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7.3 The Assessment and Approval of Mainstream Foster Carers

This policy does not apply to the Family & Friends assessment process.

In August 2021, this chapter was added to the manual.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Foster Carer Enquires
  3. Information Evening
  4. Initial Visit
  5. Phase One of the Assessment Process
  6. Phase Two of the Assessment Process
  7. Fostering Panel
  8. Agency Decision Maker (ADM)
  9. Compliments and Complaints

    Appendix 1: The Assessment, Training & Approval of Foster Carers Process Map


1. Introduction

Any social work staff involved in assessment and approval of foster carers are qualified social workers, have experience of foster care and family placement work and are trained in assessment. Students and others who do not meet this requirement carry out assessments and approval under supervision of someone who does and who takes responsibility for the assessment and approvals (Fostering Services Minimum Standards, 2013).

The Children and Families service Directorate incorporates the Family Placement Service which is responsible for the assessment of all prospective foster carers. The service is working towards establishing the Mockingbird model of working into the Family Placement Services (FPS) to achieve stability of placement and increase the satisfaction of carer’s. The Service uses the “Fostering Network” Mainstream Assessment Tool to collate assessment information and inform Panel for recommendation.

The responsibility for undertaking assessments of prospective foster carers is that of the Supervising Social Workers, in the Family Placement Service.

The purpose of the assessment is to ensure that applicants can provide a safe and nurturing environment for traumatised children who need to be looked after. Consequently it is multifaceted and comprehensive. All of the elements inform an analysis as to the suitability of the prospective carers to foster, and inform recommendations in respect of their approval status as carers as required by the minimum standards.

The assessment phases will proceed after the initial visit and receipt of an application.

Each assessment will aim to be complete and at Panel within 6- 8 months.


2. Foster Carer Enquires

The duty Supervising Social worker will:

Hold a preliminary discussion to establish if the basic requirement s are met and establish the views of the enquirer.

Forward an information pack to the enquirer

When discussing the fostering role with the enquirer, the following criteria are essential;

  • All foster children require their own bedroom;
  • Must be available to meet the child’s needs;
  • Cannot have criminal convictions against children;
  • Must be over the age of 21 years;
  • Must be an Isle of Man resident and have no immediate plans to move house.

If the above criteria are met, the enquirer they will be invited to attend the information evening.

However, if the enquirer does not meet the criteria, they will be asked to initiate their interest again when/if their circumstances change.


3. Information Evening

If the enquiry is suitable to progress and the applicants wish to do so, the applicant(s) will be invited (both verbally and in writing) to attend the next available Information Evening.

Information evenings will be held at least twice per year.

The information evening will provide an overview of the fostering role and will explain the assessment process. At the end of the session, the applicant(s) can express their interest in an initial visit, which will be completed by a supervising social worker.

A duty supervising social worker will follow up any applicant(s) who have not expressed a wish to have an initial visit within 7 working days.

If the applicant(s) withdraw from the process, or there is no response within 7 working days, their enquiry will be closed.


4. Initial Visit

The supervising social worker must make contact with the applicant(s) within two days of the information evening taking place to arrange an agreed time and date to undertake the initial visit which should occur within 10 working days.

The initial visit report must cover the following;

  • Family composition;
  • Accommodation (making applicants aware that Home Stay cannot be agreed as part of the fostering role);
  • Work Commitments and the availability to foster;
  • Health and Safety;
  • Motivation to foster;
  • Checks and references;
  • Training;
  • Role and responsibilities of the foster carer.

The supervising social worker will need to provide a written analysis and recommendation of their suitability to progress to Phase 1. This should be shared with the applicants to comment and to make any factual amendments to the initial visit report and then to the Fostering Team Leader for authorisation within 10 working days of the visit.

The Fostering Team Leader may decide that that the applicant(s) are not suitable to progress, for the following reasons;

  • Suitability and access to their home;
  • Evidence of a lifestyle that would be unsuitable for the fostering role, i.e.; full time employment, financial worries, additional caring roles, drug misuse, domestic abuse;
  • Concerns in relation to the applicant(s) motivation to foster;
  • Evidence of a lack of stability/permanence of a couple’s relationship.

Where there is a significant emotional or physical health issue declared, this may not rule out the applicant(s) at this stage. However, the Fostering Team Leader may request an early medical to explore their suitability to foster. The applicant(s) could be ruled out, based on the advice from the Agency’s Medical Advisor.

Where the applicant(s) declare a criminal conviction, the Fostering Team Leader may request an early police check to explore their suitability to foster. The applicant(s) could be ruled out depending on the severity of the offence, the length of time since the offence was committed and their openness to disclose.

