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6.1.4 Assessment and Approvals of Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

Standards 13

It is based on Regulations 26, 27 and 29 of the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 and Standard 13 of the National Minimum Standards for Fostering 2011, as amended by the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013.

NOTE

For temporary approval as foster carers of approved prospective adopters, see Placements in Foster Care Procedure, Temporary Approval as Foster Carers of Approved Prospective Adopters.

RELATED CHAPTER

Smoking Policy for the Adoption and Fostering Service

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in February 2015. Section 10.8, Health, information was added with regards to E-cigarettes.


Contents

1. Responding to Initial Enquiries
2. Assessment - Stage One
3. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments
4. Checks and References 
  4.1 Checks
  4.2 References
  4.3 Health
5. Skills to Foster Training
6. Assessment - Stage Two
7. The Panel Recommendation
8. After the Panel Recommendation
9. Representations / Independent Review Procedure
10. Criteria for Foster Carers
11. After the Approval
12. Register of Foster Carers
13. Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances
  See also Foster Care Agreement Procedure


1. Responding to Initial Enquiries

All members of the public who make an initial enquiry by telephone, email or letter in relation to becoming a foster carer will be referred to the Fostering Service. All enquirers will be treated as a potential resource and given a prompt response. A Fostering Recruitment Officer will respond to enquiries from a potential applicant within 24 hours to gather further information and for a general discussion about fostering.

The Expression of Interest Questionnaire will be completed in relation to all new enquiries. Preliminary basic information should be obtained - numbers in the household, the availability of a separate bedroom for foster children, working hours etc so that inappropriate enquiries can be filtered out. In addition, a check will be carried out in relation to enquirers and all members of their household on Children's Services records.

Where the enquirers are not previously known, they will be sent an Information Pack and letter. The Information Pack will be sent within 5 working days of the enquiry. Applications should be made in writing.

Where the enquirer or a member of the household is known, the enquiry will be passed to the manager for a decision on how to proceed. At this early stage, it may be appropriate to advise these enquirers against pursuing fostering if they clearly do not meet the basic criteria (see Section 10, Criteria for Foster Carers). The manager's decision will be communicated to the person concerned, with reasons given, and the decision will be recorded. Where the decision is not to proceed the referral will be closed. Where the decision is to proceed, the enquirer will be sent an Information Pack and the same procedure will be followed as for all other enquirers.

If there is no response within 2 weeks, the enquirer will sent a follow up letter.

When a response is received, the records will be updated by the Recruitment Officer and the Manager will be informed.


2. Assessment – Stage One

Stage One of the assessment process is intended to provide the decision maker with basic information about the applicant to enable clearly unsuitable applicants to be sifted out without unnecessary bureaucracy or expenditure of time and resource by the fostering service or the applicant. More detailed information is collected in Section 6, Assessment - Stage Two.

If the initial visit appears positive the Stage One application pack and information about the process will be left with the applicants. A further visit will be arranged by the Stage One assessor to check the application form, verify the DBS and health assessment report. The fostering team manager will sign off the application form at the weekly allocation meetings. The application will be passed on to the admin team for processing.

Where the application reveals that either applicant has lived overseas for any period in the last 10 years an overseas criminal records check will be initiated at Stage One. As these checks can often take some time to be returned applicants may proceed into Stage Two of the process whilst they are awaited on the understanding that  concerns raised by these checks may terminate the assessment. In some circumstances where it is impossible to obtain criminal records information from overseas, additional references from overseas employers, friends and family will be required to corroborate evidence. If the overseas check is not returned then a case decision form must be forwarded to the service leader for consent to proceed without it.

Applicants will be provisionally booked on the skills to foster preparation training and will be provided with the information of the date, time and venue in writing.

The allocated Supervising Social Worker for Stage One assessment will oversee the process where a person applies to become a foster carer and it is decided to assess their suitability to become a foster carer, the following information must be obtained as soon as reasonably practicable relating to the applicant and other members of their household and family:

  • Full name, address and date of birth;
  • Details of health (supported by a medical report);
  • Particulars of any other adult members of the household;
  • Particulars of the children in the family, whether or not members of the household, and any other children in the household;
  • Particulars of their accommodation;
  • The outcome of any request or application made by them or any other member of their household to foster or adopt children, or for registration as an early years provider or later years provider under Part 3 of the Childcare Act 2006), including particulars of any previous approval or refusal of approval relating to them or to any other member of the household;
  • If the applicant has, in the preceding twelve months, been a foster parent approved by another fostering service provider, the name and address of that fostering service provider;
  • Visit two persons who will provide personal references;
  • In relation to the applicant and any other member of the applicant ’s household who is aged 18 or over, an enhanced criminal record certificate;
  • Details of current, and any previous, marriage, civil partnership or similar relationship.
  • The views of, the local authority in whose area the applicant lives, if different;
  • Where the applicant has previous been, or is currently, approved as a foster carer by another fostering service provider, or as a prospective adopter by an adoption agency, and consents, access may be requested to the relevant records compiled by that other fostering service provider / adoption agency in relation to the applicant. That service/agency must provide access within 15 working days of a request being received.

