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5.3.7 Placement and Stability Meetings

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter provides procedures on:

  1. Pre-Placement Planning Meetings (where placements are being considered);
  2. Placement Planning Meetings;
  3. Placement Stability Meetings including placements with Independent Fostering Agencies (IFAs) and Independent Residential Placements.

Placement Stability Meetings should be convened when a placement is at risk to breaking down; Emergency Placement Meetings should be convened where a child has been placed on an unplanned or emergency basis.

For procedures relating to Disruption of Adoptive Placements see Disruption Meetings Procedure.


Contents

  1. Placement Planning Meetings
  2. Placement Stability Meetings (PSMs)


1. Placement Planning Meetings

The purpose of Placement Planning Meetings is to ensure that children’s Placement Plan/Placement Information Record's are brought or kept up to date and continue to meet the needs of broader or wider plans, such as a Care Plan, Personal Education Plan or Pathway Plan.

Frequency of meetings

  1. Before a child is placed, a Pre-Placement Planning Meeting should be convened either to confirm and/or plan the arrangements for placement including the drawing up of a Placement Plan/Placement Information Record;
  2. After a child is placed, within a week of the child’s placement, then at other intervals determined by the Manager in consultation with the Social Worker (e.g. after a Looked After Review).

Arranging and Chairing Meetings

Meetings should be convened by the Social Worker, and can be chaired by the Social Worker, Supervising Social Worker or Home’s Manager.

Meetings should be conducted in the form of a meeting but may be conducted over the telephone, if there is agreement between all parties that this is appropriate.

Who should contribute to Meetings

The people listed below should contribute to the meetings:

  1. The child’s Social Worker and/or other professional associated with the child e.g. Personal Adviser or Advocate;
  2. The child;
  3. The child’s Parents;
  4. The child’s Carer, Keyworker or Home Manager.

Preparation and Conducting Meetings

Before the meeting the chairperson should obtain or be updated on the following, if available:

  • The child’s Placement Plan/Placement Information Records;
  • Any work which has been undertaken by key professionals involved in supporting the child’s placement;
  • If relevant: the child’s Care Plan, Personal Education Plan and Pathway Plan.

The chairperson should also ensure that the child, Parent(s) and others who have been asked to contribute understand the purpose of the review, how it will be conducted and are given the opportunity to put their views and suggestions.

During the meeting, the chairperson should ensure that consideration is given to the appropriateness of the placement within the context of the child’s Care Plan or Pathway Plan and the need for the Placement Plans/Placement Information Records to be drawn up or amended as appropriate.

This does not mean that amendments to Placement Plans/Placement Information Records may only be made at Planning Meetings. When Placement Plans/Placement Information Records are formulated and at each Planning Meeting, the Social Worker and Manager/chair should agree the extent to which they can be amended between Planning Meetings or without consultation.

The chairperson should consider whether the child requires an Advocate or the appointment of an Independent Visitor; if so, this should be raised with the Placing Authority. See Advocates and Independent Visitors.

If there are concerns about the suitability or stability of the placement, see Section 2, Placement Stability/Emergency Meetings.


2. Placement Stability Meetings (PSMs)

Placement Stability Meetings should be convened where foster placements, and residential placements in the independent sector, which are otherwise considered to be suitable for a child are at risk of breaking down. They should be called only after other options such as informal meetings between workers and carers have been exhausted or produced no noticeable improvement in the quality of the child's placement.

2.1 Principles

Where a worker, including the child's Social Worker, the foster carers' Supervising Social Worker, Social Work Resource Officer, Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO), or any other worker with a legitimate interest in the well-being of the child, e.g. from Health or Education, believes that a placement which is otherwise in the child's best interests, is at risk of breakdown, he/she should consult with their direct line manager, and if it is felt appropriate, ask the child's Social Worker to convene a PSM and identify a Pod Team Manager to chair the meeting.

