As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, governments across the UK have made changes to regulations and issued new guidance which affects local authorities and fostering services. The Fostering Network has summarised the changes and, where necessary, produced supporting notes. The situation is changing rapidly, and we will continue to update this page accordingly.
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The Coronavirus Act 2020 includes new laws that affect foster care to help to slow the spread of the virus.
School closures (March - June/July 2020)
All governments across the UK continued to provide care for a limited number of children and young people: those who are vulnerable and those whose parents/carers are critical to the coronavirus (COVID-19) response. However, guidance on vulnerable children's school attendance was slightly different in each of the four nations throughout the pandemic, from March until the end of the summer term.
- In England all children with a social worker, including children in foster care, fell within the category of ‘those who are vulnerable’ and were therefore encouraged to accept the provision provided for them in educational settings unless they have an underlying health condition that put them at risk. The Department for Education said at the time, "We appreciate that decisions on attendance will likely be based on finely balanced discussions between the education provider, the parent/carer, and others, including social workers, local authorities, and other relevant professionals where applicable." Read the guidance.
- In Northern Ireland all children with a social worker, including children in foster care, fell within the category of ‘those who are vulnerable’ and were therefore encouraged to accept the provision provided for them in educational settings unless they have an underlying health condition that put them at risk. The Department of Health has been working with Education officials to ensure children in care have access to school should their carers and social workers wish them to attend.
- The Scottish Government position was that if pupils can learn safely at home, they should and almost all children in foster care were remaining at home with their foster carers.
- In Wales, even though children with a social worker were classed as vulnerable, every child who can be safely cared for at home should have been. Only where there is no safe alternative should provision be made in schools or other settings. Local authorities were advised to use school provision as a measure, within the care and support plans if necessary, for those who need it during this crisis.
Transitioning back to school
All schools will now return full-time in the Autumn term, some slightly earlier than usual (11 August in Scotland and 24 August in Northern Ireland) and attendance is mandatory.
We have signed a petition along with others in the sector calling for UK Governments to support the children who will struggle most when school returns. Add your signature here.
We also conducted a rapid response survey in June 2020 to help us understand what education has been like for fostered children during the pandemic and for people in the fostering sector to share their thoughs about trainsitioning back to school.
- DBS guidelines have also been updated: read the guidelines published 24 March.
- Covid-19 free-of-charge DBS applications and fast-track barred list check service: read the guidance or get more information on changes to DBS.
- Courts and Tribunals Judiciary have issued Guidance on Compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders for the coronavirus crisis.
- Ofsted are providing regular updates which can be found here.
- Office for Students (OfS) has published a briefing note and news item on students without family support (including care leavers) during the coronavirus pandemic. The aim of the briefing note is to promote and publicise the positive way universities and colleges are responding to the pandemic and to share ideas and practice.
- The Department for Education has pulled together all the guidance for local authority children's services during covid-19 into one place for easy access.
Guidance for local authorities on children’s social care
Last updated 15 July.
The guidance is intended to support local authorities in determining how best to support families and protect vulnerable children in the current situation. It is underpinned by a set of principles which should inform local decision-making and day to day practice with children and families. It also recognises the approach that many local authorities are already taking. It establishes some principles for decision-making:
- child-centred - promoting children’s best interests
- risk-based - prioritising support and resources for children at greatest risk
- family focussed - harnessing the strengths in families and their communities
- evidence informed - ensuring decisions are proportionate and justified
- collaborative - working in partnership with parents and other professionals
transparent - providing clarity and maintaining professional curiosity about a child’s wellbeing
It also states circumstances that they expect local authorities, local safeguarding partners and providers may want to make use of the additional flexibility that the secondary legislation amendments provides, these include:
- where staff shortages, due to sickness or other reasons, make it difficult or impossible to meet the original requirements
- where making use of flexibilities to take a different approach is the most sensible, risk-based response in light of other demands and pressures on services; this might involve focussing services on those most at risk
- where there is a consequential reason to make use of flexibilities, for example due to limited capacity in other providers or partners making it difficult or impossible to comply with the original requirements
The guidance is structured as follows: supporting the workforce, children's social care, alternative provision, safeguarding, children's homes and residential settings, unaccompanied assylum seeking children, care leavers, courts, fostering, adoption, workforce, Ofsted.