Records compiled by another fostering service, or an adoption agency, can be used to inform the new assessment of the applicant’s suitability to foster. For instance, if previous partners have been interviewed in the past to verify facts, and the current assessing social worker is satisfied with the records in respect of these interviews, it should not be necessary to repeat the interviews if no further information is required. The assessing social worker should, however, satisfy themselves as to the quality and continuing relevance of the information before using it to inform the current assessment.

Where, having regard to any information obtained, it is decided (by the Agency Decision Maker)  that the applicant is not suitable to become a foster carer, the applicant must b e notified in writing with reasons. This notification may be given whether or not all of this information has been obtained. Such a notification may not be given more than 10 working days after all the information has been obtained. The applicant has no right to make representations about the decision or to have their case reviewed under the Independent Review Mechanism. However, the applicant must be informed that they can complain via the fostering service’s complaints process if they are unhappy with the way in which their case has been handled. The complaints process should address whether or not the applicant’s case has been handled in a reasonable way, rather than the question of the applicant’s suitability to foster.

Where all the specified information has been obtained and notification has not been given within 10 working days that the applicant is not suitable, then the application must proceed to Section 6, Assessment - Stage Two.

Stage Two Assessment

Note that Stages One and Two of the assessment process can be carried out concurrently, but the Stage One information must be sought as soon as possible, and the decision about whether an applicant has successfully completed Stage One must be made within 10 working days of all the information required in that Stage being received.

On receipt of the completed application form, consent to medical checks and authorisations for the statutory checks/references, the administrative staff will input the date of the application and details of the household members on the electronic records.

The Fostering Panel must make its recommendation on the application within eight months of the applicant first applying to be assessed.


3. Sharing Information for the Purposes of Foster Carer Assessments

3.1 Information-sharing

Sharing information about a person that is held in their existing foster carer or adopter records is permitted for the purposes of informing a new assessment of a person’s suitability to foster or adopt. For instance, if previous partners have been interviewed in the past to verify facts, and the current assessing social worker is satisfied with the records in respect of these interviews, it should not be necessary to repeat the interviews if no further information is required. The assessing social worker should, however, satisfy themselves as to the quality and continuing relevance of the information before using it to inform the current assessment.

Information that should be shared, upon request, in order to inform a new assessment of a person’s suitability to foster or adopt includes:

  • The report of the original assessment of the person’s suitability to foster or adopt (if it is considered by the body requesting the information to be recent enough to be relevant);
  • A copy of the report of the last review of the individual’s continuing suitability to foster or adopt and any other review report considered useful to understanding the person’s current suitability to foster or adopt;
  • Details of any concerns about standards of practice and what if anything is being done/has been done to address them;
  • Details of allegations made against the foster carer/adopter or their household members; and
  • Any other information considered to be relevant to the assessment of the person’s suitability to foster/adopt.

3.2 Consent

Information should only be shared with the informed, explicit consent of all parties referred to in the information, including young people where they have sufficient understanding to consent to the sharing of their information (if they do not have sufficient understanding, the consent of a person with Parental Responsibility would need to be obtained). This means that the person giving consent needs to understand why their information is to be shared, what will be shared, who will see their information, the purpose to which it will be put and the implications of sharing that information.

If consent is refused, the current fostering service or adoption agency should consider whether there is any information in the records that is a cause for concern. Any information about an applicant’s conduct or suitability to foster/adopt that has caused concern should be shared even if the individual has refused consent. If there are no such concerns, and the individual has refused consent, information should not be shared. This may require documents to be redacted to remove information relating to individuals who have refused consent.

Requests for access to information should be accompanied by the written consent of the applicant to the sharing of their information.

3.3 Timescales

The receiving service should acknowledged the request within two working days, seek consent from all others referred to in the information within five working days and the information, redacted where necessary, should be provided within 15 working days.


4. Checks and References

4.1 Checks

The administrative staff will arrange for the following checks to be made on all members of the household aged 16 and over: Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS), Probation, Health Trust, Education, Children's Services (including the List of Children with a Child Protection Plan) and the NSPCC, and whether the applicants have a right to work in the UK. Where the applicants live or have lived outside the local authority area, the checks must be made with the local authority and health trust where the applicants live/have lived. These checks should be recorded including the date when the checks were made.

