Family Rights Group, Initial Family and Friends Care Assessment: A good practice guide outlines what a viability assessment for family and friend carers should look like, what social workers should consider and how to undertake international assessments.
In August 2017, Related Guidance was added and changes to Section 3, Approval of Immediate Placements of Looked After Children Connected Persons to include matters that should be considered when placing a child with a Connected Person should include an initial risk assessment of any pets, together with the environment in which the pet is kept.
- Situations Where these Procedures do not Apply
- Approval of Immediate Placements of Looked After Children Connected Persons
- The Placement
- Assessment and Approval of Connected Persons as Foster Carer
- Ending the Placement
The following procedure covers immediate placements of looked after children with a Connected Person i.e. where the carers are not already approved as foster carers. As with any placement the responsible Authority must be satisfied that the placement is the most suitable means to safeguard and promote the child's welfare, notwithstanding the Connected Person is not yet approved as a foster carer. The Authority must be satisfied that it is necessary for the child to be placed with the Connected Person before the Connected Person's suitability to be a foster carer has been assessed in accordance with the Regulations. These provisions are to be used only in exceptional circumstances and where there are clearly defined reasons why a full foster carer assessment cannot be undertaken before a placement is made. There is a risk that if a child is placed before the full approval of the carer as a local authority foster carer they may not be approved at the end of the process resulting in a further move for the child.
A Connected Person is defined as 'a relative, friend or other person connected with a child. The latter is someone who would not fit the term 'relative or friend', but who has a pre-existing relationship with the child. It could be someone who knows the child in a more professional capacity such as (for example) a child-minder, a teacher or a youth worker'.
Relative is defined as 'a grandparent, brother, sister, uncle or aunt (whether of the full blood or half blood or by marriage or civil partnership) or step-parent'.
The procedure sets out the checks that need to be made before such a placement can be made.
It also covers the procedure to be followed to carry out the required assessment and approval of the Connected Person as foster carers if the placement is to last longer than 16 weeks.
2. Situations Where these Procedures do not Apply
These procedures do not apply where a child (under 16 years) goes to live with a relative or friend and this is a private arrangement between the parent/person with Parental Responsibility and carer.
If this placement continues for 28 days or more, the child may come within the definition of a Privately Fostered child, in which case the local authority's duties in relation to the placement are set out in the Private Fostering Procedure.
3. Approval of Immediate Placements of Looked After Children with Connected Persons
Before any placement with a Connected Person who is not already approved as a foster carer is made, the approval of the Nominated Officer is required.
Any such approval can only be given for 16 weeks from the date of the placement. After that period of time, further assessment must be carried out and further approval sought - see Section 5, Assessment and Approval of a Connected Person as Foster Carer.
Matters to be taken into account when assessing the suitability of a Connected Person to care for the child are:
- The nature and quality of any existing relationship with the child;
- Their capacity to care for children and, in particular in relation to the child (or children) concerned, to provide for his/her physical needs and appropriate medical and dental care; to protect the child adequately from harm or danger including from any person who presents a risk of harm to the child; to ensure that the accommodation and home environment is suitable including where relevant an initial risk assessment of any pets, together with the environment in which the pet is kept; in relation to the child's age and developmental stage, to promote his/her learning and development; to provide a stable family environment which will promote secure attachments for the child, including promoting positive contact with parents and other connected persons, unless this is not consistent with the child's welfare;
- State of health (physical, emotional and mental), and medical history including current or past issues of domestic violence, substance misuse or mental health problems;
- Family relationships and the composition of the household, including the identity of all other members of the household, their age and the nature of any relationship with the connected person and each other including any sexual relationship; any relationship with the parents; any relationship between the child and other members of the household; other adults (not members of the household) likely to have regular contact with the child; any current or previous domestic violence between members of the household, including the connected person;
- Their family history, including their childhood and upbringing, and the strengths and difficulties of their parents or others who cared for them; their relationship with parents and siblings and each other; educational achievement and any learning difficulty/disability; chronology of significant life events; particulars of other relatives and their relationships with the child and the connected person;
- Any criminal offences of which they have been convicted or in respect of which they have been cautioned;
- Past and present employment and other sources of income;
- Nature of the neighbourhood and resources available in the community to support the child and the Connected Person.
The home must be visited by the social worker as part of the assessment of the suitability of arrangements.
The child's wishes and feelings (subject to age and understanding) must be ascertained and recorded and wherever possible, an opportunity must be provided for the child to visit the home before the decision is finalised.
The views of parents/ those with Parental Responsibility must also be obtained.
The proposed carer should be given information about the assessment process which will follow if the placement is to last longer than 16 weeks, including the need for Disclosure and Barring Service checks and other agency enquiries on all members of the household aged 16 and over, as well as interviews with referees, adult children and ex-partners, which will be part of any such fostering assessment.
Where the social worker is in any doubt as to the suitability of the placement, s/he should consult the Fostering Service for advice before the placement is agreed.
