Not all children who come into care can return to live with their parents. In these cases, the courts will decide the best option to make sure they are safe, stable and can grow throughout their childhood in a ‘permanent’ home. There are several different long-term, permanent options for children in care including permanence orders in Scotland. Unfortunately, on occasions these placements can disrupt prematurely. In fostering, disruption can be described as the unplanned ending of a placement for a child or young person with their long-term foster carer(s). Although this may have been caused by a single unforeseen situation such as the ill health of carers, it is more often the result of a combination of factors.
Children and young people are matched and placed with foster carers across the UK. The child’s care plan will determine how long it is expected that they will be cared for by foster carers. Unlike in adoption, there is no legislation or guidance which governs the disruption of these placements in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Over the years and with learning the lessons from disruptions in adoption, agencies have come to understand that it is good practice to develop their own policies and procedures to both prevent and support a placement at risk of disruption.
Principles of disruptions
The following principles should apply in terms of disruptions in long-term fostering:
- Preparation for a long-term match between a child and their carer is key and should be as carefully planned and considered as with any other permanency arrangement. It should include relevant information sharing, a robust assessment of the young person's needs, the carers capacity to meet those needs and a plan of introductions
- When planning a long-term match, consideration needs to be taken of research that has already highlighted themes resulting in the disruptions of adoption and special guardianship placements. These include the age of the child when matched; the child’s level of emotional and behavioural needs as a result of their history; the number of previous placements moves; the carers access to support and key information not shared during the matching process. (Selwyn et al 2014 and Harwin et al 2019).
- A disruption can have a significant emotional impact on all involved: the child or young person, their birth family, the carer and the carer’s family and professionals around the child. The way this is managed and how those involved are supported, can have future implications for all. Where there are signs that a placeent is becoming unstable and that a disruption could occur, convening a Placement Support Meeting should be considered. This will bring foster carers and professionals together to identify the support needed within the placement. Where appointed, the child or young person’s Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) should be invited to attend the meeting.
- Agencies should have a clear protocol to follow so that any concerns regarding the long-term stability of a placement requiring early support by the relevant professionals is identified and provided and planning for a future disruption can be considered.
- In planning a disruption meeting, consideration needs to be taken of the timing of the meeting, who will chair it and how will the child or young person and carer be supported in contributing to it. It is beneficial for the Chair to have a level of independence in this role.
- The purpose of a disruption meeting is to allow participants to share their views and feelings about what has happened. And as a group identify factors that have led to the disruption, gather information that can be used for future planning for the child or the young person and for reflection on future practice of the professionals around the child.
- Disruption meetings are not a place to apportion blame and the Chair has a role in enabling participants to feel safe in sharing their views and feelings in a manner which enhances the outcomes of the meeting. It should provide a sense of closure to the situation and as best as can be allow those involved to move on.
- Throughout the process it is vital that the child or young person’s voice and views about what has happened, and future plans are supported to be heard.
- We know that relationships are the golden threads that run through children’s lives. A support network of people who know a child will help them to feel loved, develop a strong sense of self and maintain healthy relationships in the future. When in the best interest of the child or young person, the relationship they have built up with the carers should be enabled to continue after a placement has disrupted.
The Fostering Network’s practice information
The planning for children to be placed with and cared for by their long-term foster carers is subject to varying Regulations and Statutory Guidance across the four nations.
- England: Care Planning and Fostering (Miscellaneous Amendments) (England) Regulations 2015
- Wales: Statutory Guidance, Fostering Services. This statutory guidance relates to Parts 2 to 16 of The Regulated Fostering Services (Services Providers and Responsible Individuals) (Wales) Regulations 2019
- Scotland: The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009, Adoption and Children (Scotland) Act 2007, and Statutory Guidance.
- Northern Ireland: The Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.
- Beyond the Adoption Order: challenges, interventions and adoption disruption 2014, Selwyn et al
- Special Guardianship: a review of the English research studies, 2019, Harwin et al