Where the applicant or any member of the household has been known to Children's Services, information should be obtained from the relevant social worker.

Where applicants have recently moved to the UK (within the last 10 years), checks all reasonable efforts will be made through International Social Services and/or the relevant Consulate on all members of the household aged 10 and over.

In addition, where the applicant has school age children, the relevant school(s) will  be contacted, with the permission of the applicant, for information regarding the applicant's ability to promote the child's education.

On receipt of the statutory checks, the administrative staff will update the electronic records and inform the stage one assessor and the recruitment officer so to enable close monitoring of time scales in the Stage One process. Any concerns on receipt of these checks will be brought to the manager’s attention. A report will be shared with the managers at the allocation meeting and the information passed to the agency decision maker. This will be completed on receipt of the information or within the 5 working days if this is the last check so the applicants can be advised within 10 working days of the decision where there is a concern.

If the applicant withdraws, the administrative staff will update the electronic records. If the applicant does not agree to withdraw.

Where the checks reveal that the applicant or a member of the household is a Disqualified Person (Foster Carer), see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure.

Where the information relates to an offence, which does not automatically disqualify the applicant, for example because the applicant is seeking approval in relation to a specific child only, the manager must consider whether the application should still proceed. Such convictions will not necessarily preclude an application, but this will depend on the seriousness of the offence and how long ago it was committed. In a case where the conviction would usually disqualify an applicant, the case should be referred to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) for a preliminary decision - see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure. In any other case where there is doubt, a report should be presented Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) as soon as the information is received or within 5 working days if this is the last check to be received in the Stage One process in order, for the applicants to receive notification within 10 working days.

Information relevant to the application that has been obtained from the DBS may only be retained on the applicant's file for a limited period and should be destroyed when a decision is made on the application. The manager should note on the file that the DBS information has been destroyed and that the information led to a particular view, without citing the information itself, but an analysis of this information is placed on file and signed off by the service leader.

4.2 References

Where the applicant has been a foster carer within the preceding 12 months and was approved as such by another fostering service provider, a reference must be requested from that other fostering service provider. There is no requirement to also interview personal referees (see below). However, additional verbal and/or written references may be sought from personal referees. If the previous fostering service, for whatever reason, does not provide a reference, interviews with two personal referees must be conducted.

Otherwise, each applicant will be asked to provide the names of two personal referees, who are adults, have known the applicant for at least five years and are not related to the applicant, and one other referee who may be a family member or personal friend. All referees should be people who know the applicants well in a personal capacity.

Where there is a joint application, referees should know both applicants, or additional referees will be required.

A written reference must be obtained from each applicant's current employer regardless of the applicant's occupation. This may be one of the four references provided. In addition, where the applicant has frequently changed jobs, written references should also be obtained from past employers.

A written reference will be requested where an applicant has work experience (paid or voluntary) with children and/or Adults at Risk.

Where the prospective applicant has made a previous application to foster or adopt, the relevant agency must be asked to confirm in writing the outcome of the application and provide a written reference.

The administrative staff will send requests for written references to each referee.

On receipt of the references, the administrative staff will update the electronic records.

4.3 Health

The applicants will be provided with the relevant medical form to fill in with their details and send to their GP with a covering letter requesting that the GP complete the Form and send it to the manager. On receipt the manager will pass the information to the Medical Adviser for comment.

Where the medical information suggests that the applicant may not be suitable for health reasons, this should be discussed in detail with the applicant(s) and withdrawal may be advisable at this stage. Additional advice may be sought from the Medical Adviser or the Medical Adviser may raise questions with the GP where this is appropriate. It may be necessary for reports from other health professionals also to be obtained and presented to the Medical Adviser and the Fostering Panel.


5. Skills to Foster Training

The attendance of applicants at Skills to Foster Training will form part of the assessment of their suitability as foster carers.

The Fostering Team will arrange a series of meetings which will provide a programme of training. The meetings will be held at various times to ensure convenience for applicants with differing personal needs and commitments. Skills to Foster Training will usually be planned to enable applicants to have reasonable notice of their date and venue so as to encourage extensive participation.

Written invitations will be sent out to applicants.

Skills to Foster Training provide an opportunity for the fostering team to find out more about the applicants and have a clearer idea of their strengths, areas for further work and any concerns which need to be clarified as part of the assessment process.

The training is also aimed at self-assessment in that it enables applicants to find out more about fostering and help them discover their own strengths and weaknesses. Applicants attending the training will be asked to complete evaluation forms.

Applicants are expected to attend all the training sessions offered before being considered for approval as foster carers. If they miss more than two sessions they will be expected to repeat the entire course. If they miss two sessions and have shown a good understanding of the issues covered in the other sessions it may be possible, if the manager agrees, for this material to be covered in the remaining home assessment. Alternatively, up to two missed sessions could be attended on the next course.

