Ms C Smith, Head of the Fostering Service, was in attendance for this item.
1. Ms Smith introduced the report and highlighted that a key area of work was the campaign to recruit more foster carers. The target had been 200 from September 2017 and 100 had so far been recruited. Further events in the summer would seek to attract more, including an informal event similar to the adoption activity days, at which children in care and prospective foster carers could meet. Use of social media as a contact tool was also ongoing.
2. Ms Smith and Ms Khosla responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including the following:-
a) asked how the Corporate Parenting Panel could help recruit more foster carers, Ms Smith explained that elected Members could spread the word in their electoral divisions and could also support and nominate foster carers for the annual awards ceremony on 4 October. Due to its proximity to London, Kent was forced to compete with London Boroughs to recruit foster carers and adopters, and also to compete with independent fostering agencies, of which there were 70 in Kent and which were able to pay higher rates to their carers. Members were asked to advise Ms Smith and the fostering team of local events at which they could set up a stall to promote the fostering role;
b) currently in Kent, 12% of all people expressing an interest in fostering would achieve final approval to become foster carers, a rate which was comparable to that of other local authorities. Applicants were checked very thoroughly, and some would prove unsuitable for a variety of reasons, including a lack of suitable accommodation (ie a separate bedroom for a fostered child), poor health or problems with debt. Employers were usually supportive of an employee who wished to foster and were often able to offer them flexible working hours and arrangements which would support the fostering role. Social media checks were also made, and any material accessed or posted by the applicant which suggested racism, homophobia or any unwholesome practice would exclude them from being considered. This vetting process was set out in/supported by the Fostering Regulations of 2011 and was necessarily thorough to ensure that any child placed with a foster carer would be safe and appropriately nurtured; and
c) asked how the County Council could ensure that independent fostering agencies were as strict in their vetting, Ms Khosla explained that the Kent Fostering team would share its risk assessment tools and set out clearly the standards which it expected to see applied for all placement, whether they were with Kent foster carers or independent fostering agencies. For some groups of children, for example, girls over 12, scrutiny would be enhanced. It was important that young people should feel safe and confident of being able to disclose any concerns about, or problems they had with, their foster carers, and Ms Khosla assured the Panel that investigation of such issues would be as thorough and as stringent as possible. The final toolkit for assessing foster carers was currently being finalised and, when ready, would be reported to a future meeting of the Panel.
3. RESOLVED that the information set out in report and given in response to comments and questions be noted, and the Kent Fostering Business Plan 2017- 2018 be approved.