Placements in Foster Care
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies to all placements of children in foster care within Merton including placements with independent fostering agencies.
For placements of Looked After children with Connected Persons who are not approved foster carers at the start of the placement, see Placement with Connected Persons Procedure.
See Care Planning for procedures relating to the initial decision to looked after a child, and the drafting and approval of the Care Plan and other essential documentation.
Children may also be placed in foster care having acquired Looked After status following a Remand to Local Authority Accommodation, see Remands to Local Authority Accommodation or to Youth Detention Accommodation Procedure.
This chapter was amended in December 2022 to add a link to the NYAS ‘My Things Matter’ Report – support and respect care-experienced children and their belongings when they move. (See Section 4, Placement Planning).
At the point that it is determined that a placement may be required, and throughout the subsequent process of identification, planning and placement, the social worker must consult and take account of the views of the following people:
- The child;
- The child's parents;
- Anyone who is not a parent but has been caring for or looking after the child;
- Other members of the child's family who are significant to the child or who have a Contact Order in their favour in relation to the child;
- The child's school or the education service;
- The YOS/YJS if the child is known to them;
- Any other relevant person, e.g. nursery, health care professional, Children's Guardian.
The views of these people should be given by them, in writing, or should be recorded by the social worker. If the child's wishes are not acted upon, the reason should be given.
2. Placement Request
Where a decision has been made that a child requires a foster placement, the allocated social worker should request a placement by contacting the Placements Team in the Access to Resources service.
In making this request, the social worker will be asked to provide information about the child, the type of placement sought, the Care Plan, the date by which the placement is required, the likely length of time for which the placement is required and the expected level of contact between the child and parents. The social worker should also outline any risks associated with the placement.
The Placements Team will check whether an in-house placement is available that appears to be appropriate to meet the child's needs. If such a placement is available or if there is a possibility of a placement by the required date, the social worker will be advised accordingly.
If no appropriate in-house placements are available and the child requires a placement, the Placement Social Worker will obtain the agreement of the Head of Service (Access to Resources) to make enquiries with independent fostering agencies to identify a suitable placement.Where there is a child already in the proposed foster placement, contact should be made with the social worker for that child and where the child is from a different local authority, the consent of that child's local authority should be sought by the Placement Social Worker.
3. Matching and Approval of Placement
Careful matching contributes to the stability of placements and the retention of foster carers. The matching process should consider the child's needs especially regarding the following key areas:
- The child's education;
- The expectations around contact with relatives and friends;
- The child's identity/race/culture;
- The child's history;
- The child's behaviour;
- The child's health;
- The focus of the placement.
The matching process should also consider the carer's availability and:
- Their experience;
- Their strengths;
- The family composition;
- The distance from the foster home to the child's school;
- Other children in the placement;
- The foster carer's children.
Once a potential placement has been identified, the child's social worker will liaise with the foster carer's supervising social worker (who may be from an independent fostering agency) to agree arrangements for the placement. At this stage, the social worker will also discuss the child with the prospective foster carer and, in particular, share/clarify any risks associated with the placement with the foster carers and the supervising social worker. Wherever possible, the child's social worker should visit potential carers and as required consult with other professionals, prior to a decision about the appropriateness of a placement being made.
In relation to the sharing of bedrooms, each child over 3 should have their own bedroom, or where this is not possible, the placing authority must agree to the sharing of the bedroom and this must therefore be addressed during the matching process.
Where the proposed placement is an in-house placement, it will then be presented to the social worker's manager for approval.
If the placement is outside the foster carer's terms of approval or an exemption is required, see Fostering Exemptions and Extensions/Variations to Foster Care Approval Procedure.
If the proposed placement is with an independent fostering agency, the Designated Manager (External Placements) must approve the placement and a written agreement must be drawn up with the fostering agency setting out the precise terms and conditions between the local authority and the agency in relation to the placement. Where the placement is with independent foster carers who live outside the local authority area, see also Out of Area Placements Procedure.