Sons and daughters or any other potential fostering household members will be either invited to either all or part of the preparation training according to their age and understanding.

Those running the training will arrange a time for de-briefing shortly after the training takes place and information from the meetings, including the applicants’ evaluation forms, will be shared and form part of the assessment. A report by the facilitators of the training will be included in the assessment report presented to the Fostering Panel.


6. Assessment - Stage Two

Where the Assessment – Stage One information has been obtained, and no notification has been given within 10 working days that the applicant is not suitable to be a foster carer, the following must be undertaken. Stage Two will be allocated to a Supervising Social Worker, preferably the Stage One assessor if this is appropriate.

They will:

  • Obtain the following information relating to the applicant and other members of the household, together with any other relevant information:
    • Details of personality;
    • Religious persuasion, and capacity to care for a child from any particular religious persuasion;
    • Racial origin, cultural and linguistic background and capacity to care for a child from any particular racial origin or cultural or linguistic background;
    • Past and present employment or occupation, standard of living, leisure activities and interests;
    • Previous experience (if any) of caring for their own and other children;
    • Skills, competence and potential relevant to their capacity to care effectively for a child placed with them.
  • Consider whether the applicant is suitable to be a foster parent and whether the applicant ’s household is suitable for any child;
  • Prepare a written report on the applicant which includes the following matters:
    • The information required to be obtained, as set out above;
    • Any other relevant information;
    • An assessment of the applicant’s suitability to be a foster parent;
    • Proposals about any terms of approval.

(There are no specific regulatory requirements about the way in which assessment information must be collected or presented to panel.)

The applicant must be notified that the case is to be referred to the fostering panel, be given a copy of the report and be invited to send any observations in writing within 10 working days beginning with the date on which the notification is sent.

Where, having regard to information obtained during Stage Two, it is decided that the applicant is unlikely to be considered suitable to become a foster parent, notwithstanding that not all the Stage Two information has yet been obtained, a Brief Report may be prepared and submitted to the fostering panel in the same way as for a full assessment report. (There is no prescribed length or format for a brief report.)

The assessing social worker will:

  • Familiarise him or herself with the application form;
  • Contact the applicant(s) and arrange a visit;
  • Set out the dates for the assessment visits and the date for the presentation to the Fostering Panel in the Stage Two assessment agreement;
  • Interview couples individually and together and ensure the children of the applicant or other significant members of the family/household are seen alone;
  • Contact ex partners (see below);
  • Inform the applicant(s) of any revised timescales if there are delays.

All assessments of potential foster carers will follow the format of the BAAF Form F assessments. The suitability of the accommodation must also be assessed and a Health and Safety checklist completed which incorporates a Family Safe Care Policy, together with a Risk Assessment regarding any pets in the household by completing of a Pet Questionnaire. Any issues that arise from the check should be recorded on the Form F with an agreed plan of action established.

The assessing social worker will complete all parts of BAAF Form F, which will record all appropriate factual information and address issues including the applicants' understanding of the following areas:

  • Child rearing;
  • Caring for children born to someone else;
  • Contact between children and their families;
  • Helping children to make sense of their past;
  • Sexual boundaries and attitudes;
  • Awareness of sexual and other forms of abuse;
  • Health and health promotion;
  • Promotion of education;
  • Approaches to discipline;
  • Awareness of how to promote secure attachments between children and appropriate adults;
  • Religion;
  • Standards of living and lifestyles;
  • Racial, cultural and linguistic issues;
  • Experiences of disability and attitudes to disability;
  • Awareness of equal opportunities;
  • Understanding and dealing with young people's behaviour including encouraging children to take responsibility for their behaviour and helping them to learn how to resolve conflict.

The list is not exhaustive - other issues relevant to the individual applicant and his or her family may need to be addressed. The skills and personal qualities that need to be evidenced will be different according to the type of fostering the applicants want to do, e.g. babies and toddlers, short term or permanent.

The assessing social worker may contact the previous partners of the applicants (taking care not to disclose confidential personal information about the applicant). Where there were any children of the relationship or where children were cared for jointly, the social worker may arrange to interview them face-to-face wherever practicable. All adult children of the applicant(s) living away from home may also be contacted.

Applicants will be encouraged to be actively involved in contributing towards the assessment, and supported to provide their own written report/portfolio for Panel to evidence their capabilities and to support their application.

The foster home will also be thoroughly checked to ensure it provides a safe environment including transport. Each child over 3 has their own bedroom or, where this is not possible, and the sharing of the bedroom has been agreed by the placing authority a Bedroom Sharing Agreement and a Risk Assessment will be completed by the social worker and signed by the carers.

