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6.1.1 Fostering Panel

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Fostering and Adoption Service
253 Preston Road
Brighton
East Sussex
BN1 6SE

RELEVANT DOCUMENTS

Fostering Services Regulations 2011

Fostering Services National Minimum Standards, Fostering Services Regulations 2011 (Standard 14)

Foster Carers Handbook

Brighton and Hove City Council Children and Families Services

Brighton and Hove and Barnardo's Link Plus Fostering Panel. Hereafter referred to as 'the Panel'.

Constitution and Terms of Reference of the Panel

Also see Central List Agreement.

This chapter was updated in May 2012 to reflect the changes of the Fostering Services National Minimum Standards 2011. The main changes are:

  • Changes from a fixed membership of the fostering panel to the establishment of a Central List;
  • Clarification of the expectations of members of the Central List;
  • Changes to the time that people can serve on the Central List;
  • Applicant’s ability to attend panel meetings with a supporter.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Aims and Objectives
  3. Roles and Responsibilities
  4. Membership
  5. Protocol for Members of the Central List
  6. Panel Chairperson
  7. Medical Advice
  8. Legal Advice
  9. Agency Adviser
  10. Other Advisers
  11. Confidentiality
  12. Conflicts of Interest
  13. Administration of the Panel
  14. Panel Meetings
  15. Procedures for Deferment of Cases
  16. Reports for Panel
  17. Attendance of Social Work Staff
  18. Attendance of Children, Applicants, Foster Carers and Observers 
  19. Decision Making Process and Notifications
  20. Protocol for Emergency and Additional Panel Meetings
  21. Monitoring Role/ Feedback to Agency
  22. Complaints and Representations 
  23. Annual Report 
  24. Review


1. Introduction

Brighton and Hove Children and Families Services is a local authority Fostering Service Provider. The Brighton and Hove and Barnardo's Link Plus Panel is a Joint Panel, run by Brighton and Hove on behalf of both the above Fostering Service Providers. The Panel considers ordinary fostering, family and friends, and link plus respite cases.

The Panel complies with the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 and the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services 2011. Detailed guidance is also available in the 2011 CoramBAAF publication Effective Fostering Panels.

The composition of Fostering Panels, terms of reference and functions are set out in the Fostering Services Regulations 2011.

All Fostering Service Providers are legally required to have a Fostering Panel. The Regulations ensure that Fostering Panels have an independent role separate from the Fostering Service Provider

This constitution and terms of reference will be the framework for the operation of the Fostering Panel. It will be reviewed annually.


2. Aims and Objectives

The aim of the Panel is to ensure the provision of a high quality fostering service that safeguards and promotes the welfare of children Looked After by the local authority, and Children in Need.

The Fostering Panel is committed to anti-discriminatory practice and will carry out it's duties in accordance with Brighton and Hove City Council Equalities & Inclusion Policy and will not discriminate on the grounds of gender, race, religion, sexuality, age or disability.

In all matters the Fostering Panel will hold the welfare of children to be paramount.


3. Roles and Responsibilities

The role of the Fostering Panel is to consider the full approval, variation of approval, and termination of approval of anyone either seeking to be approved as, or currently approved as, foster carers, who wish to care for children and young people up to the age of 18 years.

Approval of carers will include specifying the ages, gender and numbers of children who will normally be fostered, and evaluating their future training needs.

The Panel will also consider:

  • Connected Persons, applicants who have had children placed with them under Regulation 24 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 whether the applicants are suitable to provide foster care on an interim basis to a child on an interim or full care order further to such an arrangement having been made in an emergency;
  • The continued suitability of 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;
  • Exemptions from the limit to the number of children placed with foster carers;
  • Referrals to the Independent Review Mechanism - see Assessment and Approvals Procedure.

The Panel will be notified of all resignations. It will also consider any requests to exceed the 16 week limit on exemptions from the usual fostering limit for foster carers from Brighton and Hove, Barnardo's Link Plus, and from any other Fostering Service providers when the carers live in Brighton and Hove.

In addition to the above the Fostering Panel may be consulted if appropriate on the preparation and review of Fostering Service Provider policies and procedures in relation to any aspect of fostering. The panel will be rigorous in monitoring quality standards and will contribute to the development of good practice.