NB In addition to the above approvals, in order to avoid placements that disrupt a child's education, the Nominated Officer must approve any change of placement affecting a child in Key Stage 4 except in an emergency / where the placement is terminated because of an immediate risk of serious harm to the child or to protect others from serious injury - see Education of Children with a Social Worker, Looked After and Previously Looked After Children Procedure.
If the relevant manager approves the foster placement, the placement planning process can start - see Section 4, Placement Planning.The social worker may then arrange an introductory visit to the proposed placement, with the child (if old enough) and parents (if appropriate).
4. Placement Planning
Children who are new in placement are welcomed sensitively and with careful and considered planning. Before the child is placed, the child's social worker will arrange a Placement Planning Meeting after liaising with the foster carer and the foster carer's supervising social worker (who may be from an independent fostering agency). The meeting will usually be held in the new placement. See also Placement Planning Meetings Procedure.
Participants will include:
- The parent;
- The child (if appropriate);
- The foster carer;
- The supervising social worker;
- Any other relevant professionals, e.g. a representative from the child's school;
- Anyone else considered appropriate or who will have a role in the placement.
The purpose of the first Placement Planning Meeting is to finalise the Placement Plan (which will be recorded on the Placement Information Record). This will involve a discussion of the child's needs to ensure careful matching, including the child's personal history, religious persuasion, cultural and linguistic background and racial origin, as well as the child's health and education needs and how these are to be met. It will also include the arrangements for registering the child with local health professionals (GP, dentist and optician)
In addition the placement planning meeting will consider the type of introduction process required, for example whether arrangements should be made for the child, parents and the social worker to visit the foster home and/or whether it may be appropriate to have an introductory overnight stay. Children should be able to visit the foster home and talk in private with the carer. If this is not possible, arrangements may be made for the carers to visit the child and parents; or for information about the foster carers to be sent to the child and/or the parents, for example about routines in the foster home, bedtimes, meals, visitors, pocket money, school, privacy and the overall expectations in relation to the child's behaviour within the home.
For children placed in foster care, the Placement Plan should cover the following issues in addition to those for all placements set out in the Care Planning Procedure:
- The type of accommodation to be provided and the address;
- Where the authority has, or is notified of, Child Protection concerns relating to the child, or the child has gone missing from the placement or from any previous placement, the day to day arrangements put in place by the appropriate person (placement provider) to keep the child safe;
- The child's personal history, religious persuasion, cultural and linguistic background and racial origin;
- Where the child is Accommodated:
- The respective responsibilities of the Local Authority and parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility;
- Any delegation of responsibility by parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility to the Local Authority and /or the foster carer(s) in relation to the following matters ( and identifying any of these matters on which the local authority/parents/persons with Parental Responsibility consider that the child may make a decision):
- Medical and dental treatment;
- Leisure and home life;
- Faith and religious observance;
- Use of social media;
- Any other matters upon which the local authority/parents/others with parental responsibility consider appropriate.
- The expected duration of the arrangements and the steps to bring the arrangements to an end, including arrangements for the child to return to live with parents/anyone with Parental Responsibility;
- Where the child is aged 16 or over and agrees to being provided with accommodation under Section 20 Children Act 1989, that fact;
- The circumstances in which it is necessary to obtain in advance the Local Authority's approval for the child to take part in school trips or overnight stays;
- The Local Authority's arrangements for the financial support of the child during the placement;
- The obligation on the carers to comply with the terms of the foster care agreement.
The meeting also provides an opportunity to ensure that the foster carers have a copy of any relevant court order and that full information is shared with them about the child's needs and any behaviour management issues.
Except in emergency placements, the Placement Planning Meeting should be held before the placement. Where this is not possible, it should be held at the latest within 5 working days of the placement.
The child's social worker will complete and arrange for the circulation of the Care Plan and Placement Plan to the child, parents and foster carers before or at the latest, within 5 working days of the placement.
At the time of the placement, the foster carers should also be given any additional information about details of the child's day to day needs which are not covered by the Placement Plan/Placement Information Record but are important to ensure that the carers are in the best possible position to help the child settle in the new placement, for example any particular fears at night-time or the child's favourite toys.
The child's social worker must provide the child and the parent with written information about coming into care, including information on using the Complaints Procedure.