The applicant must be notified that the case is to be referred to the fostering panel, be given a copy of the report and be invited to send any observations in writing within 10 working days beginning with the date on which the notification is sent.

At the end of the 10 working days, (or when the applicant’s observations are received, whichever is sooner), the report, the applicant’s observations on that report, if any, and any other relevant information obtained, must be sent to the fostering panel.


7. The Panel Recommendation

The assessing social worker will attend the Panel meeting, together with the applicants if they so wish. The decision to attend rests with the applicants and a wish not to attend will not prejudice consideration of their application.

Applicants who decide they wish to attend should be fully prepared as to the procedure prior to their attendance.

The Panel will consider the reports together with all the supporting documentation, and make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) regarding the suitability of the applicant for fostering.

The recommendation, with reasons, will be recorded in writing and, where approval is recommended, details will be specified in writing.

Where the applicant does not attend the Panel meeting, the social worker undertaking the assessment will advise the applicant of the Panel recommendation within 24 hours of the Panel meeting. This will be verbally, by telephone or, where appropriate, a home visit.


8. After the Panel Recommendation

The Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) will make a decision as to the suitability of the applicant, based on the reports presented to the Fostering Panel and the minutes detailing the Panel's recommendation. Where the decision is to approve the applicants as foster carers, the Agency Decision Maker will specify the terms of the approval i.e. the number and age range of children to be fostered, the type of placement and any specific inclusions/exclusions. Applicants can be approved for more than one placement category.

Where a Brief Report has been submitted to the fostering panel, the Agency Decision Maker will, taking into account the fostering panel’s recommendation, make a determination about whether to terminate the assessment or whether the full assessment should be completed.

The decision must be made within 7 working days of the Panel meeting and must be recorded, together with reasons.

The manager will arrange for the applicants to be given verbal notification of the decision within 24 hours and written notice of the decision, with reasons, signed by the Agency Decision Maker, within 5 working days from the agreed minutes of the decision.

If the decision is to refuse approval, the assessing social worker and manager will assess the need for further counselling and arrange any necessary follow-up action.

Upon approval, foster carers should be issued with an agreed form of identification to enable their role as a foster carer to be verified.


9. Representations / Independent Review Procedure

If at Stage Two of the assessment process, the Agency Decision Maker gives a Qualifying Determination that he/she proposed not to approve the applicants as foster carers, the applicant will be advised that if he or she wishes to challenge the decision, they have a  right to submit representations within 28 days of the date of the written notice of the decision to the Agency Decision Maker. In addition, as an alternative, they may exercise the right to apply to the Secretary of State to request a review of the decision by an Independent Review Panel under the Independent Review Mechanism. Any such application must be made in writing within 28 days of the decision and supported by reasons.

The foster carer will not have the right to request a review by an Independent Review Panel if he or she is regarded as disqualified as a result of a conviction or caution for a specified offence – see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure.

Where it is decided at Stage One of the assessment process that the applicant is not suitable to become a foster carer, there is no right to have the case reviewed under the Independent Review Mechanism.

If no written representations or notification of a request for a review are received within this period, the Agency Decision Maker will decide whether or not to approve the applicant as a foster carer (following a full assessment) or continue the assessment (following a Brief Report). If written representations are received within the period, the Panel Adviser will arrange for the reports and other documentation to be reconsidered by the Fostering Panel, taking into account the written representations, and make a new recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering).

The Panel Administrator will advise the applicant within 7 days of the date of the confirmed minutes of the Panel meeting when they can attend and their written representations will be considered.

In these circumstances, applicants who wish to attend the meeting of the Fostering Panel can arrange for a friend or supporter to accompany them.

After considering the representations, the Panel will make a recommendation which the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) will consider before a final decision is made.

If the decision remains not to approve the application, the manager will arrange for the applicants to be informed verbally within 2 working days. Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant by the Panel Adviser within 7 working days of the Panel meeting. Information about the Complaints Procedure must also be sent. A copy of the report to the Panel, the Panel's recommendation and the decision, with reasons, must be retained on the applicant's case file.

If the applicant decides to refer the matter to an Independent Review, the relevant Panel reports, any new information obtained since the Panel meeting, a record of the decision made and reasons, a copy of the written notification of the decision and a copy of the Panel minute, if different, will be sent to the Independent Review within 10 working days of their written request.

The procedure for the Independent Review is carried out by BAAF; the applicant and two representatives of the fostering agency will be invited to attend the Independent Review.

After considering the representations, the Independent Review may make a recommendation, which the Agency Decision Maker will consider before a final decision is made.

Written notice of the final decision, together with reasons, must be sent to the applicant within 7 working days of the receipt of the Independent Review recommendation.

Where the decision is to approve the application, the procedure set out in Section 11, After the Approval will be followed.


