Matching Children with Permanent Foster Carers

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

See also: The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review.

This chapter was added to the manual in January 2019, it is originally from the Northumberland Fostering and Adoption Services Manual and has been updated.

1. Purpose

Where at all possible, children should be afforded the opportunity to secure legal permanence within their wider family, through residency or special guardianship or through adoption. Though permanent fostering does not give legal permanence it can afford for some young people the opportunity for security and stability and to enjoy family life. The role permanent fostering plays in achieving a degree of permanence is set out in the Council's Permanence Strategy.

This policy sets out the process for the matching of children who are already fostered to best achieve permanence through permanent fostering.

Where placement with a foster carer is assessed as the best way to meet duties to safeguard and promote a child's welfare, these procedures describe how the Family Placement Service will identify and co-ordinate the matching process when a child comes into care, and any subsequent change of placement to ensure:

  • The child is matched with foster carers who have the skills to effectively safeguard and promote a child's welfare;
  • Siblings are kept together where they wish to be together and it is consistent with their needs, and within a locality which helps them keep in touch with friends and family, unless exceptionally the assessment of individual children identifies the need to place separately;
  • In placements which do not disrupt a child's education or training (a change of school in year 9 will only be agreed with senior management approval);
  • Placements are sought that reflect a child's culture, ethnicity, sexual orientation, language and religion in order to enhance their sense of identity. However children will not be left waiting for a specific match for a prolonged period.

These procedures should be read in conjunction with Care Planning Procedures which detail the procedures to be followed by social workers to prepare, monitor and review a care plan, which includes the placement plan for foster care.

Matching When Children Become Looked After

The Placements in Foster Care Procedure must be followed when first referring and placing a child in a foster placement.

Matching Children for Permanency in Foster Placement

Connected Persons (Friends and Family)

Assessment of family and friends carers who have temporary approval for a specific child under regulation 24, which is expected to last longer than 16 weeks.

See Family and Friends Care Guide - to follow

2. Matching of Children with Long Term Foster Carers Procedure

2.1 Assessment and Matching for Permanent Fostering with Approved Connected Persons (Relatives and Friends) Foster Carers

Connected Persons foster carers will initially be approved by Fostering Panel as time limited carers for a named child/ren. A decision should be made at the Child's LAC review about the permanency plan for the child. The foster carers Family Placement Social Worker should be included in this review. Once it is established that the Permanence Plan for the child is to remain with the connected persons on a looked after basis (i.e. not on any other legal basis such as Special Guardianship), then the fostering assessment will be updated and the matter referred to Fostering Panel to consider a recommendation to change the foster carers terms of approval to Long Term Connected persons Foster carers.

The re-assessment will consider the suitability of the placement to meet the children's needs for permanence. The re-assessment should be undertaken by the a Family Placement Social Worker other than the social allocated to the connected persons. It should be completed and considered by Fostering Panel within 4 months of the permanence decision.

2.2 Approval of a Plan for Permanence Through Permanent Fostering

Where a LAC review or other planning meeting has identified a permanence plan for the child through Permanent fostering the Agency Decision Maker (ADM) must agree the plan. No Permanent fostering arrangement can be brought to Fostering panel for a match without this decision first being made.

This will happen through the following process:

  1. Where there is a change of plan from Adoption to Permanent fostering
    The ADM will be provided with the original CPR, a Family Finding report and minutes of the LAC Review that recommended a change of plan. The ADM will need to be satisfied that fostering is now the most appropriate route for permanence for the child;
  2. Where the child has had no previous plan for adoption
    The Fostering Panel must first consider the child's suitability for Permanent fostering and make a recommendation that is followed by a decision by the ADM. The allocated social worker for the child must submit a report to the fostering panel to consider the child's suitability for permanence.

2.3 Permanent Fostering and Independent Fostering Agency (IFA) Placements

The same process for approval of suitability for permanent fostering applies regardless of where a child is placed (see Section 2.2, Approval of a Plan for Permanence through Permanent Fostering).

