SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies to children who are cared for by people other than their parent or close relative for more than 28 days and who are NOT subject to any order or arrangement that would place them in the care of the local authority.
AMENDMENTThis chapter has been amended in June 2020 and confirms in Section 14, After the Private Fostering Arrangement Ends that any request for support by the young person should be made to the local authority in which they are resident or where the education and training is being provided.
A privately fostered child is defined as a child under 16 (or 18 if Disabled) who is cared for by an adult who is not a parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, step parent (including civil partnerships), sister or brother where the child is to be cared for in that person's home for 28 days or more.
A child who is Looked After or placed in any residential placement, hospital or school (where they are receiving full-time education) is excluded from the definition. In a private fostering arrangement, the parent retains Parental Responsibility.
However, Children under 16 who spend more than 2 weeks in residence during holiday time in a school, become privately fostered children for the purposes of the legislation during that holiday period.
(Note: the local authority may exempt any person from giving written notice either for a specified period or indefinitely. This exemption may be revoked in writing at any time).
2. Notifications to the Local Authority
Where a child is to be placed with private foster carers, Merton Council must be notified in writing at least 6 weeks before an arrangement begins. Where no prior notification of a placement is given, private foster carers must notify Merton Council of the placement immediately.
The person making the notification should be asked to provide the following information:
- The name, gender, date and place of birth and address of the child;
- The racial origin, cultural and linguistic background and religion of the child;
- The names and address of the person giving the notice and any previous address within the last five years;
- The name and addresses of the child's parents and any previous addresses within the last 5 years;
- If different, the name and address of the person from whom the child was or is to be received;
- The name and address of the private foster carers and any previous addresses within the last 5 years;
- The name and address of any other person who is involved in making the arrangement;
- The name and address of any siblings of the child who are under 18, and the current arrangements for their care;
- The purpose and likely duration of the arrangement;
- The intended date when the child is to be placed with the private foster carers or the date when the placement began;
In relation to notifications given by the private foster carer or proposed private foster carer, the following information should also be obtained:
- Any offence of which they or any other member of the household has been convicted;
- Any disqualification or prohibition (see Section 9, Prohibition and Disqualification) placed on him/her or any other member of the household;
- Any actions taken or orders made in relation to the private foster carer or any child who is or was a member of the same household.
Written notification must also be made to Merton Council by the private foster carer within 48 hours of any change in circumstances, e.g. a change of address, a change in the household, a criminal conviction/disqualification or prohibition (see Section 9, Prohibition and Disqualification) in relation to any person in the household or any intention to foster another child privately.
Where notification is that the private foster carers have moved to live in the area of another local authority, the allocated social worker must immediately pass on this information to the new local authority, i.e. the name and address of the private foster carer, the name of the child/ren being privately fostered, the name, address and telephone number of the child/ren parents.
Where notification is that the placement has ended, the allocated social worker should ascertain the name and address of the person now caring for the child and their relationship with the child.
Parents also have a duty to notify Merton Council in writing of the ending of the placement including the name and address of the person into whose care the child has transferred.Any agency that becomes aware of a private fostering arrangement must immediately notify their local authority in writing of the arrangement and must inform the parent and private foster carer of their intention to do so.
3. Action to be Taken on Receipt of Notification
When notification or information is received from any source that a child is privately fostered, this information must be passed to the local authority where the privately fostered child resides. The allocated social worker has a responsibility to ensure that this information is reported to the Duty Social Worker and their Team Manager within the Private Fostering service so there is a seamless transition.
The allocated social worker will be expected to carry out the following initial tasks within one week of the notification:
- Visit the private foster carers in the home where the child resides and speak to them and all members of the household;
- Visit and speak to the child alone, unless the social worker considers it inappropriate to do so in which case the reason should be clearly recorded and brought to the attention of the Team Manager;
- Speak to the parents and if possible visit the parents if they are based in the United Kingdom;
- Ensure that the purpose and likely duration of the private fostering arrangement is understood by and agreed between the parents and the private foster carers;
- Ascertain the wishes and feelings of the child about the current private fostering arrangement;
- Check the suitability of the accommodation, the capacity of the private foster carer to look after the child, the suitability of other members of the private foster carer's household;
- Ensure that the parents are involved in planning for the child and explore whether the child's needs may be more appropriately met by providing services to the child and parent at home;
- Encourage the parents to draw up a written agreement (it may be helpful to use a Placement Information Record as a guide) with the private foster carers as to their respective expectations and responsibilities in relation to the fostering arrangement including financial arrangements and the child's contact with their parents and other significant family members;
- Where the child has already been placed, ensure that the child's development needs in all aspects is satisfactory liaising with nursery, school or other educational provision known to the child, that the standard of care being given to the child is appropriate and that the child's needs arising from their religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background are being met;
- Where the child has already been placed, check that there is financial support in place from the parents and the contact arrangements are working;
- Notify the relevant health and education agencies of the child's placement or proposed placement including the health visiting service where appropriate;
- Ensure that any necessary links and referrals are or will be established with other agencies for example because of the child's disabilities and/or special educational needs;
- Enter the child and the carer's details onto the social care information system.
