Coronavirus (Covid-19) - support for fostering services

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We know that these are unsettling, unprecedented and challenging times for everyone - not least those involved in caring for and supporting children in foster care. We are extremely grateful to all those involved in fostering who provide support and stability to children and young people in foster care and we will do our utmost to play our part in this.

This page lists useful resources, helplines and advice and is being regularly updated. There is a similar page for foster carers.

How The Fostering Network can help

  • During this time of uncertainty due to coronavirus, all our helplines will remain open as usual for any fostering-related queries, including those which arise as a result of coronavirus.
  • Please let your foster carer members know that they can also make use of our stress support service and legal helpline. They can also join our online community for peer support.
  • Our practice staff across the UK are working with fostering services to advise on best practice in these unprecedented times, and we will keep responding to the needs of our members via our website, helplines and staff.
  • We are liaising with other organisations, including statutory bodies, across the UK to enable consistency of advice to fostering services, and to ensure the needs of our foster carer and fostering service members are being fed in to national decision making.
  • We are creating a list of FAQs for fostering services regarding the impact of coronavirus on fostering practice. Please see below as we add to that list.
 
UK governments have published fostering guidance and legislation to support fostering service and foster carers through this crisis. We are in discussion with governments and will continue to produce further advice and resources to support our members through our practice staff, helplines and website.
 

The Fostering Network's view

Contact

The UK Government’s very clear instruction is to ‘Stay Home’, apart from tightly defined circumstances, and therefore, our advice is  that face-to-face physical contact with people outside of your home should not take place except in extremely unusual circumstances. We would encourage fostering services to work with foster carers, children’s social workers and birth families to ensure that contact can happen in other ways, for example through video calls, phone calls and social media platforms.


We understand the emotional and practical impact of this on children, their birth families and foster carers, but the priority at this time is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all members of the fostering community.
 
We know that many fostering services have already made these changes and are exploring the best way of maintaining contact and keeping children connected with their birth families. The Fostering Network will share areas of good practice with our members to enable services to find the best way of maintaining relationships at this difficult time.

Read our blog about things to consider for online family time. This resource from the University of Sydney's Research Centre for Children and Families giving tips for using video chat for family time is also very useful.

Short breaks (Respite)

The UK Government’s very clear instruction is to ‘Stay Home’, apart from tightly defined circumstances, and therefore, our advice is that short breaks for fostering households should not take place except in exceptional circumstances, including where a placement is at significant risk of breaking down and a short break is necessary to maintain the stability of the placement.

We understa​nd the emotional and practical impact of this on foster families, but the priority at this time is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all members of the fostering community.

Given that there is likely to be a need for more foster carers in the coming weeks, we would encourage short break (respite) carers to talk to their fostering service about how their skills and experience might be best utilised to support children in foster care at this time.

Post-18

The UK Government’s very clear instruction is to ‘Stay Home’, apart from tightly defined circumstances. Following this instruction, our advice is that any move by young people from foster care or a post-18 arrangement because of their age should be paused. No young person should have to move at this time because of their age. 
 
Our view is that young people in foster care who are turning 18 should remain in foster care for the time being, with foster carers receiving the same practical and financial support as previously – in the same way as many fostering services allow young people turning 18 to remain with their foster carers on a fostering arrangement until the end of the academic year. Young people who are due to be leaving a post-18 arrangement such as continuing care, staying put, when I am ready or GEMS, should also remain in that arrangement until the coronavirus crisis comes to an end. This can help ensure that the right support is put in place for young people whose plans for the future may have been paused, and for their foster carers (or former foster carers).
 
We understand the emotional and practical impact of this on young people and foster carers, and on capacity of foster placements, but the priority at this time is ensuring the safety and wellbeing of all members of the fostering community. We do not believe that now is the time to be moving young people into independent living when the usual support networks are not available.

School closures

Updated 23 March

School places are available for children and young people in foster care in England but foster carers should discuss what is in the best interest of their child with their social worker and the child's social worker. Local authorities will be well placed to identify children in foster care and ensure that foster carers know that they will be eligible for this provision and how to access support if required. In the latest update from the Department for Education there is also a recommendation that this should take into account the foster carer's own health concerns. The general advice is for children and young people to remain at home if possible, however, your child’s social worker should be available to discuss the best option for your child. The latest advice from the Department for Education is here.

