Salford Children's Services Procedures Manual Salford City Council website
Greater Manchester SCB Procedures
Greater Manchester SCB Procedures Greater Manchester SCB Procedures

3.12.1 Fostering Panel

These procedures apply to Salford City Council's Fostering Panel and the City Council's Adoption and Permanence Panel when it is functioning as a Fostering Panel. The term 'Fostering Panel' therefore refers to both panels.

This chapter was amended in September 2012 to take account of the Fostering Services National Minimum Standards. These changes relate to:

Changes from a fixed membership of the fostering panel to the establishment of a Central List Changes to the expectations of members on the Central List

The time people can serve on the Central List

The applicant's ability to attend panel meetings with a supporter.


Contents

1. Introduction
2. Panel Duties and Responsibilities
3. Membership
  3.1 Membership Requirements
  3.2 Appointment of Panel Members
  3.3 Confidentiality
  3.4 Essential Requirements
  3.5 Tenure of Office
  3.6 Quoracy
  3.7 Dealing with Disruptive or Ineffective Panel Members
4. Functions and Process of the Panel
  4.1 Consideration of Applications to Foster
  4.2 Considering Whether a Child's Permanence Needs Should be Met through Long Term Foster Care or Special Guardianship
  4.3 Consideration by the Fostering Panel of the Proposed Placement of a Child
  4.4 Review of Children's Cases
  4.5 Foster Carer Reviews
  4.6 Termination of Approval
  4.7 Connected Person Assessments
  4.8 Temporary Variation in Approval Status
  4.9 Exemptions from the Fostering Limit
  4.10 Panel Administration
  4.11 Frequency (Including Emergency Panels)
  4.12 Recommendations and Disagreements
  4.13 The Agency Decision Maker
  4.14 Quality Assurance and Feedback to the Agency
  4.15 Monitoring the Work of the Panel
  4.16 Training and Development
5. Representation, Complaint and the Independent Review Mechanism
6. Role of the Medical Adviser
  6.1 Introduction
  6.2 Appointment of the Medical Adviser
  6.3 Duties of the Medical Adviser
7. Legal Advice
8. Role of the Chair of the Panel
  8.1 Introduction
  8.2 Appointment of the Panel Chair
  8.3 Duties of the Panel Chair
9. Role of the Panel Adviser (Professional Adviser)
  9.1 Introduction
  9.2 Duties of the Panel Adviser


1. Introduction

Fostering activity is governed by a framework of legislation, regulations and guidance which includes:

  • Fostering Service Regulations 2011;
  • The National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services 2011;
  • The Children Act 1989;
  • The Independent review of Determinations (Adoption and Fostering) Regulations 2009;
  • The Fostering Services (Amendment) Regulations 2009;
  • Adoption and Children Act 2002;
  • The Special Guardianship Regulations 2005;
  • Special Guardianship Guidance DfES 2005;
  • Data Protection Act 1998;
  • Protection of Children Act 1999;
  • The Human Rights Act 1998.

There is also a framework of accepted good practice based on research, experience and feedback within which panels are expected to operate and which will change and evolve over time, for example in response to the findings of OFSTED inspections, Serious Case Reviews, the activities of the Independent Review Mechanism etc. Relevant information also includes:

  • UK National Standards for Foster Care 1999;
  • Code of Practice on the Recruitment Assessment, Approval, Training, management and Support of Foster Carers 1999.

The functioning, practice and organisation of the council's Fostering Panels is taken into account by OFSTED in inspecting the Fostering Service against the baseline of the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services. The implementation of Standard 14 is intended to lead to the following outcome:

"The fostering panel and decision maker make timely, quality and appropriate recommendations/decisions in line with the overriding objective to promote the welfare of children in foster care"

Fostering Panels are appointed to act independently of the Fostering agency. They are expected to challenge the local authority's practice and monitor the quality of its work.

Fostering Panels are considered to have a crucial role in the monitoring foster care.

"It is necessary for all agencies to have fair and transparent processes that enable them to balance the skills and abilities of foster carers whilst keeping children's welfare paramount. Informed and well functioning panels can assist this process"

(Effective Fostering Panels BAAF 2007)

Those on the Central List are recruited to bring a range of background experience, personal experience of fostering issues and/or professional expertise to the deliberations of the panel and to offer to the agency an external and independent perspective.


2. Panel Duties and Responsibilities

Under the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 all Fostering Service providers are required to have at least one Fostering Panel. A Fostering Panel is a legally constituted body, independent of the Fostering Service provider, whose main role is to scrutinise the work of the fostering service and make recommendations to the local authority.

The Fostering Panel has the following statutory duties:

  • To consider the assessments of applicants to foster and make a recommendation as to their suitability to foster;
  • If applicants are suitable, to consider and recommend their terms of approval (i.e. age of child, type of placement);
  • To consider each foster carers first annual review and recommend whether the foster carer remains suitable to foster;
  • To consider and recommend any changes to approval status after any annual review or issue of concern;
  • Referrals to the Independent Reviewing Mechanism.

