All foster carers have their approval reviewed, generally at least once a year. The Fostering Network has information, helplines, and an online community to help guide foster carers when it comes to understanding the review process.
A review of foster carers’ approval must take place not more than a year after approval, and thereafter whenever the fostering service provider considers it necessary, but at intervals of not more than a year.
In Scotland, reviews must be held within 12 months of the day of approval, within three years of the previous review and also where the agency considers that a review of the foster carer’s approval is necessary or appropriate to safeguard the welfare of any child who has been placed with that carer.
Fostering regulations make it clear that the first review report has to go back to panel. After that, there is no legal requirement for a review to go back to panel, although the fostering service can choose to do so.
The review will consider whether a foster carer's approval should continue and if there should be any changes to their terms of approval.
A fostering service may also choose to review a foster carers’ approval at any time.
An allegation or complaint might well trigger a review of approval, as could any major change in the foster carer’s household – for example, a serious health issue, or separation or divorce.
The review process
Each fostering service conducts reviews their own way, and this should be clear in the foster carer handbook. Usually, the review process will be led by the supervising social worker. At a minimum, they have to consult the foster carer, any children in placement during the last year, and the children’s social workers and write an annual review report.
It is good practice for them to also consult any birth children who still live at home or extended family who are significantly involved in the family’s fostering. The review will probably include a meeting with the foster carer in their own home.
The review process should consider any changes since the last review, including any changes in the household. It should also take into account the foster carer’s learning and development and any additional support that they need.
If the report is going to panel, the foster carer should see it first – The Fostering Network considers it good practice for the foster carer to see the report at least two weeks before panel is taking place.
The foster carer also has a chance to write their own response for the panel to consider and will need to find the deadline to get this to them out from their fostering service, to then be sent to panel. Foster carers are also entitled to attend and be heard at all panel meetings and to bring a supporter to the panel if they so wish.
Changes to terms of approval
Usually, foster carers will be given terms of approval which set out the number of children, their gender, age range and any other information about the type of foster care that they are approved to provide.
Once they have been fostering for a while, foster carers may want to ask for a change to their terms of approval – for example, to be allowed to foster older or younger children.
Their supervising social worker might also want to suggest a change. The annual review is a good time to discuss this – the supervising social worker can then recommend any changes in their report.
Termination of approval
There are a number of reasons why a foster carer might have their approval terminated, for example, retirement, the outcome of an allegation or moving to another fostering service.
In the event of complaints, allegations or standards of care concerns, a fostering service might want to terminate a foster carer’s approval. A foster carer should see any report before it goes to panel and has the right to write their own response and/or to be present, with a supporter, at the panel meeting.
Following a recommendation by panel, the decision maker at the fostering service will decide on the foster carer’s approval.
If a foster carer is not happy with the decision, they can make ‘representations’ and inform their fostering service who will take it back to their panel. In addition, in England and Wales, they can take the case to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) to seek a recommendation.
The decision maker at a fostering service will make the final decision about a foster carer’s approval, taking into consideration all the information available to them including any recommendations made.
In Northern Ireland, foster carers who are unhappy with the outcome of a fostering panel can appeal, and their case will be heard by an independent panel. In Scotland, foster carers may request a review of a decision not to approve them as a foster carer, to terminate their approval or to vary the terms of their approval within 28 days of the date of notification of the decision.
Where the agency receives a request for a review of the decision, they must refer the case to a differently constituted fostering panel for a recommendation.
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