The Fostering Panel's role is to provide thorough and critical consideration of all cases presented to it and to make sound and appropriate recommendations to the respective Agency Decision Maker, either Brighton and Hove or Barnardo's. The Panel is not permitted to make any conditional or 'in principle' recommendations (except in family and friends Regulation 24 placements, where a recommendation for approval for a part-completed assessment over a limited time-scale can be made), but may defer making a recommendation.

The Panel will offer consultation and guidance on cases and about fostering generally where appropriate.

The Panel will monitor the standards and quality of assessments and reports and give feedback to the appropriate managers via the Agency Adviser.

The Panel will be committed to anti-discriminatory practice and to ensuring that the welfare of the child is paramount.

The Panel will be transparent in the process of how it arrives at its recommendations, which will be fully reflected in the official minutes of the Panel, and Panel will welcome comments and suggestions, which will improve both its practice and operation. Questionnaires are sent to all those who have attended Panel to assist in monitoring user's views.

Agreement to vary a foster carer's approval range (i.e. age range, gender or number of places) may be made by the Fostering Service Provider decision maker or their delegated manager, where the circumstances of children require this.

Exemptions to the usual fostering limit not exceeding 16 weeks may be agreed by the Team Manager, Fostering, or the Assistant Director, Children’s Services, Barnardo’s South East Region, respectively. Significant variations and exemptions must both be presented to the Fostering Panel as reports, if they are to continue for more than 16 weeks.


4. Membership

As a Fostering Panel, the membership must satisfy the Fostering Services Regulations 2011.

There is no fixed panel membership or maximum number of members or tenure of office.

Membership of the Joint Fostering Panel must be drawn for 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 appointed by the Agency Decision Maker, and an Independent Chair must be appointed.

The Agency Decision Maker must also appoint up to two Vice Chairs, whose role is to chair the Panel when the Chair is unavailable.

The Panel will aim to have a balance in terms of gender, race, culture and religion and should reflect the diversity of the community it serves.

The Panel shall conduct no business unless at least six of its members are present and provided 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 Brighton and Hove Social Worker with at least three years post qualifying experience;
  • Four other members.

Those on the Central List will be recruited, by the Agency Adviser (and for the Independent Chair Person, The Agency Decision Maker), via advertisements either within the agency (for agency nominated representatives) or via relevant publications (for independent members). The exception to this is the Health representative who will be nominated by the Agency Medical Adviser. Applicants will be required to submit a completed application form and attend a competitive interview. Verbal and written references and an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service enquiry will be obtained for each member of the Central List prior to being appointed. The DBS checks should be kept up to date and recorded, including the date when the checks were made.

All panel members will have suitable qualifications and/or experience and are expected to comply with the panel protocol. Each panel member will have an annual review meeting with the Chair and Agency Adviser. The Chair will be reviewed for both agencies by the Agency Adviser and the Agency Decision Maker. Where necessary, the termination of appointment must be considered.

Panel members should always declare an interest where they have direct knowledge of a matter being presented. The Chair will decide whether that interest is such as to debar the panel member from discussion or decision making in respect of that item.

Panel members who do not attend Panel as part of their paid employment will receive an expenses payment of £110 plus parking costs, travel costs where agreed and childcare costs where agreed, per Panel attended, which must be claimed monthly, on receipt of an invoice. This sum covers all costs associated with Panel attendance


5. Protocol for Members of the Central List

All panel members are required to sign a Central List Agreement

Each member must be provided with written information on appointment of their performance objectives, including participation in induction and other training and safeguarding the confidentiality of records and information submitted to panel.

The agreement that Panel members sign includes a section on confidentiality.

Panel members should have read all Panel papers carefully before Panel and should come prepared to contribute to Panel discussions.

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. They will be provided with a copy of the CoramBAAF guidance Effective Fostering Panels.

Panel members are expected to keep up to date with developments in fostering and to avail themselves of training opportunities. The Agency Adviser will offer advice and support on this.

Those on the Central List will be kept informed about current practice, issues and legislation in relation to fostering by means of updates from the Agency Adviser, consultations etc. and will also be provided with free access to the members page of the CoramBAAF website.

A minimum of 2 annual training events are offered. There is an expectation that Panel members will attend 50% of the training events. Panel members will be consulted on the content and format of the training.

All those on the Central LIst will have a current enhanced disclosure from the Disclosure and Barring Service, which will be updated every three years.  Those on the Central List must inform BHCC at once if they are convicted or cautioned for any criminal offence.