Other legal duties include:

  • To advise on the procedures for reviewing foster carers and monitor their effectiveness;
  • To oversee the conduct of assessments carried out by the fostering service provider and advise on the quality of assessments;
  • To give advice on any other fostering related matter or cases referred to it by the fostering service provider.

The panel's recommendations should not be conditional and it should not make any in principle recommendations. However the panel may provide the agency with advice, such as where the agency is considering concurrent planning, parallel planning or twin tracking in a case.

In addition the Salford Fostering Panels have the following non statutory functions:

  • To consider viability assessments of Connected Person as a foster carer where children are placed under Regulation 24 and recommend whether to proceed with a full assessment;
  • To monitor progress of assessments of placements made under Regulation 24 with the aim of avoiding drift;
  • To consider brief reports on applicants to foster where there are issues, which may indicate that, an assessment should not continue;
  • To consider permanence plans for children looked after by the local authority where the proposal is for their needs to be met through long term fostering or Special Guardianship and recommend whether the plan proposed is appropriate;
  • To consider the appropriateness of proposals to discharge children from foster care to Special Guardianship Orders;
  • To review children with a plan for long term foster care where a placement has not been identified and recommend whether the plan remains appropriate;
  • To consider proposed matches of children with long term foster carers and recommend whether matches are appropriate to meet children's needs;
  • To consider exemptions from the usual fostering limit and make a recommendation to the fostering service;
  • To consider temporary variations in approval status where an emergency placement has been made;
  • To consider deregistration of foster carers where the reasons relate to the foster carer's conduct or the service provided by the local authority as a fostering agency.

In broad terms the Fostering Panel will consider:

  • Approval of short term foster carers;
  • Approval of foster carers for the 3D and Focus schemes;
  • Approval of long term foster carers for children over 10 years old;
  • Reviews, exemptions, allegations and complaints and changes of approval status including temporary variations for emergency placements;
  • Viability assessments of Regulation 24 placements;
  • Permanence plans for children over 10 years old where the proposal is for long term foster care;
  • Discharges to Special Guardianship of children placed in long term foster care.

The Adoption and Permanence Panel (see Adoption and Permanence Panel Procedure) will consider:

  • Approval of long term foster carers for children under 10 years old;
  • The appropriateness of Special Guardianship plans for children at the conclusion of Care Proceedings and the suitability of such placements;
  • Permanence plans for children under 10 years old, or part of a sibling group including children under 10 years old, where the proposal is for long term foster care.

It must be noted that these are broad guidelines and exceptions will be made to ensure continuity of the panel that considers the matter, congruence in planning with other family members, or to ensure more timely consideration.

For example it may be helpful for the panel that considers a viability assessment of prospective carers to consider future approval or plans for the child placed. Guidance will be given by the Head of Service, Panel Advisors, Panel Chairs or the Senior Panel Manager.

In making its recommendations the Panel will take into account the following:

  • To have as the paramount consideration the child's welfare throughout his/her life;
  • To bear in mind that delay is likely to prejudice the child's welfare;
  • To take into account the child's ascertainable wishes and feelings in the light of their age and understanding;
  • To take into account the child's age, sex, background and characteristics and any harm the child has suffered or is at risk of suffering;
  • To consider the relationship with the child's relatives and any ability they may have to provide the child with a secure environment;
  • To take into account the wishes and feelings of the child's relatives;
  • In placing the child to give due consideration to the child's religion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background.

In reaching their recommendations, the Panel shall:

  • Take into account all information and reports passed to it;
  • Request any further information considered necessary;
  • Obtain any legal or medical advice necessary to reach an informed recommendation.

The Panel may also be asked to give an early indication of the view it is likely to take in a particular matter in order to give staff assistance in deciding how to proceed. An example of this would be whether or not to proceed with a full foster carer assessment where information had come to light which panel might consider likely to preclude the applicant from approval as a foster carer.

The Panel should also be consulted in the drawing up of policies and procedures governing fostering activity and in their review and revision.

The Fostering Panel is not a decision making body. It makes recommendations to the local authority as the fostering service provider. The final decision in all cases rests with the agency decision maker and/or the responsible person for the Fostering Service.


3. Membership

3.1 Membership Requirements

There is no fixed panel membership or maximum number of members or maximum tenure of office. The membership must be drawn from a Central List of persons with the appropriate qualifications and/or experience, including one or more social workers who have at least three years' relevant post-qualifying experience.  

Where it is considered that someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List, they must be given one months' notice in writing and reasons for the decision to end their inclusion on the list.

3.2 Appointment of Panel Members

Potential members of the Central List will be identified through personal recommendation, via regional and local networks or through open advertisement.

Potential panel members of the Central List will be interviewed in the first instance by the Chair of the panel, the Head of Service, Looked After Children or the panel advisor who will explain the duties and responsibilities, assess the individual's capacity to operate in the role and provide written information about fostering, the fostering service and its activity and the panel's role and function.