Where the placement appears suitable and is approved by the Nominated Officer, a written Placement Agreement should be completed by the child's social worker with the proposed carer.
The prospective carers need to be made aware that any approval is only temporary and does not imply continued approval beyond the 16 (sixteen) weeks.
The placement may only continue after sixteen weeks if the carer is approved as a foster carer - see Section 5, Assessment and Approval of a Connected Person as Foster Carer - or in exceptional circumstances where the temporary approval is extended.
This temporary approval can be extended for a further period of up to 8 weeks (if it is likely to expire before the assessment is completed) or until the outcome of an Independent Review (if the outcome of the assessment is that the Connected Person is not approved and seeks a review of the decision - see Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers Procedure). The IRO must also be informed. A decision to extend the temporary approval must be approved by the Nominated Officer.
As the Connected Person will be temporarily approval as a foster carer, the Connected Person will be required to sign a foster carer agreement. A Connected Person approved under these regulations will be entitled to the same support and services including fees, allocation of social worker and allowances as a foster carer.
Before deciding whether to extend the approval, the Local Authority must consider if the placement is still the most appropriate placement available, and it must be considered by the Fostering Panel before the above approval is given.
4. The Placement
On the placement of the child, the child's social worker will ensure the child's Care Plan and the written Placement Plan is given to the carer. If it is not reasonably practicable to prepare the Placement Plan before making the placement, the Placement Plan must be prepared within five working days of the start of the placement.
If the child was not previously Looked After, the child's social worker will send a notification of the child's placement and a request for the child's first Looked After Review to the Independent Review Unit.
If the child was already looked after, the social worker will send notification of the placement to the child's Independent Reviewing Officer.
The child's social worker must visit and see the child alone in the placement (unless she/he refuses) each week until the first Looked After Review and thereafter at intervals of not more than 4 weeks during the period of temporary approval. This also applies where the child is placed under an Interim Care Order. The visits are to be fully recorded as statutory visits.
The child's social worker will update the electronic record with the details of the placement and notify the finance section of the placement to trigger payments to the carer.
Notification of the placement will also be sent by the child's social worker to the relevant local Children's Services Department if the placement is in a different local authority area.
The child's social worker will notify all family members consulted and involved in the decision-making process of the placement.
These notifications must be made in writing, advising of the placement decision and the name and address of the person with whom the child is to be placed. They must be sent before the placement wherever possible or within 5 working days of the placement.
The child's social worker should also notify - preferably in writing but it may be verbally - all those involved in the day to day arrangements for the child, including nursery/school, GP and any health professional or YOS worker actively involved with the child.
It will be necessary for the child's social worker to ensure the child is registered with a GP, Dentist and Optician, either retaining practices known to him or her (which is preferable) or in the area where they are placed.
In relation to a first Looked After placement it will also be necessary for the social worker to arrange a Health Assessment - see Health Care Assessments and Plans Procedure.
The social worker must also arrange for the completion of a Personal Education Plan - see the Education of Looked After Children Procedure. Every effort should be made to enable the child to remain at the same school unless there are reasons which would be detrimental to his or her well being.
5. Assessment and Approval of Connected Persons as Foster Carer
If the plan is for the placement to last longer than 16 weeks, the fostering assessment process should commence as soon as possible after the placement is made and the child's social worker should make a referral to the Fostering Service immediately so that a social worker will be allocated for this purpose. The pre-placement assessment should be sent to the Fostering Service as part of the referral.
This temporary approval can be extended for a further period of up to 8 weeks (if it is likely to expire before the assessment is completed) or until the outcome of the Independent Review (if the outcome of the assessment is that the Connected Person is not approved and seeks a review of the decision - see Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers Procedure).
Before deciding whether to extend the approval, the Local Authority must consider if the placement is still the most appropriate placement available, and it must be considered by the Fostering Panel before the above approval is given. The IRO must also be informed. A decision to extend the temporary approval must be approved by the Nominated Officer.
A file will be opened for the foster carer's assessment. The allocated assessing social worker will immediately arrange for a slot to be booked on the Fostering Panel within 16 weeks for the assessment to be considered.
The allocated assessing social worker will check proof of identity from the proposed carers and arrange for the carers and members of the household aged 16 and over to complete applications for Disclosure and Barring Service checks and consent to other agency checks.
The signed consent form and Disclosure and Barring Service forms will be given to the administrative staff in the Fostering Service who will send off for the necessary checks as set out in Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers Procedure, Checks and References.
The allocated worker will explain the assessment process to the carers and provide them with written information.
The procedure for the assessment and approval is as for all applicants - see Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers Procedure.
If and when the carers are approved as foster carers, the procedures in relation to support, supervision and review of the foster carers are the same as for all approved foster carers.
6. Ending the Placement
When the placement ends, the child's social worker must update the child's electronic record and send notification to the finance section so that payments to the carer/provider will cease.
The social worker will also send copies to those notified when the placement was made.
Where appropriate, consideration may be given to holding a Disruption Meeting in which case the procedure set out in Placement Planning and Disruption Meetings Procedure should be followed.