All PSMs must be formally noted, i.e. a record kept of key issues of concern, and actions/decisions identified at the meeting, with names of workers allocated tasks, timescales for task to be completed, and identifying how all parties will evaluate when desired outcomes have been achieved. The minutes will be circulated to all attendees and any other parties who need to be updated on the plan for the child, and always including the foster carer.

The 2010 Judge Holman Judicial Review EWHC 2545 declared that "Norfolk County Council erred in law by considering the claimant (the foster carer) not to be a person whose wishes and feelings were relevant pursuant to section 22 (4) (d) of the Children Act 1989 regarding the matter to be decided (by the County Council) on 17 August 2009, namely a decision whether or not to terminate the fostering placements of RS and SP with him" (my italics). This clarified that foster carers should always be notified of meetings where consideration is being given to a review of or change in a child placement, whether or not the child is still in placement. He clarified that foster carers should always be invited to the meeting or invited to make a contribution, however vexatious or incommunicative their behaviour may appear to be, A 2012 Ombudsman investigation in Brighton and Hove has endorsed this position by reminding the local authority of its duty to consider the wishes and feelings of carers at key meetings related to placements, and requesting a review of the use of PSMs.

Placement stability is an important factor for children and is monitored by Ofsted. Placement stability offers children and young people living away from their birth parents the best chance to thrive, and grow in a secure, stimulating and consistent environment.

In order to take a consistent line with carers, even if it is felt that on occasion the presence of the carers may cause workers to feel inhibited in their contributions, Brighton and Hove proposes to involve carers in all PSMs. The presumption will be that all the necessary professionals, including the foster carers, will be invited to the first meeting unless there are substantial evidenced reasons why the carers should not be invited. Those reasons must be recorded in the minutes of the PSM. If the carers are not invited, they must be informed in advance of the meeting that it is taking place, and be given the reason for not inviting them. Their written comments should be invited, to be shared at the meeting if they are not invited. If there are perceived to be issues that will cause discomfort in the meeting, these must be addressed by good preparation of those attending and a realisation that any participant in a placement could be identified as someone whose input may need to be improved in order to give the child's placement a better chance of succeeding, if that is the desired outcome.

Consideration must always be given as to whether it is also in the child's best interests, and appropriate, to be invited to attend the meeting. This is to ensure that their wishes and feelings are fully considered, and taken in to account in respect of any proposed decisions that will affect them directly.

All attendees must be well prepared to attend the meeting so that they are able to contribute appropriately and secure the best possible outcome.

The PSM takes the form of a strategy or planning meeting and can be convened for in-house and IFA foster placements, or residential placements in the independent sector, which are at serious risk of breakdown. If an IFA placement, or residential placement in the independent sector, is at risk, then a member of the Agency Placement Team (APT) must be invited to the PSM to ensure that the APT can carry out its monitoring, support and other responsibilities in respect of the IFA or independent residential placement.

PSMs should not be used until other forms of networking or consultation have been exhausted.

To provide objectivity, the lead fieldwork Support Through Care Team Manager (TM) or another TM will chair the meeting, or will delegate chairing to a Practice Manager.

2.2 Process

The PSM is a practical, problem-solving meeting, which means that information will need to be properly gathered and analysed, and the areas of difficulty presented to the PSM for discussion and resolution. Social workers, in discussion with their PMs, may need to review or support placements for a wide variety of reasons. A PSM is not necessarily appropriate, so if you are considering convening a PSM you must first discuss the circumstances with the Pod Team Manager responsible for the child, and get their agreement that a PSM is the correct route to go down. (Alternatives including a joint visit to the placement, care planning meeting, Section 47 investigation, Standards of Care, LAC review, or a carer annual review should be considered if more appropriate to the circumstances).

Key activities in the meeting will therefore be:

  1. To focus on the factors that are causing stress to the placement, with the attendant risk of disruption. These may be related to activity or behaviours of the child, carers, birth family or other staff members. The principal focus must be the child's welfare;
  2. To consider the strengths of the placement that need to be acknowledged and built on, including the robustness of the professional and other support network;
  3. To seek solutions to support the carers and child to avoid breakdown, by identifying the necessary resources required to make the placement stable; or
  4. To clarify if a planned disruption is in the child's best interests.