Those on the Central List will be invited to attend a panel as an observer to assist them in making an informed decision about membership. Panel members should complete induction training within 10 weeks of joining the Central List, have access to appropriate training and skills development and have the opportunity to attend joint training with fostering staff at least annually.

All those on the Central List should have undergone a recruitment process that includes, interviews, identity checks, verification of qualifications and right to work in the UK, references and Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check. These DBS checks should be kept up to date and recorded, including the date when the checks were made.

The names and details of prospective members of the Central List will be presented in a Record of Decision to the Lead Member for Children's Services for endorsement under the Council's scheme of delegation.

If endorsed by the Lead Member new members of the Central List will be issued with a panel membership agreement. An individual file will be set up to hold required pieces of information about each panel member and will be kept by the Senior Panel Manager in the Family Placement Team office.

Those new members of the Central List will be provided with an information pack. Each member must be provided with written information on appointment of their performance objectives, including their participation in induction and other training and safeguarding the confidentiality of records and information submitted to Panel.

The Designated Manager must also appoint up to two Vice Chair's whose role is to chair the Panel when the Chair is unavailable.

3.3 Confidentiality

All those on the Central List are required to sign their agreement to preserving the confidentiality of all information received as part of being a member of the Central List. This signed agreement is placed on their personal file.

3.4 Essential Requirements

  • Members of Salford's Fostering Panel must be aware of, and in sympathy with, the Statement of Purpose of the Fostering service. They must also fully support Salford's equal opportunities and anti-discriminatory practice and procedures and be prepared to comply with them;
  • Members must be committed to maximising opportunities for looked after children to be placed in family settings. They must be committed to promoting high quality foster care, to sound long term planning for children and to achieving legal permanence for children who cannot return home;
  • Members must be able to operate independently in carrying out their role;
  • Members must have relevant experience or knowledge relating to children and young people, including those looked after, and of the problems they face;
  • Members must be able to read and analyse reports;
  • Members must be able to take part in discussion and accept an equal role in the recommendation making process;
  • Members must be pro-active in addressing issues of race, gender, disability and sexuality;
  • Members must understand the need for and agree always to declare to the Chair an interest in cases being considered where such an interest exists;
  • Members must be committed to furthering their own training and be prepared to take part in the training and panel development opportunities arranged;
  • Members must be able to work effectively as a team member and accept majority decisions when consensus is not achieved;
  • Members must be committed to operating in a manner that is respectful of others and facilitates the achievement of panel business;
  • Members must be part of a process for review of their performance (including of the Panel chair by the agency decision maker) and for their performance management. Where necessary the termination of the appointment must be considered;
  • Members must agree to the renewal of their Disclosure and Barring Service Disclosures on a three yearly basis.

The Designated Manager will decide whether someone is unsuitable to be on the Central List and therefore to end the appointment and if so, will advise the member in writing giving one month's notice and clear reasons for the decision.

3.5 Tenure of Office

Panel members who wish to resign should give as much notice as possible (at least one month) and should notify the Panel Chair and the Head of Service, Looked After Children in writing.

3.6 Quoracy

The quorum for Fostering Panels is set at 5 provided the following are present:

  • Either the Chair or one of the Vice Chair (in the absence of the chair). If the meeting is conducted by the Vice Chair who is not independent, there must be at lease one other member of the panel who is independent;
  • One of the social workers representatives with at least three years post qualifying experience;
  • Three (or in the case of a joint panel four) other members.
Unless the panel is quorate it is unable to make a valid recommendation to the agency on any case brought to it.

3.7 Dealing with Disruptive or Ineffective Panel Members

Should there be concerns raised that the attitude or conduct of a person on the Central List is disruptive, ineffective or contrary to the achieving of what is in the best interest of children, the Chair of the panel will discuss this with the person and attempt to resolve the concern. Where a this person is unable to meet the requirements of the office they may be asked to resign.

Where the issue causing concern cannot be resolved either the member of the Central List or the Chair can request a more formal meeting with the Head of Service, Looked After Children present. Should that meeting be unable to resolve the concern it maybe decided that they are unsuitable to be on the Central List and therefore to end the appointment. This would be confirmed in writing, giving one month's notice and reasons would be given.

Any complaints about a panel member and the outcome should be recorded in their individual file.


4. Functions and Process of the Panel

4.1 Consideration of Applications to Foster

Individuals or couples who wish to become foster carers will have undergone a process of preparation and assessment and extensive checks and the taking up of references will have taken place to help determine their suitability. This whole process will be presented to the Panel in the form of a written assessment report produced by the assessing Family Placement Social Worker which the applicants will have seen and endorsed or had the opportunity to comment on. The report will make a proposal as to the suitability, or otherwise, of the applicant(s) to become foster carers and what number, age and gender of children they would be most suited to foster. A Practice Manager will have visited the applicants and will also provide a written report to the panel.

See Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers Procedure

The completed assessment should be presented to the Panel and for an agency decision no later than 8 months after the receipt of the formal application to foster and no later than 6 weeks after the completion of the assessment report. The service aims to complete foster carer assessments as quickly as possible and the Panel is expected to question and record the reasons for any delay.

Along with the assessment report the Panel should receive a view from the medical adviser concerning the health of the applicants. Applicants will be offered the opportunity and encouraged to attend the Panel in person to present their views. Applicants can attend with a supporter and 'be heard' at fostering panel meetings that consider their approval. Alternatively they may submit their views in writing. A separate information leaflet is available for applicants to explain this process.

It is the panel's responsibility to satisfy itself that the assessment is of sufficient quality to justify the proposal made and, if not, to reject it or return it for further work to be done or further enquiries to be made. The focus of the Panel should be on the evidence for the assessment made of the parenting or potential parenting skills of the applicant(s) and whether these are likely to meet the needs of the looked after children awaiting placement. It is not the task of the Panel to assess the applicants.

The recommendation of the Panel should be conveyed verbally to the applicants within 24 hours.

If the agency does not consider the applicants suitable to foster the applicant/s will be advised of the reasons for the decision and that that they can submit further representations to the panel or the agency or can apply for a review of their case through the Independent Review Mechanism.

Where further representations are made the panel will usually be asked to reconsider the case and make a fresh recommendation for consideration by the Agency Decision Maker.

The panel will not recommend approval of foster carers unless all the regulatory requirements have been met together with any service requirements as set out in Statement of Purpose and Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers Procedure

4.2 Considering Whether a Child's Permanence Needs Should be Met through Long Term Foster Care or Special Guardianship

When a plan for permanence has been agreed at a statutory review the social worker should prepare the Child Permanence report and present it for consideration at the appropriate panel without delay. Where the plan is for adoption, guidance stipulates that the panel should consider the case within two months of the statutory review and it is good practice for the same timescale to apply in respect of other permanence plans. In any event, where Care Proceedings are in progress, the timing of the child's consideration at panel will be agreed within the court timetable. The plan for the child must have been considered by the panel prior to the final court hearing and, where possible, prior to the submission of the final Care Plan to the court.

The Child Permanence Report is a comprehensive document, covering all aspects of a child's background and family history, including the reasons why he/she cannot live with his/her family, his/her health and social, emotional and educational development, the planning and the decision making process that has been followed and the future plans for the child. Where appropriate it should include the views of the child and their understanding of the plan being proposed. The Child Permanence Report must include information on whether the child's parents have seen the report and their views about the report and the plan for the child.

It may be appropriate for additional documents to be presented to the panel, for example, the latest statutory review or any psychological assessments or assessments of sibling attachment.

The child's social worker should attend the panel in person. If the social worker is unavoidably unable to attend and must be represented by their Practice Manager, the Practice Manager must ensure that they are fully conversant with the case and equipped to answer panel's questions. If the social worker is inexperienced the Practice Manager should accompany them to panel.

Having considered all the information presented both in writing and verbally, and obtained any legal and medical advice necessary, the Fostering Panel will make a recommendation as to whether or not the proposed plan for the child is appropriate to their needs to the relevant Agency Decision Maker.

If their whereabouts are known, the child's parent or guardian should be informed in writing of the agency decision.

Where a recommendation has been made that the child should be placed for in long term foster care or made subject of a Special Guardianship Order any subsequent change of plan must be brought back before the Panel for consideration, preferably prior to being acted upon.

4.3 Consideration by the Fostering Panel of the Proposed Placement of a Child

When it is agreed through the agency's matching process that a particular placement with approved foster carers can meet the child's needs the matching meeting will set a date for the proposed match to be considered by the appropriate panel.

The social worker will prepare a linking report which sets out the reasons for why the placement with this particular individual or family is being recommended, the views of the foster carer on the proposed placement and the contact arrangements proposed with the child's birth family. The report should describe how the chosen family are able to meet the needs of the child as identified in the Child Permanence Report and the internal matching meeting minutes should also be made available. Should there have been a previous foster or adoptive placement which has disrupted the minutes of any disruption meeting should also be available. Both the social worker and the family placement social worker should attend the Panel.

The Panel will also be sent the child's original Child Permanence Report, with any additional relevant information, and a copy of the Form F of the foster family. Both documents may need to be updated by the relevant worker if time has elapsed or circumstances have changed.

The panel will also consider the proposals for supporting the foster placement which will be set out in a support plan submitted to panel.

The Fostering Panel will then consider the appropriateness of the placement and the support plan and make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker.

4.4 Review of Children's Cases

The Fostering service aims to place children in need of long term foster care as quickly as possible taking into account the child's readiness for placement and the availability of foster carers.