Where the above feature, the Fostering Team Leader will await the outcome of the police checks and/or the Agency Medical Advisor’s summary and will decide if the applicant(s) can continue with Phase 1.

If the applicant(s) are not deemed suitable to progress, a meeting will be arranged to share the reasons for the decision making and a formal letter will be sent.

Application with consent to checks

Once the Fostering Team Leader has agreed that the applicant(s) can progress to Phase 1, the applicant(s) must be informed verbally of the outcome within 2 working days of the initial visit report being authorised and then in writing.

The applicant(s) will be invited to submit a formal application and give informed consent to statutory checks being undertaken. The assessment process will include a Marschak Interaction Method (MIM) and Attachment Style Interview (ASI.) and consent for these will also be requested. Not consenting to these requirements will mean the applicant cannot proceed.

The MIM and ASI are discussed further in the policy.

The application/consent to checks will be requested within 7 working days before Phase 1 can be initiated. The supervising social worker must ensure that the forms are completed correctly, uploaded to the carers file with a case note and added to the file chronology.


5. Phase One of the Assessment Process

Please see Appendix 1: The Assessment, Training & Approval of Foster Carers Process Map.

Once the application and consent form have been signed and received, the following checks will be initiated;

A) Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS)

The applicants and all people aged 18 or over living in, or regularly visiting or the household or of significant support will be asked to complete a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) disclosure form and produce the necessary identification. These will then be sent to the Disclosure and Barring Service by the Family Placement Service. If the applicant subscribes to the DBS Update Service this may be utilised to undertake this check.

(Note: DBS checks are not transferable unless the applicant subscribes to the Update Service; therefore copies of checks carried out by other agencies or for other posts cannot be accepted).

Once the applicant receives their DBS information the supervising social worker will ask to see it and will record the DBS certificate number for the protocol file, and make a note of anything relevant recorded on the certificate. If the certificate holds information regarding cautions or convictions the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment will pass this information to the Team Leader Family Placement Service for a decision regarding the applicant’s suitability to foster. This will be determined after consultation with the applicant consideration of the seriousness of the offence and how long ago this was committed. This decision will also consider whether the applicant has attempted to cover up or disguise information about offences.

The supervising social worker should ensure confidentiality in this process so that information is only shared with that applicant. It should not be discussed in front of any other applicant or members of the household.

Information relevant to the application that has been obtained from the DBS may only be retained on the applicant's file whilst the information is considered for a decision and/or for the decision making in respect of an appeal; and should then be destroyed when a decision is made on the application. The supervising social worker should note on the file that the DBS information has been destroyed and that the information led to a particular view, without citing the information itself. Only the certificate number is retained.

A DBS must be updated every 3 years and it is encouraged that once the initial DBS is received, that carers register with the DBS portal to allow for regular yearly updates. This will be updated on their electronic file, by business support.

B) Schools of the children in the household

With consent of the applicant(s), the Family Placement Service will also carry out checks by writing to the relevant schools (in relation to the applicant's own children) for information regarding the applicant’s ability to promote their child’s education.

C) DHSC Children and Families Records

A Suitability check will be undertaken with children and families social care and adult social care for all applicants.

The Family Placement Service will also write, if applicable, to any UK local authority where the applicants previously lived in the UK (in the past 10 years). These checks will include asking whether any of the applicant's children have been known to the service and in what capacity.

D) Certificate of Good Conduct

Where applicants have recently moved from outside of the UK (within the last 10 years), household members aged 18 and over must seek a ‘Certificate of Good Conduct’ or equivalent from each country in which they have been resident in excess of a 12 month period.

This will need to be obtained from the Consulate or Embassy of the applicant(s) country of origin/residence.

E) Previous Fostering/Adoption Agency

Where the applicant has made a previous application to foster, the relevant agency must be asked to confirm in writing the outcome of that application, including any de-registration or concerns.

F) Social Media

A social media check will be undertaken, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and a Google search of the applicants. Information found should be discussed with the applicants and anything which may impact upon their suitability to foster (e.g. expressions of extremist or discriminatory views or values) must be brought to the attention of the Fostering Team Leader for a decision regarding the continuation of the assessment.

G) References

The applicants will be asked to identify referees. References will be requested from:

  • Two personal (non-family) referees

    The applicants are required to provide the details of two referees who are prepared to be interviewed by the Family Placement Service. These referees should be able to comment on the applicant’s sense of responsibility, including:
    1. His or her knowledge, understanding and love of children;
    2. Evidence of sound relationships;
    3. His or her motivation to foster children; and
    4. His or her personality.