No plan for permanency with existing short term IFA carers as Permanent Foster Carers can be progressed without first having the permanency plan agreed by the Senior Manager for the child's Social Worker. Once this and the associated funding have been agreed the matching process below must be followed:

  • Where the child's existing IFA foster carers cannot provide permanent fostering then the usual process as detailed below for Family Finding will be followed;
  • Other than for children whose plan it is to remain with existing IFA foster carers, no family finding through IFA's can take place until the Senior Manager for the child's Social Worker has approved the funding and search;
  • Where a child is placed on a time limited with IFA foster carers and requires a different permanent placement. Family Finding within Northumberland's in house service must be perused before approval for family finding from another agency can take place. However, to prevent unnecessary delay a timescale for in-house family finding should be set at the beginning of the process.

It is the child's Social Workers responsibility to:

  1. Seek Senior Manager approval to identify and fund a permanent IFA placement;
  2. Make a referral to the Referral and Placements Co-ordinator. Emailing the form to placements@northumberland.gov.uk;
  3. A family finder will be allocated once the child's Social Worker has completed and returned a referral for a permanent foster placement to the Referral and Placements Co-ordinator. Emailing the form to placements@northumberland.gov.uk.

2.4 Referral to Fostering Panel that Permanent fostering is the Appropriate Plan for the Child

Family finding for children 12 years old or younger should be undertaken to establish a degree of stability and permanence. Older young people may also benefit from permanent fostering, though for most, task-centred fostering may be more appropriate to their needs.

A care planning meeting/LAC review is held which makes the child's plan for permanent fostering (as per Care Planning procedures). The role of the Family Placement Social Worker in the meeting is to ensure all the team are aware of the procedures and timescales to be followed.

Where the child is placed with Northumberland foster carers, the Family Placement Social Worker should notify the Assistant Manager in the Supervision and Support Team of the decision and the matter should be placed on the Fostering Panel Forward Agenda.

Where a child is in an IFA placement it will be the child's Social Workers responsibility to refer the child to the Assistant Manager of the need to place the child on the Fostering Panel Forward Agenda.

The child's Social Worker will complete a report for permanent fostering for the Fostering Panel to consider.

2.5 Family Finding Process

A designated Social Worker for Long Term Fostering from the Family Placement Service will be allocated to support the family finding process. The children requiring Long Term Fostering will be reviewed at the weekly resource meeting in an effort to identify any approved carers or carer's currently undergoing assessment.

Where a child is placed with Northumberland Foster Carers then the designated worker from the Fostering Team will be allocated to family find. Where an alternative permanent placement is needed it will usually be the Family Placement Worker for the carers currently looking after the child supported by the designated social worker for long term fostering. that will complete the task

Where a child is placed with short term IFA foster carers the above process will be followed. 

The designated social worker for long term fostering will coordinate all information regarding potential matches and review these, sending appropriate profiles to the child's Social Worker for consideration. The designated social worker will also send out the child's profile to the social worker for completion and will then share with prospective long term carers.

Where potential matches are identified the child's Social Worker and the designated long term fostering social worker will make arrangements to meet the potential foster carers, read assessment information and meet with the assessing workers and IFA workers as appropriate.

If the child's Social Worker decides not to proceed with the possible match at the conclusion of visits, the reasons should be clear and noted on the child's ICS record. The process should be repeated until a suitable match is identified.

The need for a permanent placement which meets the child's identity needs should be seen as the priority and where it is not possible to match a child within the locality within 6 weeks of referral, other potential matches should be explored and attention given to how a new family meet the child's cultural needs.

The Family Placement Service will set time scales on searching for a sibling placement. If the search is unsuccessful decisions will be reviewed and consideration given to the priorities of a permanent placement for individual needs of the children.

Once a potential match has been identified the matching process will be followed (see Section 2.6, Matching Process).