Where a suitable placement has not been identified within 6 months of the decision that the child should be placed fin long term foster care, the Panel Manager will ensure that the case is brought back to be reviewed by the panel which considered the plan. Further reviews will take place at 6 monthly intervals until the child is placed, or more frequently if requested by the panel or the Agency Decision Maker. The panel will consider the reasons for the delay and the continuing appropriateness of the plan for the child in the light of the time that has elapsed and the efforts that have been made to find a family.

4.5 Foster Carer Reviews

The approval of all approved foster carers should be reviewed annually. The panel will consider the first review of all approved foster carers, any review where there is proposal to change the foster carer's approval remit and reviews which follow a complaint against the foster carer, investigation of an issue of serious concern or a child protection allegation. The panel will also consider reviews where there is a proposal to change the foster carer's skill level.

In all cases the Family Placement Social worker will complete the appropriate Foster Carer review form and will attend panel in person. It must be borne in mind that recommendations by the panel will constitute 'qualifying determinations' for the purposes of appeal to the Independent Review Mechanism. It is therefore important that all reports presented have been seen and signed by the foster carer, that the foster carer's views are clearly noted and that there is a clear evidence base for all assessments and recommendations to panel.

Where the change of approval status requested is a major one e.g. short term to long term, the assessment report will be updated or a full addendum provided to ensure all the relevant information is available. It is particularly important to ensure that any reasons for the original approval are taken into account in considering the appropriateness of the change. For example short break care approval may originally have been given due to circumstances of the foster care which made short term approval inappropriate.

Where there has been a child protection allegation minutes of any strategy meeting will not be provided to panel as these cannot be shared with the foster carer. The Family Placement Social Worker will therefore provide a report which summarises the discussion and provide the strategy meeting recommendations in a format which has been seen and discussed with the foster carer.

Where a change in skill level is proposed panel will take into account whether the requirements of the skills scheme are met in respect of training and other criteria set out in guidance to foster carers.

If the panel decides to recommend a change of status with which the foster carer is not in agreement reasons will be given in writing. The foster carer will have the right of appeal to the Independent Review Mechanism.

4.6 Termination of Approval

The panel will consider the de-registration of foster carers where the reasons relate to the foster carer's conduct or the service provided by the local authority as a fostering agency.

Where the request is to terminate approval due to the foster carer's conduct the family placement social worker will prepare a report setting out the foster carer's history and experience of fostering, their strengths and skills as foster carers, any issues of concern and details of the reasons why they are no longer considered suitable to foster. The report will include a summary of any strategy meetings and their recommendations.

The report must be shared with the foster carer so that they have the opportunity to address any factual inaccuracies. It must be made clear whether or not the foster carer is in agreement with the contents and the proposal and they should be asked to sign a statement to that effect.

If the foster carer is not in agreement, the panel will consider the preliminary information presented in order to establish whether it is appropriate to proceed with considering de-registration. The foster carer will be given the opportunity to submit written representations to the panel and/or attend panel in person.

Having considered all the information the fostering panel will make a recommendation to the agency decision maker. If the agency decision maker supports the panel's recommendation the foster carer will receive written notice of the intention to terminate their approval together with the reasons.

The foster carer may then either:

  1. Accept the proposal;
  2. Submit written representations within 28 days when the case will be referred back to the Fostering panel for further consideration;
  3. Apply for review by the Independent Review Mechanism.

If the foster carer is resigning from fostering due to dissatisfaction with the service provided by the local authority the Family Placement social worker will submit a report, which has been shared with the foster care, setting out the foster carer's history and experience of fostering, their strengths and skills as foster carers, any issues of concern and details of the reasons why they longer wish to foster. The foster carer will be invited to make their own written representation. The fostering panel will be invited to comment on the agency's conduct in the case and recommend any changes to practice, policy or procedure.

4.7 Connected Person Assessments

The pane may consider assessments where children have been placed under Regulation 24. The assessment will be completed within 16 weeks, though a further 8 week extension can be requested and will monitor progress at each subsequent panel meeting.

4.8 Temporary Variation in Approval Status

Where a child is placed who falls outside the foster carer's terms of approval (by virtue of the child's age, the number of approved placements or the placement type) an application may be submitted to panel for the terms of approval to be varied on a temporary basis either for a time limited period or for the duration of a particular placement. A report will be submitted which sets out the reasons for the placement and how the foster carer will meet the child's needs alongside those of any other children placed.

4.9 Exemptions from the Fostering Limit

The Children Act 1989 sets a limit of 3 on the number of children who can be placed in one foster family unless all the children placed are siblings.

The panel will consider proposals for an exemption from that limit in respect of particular children. Wherever possible consideration should be given prior to the placement being made. Where this is not possible the situation must be brought to the panel's attention at the earliest opportunity.

The Family Placement social worker will submit a report to panel setting out:

  • Details of the members of the fostering household including any children placed;
  • Sleeping arrangements;
  • The foster carer's previous skills and experience especially of caring for a number of children;
  • How the foster carer will meet the needs of all the children in placement;
  • The support and monitoring that will be provided by the agency;
  • The reasons why the placement is the most appropriate option for the child;
  • The plan for the child and the likely duration for which the exemption is required.