Package to support online learning
There has been £1.6 billion of additional funding to help local authorities give care leavers, and other vulnerable groups, the support that they need to learn at this difficult time. It has been announced that the Department are ordering laptops to help disadvantaged young people who sit key exams next year, and that they will also provide laptops and tablets for those children with social workers and care leavers to help them stay in touch with the services they need, keeping them safe and supporting home learning.
Guidance on remote education during coronavirus
- Safeguarding and remote education during coronavirus (COVID-19)
- Get help with technology for remote education during coronavirus (COVID-19) - including how to get internet access and technology for care leavers and children with a social worker if they do not already have it. Schools, trusts and local authorities will be able to place online orders for devices for eligible pupils from Wednesday 22 April. Parents and pupils will not be able to order the devices themselves.
Updated information on financial support
Published 23 April
Temporary changes have been made to 10 sets of children’s social care regulations. The changes were made to introduce greater flexibility for local authorities and providers operating under these challenging circumstances.
The Adoption and Children (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 aims to enable fostering services to maintain a strong focus on core responsibilities and duties relating to child protection and safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, without compromising statutory obligations.
The changes aim to:
- ease administrative burdens
- enable visits and contact to take place remotely
- relax strict timescales, where possible
- enable fostering services to identify new emergency placements and bring in new carers to support the capacity in the sector
We have created a briefing for fostering services summarising the key points of the amendments.
Consultation on changes to changes to the adoption and children regulations: (COVID-19)
In August, The Fostering Network responded to the Government's consultation on changes to the regulations.
Guidance for young care leavers
The Department for Education, along with other government departments, has produced a series of guidance documents and factsheets to support young care leavers (aged 16 to 25) during the pandemic, which can be found on the care leaver covenant webpage.
The International Organisation for Migration has information and support on topics including housing, employment and benefits for migrants, including young people in care, available in 8 languages through their website and on freephone 0800 464 3380.
The Department for Health have issued COVID-19 Guidance for foster care and supported lodgings. This was last updated on 24 June 2020.
The Children’s Social Care (Coronavirus) (Temporary Modification of Children’s Social Care) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2020
These regulations came into effect last week after a fast-tracked legislative process and will apply for a 6 month period. The regulations amend a series of other regulations and put in place emergency arrangements, the bulk of which relate to children in care. The Department considers that this legislation is necessary as it anticipates increased demands on children's services due to reduced staffing and projected increase in referrals as lockdown eases. The Department has issued guidance to accompany the regulations. The guidance explains that the overarching aim of the Regulations is to provide the Trusts, voluntary adoption agencies and independent providers of children's homes with flexibility to operate during Covid-19. This is achieved by removing or relaxing statutory requirements relating to:
- Visits to looked after children e.g. the requirements for social workers to visit children in new placements are significantly reduced;
- Likewise, timeframes for reviewing placements are extended including pathway plans and secure accommodation. For example, now only 2 people (previously 3) are required to review the keeping of a child in secure accommodation;
- It will be easier to approve foster carers and immediate placements;
- Trusts have longer to respond to complaints, etc.
Full changes to the The Foster Placement (Children) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1996 regulations: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/78/regulation/3/made
Explanatory memorandum: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/nisr/2020/78/memorandum/contents
Guidance to accompany the changes: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/health/childrens-social-care-temp-modification-regs.pdf
Summary of the changes to the fostering regulations:
- Amends legislation to permit the approval of foster carers to proceed even if a full Enhanced Disclosure Certificate is still outstanding (subject to safeguards i.e. confirmation from Access NI.)