In Wales the Welsh Government is taking a similar view, with their latest statement saying that the 'most vulnerable' of vulnerable children (which includes those in foster care) should be prioritised.

In Northern Ireland there is as similar approach with schools offering places for 'vulnerable children'. Here is the general guidance from the Government in Northern Ireland, as well as an update from the Health Minister which says that further guidance will be published this week.

In Scotland the Government have announced that identified children who may be particularly vulnerable will still be able to attend school. We are working with the Government to establish what this means for children living in foster care.

Foster carer's finances

The Fostering Network has had an increasing number of queries from foster carers concerned about their fostering finances during the covid-19 crisis. These fall into three groups:

  1. Those foster carers with coronavirus who, temporarily can no longer care for their fostered child(ren);
  2. Those who have to self-isolate for 12 weeks because they are in the very vulnerable category;
  3. Respite foster carers who are unable to offer respite placements as a result of the social distancing requirements.


The Fostering Network believe that foster carers who fall under these categories should be paid a retainer at this time by their fostering service to ensure consistency of financial support. We believe fostering services should be able to draw down from a central government fund to pay for these retainers. We are currently talking to governments across the UK about our proposal and will keep our members updated.

We believe this should happen because: 

  • The employment status of foster carers is ambiguous. Foster carers are only classified as self-employed for tax and national insurances purposes and therefore fall through the gaps in all the Government’s financial support packages announced to date. The recent announcement for self-employed persons is not helpful for many foster carers because they use Qualifying Care Relief and the majority of foster carers are below the threshold and have no taxable profit from their self-employment.
  • To ensure continued capacity within the foster care workforce and continuity of care for children the fostering service is best placed to administer the retainers for their foster carers, but it should be funded centrally. We do not feel the responsibility should be held by foster carers, who are looking after children on behalf of the state.
  • It is also the case that foster carers are taking on extra responsibilities, such as home schooling at this time.
  • Fostering services, could consider alternative ways to use the skills and expertise of respite carers, for instance:
    • redeployed, with appropriate virtual training and support, to be short-term foster carers and also emergency placements
    • used to buddy up with a foster family to offer peer support in a range of ways, e.g. doing shopping
    • planning 'lessons' for foster carers home schooling
    • playing games online, reading a book to children in foster families
    • providing a listening ear and peer support to foster families 

 

We would urge the Government to explore the provision of an increase in the level of financial support given to foster carers to take into account these additional duties.

 

Other helplines and advice

UK Government

The Department for Education has launched a new helpline to answer questions about COVID-19. 

Phone: 0800 046 8687

Email: DfE.coronavirushelpline@education.gov.uk

Opening hours: 8am to 6pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 4pm Saturday and Sunday

Northern Ireland

Health and Social Care Trust: Guidance for employers and businesses

Publich Health Agency advice: https://www.publichealth.hscni.net

Department of Health advice: https://www.health-ni.gov.uk/coronavirus

The Northern Ireland Social Care Council has published a free online resource for infection control

The Education Auhtority has establihsed a helpine, open to all foster carers, to provide support for learning. The helpline number is 028 7051 1086 (open Monday - Thursday 8am to 5pm and Friday 8am to 4pm). You can also email them at: lookedafterchildren@eani.org.uk 

Scotland

NHS inform: www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/coronavirus-covid-19

Health Protection Scotland: www.hps.scot.nhs.uk/a-to-z-of-topics/wuhan-novel-coronavirus/ 

The Scottish Government: www.gov.scot/

Disclosure Scotland: www.mygov.scot/coronavirus-disclosure/ 

Parent Club: https://www.parentclub.scot/

Young Scot: young.scot/campaigns/national/coronavirus

Children's Hearings Scotland: http://www.chscotland.gov.uk/home/

Scottish Children's Reporter Administration (SCRA): https://www.scra.gov.uk/contact-us/coronavirus-attending-childrens-hearings/

Medicals

The below update from Ofsted was sent to to all local authorities and all registered children’s social providers on 27 March 2020.