Exemptions can only be granted for a named child so consideration will need to be given to which child the exemption should relate to. It will usually apply to the child who is likely to be in the placement for the shortest time.

Exemptions must be considered by the local authority where the foster carer is resident.

Where the foster carer is approved by Salford city Council but lives in another local authority area the fostering panel will consider whether it is appropriate to request an exemption from the relevant local authority. The report, plus the panel minutes will be sent to the appropriate local authority to request them to grant the exemption.

The panel will consider requests from other local authorities and Independent Fostering Agencies and will apply the same process and rigour to all applications.

4.10 Panel Administration

Panel proceedings will be administered by the Panel Management team under the leadership of the Senior Panel Manager. The designated Panel Manager is responsible for drawing up the agenda and arranging for children's social workers and family placement social workers to present their cases. The Panel Manager is responsible for ensuring that the written information required by Panel is available to be forwarded to Panel members five working days before the meeting.

The designated Panel Manager or a deputy is responsible for the minuting of Panel meetings and ensuring that a detailed and accurate record is made of Panel deliberations including any dissent. Panel minutes should clearly distinguish the recommendation being made from the discussion leading up to it. The Panel Chair should summarise clearly each recommendation made and the reasons for it in order for the minute taker to accurately record.

Draft panel minutes will be checked by the Panel Advisor before submission to the Agency Decision Maker and will be available at the subsequent panel meeting for formal approval.

Panel papers and any material received by Panel members in the course of their work on the Panel must be treated with the utmost confidentiality and care and returned to the Panel Manager at the end of each Panel meeting

4.11 Frequency (Including Emergency Panels)

Salford's Fostering Panel meets monthly and the Adoption and Permanence Panel meets approximately every three weeks. These dates are set in advance and made available to staff and to those on the Central List annually. From time to time it may be necessary to call an additional Panel to deal with urgent matters and avoid delay, particularly for children. This should be done through discussion between the Panel Chair, the Panel Advisor and the Senior Panel Manager. The designated Panel Manager will obtain Panel member availability and confirm a suitable date.

4.12 Recommendations and Disagreements

The Panel is expected to be assisted by the Chair to reach a consensus about the recommendation to be made. Panel deliberations should not be overly constrained by pressure of time and there should be the opportunity for all members to ask questions and seek clarification until the Panel is satisfied it has all the information it needs. If it is thought that more information is needed, or more work needs to be done before a recommendation can be made, the Chair should defer making a recommendation and stand the matter down to a future Panel.

If there is a dissenting member or members the discussion should focus on the area of dissent and attempt to draw together the evidence to address the concern and attempt to reach consensus. If this is not successful the Chair will have to make a decision whether to proceed with a majority view, while ensuring that the dissenting view is minuted, to defer the matter to a later Panel, or to make a negative recommendation. It is not accepted practice to vote on such matters. Significant dissent would indicate the need for a negative recommendation as being the outcome most likely to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.

4.13 The Agency Decision Maker

  • The Agency Decision Maker for the Fostering Panel is the Assistant Director Specialist in the Children's Services Directorate;
  • The Agency Decision maker for the Adoption and Permanence Panel is the Assistant Director, Specialist in the Children's services Directorate;
  • The Agency Decision Maker should receive the full set of panel papers and the minutes of the panel before making the agency decision. The agency decision should only be made after consideration of all of the written material and the recommendation of the panel;
  • In Fostering cases the decision should be made within 15 working days of the making of the panel recommendation. The Adoption and Permanence Panel will, however, work to the timescales required for adoption cases;
  • The Agency Decision Maker will attend their Panel as an observer on an annual basis;
  • The Agency Decision Maker and the Panel Advisor will jointly undertake an annual performance review of the Panel Chair. This will be an opportunity for the Panel Chair to provide feedback to the Agency Decision Maker about the quality and timeliness of cases presented to panel and the panel arrangements;
  • In the absence of the Agency Decision Maker to make decisions within the required timescale urgent decisions will be made by the Panel Adviser as deputy.

4.14 Quality Assurance and Feedback to the Agency

The Chair of the Panel will have regular formal meetings at intervals of not less than 6 months with the Assistant Director Specialist, to feed back to the agency on the quality and timeliness of the cases presented to the panel. In addition the arrangements made for the Panel meetings, for applicants and staff attending the Panel, the volume of work and frequency of panel meetings, changes to practice and the perceived training and development needs of staff and panel members could be useful matters for discussion.

It is expected that there will be an informal process of feedback to the agency at each Panel meeting and that any areas of particular concern identified will be addressed as and when they arise.

4.15 Monitoring the Work of the Panel

The Chairs of the Panels, together with the Panel Advisors will prepare an annual report on their respective panel. This will be presented to the Panel for its approval before being circulated to interested parties.