- The requirement to undertake reviews of foster parents and their household within 12 months is removed. Instead, guidance outlines an expectation that reviews will take place as soon as practicable
- The maximum duration of an emergency placement of a child with an approved foster parent is extended from 24 hours to 14 days (so as to allow for self isolation).
- The maximum duration of an immediate placement of a child with a relative or friend of the child before approval of the placement is required is extended from 12 weeks to 20 weeks.
- The pool of individuals with whom a child can be placed in an immediate foster care placement is extended to include approved prospective adopters and registered childminders, in addition to relatives and friends of the child.
Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill
The Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill was passed on 1 April 2020.
Provisions of direct relevance to child protection, foster and kinship care, children’s hearings and secure care have been developed for inclusion in the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill 2020. The following topics are covered in summary below:
- Requirements as to members of children’s hearings - The Bill relaxes the requirement for three panel members, and for a male panel member to be on each hearing.
- Child protection orders - Following the emergency placement of a child under a CPO, the Bill excises the requirement for a 2nd working day hearing, and amends related timescales.
- Maximum period for which a compulsory supervision order has effect - No compulsory supervision order shall lapse if its original end date has past, except where it has not otherwise been reviewed and continued within 6 months of its expiry date.
- Period within which children’s hearing must be heard in certain cases - Following urgent transfers of children into certain placements the Bill amends the time limit for a hearing to be held to 7 days, instead of 3 days.
- Looked after children, foster and kinship care - The Bill removes the requirement on foster panels to make recommendations about the maximum number of children a particular foster carer may have in their care at any one time. The Bill also enables a local authority to place a child with a kinship carer, in an emergency, for a period not exceeding 5 working days, instead of 3 working days.
- Maximum period for which interim compulsory supervision order or interim variation of compulsory supervision order has effect - The Bill provides that the maximum period for which an interim compulsory supervision order has effect is 44 days rather than 22 days.
- Modification of certain time limits for making and determination of appeals - The Bill extends the time limits for the making, disposal or determination of appeals or the making or lodging of a range of court applications.
- Attendance at children’s hearings - The Bill makes changes to facilitate the remote attendance of people who have right to attend a children’s hearing in person.
- Authentication of children’s hearings documentation - The Bill enables the Reporter or chairing panel member to electronically authenticate documents.
- Secure accommodation - In emergency cases, the Bill extends the maximum time in which a child may be kept in secure accommodation on the authority of the chief social work officer from 72 to 96 hours.
Guidance on Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill
Guidance on looked after children and children's hearings provisions, published 7 April
This guidance elaborates on the above Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020. It includes information on: children's hearings, placement limits and certain time scales being extended.
Scottish officials tell us that broader looked after children guidance is being developed.
Advice from Disclosure Scotland
Disclosure Scotland have been in touch via email with all counter-signatories to update them directly on any processes which may be affected as a result of Covid-19. If you have any queries relating to PVG and Disclosure checks, please link with the counter-signatory in your organisation in the first instance. Disclosure Scotland have asked us to share that if you are a counter-signatory and have yet to receive an email, please do check your junk/ spam email folders.
Contingency foster care arrangements during Covid-19
Update from Care Inspectorate, 10 April
We are aware that the Coronavirus outbreak is likely to have a significant impact on the demand for care services, including a rise in the number of children requiring to be placed in foster care arrangements. Due to the potential impact of COVID-19 on authorities placing children and availability of foster carers, authorities may wish to augment the number of placements available. They could do this by using staff employed by them in a relevant professional capacity who are registered with a professional regulatory body to care for the young person in the staff member’s own home. In these situations, we would expect that the fostering agency satisfy themselves of certain aspects which we have outlined here.
The Welsh Government has published guidance for Children’s social services during the COVID-19 pandemic, last updated 28 July.
- There is also additional guidance regarding vulnerable children and young people and education safeguarding.
- DBS guidelines have been updated: read the new guidelines.
- Covid-19 free-of-charge DBS applications and fast-track barred list check service: read the guidance published 27 March.
- Courts and Tribunals Judiciary have issued Guidance on Compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders for the coronavirus crisis.