In addition, as indicated above, the social worker should ensure that any other information about the placement that is available for the child is obtained and given to him/her. Children must understand house expectations before the placement is made.In all cases, the child should be accompanied to the placement by the social worker and helped to settle in. Suitable luggage should be used and a child's belongings should never be transported in bin-bags or other inappropriate containers. (See NYAS, My Things Matter Report).
5. Notification of Placement
The child's social worker will update the child's electronic records with the details of the placement and ensure that notification is sent to the finance section so as to trigger payments to the foster carer.
The notifications should be before the start of the placement, wherever possible, or within 5 working days.
Notification of the placement will also be sent by the child's social worker to the Designated Nurse for LAC, the education service, the relevant local Children's Services (if the placement is in the area of a different local authority and the child's GP.
The child's social worker will notify all family members consulted and involved in the decision-making process of the placement.
The child's social worker must also notify the allocated Independent Reviewing Officer or, if it is the first placement, the LAC Administrator of the placement. This notification will trigger the appointment of an Independent Reviewing Officer if it is the first placement, and the setting up of arrangements for a Looked After Review.
These notifications must be made in writing, advising of the placement decision and the name and address of the person with whom the child is to be placed.
The child's social worker should also notify - preferably in writing but it may be verbally - all those involved in the day to day arrangements for the child, including nursery/school and any health professional or YOT worker actively involved with the child.
It will be necessary for the foster carer or the child's social worker to ensure the child is registered with a GP, Dentist and Optician, either retaining practices known to him or her (which is preferable) or in the area where they are placed.
In relation to a first Looked After placement it will also be necessary for the social worker to liaise with the Designated Nurse for LAC to arrange a Health Care Assessment - see LAC Health Care Assessment Plans Procedure for further details. The social worker must also contact the relevant school of, where the child does not have a school place, the relevant education officer with a view to the completion of a Personal Education Plan - see Education of Children with a Social Worker, Looked After and Previously Looked After Children Procedure.
For any new placement, every effort should be made to enable the child to remain at the same school unless there are reasons which would be detrimental to his or her well being.
6. Support and Monitoring of Placements
The child's social worker must visit the child in the placement within one week of the placement and then, at a minimum, every six weeks during the first year, thereafter every six weeks (three months if the placement is intended to last until the child is 18) - see Social Work Visits to Looked After Children Procedure.
The foster carer will also receive support and supervision from their supervising social worker (for in-house placements) - see Supervision of Foster Carers Procedure - and from the independent fostering agency (for external placements).
Where there are concerns in relation to the progress of the placement, consideration should be given to seeking additional resources to assist the carers.
Where there are any changes to the type of placement or to the child's legal status during the placement, the child's social worker must update the child's electronic records.
The records should be monitored for quality, adequacy and retention.
A Looked After Review should be convened where:
- The child is, or has been, persistently absent from the placement;
- The placement provider, parents or area authority are concerned that the child is at risk of harm; or
- The child so requests, unless the Independent Reviewing Officer considers that the review is not justified.
See also Looked After Reviews Procedure.
7. Ending of Placements
When the placement ends, the child's social worker must update the child's electronic records and notify the finance section so that payments to the carer/provider will cease. The social worker will also send copies to those notified when the placement was made.
All written information on the child, which the foster carer holds, should be transferred to the supervising social worker for transfer to the child's social worker.
In appropriate cases, the foster carer should be asked to complete an end of placement report.
Children must, when they leave the home, be helped to understand the reasons and be supported with the transition - including return home and independence.
Foster carers must be supported to maintain links with children who leave their care, where appropriate.
Where the placement ends in an unplanned way, consideration should be given to holding a Disruption Meeting- see Placement Planning Meetings Procedure.
Where a former carer's records are requested by a new agency, these must be made available within one month of the request.
8. Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters
A person who is approved as a prospective adopter may be given temporary approval as a local authority foster carer for a named Looked After child, where the local authority consider that this is in the child's best interests. See Fostering for Adoption, Concurrent Planning and Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters Procedure.