4. Initial Visit to Private Foster Carers
All private fostering notifications are initially screened by the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). Where the arrangement meets the private fostering criteria, a referral is sent to the First Response Duty Team to undertake an initial home visit with the Private Fostering Social Worker within 7 working days.
Once the initial contact record of Private Fostering is completed on the social care information system by MASH, it should be sent to the First Response Duty Team Manager who will arrange the initial visit within 7 days of receipt in consultation with the Private Fostering Social worker and/or the Duty Social Worker.
The Private Fostering Social Worker/Duty Social Worker completes the Private Fostering Referral which is authorised by the First Response Duty Team Manager/and or the Vulnerable Children Team Manager.Following the initial visit, once it is confirmed as a private fostering arrangement, the First Response Duty Team Manager transfers the case to the Vulnerable Children Team Manager for allocation on the social care information system.
5. Assessment of Private Foster Carers
During the initial visit, the social worker should:
- Explain the purpose of the assessment, the process and provide written information to the private foster carers;
- Obtain the written consent of the private foster carer and all members of the household over 16 for checks to be made with the Disclosure and Barring Service and ask the private foster carer for the names and contact telephone numbers of at least 2 personal referees;
- Establish the private foster carer's child care knowledge and experience, their access to additional support, their views regarding behavioural management of the child and strategies they will use to manage difficult behaviours;
- Establish the plans for contact between the child and their parents;
- Establish the private foster carer's understanding of the child's culture, and give advice in relation to resources and facilities which could assist them in meeting the child's racial, cultural, religious and linguistic needs, including the use of an interpreter if necessary;
- Advise the private foster carer of the need for them to notify the Private Fostering Team in the event of a change in circumstances and preparation of the child before any further move, and for continuity of information being passed to the next carer;
Advise the private foster carer in relation to recording the child's development, particularly incorporating the following matters:
- Ensuring the child is registered with a GP and maintaining the child's medical history;
- Keeping a file of all academic school reports;
- Keeping a record of the dates of contact between parents and significant others with the child;
- Keeping a financial record for the Parents;
- Keeping a record of contact dates with the allocated social worker, Private Fostering Service and any other professionals within the Local Authority they contact;
- Keeping records of memories in a photograph album of the child.
In the event of a refusal of any person to cooperate with the making of the necessary screening checks, the allocated social worker should advise the private foster carers that they cannot be recommended as they would be seen as unsuitable. The child's parents would need to be advised of the reason why alternative arrangements will have to be made for the child.
Any immediate action required by the local authority to secure the child's safety will be considered in consultation with a Team Manager and legal advice sought, as necessary.
If the initial visit takes place after the child's placement, the allocated social worker should also:
- Ensure that the parents have fully informed the foster carer of the child's previous medical history and any current treatment plan with any medication. Clarify if they have provided any personal child health records to the private foster carer;
- Encourage the private foster carers to agree and draft a written agreement with the child's parents as to outline their respective expectations and responsibilities in relation to the private fostering arrangement including the contact arrangements, finances and expected duration of the private fostering arrangement;
- Ensure that the child is registered with a GP, dentist and, if necessary, optician local to the private fostering placement;
- Ensure that a school place has been identified and arrangements made for the child to attend, if of compulsory school age;
- Ensure the parent provides the private foster carer with written consent authorising to any compulsory medical treatment. A copy of this consent/authorisation is then provided to the GP, dentist, optician and retained on the child's file;
- In the event that the child needs medical treatment in an emergency situation this needs to be discussed and reviewed with the parents, as they have Parental Responsibility. If medical treatment is refused then legal advice may have to be sought by the Local Authority in ensuring that the child's health needs are fully met;
- Advise the private foster carer to arrange a initial medical examination of the child with the GP as soon as practicable after the start of the placement.
