SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter explains the membership, purpose, function and arrangements for meetings of the Fostering Panel.
This chapter was added to the manual in September 2021.
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/young people. It plays a key role in the improvement of standards within the fostering service.
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:
- The suitability of applicants to act as foster carers and terms of their approval (including Connected Persons);
- Exemptions from the limit to the number of children placed with foster carers;
- 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 and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure - including all initial reviews and reviews following: a Child Protection (Section 47) Enquiry; a review following a complaint investigation, or a review where Payment for Skills are not being met;
- Any other special matters relevant to a foster carer which the Chair of the Panel considers appropriate to be referred, for example reports may be presented to panel for guidance on criminal convictions, health concerns or other similar matters;
- Resignations - It is not a legal requirement for resignations to be presented to the Fostering Panel, however, the Fostering Service as a monitoring process will inform the Fostering Panel of all Foster Carer resignations including the reason for the resignation.
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.
The Panel will receive the Fostering Service Annual Report on the Panel’s business, including statistical information about approvals, reviews, terminations of approvals, the number of children/young people in placement and complaints received about Foster Carers during the preceding year.
The Chair will communicate any issues of concern to the Fostering Panel Advisor and take part in six monthly meetings with him/her, the Agency Decision Maker and the Vice Chair(s) 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.
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, including one or more social workers who have at least three years relevant post-qualifying experience. Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List, they must be given one month notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their inclusion on the list. The Chair will be appointed by the Agency Decision Maker.
The Agency Decision Maker must also appoint up to two Vice Chairs, whose role is to chair the Panel when the Chair is unavailable. All Panel members must have been the subjects of a satisfactory Disclosure and Barring Service checks before taking up their appointment. These Disclosure and Barring Service checks should be kept up to date and recorded, including the date when the checks were made. Two references will also be obtained in writing and must be satisfactory.
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. They will be asked to sign an agreement with the fostering service, in relation to his/her membership, covering the service expectations (including the requirement to report any involvement in criminal proceedings), confidentiality issues and commitment to anti-discriminatory practice.
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, have access to appropriate training and skills development and have the opportunity to attend joint training with fostering staff at least annually.
The quorum is 5 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 (or in the case of a joint panel, four) other members.
Panel members may request any relevant information or assistance they require, including medical or legal advice, from the fostering agency and, if this is requested, this must be provided by the fostering agency.
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.
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 Agency Decision Maker 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.
Panel members may resign by giving one month's notice to the Designated Manager (Fostering Panel Appointments).
3. Advisors to Panel
The Local Authority has appointed a Panel Advisor to provide advice to the Fostering Panel. The Panel Advisor is responsible for ensuring that appropriately experienced and qualified Panel members are recruited, inducted, receive training and annual reviews. They ensure that arrangements for Panel are coordinated in advance, run smoothly on the day, the required reports are appropriately presented, actions are followed-up. The Panel Advisor will attend Panel Meetings although it is not a requirement.
The Panel Advisor is not a voting member of the Panel, they are not involved in decision making at Panel and do not have line management or responsibility for agency assessments or Foster Carers supervision and reviews so can therefore assist the Agency Decision Maker (ADM) in their deliberations.
The Fostering Service Medical Advisor reviews Applicants, Foster Carers and where appropriate, fostering household members Adult Health Form (AH) and write a report providing an interpretation of their health and lifestyle in relation to the fostering task. The Medical Advisor will offer medical advice, when required to the Fostering Panel. The Medical Advisor is not required to be a member of the Fostering Panel, so will therefore provide any information in writing.
The Fostering service has access to a Legal Advisor who, when required, will offer legal advice to Fostering Panel. The Panel Advisor will liaise with the Legal Advisor.
Agency Decision Maker (ADM)
The Agency Decision Maker is a senior person within Children’s Services who is a qualified Social Worker with at least 3 years post-qualifying experience in childcare social work and has knowledge of childcare law and practice. Since no member of the Fostering Panel is permitted to take part in deciding to approve a person as a Foster Carer, the Panel Chair will not be able to discuss the case with the Agency 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 discussions and reasons for the recommendation. The agency decision maker receives the same information as Panel members prior to a Panel meeting, together with the Fostering Panel recommendations and minutes of the meeting are forwarded to the Agency Decision Maker, who considers the recommendation, taking into account all the information available. This decision must be made within 7 working days from receiving the recommendation and minutes.
4. Panel Dates
Provisional dates are circulated to Panel members to indicate their availability to ensure Panels are quorate and written confirmation is sent to Panel members to confirm dates they are required to sit on Panel. Should Panel members be unable to sit on an allocated date they must inform the agency at the earliest opportunity.
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. 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 Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers Procedure.
In some instances, children or young people directly affected by the item being heard at panel (for example, in kinship care cases) may wish to attend the panel meeting to give their views. In such cases, it is important for the child’s social worker to prepare the child in advance of the meeting, and for the child to have sufficient support from their social worker or another appropriate person when attending the meeting. Where possible, it is also helpful for the Panel Chair to be advised of a child or young person’s wish to attend panel prior to the meeting via the Panel Administrator or the professional advisor to the panel, to ensure that any necessary arrangements are made.
The Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Chair, prepares the agenda for each meeting and sends out the agenda to Panel members five working days before the meeting.
Those presenting reports to the Panel must send their reports to the Panel Administrator at least 10 working days before the date of the Panel. The Panel Administrator will arrange for the documentation to be distributed to Panel members.
The Chair's role is to ensure that all members participate fully in the meetings (unless an interest has been declared - see Section 6, Conflicts of Interest 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).
Panel paperwork is distributed electronically. At the end of meetings, the Panel Administrator will collect any reports that have been printed and the agenda from members (for shredding). Panel members who are unable to attend meetings will be asked to return any 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.
Minutes will be sent for accuracy checking to the chair within three working days of the panel. The minutes will be sent out at the same time to all panel members for any specific amendments or corrections. Any amendments must be received within 48 hours. The minutes can then be submitted to the Agency Decision Maker.
The Agency Decision Maker will inform the Panel Administrator of his/her decision within 7 working days of receipt of the minutes. 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.
The assessing social worker/supervising social worker will also ensure that applicants, foster carers, young people, and social workers are notified of Panel recommendations within two working days of the agency decision and a letter confirming the decision must be sent within five working days. The Panel Administrator will provide social workers with a copy of the relevant minutes after a decision has been made by the Agency Decision Maker.
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.
7. Quality Assurance Role of the Fostering Panel
The Fostering Panel will provide a quality assurance feedback to the Fostering Service on the quality of reports being presented to panel. Following each Fostering Assessment/Foster Carers Review the Chair will complete a feedback form to the agency.
Panel Chair, along with the Panel Advisor will prepare and provide to the agency an annual report on the Panel’s work.
8. Monitoring of Panel’s Effectiveness
All Panel members will receive an annual appraisal.
After each Panel a questionnaire seeking views and feedback will be sent to:
- Applicants/Foster Carers;
- Assessing Social workers/Supervising Social Workers/children’s social workers.
The outcome of these questionnaires will be discussed with the Panel Chair and will be shared with Panel members and incorporated into the annual report.