Nicola Anthony, Interim Head of Fostering, was in attendance for this item.
1. Ms Smith introduced the report of the Stocktake undertaken by Martin Narey and Mark Owers. She and Ms Anthony responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including the following:-
a) asked if it was still the aim to keep sibling groups together, as Mr Narey seemed to be suggesting that this practice not always be followed, Ms Smith explained that the hope was that siblings would always be kept together, if at all possible. However, for practical reasons, it was occasionally necessary to separate a larger family to find suitable placements. When a family came into care, an early assessment was made and a care plan drawn up for each child. Babies and very young children were more likely to be adopted, so would be placed with this ultimate aim in mind, while older siblings were harder to adopt and so would be more likely to stay together in foster care. Practically, larger groups of siblings were harder than smaller groups to place together;
b) concern was expressed that older siblings would have developed the role of looking after their younger siblings and would wish to be able to continue this familiar arrangement. Ms Smith pointed out that some older siblings may have taken on the parenting role of younger siblings as a necessity due to the shortcomings of their own parents, and such an arrangement, although familiar, may not be in the best interests of the older child as they would miss out on their own childhood. Ms Smith assured the Panel that siblings would always be able to maintain contact with each other, in a way which best suited them. Decisions about placement and contact would always be made on a case-by-case basis. Ms Anthony added that the Council was seeking to recruit foster carers who were able to take on sibling groups so more could be kept together, as long as that was judged to be in the children’s best interests. Mrs Hammond added that only Kent children were placed with Kent foster carers;
c) regret was expressed that County Councillors no longer served on Adoption Panels, as this had given Members an opportunity to understand how adoption decisions were made. Those who had previously served on Adoption Panels spoke about the huge commitment required in preparing for and attending Adoption Panels and the difficult nature of the issues being discussed there, for which elected Members, as lay people, were not always prepared. Ms Smith advised that it was the court process, not the Adoption Panels, which decided which sibling groups were to be split when making placements, and such decisions were made only after a full assessment had been made. Mrs Hammond added that judging which families would be better split and which would not was a difficult role, but useful research had recently been undertaken into permanency planning. She suggested that a report presenting this research be submitted to a future meeting of the Panel;
d) asked what control or regulatory role the County Council had in respect of private fostering arrangements, Ms Smith advised that private fostering did not involve Independent Fostering Agencies (IFAs) but private families, who were required to tell the County Council of a private fostering arrangement so the Council could monitor it. IFAs were part of separate fostering arrangements, over which the County Council had no regulatory authority. IFAs and the Council’s own in-house fostering service were governed by the same fostering regulations, operated to a national minimum standard and were inspected by Ofsted; and
e) a recommendation of the Stocktake was that local authorities share information and best practice with each other, to provide a better fostering service.
2. It was RESOLVED that the recommendations of the National Fostering Stocktake be noted, with the delivery of the Kent Fostering Business Plan, and a report on research into permanency planning be submitted to a future meeting of the Panel.