Medical checks and repeat medical checks for foster carers 

We recognise that medical checks are difficult to complete as GPs have to prioritise other matters. Some of you have asked what kind of medical assessment would be acceptable instead. 

We have raised GP medicals with the DfE who are considering whether further guidance is needed. We expect providers to gather as much information as possible for the assessment. Panels should be able to make recommendations based on the health information provided in carers’ assessment reports. Serious health concerns should be assessed by a GP as soon as it is possible to do so.

Coram BAAF have also produced information regarding the health aspects of fostering during the covid-19 pandemic.

Further guidance

There are also regular updates on Department for Education’s Twitter and Facebook channels. 

Updates on COVID-19: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus 

NHS advice: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

BASW updates: https://www.basw.co.uk/coronavirus-covid-19-basw-updates

Our friends at CoramBAAF have information regarding fostering panel virtual meetings: https://corambaaf.org.uk/updates/coronavirus-adoption-and-fostering-panel-virtual-meetings

Family Rights Group have published advice for kinship carers (although it would be relevant to any foster carer) to help children maintain relationships throughout the outbreak

Children and Families Across Boarders have published interim guidance on overseas assessments during COVID-19: http://cfab.org.uk/news/cfab-issues-interim-guidance-overseas-assessments-during-covid-19

 

Coronavirus legislation, guidelines and guidance

The Coronavirus Act 2020 includes new laws that affect foster care to help to slow the spread of the virus.

Read the legislation

England

Department for Education guidance for local authorities on children’s social care, published 3 April

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:

  1. child-centred - promoting children’s best interests
  2. risk-based - prioritising support and resources for children at greatest risk
  3. family focussed - harnessing the strengths in families and their communities
  4. evidence informed - ensuring decisions are proportionate and justified
  5. collaborative - working in partnership with parents and other professionals
  6. transparent - providing clarity and maintaining professional curiosity about a child’s wellbeing
     

Read the guidance

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. 

We are regulalrly meeting with officials. If you feel like the guidance is missing or not capturing the nuance of any issues you are experiencng then please do get in touch with our policy and research officer on daisy.elliott@fostering.net.

Northern Ireland 

The Department for Health have issued COVID-19 Guidance for foster care and supported lodgings.

Read the guidance

Read The Fostering Network's breifing: Northern Ireland Covid-19 guidance.

Scotland

A draft of the Coronavirus (Scotland) Bill was published on 31 March 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.

Advice from Disclosure Scotland

Further information can be found: https://www.mygov.scot/coronavirus-disclosure/

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.  

Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 - Guidance on looked after children and chidren'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. The guidance can be found here: https://www.chip-partnership.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Coronavirus-Scotland-Act-2020.pdf

Scottish officials tell us that broader looked after children guidance is being developed. 

Wales

Welsh Government have publsihed coronavirus guidance regarding vulnerable children and young people and education safeguarding.

DBS guidelines have been updated: read the new guidelines.

Courts and Tribunals Judiciary have issued Guidance on Compliance with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders for the coronavirus crisis.

Ofsted (England)

The below update from Ofsted was sent to to all local authorities and all registered children’s social providers on 27 March 2020.

Inspection

We have deferred all routine inspection activity but we will shortly be issuing guidance that sets out the circumstances in which we might undertake urgent inspections. This will include what activity can be off-site and what might need to be on-site. Any inspection activity will be focused on key lines of enquiry only. It is also unlikely to be a full inspection, so we will not make a judgement on the four-point scale, but would publish a report setting out our findings. 

Publication of inspection reports 

We will still be publishing any completed inspection reports for children’s homes and other social care providers. 

Registration 

At a time when capacity in the system is even more vital, we will continue to register social care providers and managers. During these extraordinary circumstances, we are working hard to make sure that, wherever possible, we prioritise the progression of children’s homes applications that were accepted up to 20 March 2020. Many of these applications will already have had most checks completed and be well on their way to being approved.