Two written references (confirmed by verbal references) will be required for all those on the Central List.

Each person on the Central LIst will have a file held by BHCC with details of recruitment, references, full name, date of birth, home address, photograph, proof of identify, qualifications and experience and any complaints and allegations made against the person including details of any investigation and its outcome.

All new members of the Central List will be expected to observe at least one panel prior to full membership.

The Agency Adviser will offer support regularly to independent members.

A member of the Central List may resign at any time by giving 28 days notice in writing to the Panel Chair or Agency Adviser.  If BHCC is of the opinion that a member is unfit or unable to hold office, the agency may terminate his or her office by giving him or her one-month's notice in writing of the reasons.

The Agency Adviser, in consultation with the Panel Chair, will informally approach any a member of the Central List whose behaviour is considered inappropriate or ineffective. If the matter cannot be resolved at the informal stage by further individual training and/or advice and guidance, a letter addressing the issue will be sent to the Panel member with a copy to the Agency Decision Maker and Panel Chair.  If there are no substantive changes and difficulties persist then consideration will be given to terminating their membership.  If this course of action was to be undertaken and the Panel member was dissatisfied then appeal could be make in writing to the Agency Decision Maker whose decision is final.


6. Panel Chairperson

The Chair of the Panel will be an independent person with significant experience of social work and fostering work; including at a senior management level and the necessary skills to ensure that the Panel's work is carried out efficiently and sensitively. The Agency Decision Maker will be responsible for the recruitment of the Panel Chair in liaison with the Agency Advisor. When a vacancy arises for a Panel Chair, advertisements will be placed in relevant publications. The vice-chair's will be from the Central List that does not have line management responsibility for the fieldwork or fostering service within the authority.

The Chair will ensure that Panel meetings are conducted in a professional and proper manner and that all items of business are covered and to assume responsibility for co-ordination of discussion and time keeping. The chair will ensure that all applicants, social workers and managers attending Panel will be treated with respect and courtesy. Applicants can attend with a supporter and 'be heard' at fostering panel meetings that consider their approval.

The responsibilities of the Chairperson include:

  • Deciding who will attend panel in addition to Panel members;
  • Ensuring that all Panel members contribute fully to the Panel's recommendation and to ensure that where Panel members have serious or dissenting reservations these are recorded in the minutes of the panel's meetings;
  • Ensuring that all Panel records are accurate;
  • Involvement when a Panel member appears unfit, unwilling or unable to continue;
  • Involvement in deciding when a matter is urgent and when an additional Panel meeting may need to be convened;
  • That there is clarity concerning the reasons for Panel's recommendation and accurate recording of such;
  • The promotion of good practice and consistency of approach and fairness by Panel members in assessing carers.

The chair of the Panel will be responsible for producing an annual report of the Panel's work for Brighton and Hove Children’s Services.

The Agency Decision Maker undertakes an annual performance review of the Chair person. The views of Panel members and those attending Panel will be asked to contribute to this process.


7. Medical Advice

Medical advice is available to the Panel from the Agency Medical Adviser, who is not a Panel member. The Nurse Consultant LAC who is a voting Panel member gives medical advice at the Panel as appropriate. She is not confined to commenting solely on medical issues and is encouraged to make an active contribution on all matters.

The medical adviser will be a senior member of the community child health service and will have an in-depth knowledge of child health and development and the consequences of abuse and neglect.

The medical adviser is available, where appropriate, to children, social workers, foster carers, adopters and birth family members.  The medical adviser will provide a written report to the Panel on foster carers presented and will be available to discuss resulting issues.  Where appropriate she will also be available for consultation and advice on emerging medical issues post placement.


8. Legal Advice

Legal advice is available from a senior lawyer employed by BHCC who is experienced in family and child care law and in adoption work. She is not a Panel member and does not usually attend Panel but will give specific legal advice to panel members on each individual case presented to the panel when necessary.

The legal adviser can if needed provide general advice to Panel members on the legal functions and duties of the Panel.

The legal adviser can be contacted by social workers for advice.


9. Agency Adviser

The Agency Adviser to Panel must be a senior member of staff with at least five years post qualifying experience and relevant management experience. The Agency Adviser does not have line management responsibility for social work staff within the Fieldwork or Fostering and Adoption service and plays a key quality assurance and advisory role within the department.