The outcomes of the meeting, specifying what actions have been agreed, and who will implement them, and within what timescales, should be recorded in writing. There should also be review proposals, indicating how all parties will know if a proposed outcome has been successfully achieved. If the carers have not been invited to the meeting, they should know the outcome within 2 working days. They should also be shared, where appropriate, with the child, within 5 working days.

The meeting can be called at any stage of the child's placement and can be triggered if there is a concern that the child may be about to experience an unplanned move. The meeting should include the carers, their Supervising Social Worker, the child's Social Worker, their managers, and any other professional (e.g. teacher/ therapist) who has a direct input to the placement, including the APT if an IFA or residential placement. This may also include the IRO where this would be helpful.

One of the options to consider following the first meeting, is the possibility of calling a second meeting for a wider group of people, to include the child (if of an age to participate) and other participants who can contribute to establishing placement stability. Consideration should be given to inviting an advocate or independent visitor for the child if they are involved with the child. It can be chaired by the same Pod Team Manager.

It is important to stress that the meeting is to be seen as a positive response to the emergent crisis and not as a blaming or negatively critical analysis of the placement. The ultimate aim is to restore stability and support the carers so that they can continue to offer a foster home to the child in question.

If it is necessary to consider changing the care plan for the child, a looked after child review must be convened within 28 days and any changes must be discussed at that meeting.

2.3 The meeting - risk factors and possible predictors of placement breakdown.

The following will be useful for PSM participants to consider before and during the meeting:

Placement stability: How to help identify the positive factors and risk factors to avoid placement change where this is unplanned

Stability of placement is associated with better outcomes for looked after children. It is achieved by providing an environment where the child is securely attached to one (or more) main carer who provides a safe, consistent and effective environment where the child feels emotionally secure for the duration of the placement and into adulthood.

There are lots of variables as to why placements breakdown or change. There is no one reason. The lists detailed below have been collated by looking at the common themes that may indicate placement instability, extracted from research and evidence-based practice in the last 10 years.

The focus will be on practical advice to assist social workers, carers and supervising social workers. There are other institutional factors i.e. bureaucracy / poor data entry/ lack of resources, and so on, which influence stability and these must also be taken into account.

Placement stability will give a child the confidence to progress and grow; to have the ability to put down roots and form secure attachments.

Background

In recent years, Government programmes such as "Quality Protects", "Choice Protects", and a variety of other research documents, have looked at what produces good outcomes for children in care:

  • A robust organisational framework and support structure for foster carers;
  • Recognition of the challenging task of fostering and treating carers as partners;
  • A continuing drive both for qualified social workers and for carers;
  • Promoting diversity in foster care; recognition of child's ethnicity and cultural needs being met etc;
  • Family and Friends policy development (More stability in kinship placements).

The positive factors that help promote placement stability:

  • The child is able to form positive attachments: he/she has a sense of security and positive wellbeing;
  • The carer and child have a sense of emotional containment: (i.e. carer does not feel the child is "out of control" or running the family into the ground). The carer and child can resolve their differences; have a sense of love; have appropriate responses to each other;
  • The carer likes the child; the carer demonstrates good parenting; the carers' expectations for the child are realistic; they accept the child for who they are; (*See list below)
  • The child likes the placement;
  • The child, carer and Children and Families have a good relationship with the birth family. There is continuity in the child's relationships. Contact works well;
  • There is recognition by the school/educational establishment that the child has (special) needs and the school is prepared to meet those needs and support the foster placement.
  • The placement is with relatives and is supported by the family;
  • The carer feels valued and is supported. In many placements the presence of a second carer in the house will be a positive attribute for the placement;
  • There is evidence to suggest that where appropriate, placing siblings together promotes placement stability.

* Carers providing the greatest stability are felt to:

  • Enjoy being with children;
  • Be family-centred;
  • Be flexible but firm;
  • Be emotionally resilient;
  • Communicate openly and honestly;
  • Be amenable to outside support;
  • Demonstrate stability.