To follow government guidance for reducing the spread of COVID-19, we are making some temporary changes to the steps we take in completing the registration process. Most contact throughout the process will be by telephone, email and/or video call. Any visit will be kept to a minimum and will follow the latest government guidelines, restrictions and safety advice. We will be in touch with more information for those of you who have an application in progress. 

We will also look to progress more recent applications. We are unable to waive any of the regulatory requirements, but we will do our best to progress new applications as quickly as we can. 

Notifications - children in children’s homes and foster care 

Ofsted’s position remains that we cannot waive any regulatory or legislative requirements. That said, our position regarding COVID-19 is that we do not expect to be notified about children or carers who are self-isolating or who have been diagnosed. However, we do need to be notified about the hospitalisation of any children and/or carers in both foster care and children’s homes. All other notification requirements continue to apply. 

Contacting Ofsted 

We are frequently asked under what circumstances providers should proactively contact Ofsted if they are doing something out of the ordinary or making decisions about practice that are in breach of the regulations during these exceptional times.

Providers do not need to notify Ofsted of anything that the regulations do not require them to tell us about. However, we do expect providers to risk assess and carefully record any steps they are taking in running their services. 

Short break children’s home changing to care for children not on short breaks

Where homes registered to provide short breaks want to amend their conditions of registration to instead provide care and accommodation for a specific number of children, they should apply for a variation and send an updated statement of purpose. Please note that if this variation request is due to the current crisis, then we will not charge a fee.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) 

We have been contacted by a number of providers who are concerned that they are unable to access PPE. We have shared your concerns with DfE and can assure you that they are looking into this as a matter of urgency. 

Deployment of staff

Some of you have asked if staff can be moved from one home or service to another. For example, where staff in a linked setting can move to another where there is a need for more staff. We have been asked if we can approve such arrangements.

It is not Ofsted’s role to approve alternative staffing arrangements. Providers need to risk assess and record the steps they are taking to provide a safe service. We fully understand that services are having to make different arrangements during these difficult times. 

Contact/family time 

We have been asked about contact arrangements for children and their families, and whether face-to-face contact is allowed given the current circumstances. We understand that some parents and placing authorities are agreeing to this, but others aren’t. We have been asked for our views on this, and whether LAs need to go back to court to change arrangements. 

Arrangements will need to be flexible (e.g. use of Skype, phone calls) given the current restrictions to allow children to keep in touch with families. LAs should maintain the spirit of any contact arrangements or contact order, with careful risk assessment on a case by case basis. We expect agencies to work closely with placing authorities, to take account of the up-to-date guidance from Public Health England, and to keep children’s health and safety at the centre of decision-making.

Unannounced home visits to foster carers 

We understand that there will need to be flexibility around unannounced visits to carers (e.g. using Skype, phone calls, documentary evidence) and a careful risk assessment of whether there should be a visit. This also applies to fostering service staff seeing children alone. We expect providers to assess and manage risk as best they can to keep children as safe as possible in the current circumstances. 

Foster carer resignations

Statutory guidance says that once resignation has been received it takes affect after 28 days. We have been asked if agencies can retract a foster carer’s resignation because there is a shortage of carers, as long as the foster carer was in agreement. Ofsted does not have the power to disapply or waive legislation, regulation or statutory guidance. However, we fully recognise that we are in exceptional circumstances and this will require pragmatic decisions to be made in the best interests of children. Please carry out a careful risk assessment of any action you take and keep a clear record of the decisions that you make.

 

Useful practice information

We are pulling together useful practice information and best practice for fostering services. This is very much a work in progress. Please email media@fostering.net if you have any ideas of good practice for us to share , and please check back to this page regularly as we add new information.

Recruitment processes throughout the coronavirus outbreak
Principles
  • Fostering services have a duty to ensure the recruitment and assessment of foster carers meet the regulatory framework as laid out in legislation.
  • Fostering services have a critical contribution to make to the sufficiency of safe resources for children and young people requiring alternative family settings.
  • Wherever possible every fostering service should seek to continue with their recruitment strategy but consider any government advice and ensure children, staff and carer safety are not compromised.