The report could include information about any issues affecting the Panel, the number of Panel meetings and emergency meetings, the cases considered, training undertaken, feedback to the agency on timescales and quality of work, and feedback to the Panel from any evaluation undertaken.

4.16 Training and Development

New panel members will be given the opportunity to observe a Panel meeting and will receive an Induction information pack of material which will explain the duties and responsibilities of the Panel, the policies and procedures of the agency in relation to fostering and placement of looked after children and current good Panel practice.

An annual training/development opportunity will be arranged wherever possible together with staff of the agency.

Efforts will be made to meet any specific training needs identified for individual members of the Panel.


5. Representation, Complaint and the Independent Review Mechanism

Salford Children's Services Directorate has a Complaints and Comments procedure which is available to children, birth parents and enquirers and applicants involved with the fostering service. The existence of this procedure and how to access it is made clear.

There are additional routes for applicants to follow if they are unhappy with the final outcome of their assessment. The process of assessing applicants as prospective foster carers is conducted in partnership with the applicants who are given the opportunity to contribute and comment on the assessment. Before it is presented to the panel the applicants will have had the opportunity to consider it and offer amendments. Should panel, at the end of its deliberations not recommend approval, and should the agency decision maker uphold the recommendation, the applicants have the right to make further representation to the service or request a review by an independent review panel through the Independent Review Mechanism within 28 days of being notified that the agency proposes not to approve them as suitable to foster a child.

Where the prospective foster carer does not make any representations to the agency or apply for an independent review panel the agency is required to proceed with its decision.

If further representation is made to the agency the panel will usually be asked to give fresh consideration to the case and make a fresh recommendation for consideration by the Agency Decision Maker.

In reviewing the case the independent review panel of the IRM can come to a different view from that reached by the original panel and will make a recommendation to the agency. The Agency Decision Maker will then make a decision taking into account the original Fostering Panel recommendation as well as that of the independent review panel. The independent review panel cannot oblige the agency to change its decision.


6. Role of the Medical Adviser

6.1 Introduction

It is good practice for an agency medical adviser to be appointed as a Fostering panel member or adviser to the panel, similar to the role on the Adoption and Permanence panel. The medical adviser should be a qualified medical practitioner who has gained general medical experience within the community. The appointment of the medical adviser is the responsibility of the Head of Service Looked After Children subject to arrangement with health and ratification by the Lead Member for Children's Services.

If the medical adviser is appointed as a panel member then the rules for tenure will apply.

The medical adviser is expected to be available to the agency for advice and information on any medical issue arising in the course of the consideration of children, fostering applicants or approved foster carers. The medical adviser will see and comment on medical reports.

6.2 Appointment of the Medical Adviser

The Medical Adviser will be appointed following a formal interview against a person specification for the post.

As with all panel members the Medical Adviser will provide evidence of relevant qualifications for the post, any expertise or special knowledge, any training undertaken and will provide the agency with an enhanced DBS check every 3 years.

As a panel member the Medical Adviser will be bound by the same expectations as other panel members in relation to preparation for panel, attendance, making a full contribution, confidentiality, willingness to attend training, the giving of notice and the arrangements for dealing with complaints or dissatisfaction with performance.

The arrangement will be reviewed annually by the Head of Service, Looked After Children.

6.3 Duties of the Medical Adviser

The Medical Adviser, as a member of the Fostering panel will:

  • See the medical information available on each case being presented;
  • Carry out medical examinations on children for whom a permanence plan is under consideration;
  • Evaluate the health information available to the panel on children (and their birth families) for whom the recommendation for permanence is being considered and advise the panel of any relevant issues;
  • Evaluate the information available to the panel on fostering applicants seeking approval and advise panel;
  • Evaluate the information available from updated medicals as part of foster carer reviews;
  • Advise the panel on the nature and implications of any medical issue arising in the cases being presented in relation to fostering;
  • Guide the panel in relation to the health information on a child which should be provided to prospective foster carers before placement and facilitate a face to face meeting at which they can explore the implications of the information and have their questions answered where appropriate;
  • Seek the views of medical colleagues, such as specialists, with relevant expertise, where appropriate, in order to interpret information accurately;
  • Advise panel on the implications of any medical diagnoses and the advisability of seeking further opinion;
  • Advise agency staff on appropriate arrangements for accessing or sharing medical information and on the need to make any information available to others;
  • In relation to children seeking asylum the Medical Adviser will have or will access and bring to the panel, knowledge relevant to the particular health issues likely to be encountered based on the child's country of origin;
  • Advise the service in relation to policy formulation in relation to medical issues.

Although the Medical Adviser is relied upon to contribute medical expertise it is also expected that the Medical Adviser will guide panel members in looking at the implications of issues such as smoking, obesity and other lifestyle issues. The Medical Adviser will also advise staff when issues of health or lifestyle emerge early in assessments which might lead to a recommendation not to approve the applicants so that cases can be brought to panel for an early steer and not wait until the assessment is completed


7. Legal Advice

There is no requirement for Fostering panels to include a legal adviser. However it is vital for the Fostering panel to have legal advice available when necessary. Legal advice to the panel is available from members of the council's legal team who are appropriately qualified solicitors with relevant experience in child care and family law.

