It is a requirement of the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, and the Fostering Services: National Minimum Standards 2011, that each Fostering Service produces a Statement of Purpose, including its aims and objectives, and a description of the services and facilities it provides.
This statement of purpose covers the period from 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2021. It is a key document against which the Fostering Service is inspected by Ofsted and is formally reviewed and approved by the Cabinet Member for Children, Education and Early Help and the Executive Director of People - Children on an annual basis.
Dorset Council's Fostering Service is part of Care and Support within the Children's Services Directorate. The outcomes for children and young people, which underpins every aspect of the work within Children’s Services, are for them to:
The aim of Dorset Council Children's Services Directorate and the Fostering Service is to promote the wellbeing and development of each child and young person in care throughout his or her childhood.
- recruit foster carers with an ability to keep children and young people safe, and with the skills to meet a wide range of physical, social and emotional needs to promote good outcomes for all children and young people
- assess the suitability of connected persons who seek to foster children and young people they know
- implement the Training, Support and Development Standards (TSDS) for all foster carers and ensure all foster carers are provided with training and development opportunities to enable them to gain sufficient skills and knowledge to care for children
- provide a skills based fees scheme with a clear skills and competency framework which sets out the expectations for foster carers and offers a career progression pathway
- promote anti-discriminatory practice throughout the service by means of training and by challenging discrimination from any source, so that children and young people in care can be protected from prejudice
- provide a range of placements that can meet children and young people’s needs and focus on good short-term and long-term outcomes through:
- emergency placements
- short breaks
- short-term placements
- parent and child placements
- permanent placements via special guardianship, long-term foster care, and placement with connected persons who are the friends or extended family members of the child and young person
- promote children and young people’s physical, social, emotional and intellectual development through the provision of good physical and emotional health care, active educational support, and opportunities for leisure and cultural activities
- ensure that the voice of children and young people is heard through providing them with access to advocacy, to the Comments, Compliments and Complaints procedure, and to the Children in Care Council
- ensure that children and young people are able to actively participate and contribute to their children in care statutory review, the foster carer annual review, other consultation processes, and that their feedback is listened to and acted upon
- provide sufficient placements to enable children and young people who need foster care to be placed close to their birth family, for siblings to be placed together if appropriate, and to provide choice to facilitate good matching
- continue to develop the short break scheme to enable children and young people who are disabled to access short breaks when they need them, in order that they can be supported to grow up successfully within their birth family
- provide young people in foster placements with the option of ‘staying put’ to enable them to remain in their foster placement beyond their eighteenth birthday, so they continue to be supported in their transition to adulthood
- work in partnership with children and young people, parents, other family members, foster carers, fostering social workers, and other involved professionals from Children’s Services and other agencies, to ensure a common and consistent focus on successful outcomes for children and young people in care and care leavers
- ensure children and young people are able to keep in contact with their birth family, and are able to maintain their family, religious, and cultural ties, provided this is safe
- maximise stability of placements through effective matching of carers and children, permanence planning, and the provision of support to children, young people and foster carers. Where we identify difficulties that impact on the success of the placement we call a stability meeting so that we can implement specific support to enable the placement to continue successfully
- minimise delay in achieving long term placement outcomes for children and young people through proactive permanence planning
Management and staffing of the Fostering Service
Management and staff in the Fostering Service are:
- Theresa Leavy: Executive Director of People - Children
- Alison Montgomery: Corporate Director of Care and Protection
- Ian Smith : Interim Service Manager Placements and Resources
- Rebecca Holmes: Operational Manager Permanency
Fostering Service Team Managers are:
- Louise Buchanan: Pre-Approval Team
- Jeanne James: Post-Approval West
- Richard Mann: Post-Approval East
The Agency (Panel) Adviser is Teresa Millard.
The Business Support Manager is Karen Hunter.
