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3.8.3 Fostering Panel

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter explains the membership, purpose, functions and arrangements for meetings of the Fostering Panel. It should be read in conjunction with the following procedures:

Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers Procedure

Limit on the Number of Children in a Foster Home, Exemptions and Extensions of Approval Procedure

Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure

Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure

AMENDMENT

This chapter was significantly amended in September 2011 in regard to the changes in the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, Associated Guidance and National Minimum Standards, and should be read in its entirety.


Contents

  1. Membership 
  2. Meetings 
  3. Purpose and Function  
  4. Reviews and Changes of Approval
  5. Appeals, Representations and Complaints


1. Membership

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 months’ notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their inclusion on the list.

The Chair will be one of the independent members, appointed by the Head of Service.

Two Vice Chairs can be appointed, 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 (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. Personal and work 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 meet the Panel Advisor and Chair and 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 and commitment to anti-discriminatory practice.

Those on the Central List are supplied with an information pack containing:

  • A copy of the panel policies and procedures;
  • A copy of "effective panels" - BAAF;
  • Any other relevant agency polices, procedures or practice guides.

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

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

All Panel members will also be required to aSttend 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 case of a joint panel, four) other members.

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, this will be raised by the Chair with the Head of Service who 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.

1.1 Attendance at Panel

Those on the Central List are expected to make every effort to attend Panel meetings.

If a person on the Central List are unable to attend, they should inform the Panel Administrator as soon as possible, to ensure the Panel is quorate.

Panel members are expected to have thoroughly read the panel papers and prepared for panel.

All panel papers should be left with the panel administrator at the end of the meeting.

1.2 Confidentiality

All written and verbal information given to those on the Central List in the course of their duties is strictly confidential. Those on the Central List are required to sign a written agreement, before taking up their appointment, to confirm that all information they receive will remain confidential.

Those on the Central List are expected to keep all written information in a secure place and return all Panel documents to the agency immediately after each Panel meeting.

Panel members must not copy, in part or in whole, any documents that relate to a case.

If a Panel member has some knowledge of a case, whether in a personal or professional capacity, they should declare an interest and inform the Chair of the Panel. This should be done at the earliest opportunity, to ensure the Panel is quorate.

Failure to comply with the above paragraphs may result in the member's appointment being withdrawn.

1.3 General Conduct

Those on the Central List should be committed to anti-discriminatory practice and should be prepared to consider each case on its own merits.

Panel members should have read the Panel papers carefully prior to the Panel meeting and come prepared to contribute to the Panel discussion.

The Panel Adviser will review those on the Central List performance regularly.

The Panel Adviser, in consultation with the Chair, will review those on the Central List performance on a more formal basis at least annually.

If there are concerns about the conduct or behaviour of a person on the Central List, this should be conveyed to the Panel Chair who will raise these concerns with the person in private.

If concerns about the person’s conduct or behaviour cannot be resolved informally, the Chair, in consultation with the Panel Adviser, will write to the person concerned setting out the concerns and what action it is proposed to take. 

The Chair's performance will be reviewed annually by the Head of Service, taking into account the views of those on the Central List and those who attend Panel meetings, for example social workers and prospective adopters.

1.4 Conflicts of Interest

Those on the Central List 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 a person on the Central List to refrain from participation. In cases where it is less clear, advice should be sought.

In the case of a potential conflict of interest where advice is required, those on the Central List should consult the Chair, Panel Adviser giving as much advance notice as possible, particularly having regard to the implications for the quorum.

If a decision is made that the panel member may remain to hear the case, the applicant should be informed of that person's presence in panel and their views considered.

1.5 Resignations from the Panel

Panel members are expected to give a minimum of one month's written notice, except where personal emergencies e.g. accidents, illness, make this impossible. Resignation letters should be addressed to the Head of Service with a copy to the Chair of the Panel.

Initial verbal resignations may be given, but only at the close of Panel business and should always be followed by a written resignation. Those on the Central List are asked, as a matter of courtesy, to inform the Chair of the Panel of their intention to resign, before making any public announcement.

Those on the Central List wishing to withdraw a submitted written resignation must do so before the one month notice period expires by writing to the Head of Service, who reserves the right not to accept a withdrawal of notice and to allow the original letter of resignation to stand.

1.6 Termination of Appointment of Panel Members

Where there are concerns about a person on the Central List behaviour either inside or outside the meetings, and the difficulties have not been resolved by discussion and correspondence between the Chair, Panel Adviser and the member concerned, the matter will be raised by the Panel Adviser. The Panel Adviser will have a discussion with the Head of Service who will decide whether to propose the end of the appointment and if so, they will advise the Panel member in writing giving clear reasons for the proposal.

Those on the Central List will be given the opportunity to make observations on the matter before a final decision is made by the Head of Service.


2. Meetings

The Fostering Panel meets on every third Wednesday at The New Life Centre, Lincoln. The Panel Administrator, with the Chair's authority, will arrange additional special meetings as necessary.