Additional information will be necessary if the referees are not able to provide all of it. This might come from a member of the applicant’s wider family. (The Children and Young Persons Act 2001 Guidance Volume C, Chapter 3, 55-57)

These personal referees should not be family members and should have known the applicant (each applicant) well and for a minimum of 5 years, but preferably a longer period.

For joint applications, personal referees should know both applicants well for at least this minimum period. In the event that this is not the case, additional individual references must be sought.

An additional reference will be sought from a wider family member of the applicants. All adult children of the applicant(s) will also be spoken to by the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment as part of the assessment. The supervising social worker undertaking the assessment will undertake direct work with any other children, who are living in the household, to understand their wishes and feelings in relation to being part of a fostering household.

  • Current Employer (and past if required);

    A further reference must be obtained from each applicant's current employer. In addition, where the applicant has frequently changed jobs, written references should also be obtained from past employers. References will be sought for any previous employment with children or vulnerable adults and for any current or previous voluntary work with children or vulnerable adults.
  • Former partners;

    References from ex-partners should be obtained. Circumstances where there are significant concerns for the safety or welfare of the family should a former partner be contacted will be considered on an individual basis by the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment in consultation with their team leader.

Where there was joint parenting of children and the children are under 18 years at the time of the assessment, a reference will be required.

All referees will be requested to complete a written reference and will then be interviewed in person by the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment. . The referees will be asked to verify the content of the written record of this interview and be advised that it will be shared with the applicants. If the referees cannot make themselves available to be seen in person within the first 4 weeks of phase 2 of the process consideration will be given to whether a telephone interview would suffice or if additional references are to be sought.

The administrative staff for the Family Placement Service will post out the reference requests, enclosing standardised forms for completion by the referees. It will be recorded on the applicant’s electronic file the date these were sent and the replies will only be uploaded after the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment has received and read them and followed up any queries.

K) Health Assessment

The applicants will be provided with the relevant medical form to fill in with their details and send to their GP. This will include their signed consent for their medical information to be shared with the medical advisor and for the summary to be shared with FPS for the purposes of the assessment.

The fee for the GP completing the medical will be met by the Family Placement Service. The GP will forward the medical form directly to the medical advisor.

The Agency Medical Advisor will provide a written summary and advice to FPS, which will also include a recommendation of their suitability to foster.

Where the Medical Advisor advises that the applicant may not be suitable for health reasons, this should be discussed in detail by the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment with the applicant(s). During phase one, if it is identified that the applicant(s) have a significant emotional or physical health condition that could impact upon the fostering role, consideration needs to be given to undertake an early medical. This will need to be agreed by the applicants and the Fostering Team Leader. Depending on subsequent medical advice, withdrawal from the process may be advisable at this stage.

Additional advice may be sought from the Medical Adviser or the Medical Adviser may raise questions with the GP where this is appropriate. It may be necessary for reports from other health professionals also to be obtained and presented to the Medical Adviser and the Fostering Panel as part of the assessment process.

As part of phase 1 and the progression of the checks and references, the following will be undertaken with the applicant(s) to inform the mainstream fostering assessment;

1) Marschak Interaction Method (MIM);

A MIM is a structured technique for observing and assessing the relationship between two people. This will be undertaken by a trained Theraplay practitioner and will be video recorded to assist with the writing of the analysis and feedback report.

Couples will be assessed jointly and single applicants will be asked to invite a family member or a person from their support network to be part of the MIM.

The MIM observation will need to be arranged within phase 1 of the process.

The MIM assessor will need to complete the report within 7 working days of the MIM observation taking place and ensure the analysis is provided to the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment to be included in the assessment and inform the analysis of suitability.

The MIM outcome will form part of the phase 1 report (see below).

The MIM assessor will need to arrange a feedback meeting with the supervising social worker and the applicant(s). Consideration needs to be given by the MIM assessor as to whether or not to provide the feedback to the applicants together or individually.

The MIM report will be presented to Fostering Panel, alongside the mainstream assessment.

2) Attachment Style Interview (ASI);

An ASI is a voice recorded conversational style interview, which will question the applicant(s) current relationship with their partner, family of origin and two close adults within their support network.

The ASI will also ask the applicant(s) about their general style of relating to others and or other adults in terms of their self-reliance, how easy it is to get close to them and ease of accessing help.

The ASI interview and outcome report will need to be completed within phase 1 of the process.

The ASI outcome will form part of the phase 1 report (see below).The ASI interviewer will need to arrange a feedback meeting with the supervising social worker and the applicant(s).

The ASI report will be presented to Fostering Panel, alongside the mainstream assessment.