The Fostering Service currently consists of 3 teams:
- our Pre-Approval Team is managed by Louise Buchanan and it has the full-time equivalent of 6 Assessing Social Workers whose main task is to complete fostering assessments (mainstream, and Connected Persons)
- the Regional Adoption Agency (RAA) Aspire completes Special Guardianship Assessments on behalf of Dorset Council
- the task of recruitment of foster carers has been outsourced to Whitehead Ross Education Consultancy (WREC). Their role is to undertake recruitment campaigns in liaison with the Fostering Service and Dorset Council’s Communications Team, to respond promptly to enquiries from people interested in becoming foster carers, and to undertake Initial Assessment Visits before passing these on to the Fostering Service for quality assurance and full assessment
The Post-Approval Teams are geographically based in the east and west of the county and are managed by Richard Mann and Jeanne James.
The East Post-Approval Team has the full-time equivalent of 6 Supervising Social Workers and the West has the full-time equivalent of 5 Supervising Social Workers as the sixth Social Worker in this Team is a full-time Family Finder, seeking, and matching to, permanent placements in foster care for looked after children and young people.
Ian Smith, the interim Service Manager Placements and Resources, is our Agency Decision Maker (ADM) for all new approvals, matching to long-term foster placements and foster carer reviews which have been to our Fostering and Permanence Panel.
Rebecca Holmes, the Operational Manager, is the delegated ADM for internally held annual reviews.
Fostering and Permanence Panel
A Fostering and Permanence Panel scrutinises the fostering assessments undertaken by the Fostering Service and recommends whether approval of an application should be granted, and the terms on which the approval should be given.
The Fostering and Permanence Panel also scrutinises the first annual review carried out on newly approved foster carers, reviews which follow from the conclusion of the managing allegations procedure, reviews which request changes of approval, and reviews conducted on a three-yearly cycle in conjunction with the renewal in the foster carer’s DBS and medical examination. All other reviews are conducted internally.
The Fostering and Permanence Panel recommends whether or not the foster carer remains suitable to continue fostering and, if so, whether the terms of approval remain appropriate or need to be varied. The Panel also oversees the matching of children and young people with approved long-term foster carers where there is a plan for permanency in foster care.
The Fostering and Permanence Panel is advised on operational matters by the Agency Adviser, Teresa Millard. The independent Chairperson of the Fostering and Permanence Panel is Frances Thompson.
Placements provided by the Fostering Service
All foster carers are approved to foster children aged 0 to 18 or 5 to 18 years, with an identified preferred age range (an age they are currently most experienced to foster). They are also approved for a set number of children and for specified genders.
Dorset Council operates a skills based scheme which has 4 levels linked to a skills and competency framework. It also sets out the practice requirements, training and development expectations and support group attendance requirements at each level:
- Level 1 carers are newly approved mainstream foster carers and Connected Persons
- Level 2 Skilled carers are both mainstream and Connected Persons who have been approved for a year, have completed their Training, Support and Development Standards workbook, induction and mandatory training and have gained experience in providing quality foster placements
- Level 3 Advanced carers are Connected Person and mainstream foster carers who are experienced at providing successful placements for children and young people with more complex needs, including challenging behaviour and disabilities, and have attended and implemented relevant training as evidenced in their Personal Development Plan.
- Level 4 Specialist carers have evidenced the highest level of experience, skills and competencies and have a more demanding range of tasks that they must undertake, for example, parent and child placements, placements for young people with high risk-taking behaviours, placements for children with the highest level of disabilities. In return they are paid the highest level of fee.
Foster carers can progress to the next level if they are able to evidence that they have met the criteria for that level. Foster carers are paid a fee at the Skill Level they are assessed as meeting, alongside an age-related All-Inclusive Allowance.
Foster carers are approved to offer care for one or more of the following ‘tasks’:
Mainstream short-term foster placements offering temporary full-time care are provided for children and young people who may be returning to their own families, or who are moving to alternative placement options including permanent placements such as long-term fostering, adoption or special guardianship.
Short-term care provides the opportunity to assess the needs of the child/young person and prepare them for their return home or for their move to a permanent placement. The duration can vary according to the needs of the child or young person and each child and young person’s journey in achieving permanence will be different.
Long-term or permanent fostering
Long-term or permanent fostering for children and young people who cannot return to their own families, and where adoption or special guardianship are not considered a suitable option, a mainstream permanent care arrangement can be achieved through long-term fostering.
