The initial enquiry stage

Once you contact Swap Foster Care and express an interest in Fostering, we will complete an initial enquiry form with some of your basic details, Name, address, who lives with you etc. This is a legal requirement and is used by OFSTED (Office for Standards in Education) in annual data sets to identify trends in numbers of enquirers, through assessment/s processes and those who become Foster Parents. We have a high ‘conversion rate’ from enquiries through to assessments and then approval as Foster Parents because we are focussed in our recruitment practices, seek to recruit carers to meet existing needs presenting to us, and ensure through our subsequent meetings with our staff and you that Fostering is the right thing for you and you have what it takes to become one of our Fostering family as an approved foster Household.

The Home Visit Stage

If after your initial enquiry we both agree that it would be appropriate to proceed to an Initial Home visit, an appointment will be arranged for one of our Social Workers to visit you in your home at our mutual convenience to: check the suitability and safety of your home, a child in Foster Care must have their own bedroom but, cannot be a bedroom that is an attic conversion for which you did not obtain proper planning permission. The home visit is also an opportunity to discuss the Fostering role and answer any questions you may have.

In the event you are not the home owner you will need to inform the owner of the property of your intention to Foster. It will also be necessary to reflect this in your home insurance documentation if you become a approved Foster Carer. After this initial visit, we will write a brief report and make a recommendation which will be discussed with you about whether or not we can proceed to an assessment of your suitability to become a Foster Parent/s and become part of our Foster Family; in part this recommendation will be based on you having a suitable home with a spare room, but more importantly whether we and you believe you have what it takes: commitment, motivation, a desire to succeed, to stand up and be counted when the going gets tough – which it can at times – but you show you can seek support, apply the training you have learned from the extensive training programme provided by us to you, that over all you have the competency to become an Approved Foster Parent.

Pre Approval (Skills to Foster) Training:

If you and the Social Worker from the Fostering team both agree to continue your application after your initial home visit, you will be invited to complete the pre-approval ‘Skills to Foster’ course, this could be a ‘one to one’ training provided between you and your assessing Social worker when you meet or, completed via our online training hub (The Social Care Training Hub Online – SCTHO) training facility or, in a group environment usually at our offices. This will help you explore your strengths, identify areas you might need to develop and build on the skills you already have as you move in to our two stage assessment process.

Stage 1 the Application Stage

We will give you an application form along with a consent to checks form and a Disclosure and Baring Service form to complete. There is also an advance disclosure form that we will ask you to complete, asking you if you or any other person in your household have any criminal offences to declare prior to checks being made. Our best advice is it is always the best policy to be open and honest throughout your application and assessment stages, as dishonesty makes you look untrustworthy and we would have no choice other than to end your assessment. Stage 1 checks include but not exhaustively:

DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) Police checks; these are statutory requirements and include a list of ‘specified offences’ that mean you cannot Foster if you have been the subject of one of these – mostly offences against children including sexual offences & some offences against the person) – if you have unspent criminal convictions, these may not bar you from Fostering, discuss them with us, we can explore these, how long ago they were and their relevance with you. Some people may have had a troubled period in their past lives as a teenager or, early adult but we will conduct a risk assessment of these offences and may agree with you that they should not impact on your decision to Foster.

A Local authority check: with your home Local authority in whose area you live and any other Authority areas you may have lived in the last 10 years. We need to ensure that if you are known to any Local Authority children’s services department, that you were not of any concern to them regarding care of your own or, any other children; examples might include if your own children were the subject of Child Protection Plans. Many families turn to Social care for help and support and this is not necessarily a sign of weakness but dem9onstartes you can seek help when you need it.

Employer references: We must contact your current, recent/last two employers for a reference. We must also ensure there are no safeguarding concerns from any previous employer where you may have had contact with children and /or vulnerable adults and carry our telephone checks with these referees to ensure that they have no concerns about you applying to foster children.

Personal referees (x3): we will ask you to nominate three people to be your personal referees, we will write to them for a reference and visit them to substantiate this reference and write a report about each visit. These references are often valuable sources of evidence of your competency to be an approved foster Parent. Your references can be anyone who knows you well including friends and family but are better if they are people who can comment about your parenting capacity if you have raised your own children, care you have provided to their children or, people who have seen how you are when you have worked with children and young people.

There may be other checks required, for example checks with education providers (Schools/Colleges) if you have School age children to establish their attendance and progress, as educational performance is important for all children. We may need to contact embassies if you have lived abroad or, other agencies as appropriate which we discuss with you beforehand.

Medical:
A full medical will be carried out by your GP and Swap Foster Care will Pay for this medical. If you have a medical condition and are seeing or have been seen by a consultant, we may also ask for a consultant’s report. The purpose of the medical is to ensure that you are healthy and fit to look after a child/young person and to ensure that you would not be putting your own health at risk. You cannot be ruled our of Fostering on health grounds alone, we do not discriminate but need to ensure that any health issues you may have are not going to impact on your capacity to care for children safely.

Stage 1 satisfactorily completed:
If we write to you to advise that you have successfully completed all stage 1 checks and you progress to stage 2 (which can be completed simultaneously) your assessment report must be referred to our foster Panel.

In either case you will be kept fully informed throughout the process at all times.