10. Criteria for Foster Carers

10.1 Individual and Joint

Applications will be considered from married couples, civil partners, unmarried couples or single people.

10.2 Religion

Applications will be considered from people of any or no religious persuasion.

10.3 Ethnicity

Applications will be considered from people of any race or culture.

10.4 Age

The minimum age for foster carers is generally 21 years. In exceptional circumstances, e.g. with some Family and Friends Carers, the minimum age may be reduced to 18. There is no specific upper age limit.

10.5 Gender

Applications will be considered from people of either sex and from same sex couples.

10.6 Sexual Orientation

Applications will be considered from people of any sexual orientation.

10.7 Income and Work Commitment

Applicants must be financially secure and not dependent on income from fostering. A financial assessment will be completed during the Home Study. Applicants may be in work or not.

10.8 Health

Applicants will be required to have a full medical and undergo any further tests/checks that may be required by the fostering panel's medical adviser. The medical adviser will advise on the applicants' ability, from a health point of view, to meet the needs of a child who is fostered. Any comments or advice given by the medical adviser must be taken seriously by the applicants and will be addressed during the assessment process.

Applicants are expected to positively promote a healthy life-style which will enable a child to reach his or her full potential. This would encompass attention to nutrition, exercise, routine and hygiene.

It is expected that foster carers will comply with nationally recommended alcohol consumption levels and that children's needs and safety will be met at all times.

Smoking and Passive Smoking

It is well recognised that cigarette smoking, both direct and indirect, can have serious health implications. Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council/NHS values the children in its care and wishes to promote their health and wellbeing by safeguarding them as far as possible from the effects of direct and passive smoking.

Blackburn with Darwen operates a 'No Smoking' policy in all its workplaces, vehicles and buildings. This policy applies to foster carers in certain important respects which are described more fully below. Social workers have a responsibility to advise foster carers and new applicants of the dangers of smoking and, in particular, the specific dangers of passive smoking to babies and children. Because of this potential for harm, it is Blackburn with Darwen’s policy not to place children who are under five years of age with foster carers who smoke. Furthermore, care must be taken over placing a child aged five or older with smokers if the child has been diagnosed with any medical conditions, including disabilities that might be aggravated by smoke. This covers children who have:

  • Asthma or other breathing difficulties (or a family history of this);
  • Heart conditions;
  • Middle ear / glue ear problems;
  • Disabilities, e.g. Down’s Syndrome, cystic fibrosis;
  • Been born prematurely.

Medical advice should be sought wherever there is doubt.

Carers who smoke should be aware that the children in their care might become ill as a result of passive smoking. Children with a carer who smokes have more chest, ear, nose and throat infections than non-smokers’ children. In addition, the more cigarettes smoked at home, the greater the risk to the child. Children exposed to smoke are more likely to develop breathing problems as adults. Furthermore, children who live with smokers are more likely to take up the habit themselves, as they copy the adult behaviour and perceive smoking as the norm.

Blackburn with Darwen Council has agreed that smoking will not be permitted in any area where children are present, therefore foster carers must:

  • Never smoke around children;
  • Keep the home smoke-free;
  • Only smoke outdoors but, if this is not possible, limit smoking to one room where the children are not allowed and where windows can be opened for cross-ventilation;
  • Never smoke in the room where children sleep or allow anyone else to smoke either;
  • Never smoke while completing any activity with a child;
  • Never smoke in the car. (N.B. It is illegal to smoke in private vehicles where a person under the age of 18 is present in the vehicle.)

Young people in care should be discouraged by their carers from starting to smoke or continuing to do so. Help and advice on smoking cessation should be given to carers and young people by their respective social workers and health professionals. Cigarettes should never be bought for children or young people, even as a reward or to placate them. Carers must ensure that this policy on smoking is adhered to by other members of the household and when they are choosing babysitters or visiting friends or relatives who are smokers.

As the trend is towards placing children in smoke-free environments, carers need to be aware that, other things being equal, placements with non-smokers are likely to be preferred, which is another reason for carers to take steps to give up smoking. Where possible, children averse to smoking will be placed with carers who do not smoke.

Concerns for the health of children are not the only issue. Like anyone else, carers who smoke are putting their own health in jeopardy, which may affect their ability to actively parent children, either due to bouts of illness or more serious health problems longer term. Often, children in care have been disadvantaged in many ways and every effort should be made to minimise the risk of their losing another parental figure due to ill health, disability or even premature death (albeit that this is rare).

Information on help available to stop smoking may be provided to carers by their social worker. Information is also available from GP surgeries, school nurses or health visitors. Other useful national and local resources, including current helpline phone numbers, may be found via websites such as the NHS Smokefree website. Given how difficult it can be to stop smoking, a carer will be considered to be a non-smoker only after twelve months of not smoking.