The Agency Adviser will advise the chair and Panel as required on matters relating to Brighton and Hove Children’s Service's practice, policy and procedure. 

The Agency Adviser is responsible for ensuring comprehensive and appropriate papers are sent to Panel members at least five working days before the Panel meeting and for reporting back to the agency any concerns or issues raised by Panel members.

The Agency Adviser is responsible for ensuring that accurate and timely minutes of Panel are produced and that verbal and written notifications of the agency decision are forwarded within the agreed timescales.

The Agency Adviser will assist the agency in the appointment, termination and review of panel members. The Agency Adviser is responsible for the induction and training of those on the Central List and for monitoring the performance of members of the Central List and Panel administration.

The Agency Adviser is available for consultation and advice on matters relating to the Panel and attends a briefing meeting with the Agency Decision Maker after every Panel meeting. If the Agency Adviser is unavailable alternative arrangements will be made to ensure that Panel has agency advice.

The Agency Adviser will provide those on the Central List with specialist advice and access to appropriate training materials as necessary.


10. Other Advisers

If other specialist advice is required for any other reason the Agency Adviser to Panel will source this appropriately.

Advisors are not voting members of the Panel.


11. Confidentiality

All information presented to the Fostering Panel is confidential and those on the Central List must respect this.

All those on the Central List (and any observers) will be required to sign a confidentiality agreement.  For those on the Central List this is included in the Panel member's agreement.

All those on the Central List must be able to indicate what arrangements they have for ensuring that confidential papers sent to them are kept in a secure place.

All documentation and reports should be returned to the Panel administrator at the end of each Panel meeting.  If a Panel member is unable to attend a Panel meeting it is their responsibility to ensure that the papers are returned safely to the Panel Agency Adviser.

Any breach of confidentiality by a person on the Central List will be considered as serious and will be taken up by the Agency Adviser.


12. Conflicts of Interest

It is possible for a Panel member to have some knowledge, either in a professional or personal capacity, of a case under consideration.

If a Panel member believes they may have personal knowledge they should not read the papers before seeking advice from the Agency Adviser or Panel Chair.

Professional knowledge should be declared at the Panel meeting. 

The chair will decide whether a declared interest in a case is such as to debar the Panel member from the discussion relating to that case and/or participation in the Panel recommendation.

Declaration of an interest, personal or professional, may not of itself preclude a panel member from being involved in considering the item. Any declaration of interest will be recorded in the Panel minutes.


13. Administration of the Panel

An experienced administrator will support the work of the Panel.

Cases will only be placed on a Panel agenda once the Panel Administrator/Agency Adviser has received all the relevant paperwork.

The Fostering Panel Administrator will minute Panel meetings. The minutes will record:

  • Date of Panel;
  • Attendance at Panel;
  • Apologies for absence from Panel;
  • Name of applicants/foster carers/child;
  • Purpose of presentation to Panel;
  • Issues raised by Panel members;
  • Areas discussed with social workers and applicants/foster carers/children;
  • The positive factors and potential difficulties/risk factors;
  • Any legal advice given including whether the paperwork presented to Panel in relation to a child is compliant with the re B judgement (17.07.2008);
  • Recommendation reached together with the reasons for the recommendation including detailing the reports read by Panel;
  • Any advice to the agency from the Panel;
  • Whether the recommendation was unanimous and if not the reasons and reservations of those not able to support the recommendation;
  • Any request from Panel for further information, amendments to reports or reporting back to panel;
  • Any business for discussion.

Panel members must agree the content of the minutes. The accuracy of the minutes will be checked at each Panel for the previous Panel meeting.

The Chair will sign all Panel minutes to confirm their accuracy.

The Panel minutes and recommendation relating to the approval or review of approval of foster carers will be placed on the foster carer's file. Foster carers do not have the right to see Panel minutes, however they will receive the list of the positive factors and risk factors identified by Panel with their letter informing them of the Agency Decision.

The Panel Administrator will collate relevant statistical data within the Fostering service.

The tabling of reports and agenda items is co-ordinated by the Panel Administrator in consultation with the Agency Adviser. Panel members will receive copies of the agenda and all reports/papers at least one week in advance of the meeting. An agenda is sent to all Panel attendees.

The Panel Administrator will be responsible for the booking of rooms for Panel meetings and all practical arrangement relating to Panel business.


14. Panel Meetings

The Panel meets every 4 weeks usually from 10.15am - 5.00pm.