The role of the carer is to offer a nurturing environment with the potential for the young person to remain with their foster family beyond their eighteenth birthday under ‘Staying Put’ arrangements.
Short or long-term placements provided for specific named children and young people known to the carer.
Short breaks (also known as respite care)
Foster carers who offer short, time-limited breaks for children with additional needs to their families or other foster carers.
Parent and child fostering
Parent and child placements offer the opportunity for parents to continue to be the primary carer for their child in a foster placement whilst a full assessment of their parenting capacity is undertaken.
The foster carer will contribute towards the parenting assessment as well as provide supervision and support to the parents and direct care to the child in the event that the parent is unable to do so. These placements are time limited. The foster carers will be Level 4 carers.
Children and Young People who are Disabled (CWAD)
The Fostering Service provides short breaks, short-term and long-term care placements for children and young people who are disabled.
There are 3 levels of placement type within this scheme which reflect both the needs of the child or young person and the level of care required from the foster carer. Specialist training of foster carers will be provided to meet the needs of the children and young people within these placements, for example:
- moving and handling
- use of equipment suitable to the child and young person’s needs
CWAD Level 1
CWAD Level 1 relates to those children and young people with a lower level of needs who may require assistance with mobility, personal care, communication, supervision and/or their health needs and medical condition. The foster carers can be Level 1 or 2 (or above).
CWAD Level 2
CWAD Level 2 relates to children and young people with specific and moderate levels of need who may require assistance with mobility and communication, support and constant supervision in personal care and education, and full support to manage their safety, health needs and medical condition. Specific training for foster carers may be necessary in medical and health procedures, communication methods, equipment and in areas such as moving and handling. The foster carers are likely to be at Level 2 or Level 3.
CWAD Level 3
CWAD Level 3 relates to children and young people who have the highest level of needs and require full support and supervision in all aspects of their care. These children and young people require the highest level of skills as they have complex needs requiring specialised health and care training. The foster carers will need to be at Level 3 or 4.
The Fostering Service has a number of foster carers who are able to provide short-term emergency placements for children and young people who, for a variety of reasons, need to be accommodated at short notice, including out of office hours.
There are occasions where a child or young person cannot be matched to a foster placement which fully meets their needs, for example where:
- a child has just come into care and his/her needs are not fully known
- a child has to be moved within a short timescale from a placement and an alternative suitable match is not immediately available
- a suitable match has been identified but the placement is not immediately available
On these occasions, the child will be placed in a ‘bridging placement’. The matching process will identify both the positives and the gaps in the placement and how the gaps will be met. An active search will remain in place to find a more suitable placement.
Early permanence or Foster to Adopt
Early permanence carers are approved adopters who have been prepared and assessed as suitable to undertake a temporary fostering role for a specific child and will then go on to adopt the child if the court decides that adoption should be the plan for that child.
At the time the child is placed with the family there is still a chance they might be reunited with their birth family. If the court decides that the child's future is best protected by adoption, the child already has a secure attachment to their carers who are now able to adopt the child.
Early permanence carers are allocated a Fostering Social Worker, along with their Adoption Social Worker and are paid a fostering allowance until the court has made their decision about the adoption.
Independent Fostering Agency placements
The Children's Services Directorate also commissions placements from independent fostering agencies to ensure positive and good matches are made for children and young people with foster carers. The Directorate will ensure that these agencies are registered and appropriately approved by Ofsted. The most recent Inspection Report provided by Ofsted will be carefully checked before making a placement.
In-house fostering services provided
Fostering social work support
Every approved foster carer is allocated a supervising social worker who will provide supervision, support and guidance to the carer. It is the role of the supervising social worker to ensure that the standard of foster care provided meets the needs of the children and young people in their care and contributes positively to the achievement of successful outcomes for them.
Fostering social workers facilitate support groups for foster carers and ensure that foster carers are accessing appropriate training, have successfully completed their TSDS workbook following their approval, and are maintaining their own Personal Development Portfolios to evidence their skills level.
The fostering social workers will also prepare the required documentation for the foster carer’s annual review.