Gillian Schofield's research, although old, also lists a number of positive and still valid characteristics of carers which include:

Sensitivity towards the child; responding to the emotional age of the child; sensitivity and proactive parenting around the birth family and issues of contact; active parenting regarding education, activities and life skills; firm supervision; clear boundaries; promoting autonomy and "enjoying a challenge!".
("Stability in foster care" Dr. G. Schofield. The research overview. Jan 2003).

The risk factors and possible predictors of placement breakdown

The following are drawn from research and evidence-based practice:

  • Lack of social work support/ case unallocated;
  • Placement was unplanned; carer not properly advised of the child's needs and not prepared for the challenges/difficulties;
  • The care planning was poor and the child's needs were not assessed adequately to identify appropriate resources to support the placement. Poor care planning (delay in removing from home/removing from home too soon/no contingency plan or a failure to form a long term view of the child's needs) can lead to drift and instability;
  • There was no opportunity to match the child to the carer;
  • The child has a history of abuse and neglect and has emotional and behavioural difficulties, particularly attachment problems;
  • The age of the child (younger children are more likely to settle). Older children (age 9-15) may have stronger attachments to home and be more damaged by past experiences and therefore be unable to make new relationships. A child aged over ten years entering the care system for the first time, is significantly less likely to be able to settle than a younger child;
  • The child expresses a consistent dislike of the placement. The child is unable to settle at home or in school; children with particularly strong attachments to their birth family, who have an absolute belief that they will return home;
  • Where the contact arrangements are fraught or unresolved; there are poor relationships between birth family and carer/Children and Families. Where the child considers he/she does not have enough contact and where distance from home prevents more frequent contact. Contact has been associated with stability in a number of research studies, however the presumption of contact does not necessarily mean more is better. It can also contribute to instability;
  • The carer dislikes the child/ is rejecting. The carer may be concerned that the presence of the foster child is impacting on their own family/children; or the carer is stressed by other life events; or that the carer associates the child with other problems such as an allegation or previous disruption. (This is where the management of an allegation or disruption is so critical);
  • Young people (age 16 plus) who move to independent living prematurely, or without adequate preparation;
  • The child's education is disrupted. Education and stability go hand in hand. The success of one can depend on the other. A child excluded from school, even for short periods, puts great pressure on the foster placement and carer;
  • Children in long-term placements whose changing needs are not recognised.

The changing needs of older children in long term placements are not always recognised. As a young person moves into adolescence their needs and behaviour change and they may begin to challenge the carers' authority. In some cases where the placement subsequently disrupts, evidence emerges of a widening gap between the carer's and child's perception of the placement. It also reminds us that we ought to take time out to listen to the views of children and young people. It remains essential that where a placement becomes permanent or long-term, the carers' ability to meet the needs of the growing child is fully re-assessed to protect both the child and the carers. 

Some suggestions/ solutions for maintaining placement stability

There is no substitute for good care planning, preceded by a clear assessment of the child's needs. This may include specialist assessments (preferably before the child is placed as opposed to some months after).

An assessment of the child will be ongoing and can develop throughout the child's care history. The records on the child help to monitor the child's progress, and should be reviewed at every LAC review.

Matching the child to the most appropriate carer is still a priority in promoting placement stability, as is support to the carer, and matching resources to needs.

The carer should be well informed of the child's needs and contact arrangements with the birth family prior to the placement.

The child needs to be prepared for any move into or from a placement. This is particularly pertinent for 15+ young people moving towards independence. The child should be advised of his/her care plan and understand the reasons for being placed with the carer.

Social work practice will have an influence on stability. Research notes that where the worker demonstrates the following, the placement is more likely to be sustainable:

Sensitivity to child and carer's needs; effective advocacy on behalf of the child, [particularly in relation to school];professionalism; mutual trust between all parties; ongoing support.

Access to therapeutic resources is essential not only to support the child but also to advise and support the carer(s).

Behaviour management training to carers is essential to enable the carers to manage children with challenging and difficult behaviour.

End