The Panel will consider cases with the following minimum timings:

  • Approval of prospective foster carers: 1 hour;
  • Disruption reports: 15 - 30 minutes;
  • Review/re-approval of foster carers: 45 minutes;
  • Termination of approval: at discretion of Agency Adviser.

Panel members are expected to read the Panel papers in advance of the Panel meeting and come prepared to contribute to the discussion. All Panel members have an equal role in reaching a recommendation.

Panel members will discuss the issues they wish to explore with the social workers and applicants before inviting them in.  The Chair will co-ordinate the discussion and ensure that all areas are covered and that the social workers and applicants have the opportunity to present any other relevant information.

Panel members will endeavour to reach a consensus and the Chair will ensure that all members have the opportunity to express their views. Every Panel member must express a view about whether or not they support the recommendation.

If a consensus cannot be reached then a majority view will prevail with the dissenting member's views being noted in the minutes and if requested will be attributed. The view of those not able to support the recommendation will be communicated to the Agency Decision Maker. The Chair does not have a casting vote but will summarise the voting for the Agency Decision maker.

If there is insufficient information available for Panel to reach a recommendation, they will defer the case (see Section 15, Procedures for Deferment of Cases) until the additional information is provided by the relevant social worker.

At the end of each case the Chair will summarise the recommendation made and the reasons for it. The Chair will also advise all attendees of the recommendation and decision making process and when the agency's decision will be made.

The appropriate workers will convey the Panel recommendation orally to all those involved i.e. children, birth parents, applicants, and foster carers within 24 hours.


15. Procedures for Deferment of Cases

15.1 Guiding Principles 

The relevant social care managers and staff from the Fostering team, in liaison with the Agency Adviser, should try to prevent cases booked for the Fostering Panel being deferred, by carefully scrutinising all reports prior to submission. On occasions the Agency Adviser may have to defer a case being included in papers for circulation to Panel members if insufficient information, evidence or analysis has been provided. This decision will be made in consultation with the relevant social worker and their manager.

Once Panel papers are circulated to members a decision to defer a case before the meeting should be made as early as possible by the Chair and/or Agency Adviser. Deferring a case at a Panel meeting causes much distress to applicants/carers and prevents time being available for other cases. This should be avoided if possible.

The Fostering and Adoption Service Managers, the Agency Adviser and the Chair have the power to defer a case before Panel.  However consideration at a Panel meeting may reveal a significant gap in information, evidence or analysis that was not clear before an individual contribution is made or a pattern or theme emerges from collective discussion. This could lead to a case being deferred at a Panel meeting. This underlines the value and purpose of the Fostering Panel with its different professional and lay perspectives carrying out a quality assurance role.

Nevertheless it is hoped that deferment will normally be a rare occurrence, as it has proved so far in the Panel's history. If a regular pattern of deferment were to occur this would be a matter of serious concern. Panel would need to arrange urgent discussions with the Head of Service, Fostering and Adoption and the Agency Decision Maker, and scrutinise its own performance.

15.2 Deferment before a Panel Meeting

Once papers have been circulated to Panel members, if the Chair considers a report has significant gaps in information, evidence or analysis or is of a poor quality she will contact the Agency Adviser (or Panel Administrator in the Agency Adviser's absence) to discuss the concerns. The Chair should either:

  1. Ask for the case to be deferred; or
  2. If there is sufficient time available ask the Agency Adviser to ask the supervising social worker, in consultation with their manager, to write a supplementary report for tabling at the Panel meeting. It is understood that the latter will not normally be a feasible option because of time constraints.

Normally the decision to defer a case before a Panel meeting will be made by the Chair in consultation with the Agency Adviser or the Agency Adviser in consultation with the Chair and relevant manager. If a Panel member has concerns about the adequacy of a report prior to a Panel meeting and considers the item should be deferred s/he should contact the Agency Adviser to discuss their concerns. If, after discussion, serious concerns are maintained the Agency Adviser should contact the Chair to recommend the case is deferred prior to the Panel meeting. The Chair will decide whether to accept or reject the recommendation. It is understood that because of members' time constraints this option would be rarely used.

Once the Chair or Agency Adviser has made a decision to defer a case prior to a Panel meeting the Agency Adviser should contact the supervising social worker and their manager immediately so that the carer's attendance at Panel can be postponed and explanations and future plans discussed with them.

