- Leaving Care
- Permanent Fostering or Adoption
- Preparation of the Child
- Linking Meetings and Matching Panels
- Child’s Planning Meetings for Introductions
- The Aim of an Introduction
- Length of Introduction
- Patterns of Introduction
- Moving the Child
- Placement Breakdowns and Disruptions
- Disruption Meetings
- LAAC Review
- Foster Carer Review Following Disruption
- Permanent Care for Children and Young People
The following shows a brief summary of the placement and transition process.
Fostering placements may end for a variety of reasons. In some cases children may be rehabilitated with their birth parents or placed with another family member (kinship care). Young people may reach an age where they decide to return to their families or move to some other form of accommodation. Some children will leave foster placements because a permanent or adoptive family has been identified for them. In some cases a placement has to be brought to an end because it is no longer sustainable and is said to have either broken down or disrupted.
Children who have been separated from their families for a lengthy period will need a gradual reintroduction with close monitoring by social workers to ensure that it is safe for the child to return. Depending on the age of the child and the length of time they have been accommodated, this can be a confusing and upsetting experience for the child and it is not unusual for their behaviour to regress.
Preparation for leaving care can be a frightening prospect for young people, especially those who cannot return to their families and who have little or no support in the community. These young people are some of the most vulnerable, and they are at great risk of homelessness and exploitation. Foster carers have a major role in preparing young people to move on to independent living.
The feelings of foster carers when children move on will vary, and for many the experience will simply be the culmination of their role with that child, and they will be content to see the child move on with robust child’s planning. However, many children will have had lengthy placements during which they and the foster carers will have formed a strong, healthy attachment. Grief, and a sense of loss are the understandable consequences in these situations.
Preparation of the child should be geared towards their age and level of understanding. For older children, there is an expectation that life story work will have begun before a family was identified for them, so that they will have some sense of who they are in relation to their birth family, why they cannot be with them and why they have to move on from their current carers. It is the responsibility of the child’s social worker to co-ordinate life story work but foster carers have an equally important role because the child may want to talk when the worker has gone, or there may be behavioural repercussions which the carer needs to manage.
When a permanent or adoptive family has been identified for the child, a formal meeting – a linking meeting – will be held to discuss their suitability. Foster carers will have an opportunity to attend part of the meeting in order to give their view of the needs of the child. They cannot be present for the part which discusses personal details about the proposed adoptive family, but their worker should have shared non-confidential information with them at an earlier stage. If the meeting agrees to link the child with the proposed adoptive family, the case is then discussed at an adoption or fostering panel.
When the matching has been approved, a Child’s Planning meeting will be held, and will include the child’s current carers and the new family, together with their workers. This meeting will discuss how and when the child will be told and how they will be introduced to the new family. The intention is to ensure that everyone is clear about the process and what is expected of them.
The aim is to make a gradual transfer of the child’s attachments from the foster carers to the prospective adopters and from the child’s current home to their new placement. It is also a transfer of the parenting role from the foster carers to the prospective adopters. There are some aspects of the process which are common to all introductions, but there will be variations depending on the age and level of understanding of the child. The paramount consideration is that the child has to feel safe and supported at all times.
The length of introduction depends mainly on the age of the child, but some individuals may need longer than others. For very young babies, the process should not take longer than 3 days: a short visit on day 1, followed by a discussion between the couple and their social worker to confirm that they want to proceed. On day 2 they will have a longer visit and the child can be moved on the following day.
Children who have a healthy attachment to their foster carers are likely to be shy at the first meeting and should be allowed to control the pace at which they approach the adopters. It helps if the adopters bring one or two toys with them, which they leave with the child. The visits will get longer and perhaps on the second or third visit will begin to include short outings with the prospective adopters. Again, this has to be at the pace of the child, and with involvement of the foster carers, who can withdraw as they see the child becoming more comfortable. During the visit, the adopters will become more involved in sharing the care of the child with the foster carers. This gives the message to the child that the adopters are people to be trusted, and also that this is a different kind of relationship from that which they have with most visitors to the home.
For children who are subject to a Supervision Order a Children’s Hearing will be necessary in order to change the place of residence. It is preferable if the child does not have to attend the Hearing, but the Panel may not agree to dispense with their presence. If the child has attended, and the move has been agreed, the child should nevertheless return to their foster home before moving to the adoptive family. Children should never be ‘handed over’ after a Hearing. They should also not be moved late in the day when they are tired and needing their own bed. It is better that the adopters collect the child early on the following day with only the foster carer and supporting social worker present. The move should be managed quietly and not be protracted, but the adopters should contact the foster carers the next day to let them know how the child has settled.