Social workers are role models, too, therefore they are expected to adhere to this non-smoking policy, e.g. by not smoking in the presence of children and young people and not providing them with cigarettes.

E-Cigarettes

E-cigarettes are battery-powered products that typically look like real cigarettes; others look like items (e.g. pens and USB memory sticks). Each e-cigarette consists of a cartridge of liquid nicotine, the atomizer (or heating element), a rechargeable battery, and electronics. They turn nicotine, flavour and other chemicals into a vapour that is inhaled by the user. The exhaled vapour can be seen and the tip of the e-cigarette has a light emitting diode (LED) which lights when the user inhales, resembling a real cigarette. Users are therefore modelling smoking to children and young people in much the same way as they would with normal cigarettes.

E-cigarettes produce emissions that can be seen, smelled, and contain nicotine, carcinogens and other substances; however, there has been no systematic study of emissions and so the effect of passive e-smoking is unknown.

E-cigarettes are not regulated as a tobacco product or as a medicine in the UK and there is no peer reviewed evidence that they are a safe and effective nicotine replacement therapy.

The proposed benefit of e-cigarettes is to deliver nicotine without the concentrations of toxic compounds found in cigarette smoke. Their use has therefore been suggested as a harm reduction strategy. E-cigarettes have been found to contain harmful substances, and concerns have been raised about their safety. In 2009, the US Food and Drug Agency (FDA) released results of an analysis of certain electronic cigarettes. The analysis found that the e-cigarette cartridges contained carcinogens and toxic chemicals.

Analysis of two leading brands revealed:

  • Diethylene glycol (a toxic chemical) in one cartridge at approximately 1 per cent;
  • Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (which are human carcinogens) in half of the samples;
  • Tobacco-specific impurities suspected of being harmful to humans (anabasine, myosmine, and β-nicotyrine) in a majority of the samples.
See also: Smoking Policy for the Adoption and Fostering Services.

10.9 Criminal Convictions

A person who is seeking approval as a foster carer will not be considered if s/he or any adult member of the household is within the category of Disqualified Persons (Foster Carer) unless the application is to foster a child who is already living with the applicant(s) and at least one of the applicants is a relative of the child, in which case the caution/conviction will not automatically preclude the application but will be taken into account when assessing the suitability of the applicant - see Persons Disqualified from Fostering Procedure.

Other convictions will not necessarily preclude an application, but this will depend on the seriousness of the offence and how long ago it was committed. All such cases will be referred to the Fostering Service Manager who may also consult the Agency Decision Maker.

10.10 Accommodation

Applicants may own their own home or live in rented accommodation.

They will need living and sleeping accommodation appropriate to the number and ages of the children they are seeking to foster. They must be able to offer separate bedrooms for each foster child. Only in exceptional circumstances would sharing bedrooms be allowed.

It is important that the home environment is child-friendly, welcoming to children, safe and meets reasonable levels of hygiene.

All applicants will have a Health and Safety check on their home undertaken by a social worker. This will include the outdoor space, animals (including the sleeping and toileting arrangements for any pet) and the holding of any firearms. This check will be completed annually.

10.11 Child Care Experience

It is beneficial that the applicant who is going to be the main carer has some experience of 'hands-on' care of children of the age group in which the applicants are interested.

10.12 Family Contact

All applicants must be prepared to facilitate contact between any foster child and his or her parents and significant family members.


11. After the Approval

Once approved, the administrative staff will enter the foster carers' approval details, including their first review date, on the Fostering Register database (see Section 12, Register of Foster Carers) and update the electronic records. They will also send notice of the outcome to all agencies consulted during the assessment and approval process.

The foster carer will be allocated a supervising social worker, preferably the one who has undertaken their assessment - see Supervision and Support of Foster Carers Procedure. If the social worker does not know the new carer, he or she will read the BAAF Form F and the supporting documentation presented to the Fostering Panel including the references prior to introducing him or herself to the carers and arranging to meet the carers, their family and members of their support network as appropriate.

Following the approval of a foster carer a letter of ratification and the Foster Care Agreement will be sent out along with an invitation to Induction.

The supervising social worker will visit the foster carer within one week of their approval and request the foster carer to sign the Foster Care Agreement between the local authority and the foster carer, which contains the information the foster carer needs to carry out his or her functions as a foster carer effectively, ensuring that the foster carer understands its contents.

The foster carer will be given two copies for signature, and will retain one signed copy. The other will be kept on the foster carer's file, together with the report and supporting documents presented to the Fostering Panel, a copy of the Panel's recommendation and a copy of the approval decision.