Social work support for the Looked After Child or young person
Every child in care has an allocated social worker. The social worker has the overall responsibility for the child’s wellbeing whilst in foster care, and for ensuring that the outcomes on the child’s Care Plan, or young person’s Pathway Plan, are being achieved.
The social worker is required to visit the child or young person in placement in line with statutory guidance and to maintains links with the family of the child. When visiting the child or young person in placement, the social worker will see them alone, and with the carers, and will need to see their bedroom.
Independent Reviewing Officers
All children and young people in care are allocated an Independent Reviewing Officer. They are qualified and experienced social workers who are independent of the case management structure.
Their role is to chair the Looked After Children Reviews which occur within 20 working days of the child becoming looked after, the second review is held within three months (90 days) of the initial review and after this the reviews are six monthly, unless a significant change suggests that the review should be brought forward. The purpose is to:
- review the Care Plan for the child
- ensure that plans are child centred and take account of the wishes and feelings of the child, parents, other key relatives and professionals
- ensure plans are being implemented and are progressing towards identified outcomes
The review also focuses on the quality of care provided to each child, whether the placement is meeting the child’s needs, and considers the Permanence Plan for the child and the question of whether there is a continuing need for the child to be looked after.
Support for Care Leavers
The 13 to 25 Team is responsible for children and young people who are care leavers.
The Pathway Plan, which details how the young person will be supported towards independence and adulthood, is written following their last statutory Review before their sixteenth birthday.
The young person is allocated a Personal Advisor who will work with them from their sixteenth birthday until the age of 21 and, in some circumstances until their twenty-fifth birthday.
The Personal Advisor can provide advice and support on a number of subjects including:
- health and wellbeing
- education, training and employment
- financial matters
The Team oversees the Supported Lodgings scheme whereby a young person rents a room in a family (or individual’s) home and they support the young person to gain the skills needed for them to live independently.
The Team will also support young people to remain with their foster carer, if they and the foster carer agree to this, under ‘Staying Put’ arrangements. The Team have links with supported housing providers and can also support a young person to live in their own accommodation if they wish to do this.
All initial health assessments are undertaken by one of Dorset’s specialist paediatricians for children and young people in care. They complete and monitor health care plans, and make referrals to specialist services where required. Subsequent health reviews are undertaken by the health visitor for children under 5 or by the Specialist Nurses for children over the age of 5.
Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS)
This service offers therapeutic support to children and young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties. This may be via the CAMHS social worker, psychologist, or other therapeutic specialists. Psychiatric input is available for more severe mental health difficulties. Specialist advice, consultation, and support is also offered directly to foster carers and fostering social workers by two psychologists attached to the Fostering Service on a part-time basis.
Foster carers are expected to act as an advocate and good ‘parent’ in supporting children and young people in placement to achieve good school attendance, assist them with their homework and, together with parents, participate in Parent-Teacher events at the school, especially where young people are moving from one Key Stage to another; transferring from primary to secondary school; deciding on GCSE options and making other important decisions such as sixth form and college applications.
Dorset Virtual School
Dorset has a specialist team of workers from the ‘Virtual School’ who ensure that the particular needs of the looked after child are prioritised through Personal Education Plans (PEPs).
Staff from the Virtual School ensure that looked after children’s readiness for learning is assessed, their progress monitored, and also that there is support where there is a need for accelerated progress to be made.
There is a designated teacher in every Dorset school with responsibilities for liaison, educational monitoring and pastoral care for children and young people in care. They draw up the Personal Education Plan in partnership with the social worker, Virtual School team member and young person and their foster carers.
Pupil Premium funding and the Higher Needs budget can be utilised to purchase equipment or services to support the young person’s learning. Both funding streams are managed by the Virtual School.
Advocacy for young people
Action for Children provide the independent advocacy service and independent visitors for Dorset’s children in care. The advocates work with children and young people on a one to one basis to help them access their rights and express their point of view.
An independent visitor is a trained volunteer who provides children and young people in care with friendship and support.
