner and that all items of business are covered. She / he will be responsible for co-ordinating discussion and time keeping. The chair will ensure that all applicants, social workers and managers attending panel are treated with respect and courtesy.

Where there are concerns about a report the chair (and professional advisor) should consider whether it is adequate for submission to panel.

The chair will ensure that all panel members participate fully in the meetings and that members maintain an awareness of their role and responsibilities and contribute to the decision making process.

The chair will be clear about the panel's recommendations and the reasons for making them. (S)he will ensure that the panel's records are accurate and that where panel members have serious reservations these are recorded in the minutes of the meeting and attached to the panel's recommendations.

The chair of the panel will be consulted about urgent matters and when an additional panel meeting may need to be convened or when action outside of a panel meeting may need to be taken.

The chair will be involved in:

  • Decisions on the attendance of observers at panel;
  • The appointment, induction and appraisal of panel members and in any consideration about terminating the appointment of a panel member (with the professional advisor);
  • The preparation of an annual report on the panel's work with the professional advisor.

12. The Vice-Chair

One or two members of the Central List may be appointed as a vice chair with responsibility for acting as the panel chair if the chairperson is absent or the appointment is vacant. The vice chair will have the skills and experience necessary to deputise for the chair. Ealing Fostering Service aims to have at least one vice chair who is independent of the Fostering Service

13. The Professional Advisor

The professional advisor is not a voting member of the panel and should not participate in making recommendations.

The professional adviser will be a senior member of staff and will be a qualified social worker with at least five years relevant post-qualifying experience and relevant management experience.

The professional adviser will be responsible for the liaison between Ealing Council and the panel.

The professional advisor will coordinate and agree the agenda and ensure that paperwork for members is sent out at least 5 working days (1 weekend) in advance of the meeting.

The professional adviser will advise the chair and members of panel as required on matters of Ealing Council's policy, practice and procedure and on general issues and specific cases.

The professional adviser has responsibility for ensuring that all panel reports are comprehensive and of a suitable standard to be presented to panel.

The professional adviser will bring any concerns regarding the quality of panel reports to the attention of the social workers and their line managers.

The professional adviser will oversee the administrative arrangements for the panel and ensure that they work effectively and meet required time-scales as set out in the Fostering regulations 2011 and the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services 2011.

The professional advisor will assist the agency with the appointment (including re-appointment), induction and termination of members of the Fostering Panel (with the chair). (S)he will ensure that the panel meets its requirement re training and oversee the organisation and booking of appropriate training for the panel.

Arrangements will be made by Ealing Council for another suitably qualified senior member of staff to deputise for the agency adviser as necessary.

14. Medical and Legal Advice

The Fostering Panel has access to medical expertise via the Agency Medical Advisor and to legal advice via a senior lawyer employed by the council.

These advisors are not member of the Fostering Panel and may be asked to supply information in writing or by attending Panel meetings as required.

The medical advisor has a key role in advising on adult health issues as well as issues relating to children in foster carer and is required to see the applicant's medical forms in order to provide written advice to the Panel.

The legal advisor will be required to be experienced in family and childcare law and able to advise Panel on the legal functions and duties of the panel.

15. Confidentiality

All information presented to the Fostering Panel is confidential and panel members must respect this and agree to this in writing by signing the panel membership agreement.

All panel members must be able to indicate what arrangements they have for ensuring that confidential papers sent to them are kept in a secure place.

All documentation and reports should be returned to the panel administrator at the end of each panel meeting. If a panel member is unable to attend a panel meeting it is their responsibility to ensure that the papers are returned safely to the panel agency adviser.

Any breach of confidentiality by a panel member will be considered as serious and will be taken up by the professional adviser or panel chair and could lead to the termination of the panel member's appointment.

Observers to the panel sign a confidentiality agreement.

16. Conflict of Interest

There can be situations where a panel member knows or has worked with the applicant or approved foster carer to be considered by the panel. It is important that the panel member should declare an interest in such situations.

The panel member should say whether he or she thinks this knowledge will prejudice their consideration of the case. If he or she thinks so, they should not participate in that case and should leave the panel meeting room.

If the panel member does not think their knowledge will affect their consideration of the case, it will be the responsibility of the Chair, possibly with the help of the panel advisor, to make the final decision.