The Foster Care Agreement will include the following information:

  1. The terms of the foster carer's approval;
  2. The support and training to be provided to the foster carer;
  3. The procedure for the review of the foster carer's approval;
  4. The procedure for placements of children;
  5. The arrangements for meeting legal liabilities relating to fostering;
  6. The procedure for making representations and complaints;
  7. The requirement to inform the fostering service of any change of circumstance, address or in the household composition, or of any registration as a childminder or application to adopt or of any offence;
  8. The requirements in relation to confidentiality and internet usage;
  9. The procedures for behaviour management and unauthorised absences of children placed with the foster carer including the ban on corporal punishment;
  10. The procedures for informing the supervising social worker of the child's progress and any significant events relating to the child;
  11. The need to give 28 days' notice in writing of they wish to cease fostering;
  12. The need to allow access to the Regulatory Authority.

New foster carers will also be given their personal copy of the Foster Carer's A-Z, which contains information about fostering in the local authority and covers policies, procedures, guidance, legal information and insurance details. Information about local foster carer support groups will also be provided.

New foster carers will receive an induction into the fostering role. This will discuss the Foster Care Agreement in detail and sharing information of a placement being made. The induction is part of the Training, Support and Development (TSD) Standards.

Foster carers will be assisted by their supervising social worker to review a Safe Caring Policy and Fire Plan.

The supervising social worker will continue to provide support and supervision to the foster carer up to, during and after all placements - see Supervision and Support of Foster Carers Procedure and ensure that they understand the need to undertake Disclosure and Barring Service and other checks and assessments on any new member of the household - see Section 13, Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances - and the need for repeat DBS checks on themselves every three years (unless they have subscribed to the Disclosure and Barring Service Update Service) - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.


12. Register of Foster Carers

A register of all approved foster carers will be maintained by the fostering service containing the following particulars:

  1. The name, address, date of birth, sex and ethnic origin of each foster carer;
  2. The date of approval and of each review of the approval;
  3. The category and current terms of the approval;
  4. The name, address, date of birth of each person with whom a child is placed under Regulation 24 (Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010) who is a relative or friend (but not an approved Family and Friends Foster Carer) and who has entered an agreement to provide care for the child placed, together with the date and terms of the agreement.

Once approved, the administrative staff will be informed and will enter the foster carers' approval details, including their first review date, on the Fostering Register database.


13. Changes in the Foster Carer's Household or Circumstances

The supervising social worker will ensure that any newly approved foster carer is clear about his or her responsibility to notify the fostering service before any change in the composition of their household occurs or where there is any significant change in their circumstances which affects their fostering, for example any new relationship, pregnancy or bereavement.

If the supervising social worker discovers that there has been a change in the foster carer's household without prior notice, the manager must be informed and an immediate review of the foster carer's approval must be convened - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure. In these circumstances, a suspension of the foster carer's approval may have to be considered at the review.

13.1 Foster Carer's Partners

Where the proposed new member of the household is a partner of the foster carer, there will be a presumption that he or she will have a part to play in caring for any child in the placement and therefore a full Form F assessment of his or her suitability for this role must be completed before the partner moves into the foster home. The same procedure for this assessment will be carried out as for any foster carer applicant and it will be presented to the Fostering Panel and the Agency Decision Maker (Fostering) in accordance with the preceding paragraphs of this chapter. There will be no presumption that any such assessment will be approved.

Pending the completion of the full assessment, where the foster carer wishes his/her partner to stay overnight before the full assessment is completed, a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) enhanced check must be carried out, and a risk assessment must also be completed to determine the level of additional checks required, before agreement to overnight stays can be given. The risk assessment should take account of, amongst other things, the number and ages of the children in the placement, their views about the foster carer's partner, the significance and stability of the relationship (including how long they have known each other) and the foster carer's history of fostering. Any agreement to overnight stays must be endorsed by the Fostering Service Manager.

13.2 Other Members of the Household

Where a foster carer proposes that any person will join the household, notice must be given before this occurs in sufficient time to enable a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) enhanced check to be carried out on the relevant person and an assessment at the appropriate level to be undertaken. The required detail of the assessment will depend on the extent to which the new member of the household will undertake a caring role in relation to any child placed. Where the new member of the household will play a part in caring for the child in the placement, consideration will be given to the need for a full Form F assessment as for any new partner of the foster carer. Otherwise, the assessment will be considered at a Foster Carer Review which should be convened to consider the change in the foster carer's circumstances - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure. This will determine whether any change to the foster carer's terms of approval is required and if so, a report to the Fostering Panel will be prepared.

For Exemptions to the usual limit of three children and Alterations or other Extensions to Approval, see Exemptions to the Limit of Children in Foster Homes Procedure.

See also Foster Care Agreement Procedure.

End