Exemptions and Extensions/Variations to Foster Carer Approval
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Please note that applications for exemption in relation to foster carers living in a different local authority area must be made to the manager of the fostering service for the local authority for attention of the Head of Service area the foster carer lives.
This chapter was added to the manual in September 2021.
1. Usual Fostering Limit on Number of Children
A person may not foster more than three children/young people in each foster home except where all the children/young people are siblings.
In all other circumstances, foster carers may only exceed this number if an exemption has been agreed.
Applications for an extension or exemption must be made in advance on an Exemptions and Variations to Foster Carer Approval form and agreed by the Fostering Head of Service.
2. Reasons why an Exemption may be Considered
Applications for an exemption will usually be made because of the following exceptional circumstances:
- The child/young person concerned was previously placed with the foster carers and their placement elsewhere has disrupted;
- The foster carers have special skills to meet the child/young person’s needs which are not available elsewhere;
- The placement of the child/young person over the limit is the most appropriate way of meeting the child/young person's needs arising from disability, race, religion, language and/or culture;
- The placement is required to keep siblings together.
Applications can only be made with the agreement of the foster carers concerned. When considering an exemption, the following factors should be regarded:
- The number, ages and circumstances of the children/young people concerned;
- The arrangements proposed for the care and accommodation of the children/young people concerned;
- The relationship between the foster carers and the children/young people concerned;
- The period of time over which the placement is likely to last;
- The likely effect on the children/young people concerned and any other children/young people living in the household;
- The foster carers' capacity to provide sufficient care for all the children/young people in the placement;
- The need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the fostered children/young people and any other children/young people who live in the foster home.
3. The Process for Exemptions
3.1 Planned Exemptions
The need for an exemption will be identified at the point when the duty fostering social worker is seeking to identify a suitable placement for a child/young person.
Where a foster carer is identified as the most appropriate option to meet the child/young person's needs, and this is agreed by the supervising social worker for the carers and the foster carer, the duty social worker should consult with the manager and if agreed, prepare an application for an exemption.
The social worker(s) to any other child/young person in the placement should also be consulted in order to seek their views on any impact (positive or negative) from a further placement commencing.
All applications for planned exemption for foster carers living in the local authority area must be made in writing and supported by reasons, to the Fostering Head of Service for approval. The request for an exemption must be endorsed by the team manager.
Where the foster carers live in a different local authority area, the application must be made to the manager of the fostering service for that area. The written application will be prepared by the supervising social worker for the foster carers in conjunction with the relevant child/young person's social worker.
The decision whether or not to grant an exemption will be recorded in writing, together with reasons for the decision. Any exemption will be specific to a child/young person and can be subject to conditions. The foster carer will be notified in writing of the decision.
Upon the granting of an exemption, a time limit will be specified, and an exemption can only extend beyond that date if the Head of Service for the relevant local authority area authorises it. The decision must be recorded and will then be reported to the next available Fostering Panel for ratification.
3.2 Emergency Exemptions
The Duty Manager for the Out of Hours Service can agree for a child/young person to be placed in a foster home above the usual limit in an emergency i.e. without the agreement of the Head of Service. This agreement will only last until the next working day.
An application for exemption beyond the next working day must then be made to the Fostering Head of Service and any such emergency exemption needs to be presented to the next available Fostering Panel, as with planned exemptions.
An interim decision by the Fostering Head of Service may be necessary pending full consideration of the exemption.
The emergency and interim approval can only be given by the local authority for the area where the foster carers reside. Depending on the local authority involved, there may be arrangements in place for a Duty Manager within the local authority to agree an emergency or interim exemption.
Any emergency or interim decision to grant an exemption must be confirmed in writing and copies of the decision, together with the reasons, must be placed on the child/young person's file and the foster carer's case record. A copy must also be sent to the foster carer.
The decision must be recorded, and written notification of the exemption must be sent to:
- The foster carer(s) within five working days of it being granted;
- The supervising fostering officer for the foster carer file;
- Fostering admin for presentation to the geographically relevant fostering panel.