3) Sand Tray Exercise;

The supervising social worker undertaking the assessment will undertake this form of experiential learning with the applicant(s) to explore their immediate support networks and how they relate to one another.

This information will be included in the mainstream fostering assessment.

Completion of Phase 1

Phase 1 should be completed within 2 months of the information evening being held. Once Phase 1 has been completed, the supervising social worker must write a brief report of the outcome of the ASI, MIM and Sand Tray exercise. The report must highlight the strengths and vulnerability of the applicant(s), along a recommendation as to whether or not to progress to Phase 2. This should be shared with the applicants for comment and factual accuracy at this stage and be invited to share their views and comments for the report.

The report must be quality assured by the Fostering Team Leader within five working days upon receipt. The report would need to have attached the complete ASI and the MIM assessments.

The Fostering Team Leader will decide if the applicant(s) are able to proceed to Phase 2. Applicant(s) may not be suitable to progress beyond Phase 1 for the following reasons;

  • Conflict in applicant(s) personal relationships;
  • Severe concerns with regards to their attachment style;
  • Poor level of engagement with the process.

The decision should be recorded on the carer’s file and cited within the file chronology by the supervising social worker.

Once the report has been authorised by the Fostering Team Leader, the supervising social worker will need to inform the applicants of the outcome.


6. Phase Two of the Assessment Process

Phase two of the assessment process is the collation and analysis of information in addition to the experiential phase 1 to inform the mainstream fostering assessment.

Education Sessions

Applicant(s) will be invited to attend education sessions (both verbally and in writing) to learn and reflect on the fostering role and to gain a better understanding of trauma informed parenting.

Both applicants will need to attend all training sessions, which will run alongside the mainstream fostering assessment. Single applicants are able to bring a member of their support network to the sessions, if required, as a form of support.

The training facilitators will provide written feedback to the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment, who will need to ensure that it is captured and analysed within the mainstream assessment and shared with the applicant(s).

The feedback reports should be uploaded to the carers file, with a case note evident on file and cited in the chronology and training tab.

In addition, the foster carer(s) children will have the opportunity to attend education and activity sessions to help them become familiar with what it is like to be part of a fostering household.

The written feedback will also need to be presented to fostering panel

Mainstream Fostering Assessment & Experiential Learning;

Please see Appendix 1: The Assessment, Training & Approval of Foster Carers Process Map.

The mainstream fostering assessment should take 3 months to complete, from the date of phase 1 being completed.

The assessment should be completed by the SSSW undertaking the assessment in conjunction with the applicant(s), any household members and any birth children. Individual assessment visits should also take place and assessment visits recorded on the carers’ electronic file.

Children in the household and their role in the assessment.

The supervising social worker undertaking the assessment should ensure the applicant’s children views are known about the introduction of a foster child into the family. The children (with consent of the applicants) will also have the opportunity to attend group training with other children to understand what it may be like to live in a fostering household.

If the foster carer has children who are not living in the household, the extent of contact with them should be explored and understanding obtained of the rationale behind the care arrangements (e.g. shared care agreement). When the degree of contact and involvement in the household is significant, it may be appropriate for them to be included in this part of the assessment and any relevant household checks (The Children and Young Persons Act 2001 Guidance, Volume C, Chapter 3).

The supervising social worker undertaking the assessment will complete the assessment with the applicants and will record all appropriate factual information and explore the following matters:

  • Family background and childhood (including chronologies of addresses, school attended and employment);
  • Adult life (including employment and previous relationships);
  • Personality and current relationship;
  • Household members (including children) and lifestyle (including ecomap and genogram);
  • Other children (including adult children) of the applicants and social/support networks;
  • Caring for children: providing warmth, empathy and encouragement;
  • Caring for children: providing structure and boundaries;
  • Caring for children: providing durability, resilience and commitment;
  • Working effectively with professionals and birth family;
  • Understanding diversity and identity, discrimination;
  • Motivation, timing of application and anticipated impact of fostering;
  • Evidence of the stability of the applicant(s)’s financial situation will be requested by the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment (e.g. sight of bank/financial statements);
  • Understanding safe care and trauma informed parenting;
  • Preparation and training completed and future development needs.

Each of these areas are broken down into subsections in the Children and Young Persons Act 2001 Guidance (Volume C, Chapter 3) and the information covered in the guidance should be considered by the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment

Health and Safety;

The home and garden should be risk assessed by the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment to ensure it provides appropriate and safe accommodation for a child, and a health and safety checklist should be completed and presented to panel

Advice will be given to the applicants on any safety issues to be addressed in the home prior and the supervising social worker must set a deadline for completion prior to submission to panel.