2.6 Matching Process

Matching existing Northumberland time limited foster carers

This procedure will be followed where the child was approved by the Agency Decision Maker or by the fostering panel as suitable for permanent fostering. and It will be agreed at the child's LAC Review or planning meeting it is in the best interest of the child to remain on a permanent basis with their existing in-house Northumberland foster carers and the foster carers wish to provide permanency for the child.

The carers will attend the 2 day long term training programme and will complete a workbook. The allocated supervising social worker will then complete the analysis of the information in the workbook. This will then be sent to the Fostering Team Manager for their comments. The Fostering Team Manager will complete an ADM report recommending adding Long Term Carers to the carers current approval status.

A Matching Matrix for Permanent Fostering will be prepared jointly by the Family Placement Social Worker and the child's Social Worker. A matching meeting will then be held and the procedure followed as below.

A Matching Matrix for Permanent Fostering will be prepared jointly by the Family Placement Social Worker and the child's Social Worker.

A matching meeting will then be held and the procedure followed as below.

3. Matching with Existing IFA Carers

This procedure will be followed where the child was approved by the Agency Decision Maker or by the fostering panel as suitable for permanent fostering. I will be agreed at a child's LAC Review or planning meeting that it is in the best interest of a child to remain on a permanent basis with their existing IFA foster carers and the foster carers wish to provide permanency for the child on a fostering basis.

The child's Social Worker must have gained approval to fund any match with an IFA on a long term basis from the High level Resource Panel. (See Section 2.5, Family Finding Process). If necessary, it will be the IFA's responsibility to assess the foster carers and refer them to their own Fostering Panel to revise their terms of approval to permanent fostering.

A Matching Matrix Permanent fostering will be prepared jointly by the IFA Family Placement Social Worker and the child's Social Worker. A Matching Meeting will then be held and the procedure followed as below.

4. Matching Meeting

A Matching Meeting will be held chaired by the Northumberland Family Placement Manager or Assistant Manager. The meeting will be attended by the child's Social Worker, the Assessing worker, the allocated Family Placement Worker, the Foster carers and any other relevant person for the child.

The following reports will be available to the meeting:

  • The Child's Social Work Report/the updated Children's Permanence Report;
  • Matching Matrix;
  • Permanent fostering Assessment.

In all cases, the foster carers should have read all the reports submitted for the proposed match in advance of the meeting. If any issues arise from this information that are of concern for the foster carers, the meeting will be postponed or cancelled if necessary, to allow for the opportunity for the foster carers to meet and discuss these concerns with the relevant social workers. A decision will then be reached about whether to continue with the match and reschedule the matching meeting.

The meeting will consider the suitability of the match, including:

  • The priority needs of child and how these are to be met in a long term placement;
  • Review the prospective permanent carers suitability for this potential matching, including any previous proposed matches and their outcome;
  • Identify the strengths and weaknesses within the match;
  • Identify any factors that may potentially disrupt a placement and how to minimise their impact;
  • Develop a support plan for the placement identifying necessary support services, including finance.
The chairperson will prepare a report of the meeting which will be provided to the Fostering Panel with the other reports.

5. Matching at Fostering Panel and Post Match Approval

The match should be presented to the Northumberland Fostering Panel with the following reports:

  • Updated Child's Social Worker Report for permanent fostering or the Children's Permanence Report, with minutes of panel that accepted child;
  • Foster Carers Assessment for Permanent Fostering Matching Matrix;
  • Record of the Matching Meeting;
  • Previous Panel minutes and recommendations in relation to the approval of the carers;
  • Original Foster Carers Assessment (for reference only);
  • Any other information requested by the Fostering Panel.

The Fostering Panel will consider the reports and will make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker about whether the child/young person should be matched with the carers.

At this point, the role of the Family Finder/ends and is taken over by the prospective foster carers Family Placement Social Worker unless the match is not approved.

The carer's Family Placement Social Worker should contact them with the decision from the Agency Decision Maker about whether the proposed placement has been agreed within 2 working days.