It is the responsibility of the Panel Adviser and/or the Head of Service, Looked After Children to ensure that legal advice is made available to the panel by arrangement with the Council's legal services team.

Legal advisers will attend the Fostering Panel by invitation where there are issues in specific cases

The Adoption and Permanence Panel, to meet the requirements of adoption legislation, will have a legal adviser present at each meeting.

Any legal advisers used by the panel should be appropriately qualified and experienced by virtue of their appointment to the Council's legal team and will provide the agency with an enhanced DBS check every 3 years for inclusion in their Panel file.


8. Role of the Chair of the Panel

8.1 Introduction

The role of the Chair of the panel is crucial to ensuring that the work of the panel is carried out efficiently, effectively and sensitively. The chair needs to have knowledge and experience in the field of fostering and in wider child care and should also be an experienced chair of multi-agency meetings or panels. The personal qualities of the chair need to be such that the chair commands the respect of other panel members and can chair the panel meetings effectively. (As from the 1st October 2011, an Independent Chair must be appointed)

8.2 Appointment of the Panel Chair

The Panel Chair will be independent of the fostering service and have been so for at least the past 12 months and must have the skills necessary to chair the panel. Up to two Vice Chair's must also be appointed but there is no requirement for the vice chair to be independent.

The Chair will be appointed following formal interview by the Head of Service, Looked After Children against a written person specification for chair of the Fostering Panel and the appointment will be subject to ratification by the Lead Member for Children's Services. She/he will provide evidence of qualifications, an up to date CV, two references and an enhanced DBS check. The DBS checks should be kept up to date and recorded, including the date when the checks were made.

The Panel Chair will have an annual appraisal by the Panel Advisor and Agency Decision Maker which will also provide an opportunity for feedback about the agency.

8.3 Duties of the Panel Chair

The Chair of the Panel will be responsible for:

  • Chairing the panel meeting and ensuring and protecting its independence;
  • Ensuring the Panel complies fully with all relevant Legislation, Regulation, Guidance and Standards;
  • Ensuring the first consideration in the work of the panel is always the welfare and safeguarding of children;
  • Encouraging a full and open consideration of each case presented;
  • Ensuring the contribution of all panel members;
  • Determining how to proceed when a possible conflict of interest is declared;
  • Incorporating the advice of professional advisers;
  • Assisting the panel in reaching a consensus on each case presented;
  • Summarising the reasons for each recommendation made;
  • Inviting and facilitating the attendance of applicants;
  • Confirming that the minutes accurately reflect the discussion which has taken place and that the recommendation is clearly stated;
  • Determining who may attend as an observer to the panel;
  • Dealing, in the first instance, with any ineffective or disruptive behaviour;
  • Together with the Panel Adviser, dealing with any unresolved issues of conduct on the panel, complaints against panel members, appointment of new panel members and resignations;
  • Monitoring compliance with Legislation, Regulation, Guidance, Standards, Policies and Procedures and feeding back to the fostering via the Head of Service, Looked After Children;
  • Evaluating the functioning of the panel;
  • Contributing to the development of policies and procedures and good practice.


9. Role of the Panel Adviser (Professional Adviser)

9.1 Introduction

It is good practice for the Fostering panel to have recourse to the advice of a professional advisor usually employed by the service. The Panel Adviser should be a member of staff, at Team Manager level or above, with at least 5 years of post qualifying experience and, in the opinion of the fostering service, relevant management experience.

9.2 Duties of the Panel Adviser

The Panel Adviser will be responsible for:

  • Assisting the agency with the appointment, termination of appointment and reappointment of of those on the Central List;
  • Dealing, together with the Chair of the panel, with disruptive or ineffective members of the Central List;
  • The training and induction of those on the Central List;
  • The updating of those on the Central List in terms of new legislation, regulation or guidance and of any significant changes or developments in agency adoption and permanence strategy or practice;
  • Liaison between the agency and the panel;
  • Monitoring, together with the Chair of the panel, the performance of members of those on the Central List;
  • Monitoring the performance of the Chair of the panel and advising the Agency Decision Maker of any issues;
  • Ensuring the efficient administration of the panel;
  • Ensuring the minutes accurately reflect the discussion and that recommendations are clearly recorded;
  • Ensuring minutes are forwarded to the Agency Decision Maker;
  • Ensuring agency decisions are communicated in writing to foster carers within the agreed timescale;
  • Giving advice on professional and procedural issues to the panel;
  • Determining the need for additional and emergency panels;
  • Monitoring that cases presented to the panel comply with agency policies and procedures and feeding back to line managers where there is non compliance or unsatisfactory performance;
  • Writing an annual report on the Fostering Panel and its contribution to the activity of the Fostering service.

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