The availability of bedrooms for fostered children should be established. Each child over 2 years old should have their own bedroom or,

Pet Questionnaire;

The pets of the applicants should also be seen and risk assessed by the supervising social worker undertaking the assessment and a pet questionnaire completed for each individual animal.

The questionnaire should take account of;

  • The behaviour, history and temperament of the pet with members of the household and other pets/animals;
  • Access within the home, hygiene and toileting of the pet;
  • Frequency of exercise.

Where an assessing social worker is concerned about any aspect of an animal’s safety/behaviour from what the applicants report or through observation, the assessment must come to an end and the applicant(s) will be unable to proceed any further.

The supervising social worker undertaking the assessment must consider with the applicants how they plan to manage a child who is either frightened of animals or is allergic.

Safer Care;

A safer care plan will be required of approved - Please see Safer Care Policy.

Welcome Book;

A welcome book will be required if approved - Please refer to the Welcome Book policy and guidance.

Second Opinion Visit;

Such visits can take place during the mainstream fostering assessment, for reasons such as;

  • Information from statutory, personal and other references that suggest the applicant(s) lack of suitability to foster or a risk to children;
  • Information from an ex-partner or adult child that suggests lack of suitability to foster;
  • Reluctance of the applicant(s) child/children to proceed with the application;
  • Information about a child of the family that suggests concerns of the prospective foster child’s welfare;
  • The applicant(s) has withheld information about themselves, which raises concerns about their level of honesty;
  • Evidence of the applicant not being able to work co-operatively with the Family Placement Service;
  • Evidence of a lack of stability/permanence of a couples’ relationship;
  • The applicant(s) background and history suggests that placement of a child, who has experienced trauma, could trigger unresolved issues relating to earlier loss or trauma or unresolved conflicts that could impact upon placement stability;
  • Evidence of a lifestyle that would be unsuitable for fostering role;
  • Concerns about the motivation of the applicant;
  • Concerns about the applicant(s) capacity to meet the emotional needs of a prospective foster child and manage any issues from the child’s past;
  • Concerns in relation to the applicant(s) ability to manage stress;
  • Lack of emotional resilience;
  • Lack of adequate support network.

A second opinion visit will only occur if authorised by the team leader. It will be undertaken by another supervising social worker, who is not known to the applicants.

The Fostering Team Leader will set out the terms of reference for the second opinion visit and will quality assure the second opinion report against the terms of reference.

The outcome will be shared with the applicants for comment and accuracy and then the Fostering Team Leader should authorise the report within 5 working days.

Where there is a disagreement with the decision making, a record of the discord should be made and presented to the Fostering Panel for an independent view. The report should also form part of the assessment and must be included in the papers for panel.

Completion of mainstream fostering assessment;

Prior to fostering panel, the must complete the assessment and share it all with the applicants for comment and accuracy. Once this is complete it will be submitted to Fostering Team Leader for quality assurance purposes and authorisation at least 20 working days before panel, to allow for any amendments. Please refer to Fostering Panel Policy.

The panel bundle would need to include;

  • The mainstream assessment report (including MIM analysis, genogram, ecomap, social history, chronology of school attended and employment.);
  • Welcome Book;
  • Health and Safety Checklist;
  • Safer Care;
  • Pet Questionnaire;
  • Financial Statement;
  • References;
  • Education Session feedback;
  • Adult Attachment Style Interview report;
  • Second Opinion visit report, if necessary.

The applicant must have a copy of all the papers presented to panel 10 days, prior to panel.

The assessment and relevant documents should be signed by the assessing social worker, applicant(s) and authorised by the Fostering Team Leader.

Once completed, the panel bundle is provided to the Panel Advisor to quality assure the panel bundle at least 5 working days, prior to the bundle be shared with the Fostering Panel members.


7. Fostering Panel

The supervising social worker who has completed the assessment must prepare the applicants to attend panel and explain the panel process.

Please refer to the Fostering Panel Policy - to follow


8. Agency Decision Maker (ADM)

Please refer to the Fostering Panel Policy - to follow

After the formal recommendation and decision making stages the applicants will be informed verbally by the SSW undertook the assessment and then in writing by the ADM


9. Compliments and Complaints

At any stage of the fostering process, the applicant(s) have a right to make a formal complaint, if they feel that process has not been followed or they feel that they have been treated unfairly.

Please refer to the Compliments and Complaints Procedure.


Appendix 1: The Assessment, Training & Approval of Foster Carers Process Map

Click here to view  Appendix 1: The Assessment, Training & Approval of Foster Carers Process Map

Original Publication Date March 2021
Last Review Date New policy
Next Review Date March 2022

End