Things to consider

It may be helpful to consider how the current situation impacts on the recruitment and assessment of foster carers, especially the timescales that govern this work. Delays and postponement of recruitment and assessment activities now will impact on availability of placements both now and in the future. Some factors to consider in support of the continuation of the recruitment and assessment process include:

  • Consider different platforms other than telephone calls to engage with prospective carers, for example virtual meetings, which can support the continuation of initial visits, assessment meetings and initial family and friends assessments (viability assessments). These could include:

    • Use of Facetime, WhatsApp, Messenger phone calls to view / discuss issues

    • Skype calls in place of assessment visits

    • Virtual tours of the home

    • Sharing information securely electronically

  • Enough technological support to staff and prospective foster carers to ensure they can utilise the software

    • Can everyone hear and see each other?

    • Is the venue secure from interruption and confidential?

    • How will you ensure all parties understand what is being shared?

    • Cultural and language issues are supported?

  • Immediate placement of children – consider joint online conversations between the children’s social workers with the proposed carers to establish adequate information is shared, gathered and understood for safeguarding requirements:

    • At least one home visit should be undertaken to comply with statutory guidance, verify the identity of the connected person and ensure adequacy of accommodation for the immediate needs of the child(ren). If this is not considered safe to undertake in line with government guidance, then services can explore if it is feasible to undertake this virtually using video conferencing.

    • What are the contingency plans when placing a child in these circumstances?

      • Can electronic signatures /emails be accepted as temporary means of consent - use your data protection officer

      • What means of ensuring confidentiality remain in place for safeguarding all parties and storing information?

  • Consider delivering preparation training virtually or via an online link for participants to have an interactive discussion

  • Can references be sent securely via emails to reduce delays with follow up interviews undertaken remotely?

  • Utilise online dedicated web pages to keep people updated

  • Consider virtual panels – see separate information

  • Discuss contingency plans for delays of medicals, as GPs only doing priority work – what might be acceptable (especially for immediate placements that can’t wait)

  • Consider how you will monitor timescales that may not reach regulatory requirements during this time and ensure safeguarding is not compromised

  • Review the platforms for delivering Foster Care Fortnight and other recruitment events to be online only.
     

Regulations (England)

  • The Fostering Service (England) Regulations (2011 as amended) govern the provision of fostering services and are supported by statutory guidance, national minimum standards (NMS) and good practice guidance.
  • The Care Planning Placement and Case Review Regulations England 2010, govern the placement of immediate placements with connected persons (family & friends)
 
Management of fostering services during the coronavirus outbreak

Principles

  • Services should work within government guidance in respect of coronavirus. As this is constantly being updated, arrangements will need to be kept under very regular review.
  • Fostering services have a duty of care to staff, foster carers and their households, and fostered children. Decisions should consider the needs of all involved, including any individual vulnerabilities or circumstances as informed by the advice of government and other professional bodies.
  • The aim should be, as far as is possible in the current circumstances, ‘business as usual’ in terms of the service provided to foster carers and children. However, the means by which this is achieved will need to be reviewed considering government advice, and some less critical aspects of the service may need to be put ‘on hold’ as a result of this and consequent operational limitations.
     

Learning from others

Each fostering service will need to make their own decisions about the best way to proceed based on their own particular circumstances and in line with advice, support and guidance made available to them through their own organisation and networks.
However, you may wish to consider any learning from other members of The Fostering Network who are trying to address similar issues. We are hoping to keep this page updated with information provided to us by our members about the approaches they are taking and what is working well or not. Please send any information you think might benefit others to media@fostering.net.
 
Here is how some fostering services are working currently:
 
General
  • All services are looking for innovative ways to maintain their recruitment, assessment, approval, support and training of foster carers to maintain the provision of foster placements to children who need them.
  • Services are enabling staff and foster carers to adhere to social distancing, and self-isolating as needed, whilst continuing with their role in relation to the care and support of children.
  • Services are exploring ways for face to face meetings and visits to be replaced by use of virtual meeting platforms (unless a face to face visit is essential for safeguarding or support purposes).
 