At the Panel meeting, after minutes and matters arising, the Chair will inform members that the case has been deferred and give the reasons for the deferment. The Chair will clarify any questions or queries members may have and in consultation with the Agency Adviser inform Panel, if known, when the deferred item will be presented to Panel.

After the Panel meeting the relevant Agency Decision Maker should be informed by the Agency Adviser.

15.3 Deferment at a Panel Meeting

If during the Panel's initial consideration of case serious concerns arise about the adequacy of a report in terms of insufficient information, evidence or analysis the Chair, in consultation with the agency adviser, should either:

  1. Clarify through questions and discussion with members whether they wish to recommend deferment;or
  2. On the basis of the concerns expressed make a decision to defer consideration of the case and give the reasons for the decision.

Once the Panel has made a decision to defer considering the case and has clarified their reasons for doing so, the Chair and Agency Adviser will leave the meeting and explain briefly to the applicants/carers and supervising social worker and manager (if present) that the item has been deferred for further information to be obtained. The Chair and Agency Adviser will then meet the supervising social worker and manager separately in a confidential setting and explain the reasons for the deferment and clarify what further information the Panel will require. It will also be clarified with the supervising social worker and their manager which future Panel the item has been deferred to; normally the deferred item will be considered at the next Panel meeting.

There may be some occasions when, prior to the Panel deciding to defer an item, members may wish to try to clarify certain queries or issues with the supervising social worker and their manager within the Panel meeting. Panel may consider that further clarification could confirm that the case should be deferred or that queries can be answered sufficiently and clarify that the assessment work was carried out satisfactorily but not fully recorded in the report. On such rare occasions, prior to this discussion, the Chair or Agency Adviser will leave the meeting and ask the supervising social worker and manager to join the meeting and leave the applicants/carers in the waiting room explaining to them that a number of points in reports need to be clarified before the Panel decides to invite them in. If the verbal responses the supervising social worker and manager give to the Panel's queries are sufficient to fully answer the concerns raised the Panel will ask for the assessment report to be amended and the application can be considered fully and not deferred. If the responses clarify that there is still significant assessment work to be carried out the Panel will confirm the item is deferred until the outstanding work is completed.  The Chair and Agency Adviser will leave the meeting and with the supervising social worker and their manager explain to the applicants/carers that the item has been deferred for further information to be obtained.

After the Panel meeting the relevant Agency Decision Maker should be informed.

15.4 Review of Deferment Procedures

These procedures will be reviewed by the Panel in March of each year as part of the Fostering Service Provider annual report process or when necessary.


16. Reports for Panel

The Panel will require the following reports
  • Approval of prospective foster carers. Foster carers' Assessment Report and supporting documentation;
  • Placement of a child with particular prospective foster carers: foster carer's Assessment Report, Child's Permanence Report, a Matching Report and all relevant panel minutes;
  • Foster placement disruptions: Summary of disruption meeting, action plan, recommendations and all relevant panel minutes;
  • Review of foster carer approval - annual foster carers review reports and minutes of previous Panel.

The Agency Adviser to the Panel will be available to offer advice to social workers on the completion of reports and the standards required by Panel.

Reports to the Fostering Panel in relation to fostering matters upon which the Panel are asked to make recommendations must be prepared by 'sufficiently experienced and qualified staff' and who 'have the qualifications, skills and experience necessary for the work (they are) to perform. This should include direct experience of fostering work. Where the author of the report does not have the requisite qualifications and experience, he or she should be supervised by a qualified and experienced manager.

Where those preparing reports are not employed by the Fostering Service Provider, they should always be suitably qualified and experienced and supervised by a member of staff with the suitable qualifications and experience.


17. Attendance of Social Work Staff

All social workers must attend with their managers when appropriate and present their cases to Panel as follows, this expectation also applies to social workers attending from other fostering agencies or Fostering Service Providers:

  • Approval of prospective foster carers: supervising social worker and his/her supervisor;
  • Placement of a child with particular foster carers: child's social worker and his/her supervisor and the prospective foster carers supervising social worker, or Independent Social Worker as necessary;
  • Disruption reports: not required unless requested by Agency Adviser or Chair;
  • Foster carer review of approval: supervising social worker.

The Agency Adviser must be notified as soon as possible regarding any problems with staff attending Panel. The Agency Adviser, in liaison with the Panel Chair, will then decide whether it is appropriate for the case to be considered by Panel.