It is important that the panel member alerts the professional advisor of any conflict of interest, on receipt of the Panel agenda, to avoid a possible problem over quoracy.

17. The Panel Administrators

A panel administrator will support the work of the panel.

18. Before Panel Meetings

The panel administrator is responsible for completing the agenda and ensuring all necessary paperwork has been submitted.

The social worker will ensure that the panel administrator is sent names and addresses of all those to be invited to the panel. The panel administrator will ensure that invitations are sent to social workers, foster carers and applicants at least two weeks before the panel. (S)he will also send applicants and foster carer's written information regarding the role of the panel (see Leaflet Information for 'foster carer applicants'). Further information about the central list members who are attending the panel will be available on the day in the panel waiting room.

The panel administrator will ensure that panel members receive copies of the agenda and all reports or papers to be discussed at panel at least 5 working days (1 weekend) in advance of the meeting.

The panel administrator will be responsible for the booking of rooms for panel meetings and all practical arrangements relating to the panel. The panel administrator and panel advisor are responsible for panel business including letters of notification of all decisions made in respect of panel recommendations.

19. Panel Meetings

The panel will meet on the second Wednesday of every month. Occasionally, there will be a need to arrange an additional panel meeting. This should only occur where there are a large number of cases needing to be presented to panel in a month or when there is a complex case concerning the change of approval or termination of a carer.

Panel members may consider the issues they wish to discuss, prior to inviting in the social workers and applicants. The chair will coordinate the discussion with applicants and social workers and ensure that all areas are covered and that the social workers and applicants have the opportunity to present any other relevant information.

Once the panel is ready to reach its recommendation, each panel member should be asked whether he or she supports a proposed recommendation. Where panel members have serious reservations, the chair should ensure that these are recorded in the panel minutes. It is important that the agency decision maker is aware not only of the recommendations and the reasons behind it but also of any dissenting views.

If a panel is evenly split, it is not in a position to make a positive recommendation. If, however, there is a majority in favour of a recommendation, the panel can proceed to reach a positive recommendation. However, the views of dissenting panel members should be clearly minuted. The panel chair does not have a casting vote.

If the panel is unable to reach a recommendation because important and relevant information is not available in the paperwork, the case may need to be deferred and the social worker informed what additional information is required. Ideally, a date should be set for the case to return to Panel. This should be recorded on the Log of Outstanding cases.

At the end of each case the chair will summarise the recommendation made and the advice being given to the agency as well as state the reasons why the panel has made the recommendation. The chair will also advise the social workers and applicants of the decision making process and when the final decision will be made.

Usually no more than two people at a time will be allowed to observe at panel. Panel attendees should be informed that observers are often at panel; if they have any objection to this they must notify the agency adviser in advance of the panel meeting.

20. Minutes of Panel Meetings

These will be taken by the panel administrator. The minutes will record:

  • Date of panel;
  • Attendance at panel;
  • Apologies for absence from panel;
  • Name of applicants/child;
  • Purpose of presentation to panel;
  • Documents submitted to panel;
  • Key issues and views raised by panel members;
  • Areas discussed with social workers and applicants;
  • Positive aspects of an application or match;
  • Areas of concern in relation to an application or match;
  • Any legal advice given;
  • Recommendation reached;
  • Reasons for the recommendation;
  • Whether the recommendation was unanimous;
  • Any panel member(s) not in agreement with the recommendation and why;
  • Any request from panel for further information or reporting back to panel;
  • Advice from panel to the Fostering Agency;
  • Any other business for discussion.

The Chair is responsible for ensuring that 'written minutes of panel meetings are accurate and clearly cover the key issues and views expressed by panel members and record the reasons for its recommendations' (NMS 14.7).

The panel administrator will forward a copy of the minutes to the professional advisor within 2 working days of the panel meeting. The advisor will check for accuracy and then return to panel administrator who will forward draft minutes to Panel members and panel chair. They will check and return to panel administrator with any corrections within 48 hours. The minutes will then be sent to the agency decision maker. The aim is that the minutes should be with the decision maker within 8 days of the panel having taken place.

The panel minutes and recommendation made when the plan for a child is considered and in respect of matching of a child with foster carers will be placed on the child's file to be available eventually to her or him.

The panel minutes and recommendation relating to the approval of foster carers will be placed on the foster carers file in the confidential section.

The panel administrator will keep a central record of all reports and paperwork presented to panel and of all panel minutes.