6. Financial Support for Private Foster Carers
The allocated social worker undertaking the assessment must arrange for background checks on the private foster carer, all members of the household and frequent visitors over 16 to be made with the Disclosure and Barring Service providing all previous addresses within the last 5 years. The allocated social worker should also request written references and arrange to visit any personal referees to validate any information collated.
The assessment will consider the following:
- The suitability of the private foster carer and all members of the household and any external factors that may need to be reviewed;
- The suitability of the current accommodation.
A written report on the assessment should be presented to the Team Manager of the Vulnerable Children's Team for a decision to be made and it should have a clear analysis and recommendations. Written notice of the decision must then be sent to the private foster carer and the parents, including any requirements, exemptions or prohibitions imposed - see Section 7, Imposing Requirements on Foster Carers, Section 8, Limit on Number of Children and Section 9, Prohibition and Disqualification.
If any information comes to light during the course of the assessment, for example as a result of the Disclosure and Barring Service checks, which may preclude the person from fostering a child, the social worker should prepare a report to the Head of Service (Safeguarding and Care Planning). Immediate consideration should also be given to the arrangements for the child and, if necessary, child protection procedures should be initiated.
In the event that the parents decline to make alternative arrangements or where the parents cannot be found, the allocated social worker should consider whether any action may be required by the local authority to secure the child's safety under the Merton Safeguarding Children Partnership Inter Agency Procedures and legal advice should be sought as necessary.
Where the local authority receives a notification that a child is privately fostered the private fostering team will undertake a single assessment to ascertain the needs of the child in the placement. See Single Assessment Guidance. On completion of the assessment, a child in need plan will be developed to ensure that services are identified to ensure that the child's needs are met. See Children in Need Plans and Reviews Procedure.
7. Imposing Requirements on Private Foster Carers
Where appropriate, reports to the Head of Service (Safeguarding and Care Planning) can include recommendations for requirements to be imposed on the private foster carers, for example to restrict the approval to an individual child or to limit the number, age or gender of children who may be cared for privately. Requirements may also relate to the standard of accommodation, health and safety matters and/or practical matters such as equipment. A requirement may include a time-scale within which the private foster carer must take the necessary action.
A requirement may be varied, removed or added at any time.Any requirements imposed must be specified in writing, together with any reasons. Written notice of any requirements imposed, together with the reasons, will be sent to the private foster carer and to the parent by the social worker responsible for the assessment. The private foster carer will also be advised of the right to appeal against the requirement to the Magistrates' Court.
8. Limit on Number of Children
The maximum number of children privately fostered in any one household must not exceed 3 unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as a large sibling group and the household accommodation meet their needs.
Any application for exemption from this limit must be made to the Head of Service (Safeguarding and Care Planning). The application must contain the following information:
- The number, names and ages of the children;
- The proposed arrangements for the care and accommodation of the children;
- The intended and likely relationship between the children and the private foster carers;
- The proposed length of the placement;
- Whether the welfare of the children in the placement will be safeguarded and promoted.
Exemptions will only be granted in relation to named children and will cease when the named children leave the placement.Where an exemption is granted this will be confirmed in writing to the private foster carers.
9. Prohibition and Disqualification
A decision can be made to prohibit the proposed foster carer from fostering on the basis that they are not suitable and/or the premises are unsuitable.
The fact that a Foster Carer is a Disqualified Person (Foster Carer) is a good reason upon which to seek a prohibition.
Where the allocated social worker considers that it would be appropriate to approve a private foster carer despite the fact that they or a person in the household is disqualified, a written report must be presented to the Head of Service (Safeguarding and Care Planning) for consideration.
Where a decision is made to prohibit a private foster carer from caring for a child, reasons for the decision must be recorded. Written notice of the decision, together with the reasons, must be hand delivered or sent by recorded post to the private foster carer and to the parent by the allocated social worker responsible for the assessment. The private foster carer will also be advised of the right to appeal against the decision to the Magistrates' Court.Discussion should also take place with the parent as to the making of alternative arrangements for the child.
10. Non-compliance with Requirements
Where requirements which have been imposed are not complied with, the allocated social worker must consider whether support should be provided to ensure compliance and/or consider whether to report further to the Head of Service (Safeguarding and Care Planning) recommending that the foster carer be prohibited from caring for the child, in which case the procedure for prohibitions as set out above must be followed.
11. Visits to the Private Foster Carers Home - Frequency, Purpose and Records
The initial visit by the allocated social worker must be made to the child and the private foster carer at the placement address within one week of the placement, or the date when notification was received if later, and then visits will be made every six weeks in the first year by the allocated social worker.