Children and young people’s participation
Participation People are commissioned by Dorset Council to deliver:
- the Children in Care Council
- Young Researchers and Young Inspectors
- UK Youth Parliament
- Dorset Youth Council Enables
They also provide training to Dorset Council staff and deliver a session on the Journey to Foster training for prospective foster carers.
Recruitment and Assessment of Foster Carers
Dorset Council has commissioned an external company, Whitehead-Ross Education and Consulting (WREC), to recruit foster carers.
WREC will be responsible for the organisation, publicity, marketing and promotion of events across Dorset throughout the next year, in partnership with our Communications Team and Fostering Service, to generate enquiries from members of the public who are interested in becoming foster carers.
Dorset Council welcomes enquiries from all members of the community regardless of:
- relationship status
- employment situation
Contact our Fostering Service or register your interest in becoming a foster carer.
We will, respond to you by the next working day, usually by phone call, to establish that you are potentially appropriate to foster, this means that you:
- are over the age of 21
- have not been convicted of any offence against a child
- have appropriate accommodation, including a spare bedroom
WREC’s Fostering Social Worker will then home visit within 10 working days to undertake a more in-depth assessment of your potential suitability to become foster carers. People who come through this stage successfully will then be referred to our Fostering Service to commence Stage 1 of the full assessment process.
At Stage 1 basic information is gathered and statutory checks and references are carried out. At the end of stage 1, a decision is made by both the Fostering Service and the prospective foster carer as to whether to progress to Stage 2 of the assessment process.
Stage 2 consists of a detailed and thorough assessment of the prospective foster carer. Regulations state that the assessment should be concluded within 8 months; we aim to complete the assessment in 18 weeks.
The full assessment across Stage 1 and 2 will include:
- each applicant receiving clear information about the process of the assessment along with details about the fostering fees and allowances
- the assessment carried out by an appropriately qualified social worker
- the assessment of all members of the applicant’s household
- DBS checks on all members of the household aged 16 or over and checks on social care and local agency records
- full medical assessments with the applicant’s GP, reviewed by the agency medical advisor
- at least 3 personal references in writing, one of which may be a family member, with follow up personal interviews at least 2 of these
- an employer’s reference is taken where applicable
- the completion of a full employment record and personal history
- attendance on the Journey to Fostering course
- a clearly evidenced recommendation on the applicant’s suitability to foster and type of fostering with age, number and gender of children
- each applicant sees a copy of the non-confidential sections of the report before presentation to foster panel and can add their comments and signatures, both individually, and together, where a couple is applying
- interviews with children living in the home, children living elsewhere and adult children of applicants, where appropriate
- contact will be made with former partners where appropriate
- the applicant’s birth, marriage or civil partnership, divorce and other forms of identification are seen
Regulation 24 and Schedule 4 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) (2010) sets out the time frames and matters which need to be taken into account when assessing the suitability of Connected Persons to be foster carers.
Assessments should be completed within 16 weeks of the date of placement of a child with a Connected Person, although there is the provision to extend this by a further 8 weeks under certain circumstances outlined in Regulation 25. Connected Persons are invited to attend the Journey to Fostering training alongside mainstream applicants.
Approval of foster carers by Dorset Council
A Fostering and Permanence Panel is established in accordance with Regulation 25 of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011, chaired by someone independent of Dorset Council. There is a central list of members as required by the regulations.
The Agency Advisor, who is part of the Fostering Service, quality assures all assessments and reports prior to them being sent out to Panel members. She also attends Panel meetings to offer technical advice and support to Panel members.
The Panel considers all mainstream and Connected Persons fostering assessments and makes a recommendation as to whether the applicants are suitable to be approved as foster carers. The Panel also makes recommendations regarding the terms of the approval, such as the ages of the children, the number of children and their genders.
The recommendation is then passed on to the Agency Decision Maker (ADM) to make the final decision as to whether to approve the applicants.
The Fostering and Permanence Panel will also receive the first review of newly approved carers, and the annual review of foster carers every 3 years (in tandem with when their DBS and medical reports are updated) and will recommend whether they are suitable to continue to act as foster carers and whether the terms of their approval should change.