21. The Agency Decision Maker

The Fostering Panel only makes recommendations regarding the cases presented to it.

The Fostering Service is responsible for deciding whether to approve a person as a foster carer. Guidance 5.39 specifies that the fostering service must identify a senior member of staff to act as the agency decision maker, who will receive the panel recommendations and make decisions as required. The designated person in Ealing is the Director of Children's Services. More than one decision maker may be appointed, but they may not delegate their authority to another person.

No member of the panel can take part in any decision made by Ealing Council.

The agency decision maker should have copies of all the papers presented to the panel and the draft panel minutes with recommendations and reasons to enable a proper decision to be made.

The agency decision maker will make a decision within 7 working days.

22. Notification of Agency Decision

The agency decision will be made within seven working days.

The decision will be conveyed orally to all those involved within two working days by the child or family social worker.

The panel administrator will send out within seven working days written notifications to applicants and any other relevant people.

23. Non - Approvals and Representations

After taking into account the panel's recommendation, should the decision maker consider that the applicant is not suitable to foster, written notice must be sent to the applicants to inform them that ' they propose not to approve the applicant as suitable to be a foster parent (a 'qualifying determination').

The letter should include the reasons for the qualifying determination and a copy of the fostering panel's recommendation.

The applicant should be advised that they have 28 days:

  1. To submit any written representations they may wish to make to the fostering service; or
  2. To apply to the Secretary of State for a review by an Independent Review Panel of the qualifying determination.

If no representations are received the decision maker may proceed to make her decision.

If written representations are received within 28 days, the decision maker must then refer the case to the Fostering Panel for further consideration. As in the assessment process, the applicants must be invited to attend the panel meeting, in part, to discuss their written representation. Applicants may provide further information and may bring a supporter to panel.

The panel then makes a fresh recommendation. It may uphold a previous recommendation. The decision maker can them make her decision.

If the applicant requests a review via the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM), the case is presented to the IRM panel (operated by CoramBAAF under contract to the DfE). The IRM panel works in the same way as the Fostering panel. They receive reports, meet the applicants and social workers and make a recommendation. This is then considered by the agency decision maker before she makes a final decision.

As soon as practicable after the decision, the fostering service must write to the prospective carer either notifying the terms of approval and entering into a foster carer agreement or explaining the reasons for deciding not to approve.

Any concerns that applicants have specifically about the operation of the Fostering Panel should be raised in writing in the first instance with the professional adviser or the chair of the panel. This will be held on record. If the matter cannot be resolved at stage one then the applicants will be advised of the complaints procedure for Ealing Council.

Where a worker wishes to make a representation about the Fostering Panel this should be taken up through their line manager with the professional adviser and the chair of the panel informed.

24. Paperwork to be Submitted to the Fostering Panel

24.1 Standards

Guidance for the completion of assessments can be found in the procedures for Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers and in the Placements with Connected Persons Procedure.

Applicants or approved carers should be encouraged to make written or recorded representation to panel. They must have been shown and be fully aware of the information about them which is being presented to panel

Children should be involved and consulted at all stages, ascertaining and taking into account their views in a way which is sensitive to and consistent with, their age and understanding. They should be encouraged to write or record their views for panel.

Reports presented to the panel must be up to date. An addendum must be submitted if any report is over 4 months old or where there have been significant changes. All reports must be re written if over a year old.

All reports must be typed, have numbered pages and be proof read.

All reports must be signed by the authors, team managers and applicants/child (if age appropriate).

Any assessments for approval change of approval or review must be accompanied by up to date information about the applicants/carers statutory checks. In the case of a new carer assessment, three references must also be submitted.

24.2 Paperwork required

Social workers can obtain guidance about what documents must be completed from the panel administrator and / or panel advisor. All documents must be put together as a panel pack accompanied by a front sheet detailing why the case is being presented to Panel.

Panel Packs and document templates can be found on the Ealing intranet.

The professional adviser to the panel will be available to offer advice to social workers on the completion of reports and the standards required by panel.