The Family Placement Team and the care team around any child have a paramount duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child. There is a strong focus on the child’s health and well-being needs, as defined in the SHANARRI indicators. Argyll & Bute Council in seeking to deliver a high quality fostering service, strives to ensure that every child secures stability and continuity of care. Placement moves, breakdowns and disruptions in foster care can be distressing and at times traumatic for the child and the foster family. While we can never completely eradicate such difficulties, it is imperative that continuity of care for every child who enters foster care is highly protected. Ideally, when placements end it should be in a way which is planned and is as positive for the child as possible. The transition should be in keeping with the Child’s Plan.
Disruption is defined as the premature ending of an adoption or permanent fostering placement. It could also occur during the introduction of a child to prospective adopters or foster carers.
Disruptions are not isolated events, but part of a process. There will usually have been indicators that the placement was in difficulty, possibly over a very long period of time. Workers and carers need to make sure that they communicate well with one another, because this is the only way to ensure problems are shared and supports put in place. The placement might still disrupt, but it is more likely that people will be able to work together to mitigate the worst effects.
When a placement has disrupted, a meeting should be held to look at the reasons for it happening. Everyone who was involved in the placement will be invited to the meeting, although the child does not usually attend. The workers will submit written reports, and both child and carers may be asked to complete a form giving their comments about the placement. The meeting should be used constructively, and in a way which helps the child’s worker to plan for the future of the child. The minutes of this meeting will be presented to the Approval and Matching (Adoption and Fostering) Panel so that they also will have the opportunity to discuss the placement and the reasons for the disruption.
Following the disruption meeting there will be a LAAC review for the child to plan for their future. The former carers may be asked to attend especially if they feel able to play a different role in the child’s life.
There will also be a Foster Care Review to look at the effect that the placement and subsequent disruption have had on the child, the carers and their family, and to make recommendations about their future as foster carers.
For those children and young people where it is assessed that an alternative family setting is the most appropriate environment for them to live, grow and develop successfully, they should be cared for within a safe and nurturing family and have the opportunity to develop security in relationships. This is an aspiration which most good parents have for their children and this is also the Argyll & Bute Council’s hope for all children and young people. The service works with children, young people, their families and other partners to help achieve this goal. When a child is looked after, every effort will be made to enable them to grow up within their birth family network or with other adults with whom they have an attachment, where this is possible and in their best interests. The views of children will be respected; their race, religion, linguistic and cultural heritage will be considered in the Child’s Plan. The paramount consideration in all decision-making is the child’s welfare and best interests throughout life. When it has been assessed as unlikely that the child will be able to return to the care of their birth family network, Argyll & Bute Council has a responsibility to consider other plans for their permanent care.
Child’s Planning and Decision Making for Permanent Care
Most children and young people are placed in foster care with a view to being returned home. When assessment has ruled this out, or placement with parents or others have not worked out, children / young people will be assessed in relation to their longer term care. Any recommendation about permanence will be made through a Looked After Child Review and then a Permanence Planning Meeting. The child’s social worker and their team leader have to prepare considerable assessment information, detailed in a Permanence report with recommendations as to the best outcomes for the child that would achieve permanence, including exploring in detail all the legal options that would best meet the childs’ needs. Legal services review this report and provide a key report with recommendations in respect of permanence.
Permanence and Contact
It will be in the best interests of many children and young people to maintain some direct or indirect (e.g., by letter) contact with relatives or others who have played an important part in their lives. The purpose of contact, when a child is placed permanently away from their birth parents, is primarily to acknowledge their past, promote and enable an understanding of their origins and encourage a positive sense of their ethnic and cultural identity.
Every effort will be made to place sibling groups of children together. Where this is not possible or appropriate, efforts will be made to maintain and promote ongoing contact between them. This includes siblings and half siblings born after the adoption or permanent placement.
As with other permanence decisions, the decision to place or not to place siblings together, or for some exceptional reason not to promote their lifelong relationship through contact, must be made by the Agency Decision Maker or Head of Service.
There are a variety of legal routes to securing permanent care arrangements for children and young people. Factors to consider when choosing the most appropriate route will be:
- Age of the child
- Needs of the child
- Cultural, religious, linguistic heritage
- Current placement
- Childs’ views and wishes
- Parents’ views
- The best interests of the child
The chosen route will be a decision of a Permanence Review Meeting held under agency Looked After and Accommodated Child procedures (2007).
Permanent Care – Preparation of Children and Young People
It is the role of the child’s social worker, in collaboration with others such as the child’s current foster carers, to ensure that the child has adequate preparation for moving on to their permanent placement. Guidance on helping children and young people move on is available for foster carers from social workers, but in any event this work would be part of the Child’s Plan, which should make clear the role of the foster carer in any transition work with the child.