The Panel will receive subsequent reviews where there is a request for a change of status of the carer, or where there have been allegations and/or concerns about their standards of care, to consider and recommend whether the applicants are suitable to continue to act as foster carers. The ADM will make the final decision.
The Fostering and Permanence Panel considers ‘matches’ of children with foster carers for long-term fostering and will recommend approval of the status of the foster carers as long-term in order to establish permanence for the child.
The Panel also has a quality assurance role and offers recommendations and advice to the Fostering Service on assessments and other matters which it oversees.
If the Agency Decision Maker does not approve an application to foster, the applicants will be informed and invited to make written and/or personal representations, which will be further considered by the Panel. Alternatively, applicants can ask the Independent Review Mechanism to review their application. The Independent Review Mechanism is an independent body which makes recommendations to Fostering Agencies in such circumstances. The recommendations of the Panel or the Independent Review Mechanism will be considered by the Director for Children's Services, who will make a final decision.
Training and support for foster carers
There is a requirement that all applicants attend the Journey to Fostering preparation and training programme as part of their assessment and approval as foster carers. In the case of applicants who are couples, both partners are required to attend.
All foster carers have access to the Foster Carer Training Handbook which details all courses which have been organised specifically for foster carers. Additionally, foster carers can access online training provided by Dorset Council and register for a Nexus account with Dorset Council to enable them to access training which is available to Dorset Council staff and partnership agencies.
All foster carers will be offered support to achieve their Training and Development Standards within 12 months of their approval, or 18 months if they are Connected Persons. Foster carers are expected to maintain a Personal Development Portfolio to evidence their ongoing learning and development.
Foster carers will also be provided with information about:
- relevant policies
- fostering terms and conditions
- guidance about requirements concerning care and control of children and young people
- contacting the Out of Hours Service
- record keeping
- the complaints procedure
- child protection procedures
Every foster carer, including Connected Persons carers, will be expected to sign a Foster Carer Agreement upon approval, in line with Schedule 5 of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011.
Upon placement of a child, a Placement Planning Meeting will be held to discuss the expectations, conditions and terms of the placement. This meeting will include:
- the foster carers
- the child (if age appropriate)
- the parent(s) where possible
- the fostering social worker
- the child’s social worker
A Placement Agreement and Delegated Authority will be drawn up, and all parties invited to sign. These agreements will include details for:
- dietary requirements
- transport (if appropriate)
- hobbies and leisure activities
- bed times
- use of the mobile phone
- other such living arrangements as well as delegated authority for day-to-day decisions by the foster carers
Once carers are approved they are offered supervision visits every month and regular telephone contact and additional support visits as needed. Details of the supervision and support visits will be recorded and placed upon the foster carer’s file.
All foster carers can expect at least one unannounced visit a year. The support and supervision visits continue whether or not there is a child in placement, although the frequency of the supervision and support visits may be reduced in agreement with the foster carer, the fostering social worker and the fostering social worker’s Team Manager.
If the foster carers have long-term, stable placements, the frequency of the supervision and support visits may also be reduced in agreement with the Independent Reviewing Officer, the foster carer, the fostering social worker, the fostering social worker’s Team Manager and children’s social worker.
Through the supervision and support visits, fostering social workers will provide information and advice to enable the carer to develop a consistent and quality approach to the task of caring for the children and young people placed with them.
Wider support will also be available to the carers through:
- support groups
- the Foster Carer Forum which meets on a quarterly basis
- the duty fostering social work service
- the duty social work service based in the district
- 0 to 12 and 13 to 35 Teams
- an Out of Hours Service
- social events such as the Fostering Fair and Picnic, Awards ceremony
- other events which may be organised through the year
The Fostering Service is also able to loan out some equipment, for example:
- baby equipment
The Directorate can also offer the assistance of sessional workers where there is a particular need for additional direct support to the placement.
Comments, compliments and complaints procedure
Dorset Council has a comments, compliments and complaints procedure which all foster carers are able to access. The Children’s Services Directorate is committed to approaching the investigation of complaints with a genuine wish to resolve matters and a belief that there will always be something that can be learnt when things do not go according to plan. We are also keen to hear how we can improve our services and are pleased to receive any compliments about our service or staff.