The decision will be reported to the next available Fostering Panel for ratification.
4. When is a Variation of a Carers Approved Status Required?
The Fostering Panel will be responsible for the ongoing monitoring of the exemptions. The Fostering Service is responsible for recording the ending of the exemption when it is no longer required.
5. The Process for Obtaining a Variation of a Carers Approved Status
Where a foster placement identified for a child/young person would be within the usual fostering limit but outside of the Foster Carer's terms of approval, a variation to their approval is required.
The following are examples of circumstances where a variation of approval is required:
- A Foster Carer is approved for two children/young people, but it is proposed to place a third child/young person with him/her;
- A Foster Carer is approved for a child aged 0 to 5 but it is proposed to place a 6-year-old with him/her;
- A Foster Carer is approved for female children/young people, but it is proposed to place a male child with him or her.
Emergency placements with a Foster Carer outside the Foster Carer’s terms of approval can be made for up to 6 working days (Regulation 23 Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010). The placement must then be terminated unless the Foster Carer’s terms of approval have been amended so that they are consistent with the placement (Paragraph 95, The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2021)). This will usually be in addition to an extension to the usual number of children/young people.
6. Agency Decision Maker - Agreement to a Carers Change of Approved Status
DfE Guidance states:
“Research evidence consistently shows that placement outside the terms of approval are significantly more likely to result in placement breakdown, often if there is a foster child already in the household. Where the responsible authority wishes to amend the terms of approval to enable the child to remain with the carer, careful consideration must be made by the fostering panel to ensure that the carer has the capacity to meet the child’s needs in the context of the needs of other children in the household’’.
Whenever it is proposed to place a child/young person with carers outside of their approved status the supervising social worker must complete an Exemptions and Variations to Foster Carer Approval form. This submission should also be signed by the Team/Deputy Manager.
The approval of the Agency Decision Maker (or a designated officer in their absence) will need to be obtained before any placement outside of a Foster Carers approved status is made. Under no circumstances should a placement be made without prior agreement.
Exemptions and Variations to the Foster Carer Approval form must be signed by the Agency Decision Maker (or a designated officer in their absence). The request should clearly demonstrate that the following issues have been taken into consideration before the placement request is submitted:
- The foster carers skills and ability to meet the needs of all children/young people in the household;
- The views of all other children/young people within the household;
- The carers accommodation, specifically sleeping arrangements.
There should also have been consultation with:
- The foster carer;
- The child/young person to be placed where appropriate;
- The child/young person's social worker;
- The social workers for any other child/young person already in placement.
Once agreement is received the placement of the child/young person can proceed. However, this can only be for a maximum period of 6 days, during which time an alternative placement must be sought for the child/young person. This should be with a carer who is appropriately approved to accept his/her placement.
A copy of the Exemptions and Variations to Foster Carer Approval form should be provided for the Foster Carer and a copy retained on their file. All agreed variations will be submitted to the Fostering Panel for quality assurance and monitoring purposes.
A fostering service provider may propose to amend Foster Carers terms of approval following a review in accordance with Regulation 28(2) of the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011. Where they propose to amend the terms of approval, they must under regulation 28(7) of those regulations issue a “qualifying determination.”
The qualifying determination advises the carer that they have 28 days in which to make representations to the Fostering Service or apply to the Secretary of State for a review by the Independent Review Mechanism. There is no provision in the 2011 regulations for the 28-day period to be shortened, even if the carer agrees to the change of status.
The requirement in Wirral is that in general all such recommendations to amend a carers approved status following a review, along with supporting documentation, is submitted to the Fostering Panel for consideration prior to a decision being made by the Agency Decision Maker.
In exceptional circumstances, (for example, to provide for the planned placement of a sibling) the Agency Decision Maker can issue a qualifying determination without prior consideration by the Fostering Panel. However, this would only be made following a review of the Foster Carers which recommended such a change to the carers approved status. In this event, the qualifying determination would subsequently be submitted to the Fostering Panel for quality assurance and monitoring purposes.