Before giving such approval, the responsible authority must:
- Assess the suitability of that person to care for the child as a foster carer; and
- Consider whether, in all the circumstances and taking into account the services to be provided by the responsible authority, the proposed arrangements will safeguard and promote the child's welfare and meet the child's needs as set out in the Care Plan.
The temporary approval period expires when:
- The placement is terminated by the local authority;
- The approval as a prospective adopter is terminated;
- The prospective adopter is approved as a foster carer;
- The prospective adopter gives 28 days' written notice that they no longer wish to be temporarily approved as a foster parent in relation to the child; or
- The child is placed for adoption with the prospective adopter.
9. Long Term Foster Placement
Where it is the case that the most appropriate route to permanence is long-term foster care, the regulations set out the arrangements for making such a placement, including:
- That foster care is the plan for permanence and is recorded in the child's care plan; (Reg 5(a))
- That the foster carer has agreed to act as the child's foster carer until the child ceases to be looked after;
- That the responsible authority has confirmed the nature of the arrangement with the foster carer(s), the birth parent and the child; and
- The child and foster carer have a clear understanding of the support services they will receive to promote the placement.
The assessment and planning process for long-term foster care should address the child's current needs and likely future needs, and the capacity of the foster carer to meet these needs now and in the future. (See Permanence Planning Guidance). The length of placement will vary according to the child's age and the long-term plan for the child, including the transition to adulthood. These factors must all be taken into account in planning for support and services where long-term foster care has been identified as the plan for permanence for a child.
Before deciding to place a child in a long-term foster placement, (whether or not this means moving to a new carer) the ability of the identified long-term foster carer to care for the child both now and in the future should be assessed. The support and services which will be needed to ensure that the placement is stable, secure and meets the child's needs should be identified taking into account the carer's previous fostering or other childcare experience, family configuration (including placement of other children under fostering arrangements), existing relationship (if any) with the child, knowledge and skills and capacity to care for the child long term under a fostering arrangement.
It is imperative that the foster carer fully understands and explicitly agrees to the long term commitment they are making to the child (regulation 22 (2)(b and c)). A record of the discussion of these matters including the outcome should be made as part of the assessment process.
The plan to place a child in a long-term foster placement with a particular foster carer should be discussed and recorded as part of the statutory looked after review process. if the IRO endorses this plan it should be recorded in the placement plan and agreed and signed by the foster carer (regulation 9(3)) Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations (2010). For a child under 10 years of age, and subject to Section 20, or a child of any age in care for longer than 6 months, and subject to Section 20, the approval of the Head of Service for Looked after children, Placement and Permanence is required before to ensure that other routes to permanence have been fully explored. If approval is given, the child's social worker can proceed with a referral to the Adoption and Permanence Panel (see Fostering and Permanence Panel Procedure). The supervising social worker for the foster carer is required to complete a Matching Report for the Panel, in consultation with the child's social worker. The Matching Report will include information about:
- Care Plan for the child;
- Foster carers most recent statutory review;
- Young person's views about their placement;
- Social workers views;
- IRO's views;
- Foster carer's views;
- Views of the parent (if Section 20).
The Adoption and Permanence Panel will make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (ADM). In Merton, the ADM is the Service Director. If the match is approved the agreement to the match and signature of the foster carer is recorded in the Placement Plan (As required by Regulation 9(3), Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations (2010)).
Where it is agreed that the child will be placed in a long-term foster placement, this should be communicated clearly to the foster carer, the child's parents or any other person who is not a parent but has parental responsibility and the child. (Section 2(1) Children Act 1989)
Where the decision has been taken that the plan for permanence is long-term foster care and the child is in an existing foster care placement, it may be that the carer and (where appropriate) the child want the existing foster placement to be the long-term foster placement. Such a proposal should be considered in a reasonable timescale taking into account the existing relationship between the child and the foster carer, the length of time in placement, the child's relationships with the foster carer's wider family and community. Consideration should also be given to the progress the child has made in the placement, recorded through the case review process.There may be circumstances where it is not considered appropriate to assess the ability of the current foster carer as the long-term carer for the child. In these instances, the reasons for this decision should be clearly set out in writing to the foster carer. This decision should also be communicated to the child where it is appropriate to their age and understanding.