Staff attending Panel will be asked to complete a feedback form regarding their experience of the Panel process.


18. Attendance of Children, Applicants, Foster Carers and Observers 

Brighton and Hove is committed to user involvement and transparent decision-making. Prospective foster carers are strongly encouraged to attend Panel when their full assessment is being considered. However, there is no obligation for the foster carer to meet with the panel; if they decline to do so, this in itself will never be considered as a reason for recommending that they are not suitable. Applicants can attend with a supporter and ‘be heard’ at fostering panel meetings that consider their approval.

Attendees will be given a Panel leaflet explaining the Panel process and what to expect when they attend. Attendees will also be sent a feedback form so that their views on their experience at Panel can be gained and fed back on a regular basis to Panel members.

All applicants will be given sufficient notice to enable them to attend. The responsibility for this lies with the supervising social worker.

A letter of invitation will be sent to applicants by the Panel Administrator confirming the date and time of the Panel meeting at least one week beforehand.

When applicants attend they will be invited into the Panel meeting with the social work staff after the Panel has decided upon the areas it needs further discussion or clarification on. The applicants will be introduced to the Panel, and will also have the opportunity to ask any questions they may have of Panel, give any further information they may want panel to be aware of or make a statement to Panel.

The applicants may remain in the Panel meeting with the social work staff whilst the Panel asks its questions and will then be asked to briefly leave the meeting whilst Panel reaches its recommendation.

The applicants will then usually return to the Panel meeting to be informed of the recommendation and be advised when the decision will be made by the Agency Decision Maker. Applicants will be informed of the strengths in their application and any areas of potential difficulties/risks. In the event of a split decision of rejection, the Panel Chair and Agency Adviser will go and see the applicants/carers in the waiting room to share the recommendation with them. In exceptional circumstances they will be notified by post or telephone call. In the event of a contested or conflictual matter, the Panel may wish to hear the carer's contribution on their own, and then hear the social workers on their own. The Chair and Agency Adviser will then see the carers and social workers together or separately to inform them of the recommendation.

Approved foster carers will be encouraged to attend the Panel meeting when their first annual foster care review, subsequent review or any other relevant information regarding the care they provide is being considered. Carers are welcome to bring a representative or friend with them if they so wish.

Birth parents are encouraged to make written or recorded representation to Panel and in any event should be shown and be fully aware of the information about them which is presented to Panel.

Children should be supported and encouraged to write or record their views for Panel or, when appropriate to attend in person. Arrangements for a child to attend Panel should always be discussed in advance with the Agency Adviser.

Usually no more than two people at a time will be allowed to observe at Panel. Panel attendees will be informed that observers are often at Panel; if they have any objection to this they must notify the Agency Adviser in advance of the Panel meeting. Observers are required to sign an undertaking regarding confidentiality.


19. Decision Making Process and Notifications

The Chair will provide immediate feedback to all attendees of the Panel's recommendation.

The social worker will verbally convey the Panel recommendations to applicants (if they did not attend) within one working day. However, applicants must be clear that whilst Panel makes a recommendation the decision is made by the Agency Decision Maker.

The Assistant Director Strategic Commissioning and Governance within the Brighton and Hove Children’s Service has delegated responsibility for making the decision on behalf of Brighton and Hove Children’s Services and is the designated Agency Decision Maker.

The Agency Decision Maker must take into account the Panel recommendation when making the decision.  However, the local authority cannot delegate the decision making to the Panel and no Panel member can take part in any decision made by the agency.

The Agency Decision Maker will be sent a copy of all the papers presented to Panel.  He will be notified of all recommendations made by the Fostering Panel via draft Panel minutes and a verbal briefing session with the Agency Adviser within five working days of the Panel meeting.

Where the Agency Decision Maker is minded to disagree with a Panel recommendation, before making a final decision he must consult with a senior colleague with the relevant experience and record the discussion and outcome; a copy of the record must be passed to the Agency Adviser for placing on the foster carer's record

The Agency Adviser will notify the social workers of the agency decision within one working day.  Social workers will orally inform foster carers of the agency decision within two working days of the decision being made. The Agency Decision Maker will write to the carers confirming his decision within 5 working days. The Agency Decision Maker will include the reasons for the decision and, where the agency decision is different from the recommendation of the Panel, information about the Panel's recommendation.