In subsequent years, visits must be at least once every three months.
The need to visit more frequently will be decided by the allocated social worker and their manager depending on the case circumstances and the need to visit unannounced and/or to choose times when all members of the household are likely to be present should also be considered.
Additional visits should be arranged at the request of the child or the private foster carer.
The child must be seen alone by the allocated social worker on each visit unless the child does not wish to see the social worker alone and their views and wishes will be respected and noted. Best endeavours should be made to see the child on each visit and if barriers arise, i.e. the child is not available at each visit that this is questioned and reviewed with the private foster carer.The child's bedroom should be seen on some visits and recordings of the observations should be made
The purpose of and matters to be discussed at the first visit after the child's placement are set out in Section 4, Initial Visit to Private Foster Carers.
The overall purpose of all visits is to encourage the maintenance and improvement of child care standards and check that the child's needs are met within the foster placement and in particular:
- To observe the overall standard of care including visiting the child's bedroom;
- To ensure that the child is developing satisfactorily and that their needs arising from religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background are being met;
- To speak to and ascertain the wishes of the child;
- To review the purpose and likely duration of the placement and ensure that arrangements with the parents are working.
The parent and the private foster carer should be encouraged to plan the ending of the placement and prepare the child for the change;
- To check that any requirements imposed are being met and check whether they need to be changed or cancelled;
- To ensure that the arrangements for the child's education are satisfactory;
- To advise or arrange advice for the private foster carer as necessary, for example in relation to the maintaining of the child's links with their cultural heritage or in relation to appropriate travel arrangements for the child visiting family abroad;
- To check that the financial arrangements for the care of the child are working;
- To ensure that the child remains registered with a GP and dentist and that any necessary health care has been provided to take account of any special health needs;
- To ensure that the child has access to services as required as a result of any disabilities;
- To enquire as to the contact arrangements for the child with the parents and siblings;
- To encourage the private foster carer to keep a record of the child's development, including accidents, illnesses, immunisations, school reports, achievements and any contact with parents or significant others.
3. Reports on Visits
An oral and written report on every visit must be made by the allocated social worker. The report must state whether the child was seen and if so, whether the child was seen alone. If the child was not seen, the reasons must be recorded. The record must comment on the child's welfare and how the placement is progressing including any views expressed by the foster carer and the child. It must also contain any specific recommendations with an analysis about the continued suitability of the private fostering arrangement and whether any review should be taken with respect to the requirements on the foster carer.The report must be reviewed by the allocated social worker's Team Manager.
4. Unsatisfactory care
Where there are concerns about the child's care, the parents should be advised and consideration should be given to invoking the Merton Local Safeguarding Children Partnership Inter Agency Procedures.
12. Review of Private Foster Carers
The suitability of the foster carer should be reviewed annually by the social worker and shared with their Team Manager. This information will be reported to the Head of Service (Safeguarding and Care Planning).
13. Local Authority Foster Carers who Privately Foster
Where local authority foster carers notify their intention to privately foster a child, the above procedure should be followed.
In these circumstances, a supervising social worker will normally carry out the assessment.
The foster carers should be advised of the differences between their two roles.
Consideration will need to be given to the implications for any Looked After Child already placed with the foster carer and contact should be made by the supervising social worker involved with the social workers for such children.
Consideration should also be given to the future placement of any Looked After children particularly having regard to the usual fostering limit of three children.
14. After the Private Fostering Arrangement Ends
Parents have a duty to notify the local authority of the ending of the placement including the name and address of the person into whose care the child has moved.
Unless a young person has a disability, private fostering ends at 16 with regard to a disabled child this will be when they reach 18.
The Private Fostering Team will review the young person's circumstances and future plans as they approach 16. Where a young person remains with the private foster carers after the age of 16, but requires continuing support, they should be assisted as a Child In Need. Where the young person moves to independent living, support can be provided to them up as they will fall within the definition of Qualifying Young People. (Note that the DfE, Volume 3: planning transition to adulthood for care leavers acknowledges that some 'Qualifying children' will be as vulnerable and have similar support needs as those who are Eligible, Relevant or Former Relevant).
Support may include advice, befriending and discretionary financial assistance where the young person has no other means. It will be provided at the request of the young person on the basis of assessment of need and can continue up to the age of 21 25 or beyond if the young person is in higher education, up to the end of the course. Note that in these circumstances, it is possible also for the local authority to also provide vacation holiday accommodation.
Any request by the young person should be made to the local authority in which they are resident or where the education and training is being provided.