In order for the panel to make a recommendation, the following documents must be submitted:

  1. To approve a short term foster carer or family link carer:
    • A completed CoramBAAF Form F, Health and Safety report, information about statutory checks and Eco map and genogram.
  2. To approve a Connected Person (Family and Friends) as a foster carer for a specific child (ren) only where a child has been placed under Regulation 24 or 25 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010;
    • Assessment of family, friends and other people connected to the child report, Executive summary, Chronology, Health and safety report, information about statutory checks, Eco map and genogram.
  3. To consider the re-approval of a short term foster carer, Family link carer or connected person after their first annual review:
    • Supervising Social Worker (SSW) review report, carers feedback form, other household members feedback form, child's feedback form, child's social worker feedback form, birth parents feedback form (Family Link carers only), IRO minutes of the review, previous panel minutes. The review report should state whether the person continues to be suitable to foster and that the terms of approval continue to be appropriate.
  4. To consider the re- approval of a short-term foster carer, Family link carer or connected person after an allegation about standard of care or following child protection concerns;
    • SSW review report, carers feedback form, child's feedback form, child's social worker feedback form, birth parents feedback form (Family Link carers only), IRO minutes of the review, minutes of any interviews, meetings or conferences relating to any safeguarding or standard of care concerns, previous panel minutes, Executive summary. The Executive summary should summarise the view of the local authority and state whether the person continues to be suitable to foster and that the terms of approval continue to be appropriate.
  5. If the Fostering Service considers it necessary to refer any change to foster carers terms of approval to Fostering Panel (there is no requirement to do so as changes to Terms of Approval may only be made at a Foster Carers Review) then a report outlining the reasons for the change and evidence of carers suitability to manage the change should be submitted.

    Minutes of the most recent panel presentation should also be included with the above report.

    If an Exemption to the usual fostering limit of 3 has been approved by the relevant Senior Officer in the borough where the foster carer resides is granted, the next Annual Review should be referred back to Fostering Panel.
  6. Termination of a foster care assessment or a foster carers approval, and resignations: 
    • Copy of the carer's resignation letter, copy of the SSW letter (which must be sent recorded delivery) to the carers regarding the resignation / termination and report outlining the reasons for the resignation or termination of the foster carer's approval;
    • Letters and reports sent to an applicant or a carer regarding a departmental recommendation that their assessment or approval should be terminated must always be sent to the applicant or carer by recorded delivery.

25. Panel Member's Responsibilities when Considering Assessments / Reports

The panel role is to examine the assessment report and to consider whether there is evidence of an applicant's abilities and suitability to foster. Before making a recommendation to the fostering service, panel members will need to consider;

  • Have the statutory checks been undertaken and are they satisfactory?
  • Have three personal referees been interviewed and written reports of interviews been provided? Do the referees adequately cover both applicants, if a couple? Have they known a family over a number of years?
  • If the applicant was previously married or in a long term significant relationship, has a reference been taken up from the ex - partner? If not, why not?
  • Have the applicants own children by birth and any other children permanently in the household been interviewed? If not, why not?
  • Have all other household members or partners who visit the household on a regular basis been interviewed? If not, why not?
  • Has a chronology of the applicant's life been provided? Is there sufficient independent verification of the applicant's chronology and any self-reported information?
  • Does the report include an analysis of the information provided by the assessing social worker with clear recommendations of the range and terms of approval?
  • Have areas for future development and support been identified?
  • Does the applicant provide evidence of anti-discriminatory and anti-racist approaches to parenting?
  • Does the applicant meet the National Minimum Standards (Standards 1- 12)
  • In a family and friend assessment, does the report weigh up the strengths of the prospective carers, such as an established relationship and a sense of family belonging, against any limitations?
  • Do the terms of approval appear appropriate given the assessed abilities of the prospective carer(s), the suitability of the household and the needs of children in the age group recommended?

26. Attendance of Social Work Staff and Presentation of Cases

All assessing and supervising social workers and their managers must attend panel to present their cases. When the approval of a connected person is being considered in relation to a specific child the child's social worker should also attend. The panel may discuss each item briefly immediately before the presenting social worker(s) / applicants enter the panel meeting room. The purpose of this is to enable panel members to clarify main issues and for the Chair to co-ordinate questioning.

The panel chair will then greet the social workers and applicants and explain the panel meeting process before inviting them in to the panel meeting.

Presenters will be asked by the Chair to introduce themselves. Panel members will introduce themselves. Each Member has a nameplate in front of him/her.

