Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel
STANDARDS AND REGULATIONS
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter explains the membership, purpose, functions and arrangements for the Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel.
Note: Under the Adoption Agencies (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013, which came into force on 1 July 2013, the adoption agency must decide whether the prospective adopter is suitable to adopt a child within four months of the date on which the agency received the prospective adopter's notification that they wished to proceed with the assessment process.
AMENDMENTThis chapter was reviewed and updated in January 2019 following the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and Data Protection Act 2018 (see Section 2, Membership).
1. Purpose and Function
The Adoption, Fostering and Permanency Panel
The Adoption, Fostering and Permanency Panel for Merton is committed to delivering high quality services to children and families and the Panel has an important and necessary role in approving prospective foster carers and prospective adopters matched with the needs of our looked after children and young people. The Panel also plays a key role in the quality assurance and improvement of standards of practice within our Adoption, Fostering and Permanency service, and monitoring best outcomes for children.
As part of its overall function, the Panel oversees the conduct of assessments and annual reviews of approved foster carers, advising them on any relevant matters in relation to the fostering service. They will also make recommendations to Children's Social Care about any practice or quality assurance issues.
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) see Placement with Connected Persons Foster Carers Procedure;
- 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);
- Any other special matters relevant to a foster carer which the Chair of the Panel considers appropriate to be referred;
- Approval of Prospective Adopters;
- Match of Prospective Adopters with a Child/ren;
- De-registration of Adopters and Foster Carers;
- Relinquished Children - Recommending a Plan of Adoption;
- Match of Permanent Foster Carers with a child;
- Permanency for Children through Fostering.
Panel Meetings are convened on a monthly basis, usually the 4th Wednesday of the calendar month. In exceptional cases, emergency meetings may be arranged and this decision will be made by the Panel Advisor.
The Panel will receive a report every 6 months from the Quality Assurance Manager for Adoption, Fostering and Permanence on the Adoption and Fostering services, 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 Assistant Director, Children's Social Care and Youth Inclusion and Permanence, LAC and Care Leavers Head of Service and take part in quarterly meetings with him or her to review the Panel's overall functioning and report on the quality of work being presented to Panel, to ensure good standards are reviewed and maintained.
The Panel chair also writes a report every six months providing an overview on the services delivered through Adoption and Fostering to the Assistant Director. This report includes all the relevant statistical data collated for panel by the Panel Administrator and Panel Advisor.
There is no fixed panel membership or maximum number of members or maximum tenure of office. The Panel is rotated on a quarterly basis and there are usually up to 7 members in attendance, but there needs to be a minimum of 5 members in attendance for it to be quorate.
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. This List must be maintained by an appointed senior social worker with at least 5 years' relevant post-qualification experience and relevant management experience.
Merton's Panel includes a Medical Advisor, as they are required to write a summary of the child's and adult's health which forms a part of a child's permanence report and the reports prepared for prospective adopters and foster carers.
Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List, they must be given one months' notice in writing and with clear reasons for the decision to end their inclusion on the list.
The Chair (an independent person) will be appointed by the Assistant Director, Children's Social Care and Youth Inclusion and must have the skills necessary to chair and a sound understanding of the adoption and fostering process. There must be appointments of up to two Vice Chairs, whose role is to chair the Panel when the Chair is unavailable.
Reasonable expenses relating to attendance can be met; there is also an allowance for attending training sessions.
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. DBS checks will be completed on a three yearly basis for members.
Three relevant 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 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.
All Panel members will also be required to attend at least one Panel meeting as an observer before taking up their membership. They will be also be expected to attend at least one panel training day annually and any other training and development skills will be offered, as and when arises within the service.
In order to be quorate a minimum attendance number of 5 is necessary provided that the following members are present:
- Either the Chair or one of the Vice Chairs (in the absence of the chair). If the meeting is conducted by the vice chair who is not independent, there must be at least one other member of the panel who is independent;
- One of the social worker representatives with at least three years post qualifying experience;
- Three other members.
Panel members may request any relevant information or assistance they require, including medical or legal advice, from the relevant agencies and, if so requested; this must be provided in a timely way.
There must be guidance and processes for reviewing the performance of Panel members, (including the Panel chair by the Assistant Director of Social Care and Youth Inclusion and/or the Head of Service, LAC, Permanency and Placements) and for the performance management of members. Where necessary the termination of the appointment must be considered and if this is the view this must be clearly documented.
Where there are concerns about a Panel member's professional behaviour either inside or outside the meetings, and this cannot be dealt with by reflective advice, training and/or other information, this will raised by the Chair with the Panel Advisor.
The Panel Advisor 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 at least one month's notice to the Panel Advisor.
The Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel Administrator may arrange for an observer to attend meetings, in consultation with the Chair, but no more than one observer may attend.
The Panel welcomes the attendance of prospective foster carers and adopters at meetings during consideration of their applications for approval and matching.
The Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel Administrator, in consultation with the Panel Advisor, prepares the agenda for each meeting and sends out the agenda to Panel members eight working days before the meeting.
Those presenting reports to the Panel must send their reports to the Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel Advisor at least 25 working days before the date of the Panel. This timeframe enables the Quality Assurance process required from the Panel Advisor. The Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel Administrator must have the relevant and completed paperwork at least twelve working days before Panel, signed off by a manager. He / She will arrange for the documentation to be printed and distributed to the Panel members.
The Chair's role is to ensure that all members participate fully in the meetings, (unless an interest has been declared - see 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 significant difference of opinion among members, the Chair may ask for more information to be made available to the Panel before a recommendation is made. Reservations expressed by individual Panel members about a particular recommendation are recorded in the Panel minutes for taking into consideration by the Agency Decision Maker, the Service Director, when making their decision.
At the end of meetings, the Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel Administrator will collect all reports and agenda from members (for shredding). Panel members who are unable to attend meetings will be asked to return papers to the Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel Administrator (for shredding) as soon as practicable.
The Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel Administrator will prepare the minutes in consultation with the Panel Advisor which summarises the discussion areas, recommendations and any disagreements or dissent will be fully recorded.
S/he will send the minutes to the Chair, panel advisor and other members who were at the panel for approval of their accuracy, and then submit a final set of minutes to the Agency Decision Maker, the Service Director, for approval of the recommendations made.
If the prospective adopters or foster carers attend Panel, the chair will advise them of the Panel's recommendation on the day of panel. The assessing social worker/supervising social worker will also ensure that applicants or foster carers are notified of Panel recommendations within one working day of the Panel if they are not present at Panel. The Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel Administrator will provide social workers with a copy of the relevant minute after a decision has been made by the Agency Decision Maker.
Arrangements should be made by the Agency Adviser to the Panel for the safekeeping of the minutes and the record. Panel minutes, like other parts of adoption case records, are exempt from the right of access provisions contained in the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act 2018 (i.e. the person to whom they relate does not have a statutory right of access to the information they contain).
The decision of the ADM is communicated to the prospective foster carer in writing. They are also advised about the statutory appeal process, either directly to the ADM, or by appeal to the Independent Review Mechanism. If appeal is made to the Independent Review Mechanism, its recommendation is subject to final consideration and decision of the ADM. The process for making appeal is fully explained in the letter from the ADM with all necessary information for enacting the process. The fostering service will ensure that any person exercising their right to appeal the decision of the ADM, is fully supported to make their appeal either to the ADM or to the Independent Review Mechanism.
3. Conflicts of Interest
Prior to Panel members should consider any conflicts of interest in relation to Panel agenda items and share this as a matter of priority before the meeting. A potential conflict may arise 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.