The Panel Administrator must arrange for the Medical Adviser and/or legal adviser to attend the Panel if required by the Chair or by the worker presenting a report. 

All Panel meetings will be attended by a Professional Adviser, who will advise the Panel on regulations, policy and procedures, and take feedback about practice issues to social workers and their managers.

The Panel Administrator may also 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.

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.

Social Workers presenting reports to the Panel must send a their report to the Panel Administrator two Fridays before the meeting that they are due to attend. The Panel Administrator will arrange for the documentation to be distributed to Panel members at least five working days before the meeting.

The Chair's role is to ensure that all members participate fully in the meetings (unless an interest has been declared), 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.

In reaching a recommendation, the panel can do one of three things:

  • Make a positive recommendation;
  • Make a negative recommendation;
  • Defer making a recommendation in order for more information to be made available.

At the end of meetings, the Panel Administrator will collect all reports and agenda from members.

The Panel Administrator will prepare the minutes, covering the key issues and views expressed by panel members, the reasons for recommendations. Any disagreements or dissent will be fully recorded together with the reasons.

S/he will send the minutes to the Chair for approval of their accuracy, and then submit them to the Agency Decision Maker or for approval of the recommendations made. 

The Panel Administrator will also ensure that applicants, foster carers and social workers are notified in writing of Panel recommendations within one working day and provide social workers with a copy of the relevant minutes.


3. Purpose and Function

The Fostering Panel monitors the range and type of foster carers available to the local authority in comparison with the needs of children, and plays a key role in the improvement of standards within the Fostering Service. 

As part of this function, the Panel oversees the conduct of assessments, advises on any relevant matters in relation to the Fostering Service and makes recommendations to Children's Services about quality issues and performance standards.

In particular, the Panel makes recommendations as to the following:

  1. Approvals of foster carers and their category (including exemptions from the limit to the number of children placed);
  2. First Review of foster carers, and any other Review where significant changes or termination of approval is recommended;
  3. Any other special matters relevant to a foster carer which the Chair of the Panel considers appropriate to be referred;
  4. Referrals to the Independent Review Mechanism.

The Panel will also receive reports at each meeting on the number of Exemptions from the usual Fostering Limits granted by the Head of Service. See Limit on the Number of Children in a Foster Home, Exemptions and Extensions of Approval Procedure.

The Panel will receive annually the Manager of the Fostering Service's report on the Panel's business, including statistical information about approvals, reviews, termination of approvals, the number of children in placement and complaints received about foster carers during the preceding year.

The Chair will communicate any issues of concern to the Head of Service.

At these 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 Lincolnshire and the number of children who are a Looked After Child in Lincolnshire. 

This will enable an appraisal of the extent to which the Fostering Service is meeting the demand for placements.

Panel Members Responsibilities

Panel members will need to prepare for each Panel meeting by:

  • Consider and taking into account the reports sent to them;
  • Make a note of questions they may wish to clarify during the meeting;
  • Highlight any information they believe may be missing;
  • Identify strengths and vulnerabilities in the assessment report.

Panel member's role is to examine the assessment report and to consider whether there is evidence of an applicants abilities and suitability to foster.

Before making a recommendation to the fostering service provider essential questions for panel members should include:

  • Have the statutory checks been undertaken and are these satisfactory?
  • Have at least 2 personal referees been interviewed and written reports of interviews? Do the referees adequately cover both applicants, if a couple? Have the referees known the applicants for at least 5 years?
  • Has a reference been taken up from the ex-partner? If not, why not?
  • Have the applicants own children and any other children permanently in the household been interviewed? If not, why not?
  • Has a detailed chronology been provided? Is there sufficient independent verification?
  • Does the supervising social workers report include clear analysis of the information provided with clear recommendations for approval? Do the terms of approval recommended appear appropriate given the assessed abilities of the applicant?
  • Has sufficient evidence of all the necessary competence's been provided? Have areas for future development and support been identified?
  • Does the applicant provide evidence of a commitment to anti-discriminatory and anti-racist approaches to parenting?
  • Does the applicant meet the National Minimum Standards (6-14)

In considering what recommendation to make under paragraph, the fostering panel:

  • Must consider and take into account all of the information passed to it;
  • May request the fostering service provider to obtain any other relevant information which the fostering panel considers necessary or to provide such other assistance as the fostering panel may request; and
  • May obtain such legal advice or medical advice it considers necessary in relation to the case.

The fostering service provider must obtain such information as the fostering panel considers necessary and send that information to the panel, and provide such other assistance as the fostering panel may request, so far as is reasonably practicable.


4. Reviews and Changes of Approval

The foster panel also have a legal function to consider and recommend whether or not a person remains suitable to act as a foster parent, and whether or not the terms of her/his approval remains appropriate:

  • On the first review;
  • On the occasion of any other review when requested to do so by the fostering service provider;
  • To consider any other case referred to it.

The following key issues should be referred to the fostering panel;

  • Changes of approval;
  • Reviews following child protection concerns or allegations made about carers.


5. Appeals, Representations, Complaints

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

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

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

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

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

End