20. Protocol for Emergency and Additional Panel Meetings   

Additional or longer meetings may be required when there is sufficient pressure of business and the organisation of any additional/longer meetings will be undertaken after consultation with Panel members.

An emergency Fostering Panel meeting is not for use as an extra or additional meeting and will only be used exceptionally in order to meet timescales for court hearings or to deal with very significant overload.  Where the next scheduled Panel date would incur unacceptable delays consideration will be given to amending the agenda of an earlier meeting if possible before an emergency Panel is arranged.

The normal Panel procedures will apply to emergency Panels.  Panel members will, whenever possible, receive the papers at least 24 hours in advance of the Panel meeting. If this is not possible reading time will be given at Panel before the case is discussed. Panel members will be contacted by telephone or email to ascertain their availability and the Agency Adviser will liaise with the chair to arrange the meeting.


21. Monitoring Role/ Feedback to Agency

The Agency Adviser will take responsibility for reporting back to the local authority any concerns or issues raised by Panel members and will meet with the Agency Decision Maker after each Panel meeting.  Examples of good practice will similarly be fed back. The Agency Decision Maker will take forward practice issues as necessary within the agency.

An annual report on the work of the Fostering Service Provider will be published each year and presented to elected members. This report will include the annual Panel report prepared by the Chair and the updated statement of purpose for endorsement by elected members. In October of each year the Agency Adviser will prepare an interim report for elected members.  Both of these reports will include statistical information about the work of the Panel. The Agency Decision maker will be invited to Panel for an agenda item on an annual basis. This will enable a dialogue to take place between Panel members and the Agency Decision Maker on general practice and quality assurance issues. The Agency Decision Maker will also be invited to take part in at least one of the two annual Panel training days.

The Panel will be consulted on any proposed changes to fostering policy and practice guidance to enable them to contribute


22. Complaints and Representations 

Any complaint specifically about the Fostering Panel should be directed to the Agency Adviser or Chair in the first instance to assist resolution. If the matter cannot be resolved at stage one then the usual complaints procedure for BHCC will be used

Where a carer is not in agreement with the decision made regarding their suitability as a foster carer, and/or the Fostering Panel's recommendation, the following representation procedure will be followed.

The prospective or existing foster carers may choose to make a representation directly to BHCC or to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM). If a representation is made directly to BHCC the prospective or existing foster carers must write directly to the Agency Decision Maker within 28 working days. The Agency Decision Maker may meet with them to discuss their concerns and may then refer the matter back to the Fostering Panel, or to the Fostering Panel of a neighbouring local authority. The Panel will consider the matter taking into account the prospective existing carer's comments and concerns and will make a recommendation. This recommendation will be communicated to the BHCC Agency Decision Maker who will make the final decision. If the applicant decides instead to make a representation to the IRM he/she should directly notify the IRM of his/her wish to do so within 28 working days from the date of the qualifying determination (the Agency Decision Maker's letter to them). BHCC will forward all relevant information to the IRM within 10 working days of being informed of the need to do so. The IRM will review the matter and notify the BHCC Agency Decision Maker of its recommendation and the reasons for it. The BHCC Agency Decision Maker will make the final decision.

Where a practitioner is not in agreement with a recommendation made by the Fostering Panel and wishes to pursue the matter, he/she should do so directly through their line manager and the Agency Adviser (who will inform the Chair of the Panel).

A prospective foster carer cannot make use of the IRM unless a full assessment has been completed and presented to the Fostering panel.


23. Annual Report 

The Panel Chair will produce an annual report on the work of the Fostering Panel in April of each year.

The report should include:

  • Number of foster carers approved, ethnicity, family structure, geographical location;
  • Work of the panel and the service;
  • Strengths and weaknesses of current provision;
  • Quality of work presented to Panel;
  • Specific issues arising for Panel over the past year;
  • Recommendations regarding the operation of Panel and the provision of fostering services in Brighton and Hove.

The annual report will be presented to Panel.

The annual report will be presented to elected Councillors as part of the Annual Fostering Service Provider Report.


24. Review

The function, role, policy, procedure and operation of the Fostering Panel will be formally reviewed annually.

After each Panel a questionnaire will be sent to all attendees (applicants, social workers, foster carers and children) seeking their views and feedback. The outcome of these questionnaires will be presented on a quarterly basis to Panel and incorporated into the annual report.

End