Stage 2 – Assessment (Home Study)

A social worker from the Fostering team will complete a detailed BAAF (British Association of Adoption and Fostering) Form F assessment report on you and your family – a ‘home study report’. The Social Worker will go through the details of this assessment with you prior to starting, including the competencies by which we will assess you the BAAF competencies).

You will work closely alongside the social worker in completing this assessment. It is important that you talk openly and honestly to the social worker about your life and family during this assessment process, which is usually carried out within three to six months. You will have the opportunity to read the report and add your own comments. During this time, you will be able to consider how fostering will affect you and your family and friends and reflect on topics raised with you by the social worker.

During the assessment the social worker will also spend some time talking any children you may have who live with you or, live elsewhere to ensure that they understand how fostering will affect them and answer any questions that they have.

Withdrawing from assessment (Counselling Out):
You are free to withdraw from the process at any time, similarly there may be things arising from your assessment that the social worker feels needs to be discussed with their line manager/our Registered Manager.

Sometimes the Social Worker and line manager will bring any issues/concerns to the Fostering Panel for discussion and advice with a brief report as necessary to explore these with a view to ascertaining whether the application can proceed.

Fostering Panel

The completed assessment is brought to our Fostering Panel for approval. In most instances you will have the opportunity to attend the Panel. Swap Foster Care’s Foster Panel which is made up of:

The Panel Chair/or one of our two Vice-Chairs;

A Senior Social Worker with three or more years of experience in fostering and experience of child protection;

At least three other Independent members of our Foster Panel central list, staff who may have worked in Child Protection, Education, other disciplines; we also have a Legal Advisor, a former Looked After Child and experienced former Foster carers.

The Panel must consist of at least Five persons and will consider your assessment and make a recommendation as to whether to approve you as a Foster Carer based on your suitability and what the terms of your approval should be. Your approval as a Foster Carer is reviewed annually every year, with your first review being re-presented to our Foster Panel. You will usually then be referred to the foster Panel every Three years, though can be re-referred at any time if the need arises.

Representations/Decisions:

There is no right of appeal against the recommendation of our Foster Panel. You will either receive a recommendation of approval or, a recommendation that you are not suitable; this is quite rare as your assessment process has been very rigorous. Final decisions are made by our Agency Decision Maker (A.D.M.).

Agency Decision Maker

A Senior member of our team of staff is designated as our Agency Decision Maker (A.D.M.). Their job is to consider the assessment of your suitability to Foster, ensuring all legal processes and checks have been followed, to consider the recommendation of the Foster Panel and your requested terms of approval and make a decision accordingly. This decision will be notified to you orally within 2 days of our receiving the agreed minutes of the meeting of the Foster Panel you attended. We will then write to you within Five days to verify this decision in writing.

Decision to approve you and your household:

If your decision is that you have been approved as a Foster Parent for Swap foster Care, your Fostering career has started; Congratulations! We will allocate you a Supervising Social Worker (SSW) to arrange formal monthly supervision with you, to begin your induction in to our agency as an approved foster Household and as an approved foster Parent, to plan your future training with you, including the Standards you will strive to meet over your first year of approval with us.

Notice of determination:

If the Agency Decision Maker intends not to approve you, they must make a written ‘Notice of Determination’ by writing to you and inviting you to respond within 28 days if you feel there is something they have not taken in to account or, have further evidence to provide us with not yet considered. There is no right of appeal against this decision but you can ask for the decision to be reviewed in light of this, if you are unhappy with the decision they propose to make. If a representation is received this must be re-referred to the Foster Panel at the next earliest opportunity. You can make a representation to us or, you can use the I.R.M. (Independent Review Mechanism – see below) but you cannot do both!

Independent Review Mechanism (I.R.M.):

The I.R.M. is a body set up by government to offer an Independent opportunity to have your representation considered. They will write to you once you have contacted them, obtain any evidence from you and us they feel is necessary including copies of reports. Ultimately, they will convene a meeting of the I.R.M. panel that you will be invited to attend; we will also attend. The evidence will be heard, and a recommendation will subsequently be made to our A.D.M. They will then proceed to make their final decision communicated to you as above.

Timescales

From then point you make your initial enquiry to us, we will keep you informed about the assessment process and how long it will take; usually we try to respond as follows:

  • Initial Enquiry (IEQ) received – contact made with you usually within 48 hours;
  • Initial Home visit (IHV) – usually completed within 7 days;
  • Decision: whether or not to proceed to assessment – usually within 7 days;
  • Stage 1 checks completed or, determination made that assessment cannot proceed because of stage 1 check outcome – notified within 10 days;
  • Form F Assessment (Stage 2 Home study) – usually completed in 6-12 weeks and must be completed statutorily within 8 months;
  • Carers transferring from another agency – usually within 2 months and expected to be within 3 months;
  • Decision: within 7 days of the receipt of the agreed Panel minutes;
  • Oral decision: once a decision has been made, this will be communicated to you within 2 days of the decision;
  • Written decision/Notice of determination: we will write to you within 5 days of receiving making our decision.
  • Your first Annual review: must be completed within the first 12 months of your approval with us and be re-referred to the foster Panel;
  • Subsequent Annual Reviews: annually;
  • We aim to re-refer you to the Foster Panel every three years thereafter.