The Chair will ask the main presenter to give a brief update (where there are a number of people present, presenters should decide in advance who this should be). This introduction should be brief - do not repeat all the information from the report, as panel members will have read these in advance. Give salient facts about what the case is, what you are requesting of the Panel and any major issues / positives / risk factors / areas of concern.

The item will then be opened up for discussion and panel members will direct their questions to the social workers who have submitted the assessments and reports. The chair will invite applicants / carers to comment on the social workers responses.

Some "do's" and "don'ts":

  • Do speak up and ensure you can be heard;
  • Do answer the question and give evidence/ examples to illustrate what you say;
  • Don't be defensive - be prepared to enter into a dialogue with Panel members analysing the pros and cons - assessing the risks is part of the task and Panel members are willing to take risks provided they are thought through and weighed up;
  • If you don't know the answer to a question say so.

Social Workers will be asked to complete a feedback form regarding their experience of the panel process. This will assist the panel in evaluating its own performance and make any necessary changes.

27. Attendance of Applicants or Approved Carers

Applicants or approved carers should be invited to attend Panel.

Applicants or approved carers will normally be invited into the panel meeting with the social work staff after the panel has decided upon the areas it needs further discussion or clarification on. The panel chair will greet the social workers and applicants and explain the panel meeting process before inviting them in to the panel meeting. They will remain in the panel meeting with the social work staff whilst the panel asks its questions. The Chair will offer applicants / carers the opportunity to ask any questions they may have of panel, give any further information they may want panel to be aware of or make a statement to panel. They may then be asked to leave the meeting whilst panel reaches its recommendation. The chair of the panel will then convey the panel's recommendation to them and the reasons for this. (S)he will also advise them when the final decision will be made by the agency decision maker.

Applicants or approved carers attending panel will need to be prepared beforehand. They will be given written information in advance about the role of the panel (See Leaflet Information for 'foster carer applicants') and will be able to look at information about the panel members on the day of the panel. Their assessing or supervising social worker should have a discussion with them on the process and operation of panel beforehand so that they are aware of what to expect.

The panel will be mindful of not making a judgement based on the attendance or performance of a prospective or approved carer at panel. The Panel needs to take into account how people perform in particular circumstances and not make judgements based on this. Nevertheless, if people appear very significantly different from the report provided, this may require more investigation.

Applicants and approved carers will be asked to complete a feedback form regarding their experience of the panel process. This will assist the panel in evaluating its own performance and make any necessary changes.

Applicants and approved carers not attending panel will also be canvassed as to their reasons for choosing not to do so.

Appendix 1: Performance Objectives for Persons Appointed to the Central List

Click here for Appendix 1: Performance Objectives for Persons Appointed to the Central List

Appendix 2: Statement Regarding Confidentiality of Information Presented to the Panel

Click here to view Appendix 2: Statement Regarding Confidentiality of Information Presented to the Panel

Appendix 3: Job Description for Panel Members

Fostering Services Regulations 2011

London Borough of Ealing Fostering Panel Job Description
  1. To be included in a central list of people considered suitable by the London Borough of Ealing to be members of a fostering panel;
  2. To attend panel meetings as requested;
  3. To receive agenda and paperwork for items to be presented to the Panel in advance of the meeting, to read all documents and prepare questions and views;
  4. To contribute to the panel discussion, asking questions of the person(s) presenting information, regarding:
    • The approval, change or termination of approval of short term foster carers;
    • The approval, change or termination of approval of Family and Friends carers for a specific child(ren);
    • The approval, change or termination of approval of Family Link carers;
    • The review of approval of any of the above;
    • Any other issue that may be or may become part of the Fostering Panel's function.
  5. To advise, where appropriate on the procedures under which reviews are carried out;
  6. To oversee the conduct of assessments carried out by the Fostering Service;
  7. To assist the panel in making recommendations to the Fostering Agency on the items presented;
  8. To attend and participate in agreed panel training sessions;
  9. To keep informed about fostering practice and developments, as assisted by the training and the Panel advisor;
  10. To keep confidential, all information, written and oral, acquired as part of Panel business;
  11. To make sufficient time to prepare for panel meetings and to attend at least 80% of the panels to which you are invited to attend each year.