Staffing
  • The majority of staff are now working remotely.
  • In line with Government advice, face to face meetings are minimised as much as possible with support to carers via phone/ video calls.
  • If visits are made, staff are ringing beforehand to check all ok.
Foster carers and household members
  • Services are aware of foster carers that are in ‘at risk’ groups and what may be needed to safeguard them while they are self-isolating.
Fostered children
  • For all children in placement, services are proactively risk assessing the impact on their education, family time and other support needs.
     
Support networks
  • Foster carers should consider their personal support networks, taking into account latest government advice.  Make maximum use of these and keep in touch with your fostering service about who you may call on, and identifying any gaps that may require support from the service or elsewhere.
  • Mockingbird constellations are managing support to one another based on levels of vulnerability, need and health status of carers and children.
     

Regulations (England)

The Fostering Service (England) Regulations (2011 as amended) govern the provision of fostering services and are supported by statutory guidance, national minimum standards (NMS) and good practice guidance.
In work within this legal framework, the NMS set out minimum standards that apply to fostering services. However, when making operational decisions in the current challenging situation, it may be helpful to:

  • Consider the underpinning values (listed on p3-4)
  • Keep in mind the legal status of the NMS which ‘do not mean standardisation of provision...They aim to enable, rather than prevent, individual providers to develop their own particular ethos and approach based on evidence that this is the most appropriate way to meet the child’s needs.’(p4)
  • Recognise that services may need to be delivered in different ways in order to meet the required outcomes of the NMS, and that policies and procedures may need to be temporarily changed to reflect this: ‘Each standard is preceded by a statement of the outcome to be achieved by the fostering service provider. . . Services will normally show that they are meeting the headline statement of the outcome by following the standards below. However, these do not have to be followed exactly if the service can demonstrate, and Ofsted is satisfied, that the outcomes are being met in a different way.’ (p4)
  • Regulations 23, 24 and 25 govern the constitution, membership and function of a fostering panel. Regulation 23(4) requires the provider to ‘constitute one or more fostering panels as necessary’ and Reg 24(1) sets out the minimum members needed in order for the panel to be constituted, stating that ‘no business may be conducted by a fostering panel unless at least the following [see 24(1) (i, ii & iii)] meet as the panel’. This nearly always means in practice a face to face meeting of panel members.  However, there is nothing in the legislation that says that fostering panels cannot be held by way of a ‘virtual’ meeting using currently available media platforms. 

Advice regarding virtual fostering panels during the coronavirus outbreak

Principles

  • Fostering panels should be conducted in a way that supports the making of timely, quality and appropriate recommendations in line with the overriding objective to promote the welfare of children in foster care.
  • Any changes to the conduct of fostering panels in response to the current guidance around coronavirus should include adequate support and preparation for all involved.
  • Panels held virtually need to be fair and transparent and afford foster carers and prospective foster carers the opportunity to be heard and to (virtually) bring a supporter if they wish.

Things to consider if running a virtual fostering panel

  • Does the virtual panel fulfil its functions as laid out in regulations? How will local policy and procedures need to be amended?
  • How are foster carers prepared and supported to ensure they are enabled to take part confidently and effectively?
  • Has consideration been given to the agenda and to prioritising the most essential panel business for a virtual panel?
  • How are panel members prepared and briefed on access and expectations about involvement? What guidance will they be offered? Does anything need to be reconsidered in the panel members contract?
  • Are all panel members able to express views in the panel meeting, ask appropriate questions and demonstrate respect to applicants, foster carers and social workers who attend? How will questions, queries and responses be managed? How well can ‘difficult’ conversations be had?
  • Is the panel chair sufficiently/appropriately skilled to manage a video conferencing meeting?
  • Are all attendees joining from a quiet, secure, separate space in order to guarantee confidentiality? How is this monitored?
  • Has sufficient time been allocated, including preparation and set up, to allow for this different way of operating a fostering panel?
  • Can the quality of record keeping still be upheld? Will discussions be recorded and if so, are participants aware of this?
  • Does the quality of IT/video conferencing equipment support a virtual panel?
  • Is IT support on hand and able to ensure systems are working effectively? Are all participants able to access the video conferencing software? Is there a back-up plan if poor IT/connectivity leads to unsuccessful virtual panel for some or all participants?

CoramBAAF has also published guidance on virtual panels which is available on their website.