Appendix 4: Person Specification for Panel Members

Fostering Services Regulations 2011

London Borough of Ealing Fostering Panel Person Specification
  1. To have knowledge of the needs of children and child development;
  2. To have an interest in and knowledge of family relationships i.e. how families work;
  3. To have a positive interest in fostering and an understanding of the importance of "new" temporary families for children separated from their birth families;
  4. To have the ability to distil information, to identify issues involved, understand the needs of different parties in complex situations and to contribute constructively to group discussions and decision-making;
  5. To have the ability and commitment to keep abreast of current practices and developments in the field of fostering;
  6. To have a basic knowledge of relevant legislation and regulations or the commitment to acquire such knowledge;
  7. To have an understanding of a commitment to anti discriminatory practice;
  8. To have specific knowledge, experience, skills in one or more of the following areas;
    • Experience, either professionally or personally or both, of the placement of children in foster families or of children being cared for away from their birth family;
    • Knowledge of gender, religion, ethnicity, language, culture, disability and sexuality and the importance and impact of these factors in family placements.
  9. The ability to attend at least 80% of the panels to which you are invited to attend.

For Independent persons appointed to the central list:

You should not be:

  • A foster carer for the L.B. of Ealing;
  • An elected member of the Local authority;
  • Employed by the Fostering service or in a role relating to the protection or placement of children for the Local authority.

Appendix 5: Procedures for the Recruitment of Independent Panel Members

1.0 The responsibility for recruiting an independent panel member to the central list and ensuring that the process complies with this procedure rests with the Professional adviser to the panel on behalf of Ealing. However this will be done in consultation with the Chair of the panel.
1.1 To recruit an independent panel member to the central List, the Professional adviser to the panel will advertise for suitable applicants via the Fostering network and / or newsletter / local newspaper.
1.2 As the role of independent panel member is a volunteer role for which a fee is paid the recruitment process will be the responsibility of Placement Services rather than Human Resources.
1.3 The Professional adviser to the panel will ensure that there is an information pack sent out to all applicants with an application form with the closing date for applying. The information pack will include: relevant information on Ealing: information on the panel; information on the role and requirements of an independent panel member.
1.4

On receipt of all applications the Agency adviser to the panel and the Chair will shortlist for interview. In short-listing priority will be given to those applicants who:

  • Live in the London area;
  • Have experience of the looked after system;
  • Are current foster carers;
  • Have grown up in a fostering family;
  • Are ex-service users;
  • Reflect the ethnic and cultural background of the care population in Ealing.
1.5 Short-listing will also take into account the panel composition in respect of gender, age, ethnicity, culture, language and sexuality in order to achieve a balanced and representative panel.
1.6 After short-listing the professional adviser to the panel will write to the successful candidates inviting them to an interview and outlining the process, including the need for DBS checks and references to be taken up on appointment. The professional adviser to the panel will also write to all other candidates thanking them for their interest.
1.7 The interview will be conducted by the professional adviser to the panel and the Chair of panel. There will be a set of questions that will be asked of all applicants and an opportunity for them to add anything else they feel is relevant and ask any questions. Applicants will be advised of when they will be contacted re the outcome of the interviews.
1.8 The professional adviser to the panel and the Chair of panel will make a decision re appointment based on: the information gained from the applicant at interview and from the application form; the applicant's relevant experience; the applicant's ability to contribute to and function in a panel setting; the perceived needs of the panel at that time.
1.9 The professional adviser to the panel will verbally inform all applicants interviewed of the outcome and also offer feedback if requested. The Agency adviser to the panel will then confirm the outcome of the interviews in writing within 14 days.
1.10 The successful applicants will be required to be DBS checked and provide two written references. The referees will also be contacted by telephone for a verbal reference. This must be done before a new panel member can attend the panel. This information will be placed on the panel member's file held in the Fostering or Adoption Service.
1.11 Before formally joining the panel, the new member will be invited to observe a panel meeting. The new member will also meet with the Agency adviser to the panel to look at any specific training needs as part of an induction programme. The new member will also be given the relevant New Panel Member's Pack.
1.12 All panel members will have a yearly review conducted by the professional adviser to the panel and the Chair of the panel. Ealing reserves the right to change the membership of the panel to ensure that it continues to meet the needs of the Fostering Service. If an independent panel member's services are no longer required, the professional adviser to the panel and the Chair of the panel will discuss the reasons for this and give the panel member 2 months notice of the termination of their membership. The professional adviser to the panel will confirm this in writing to the panel member within 14 days, advising the member of the appropriate complaints procedure.