Each provider is different and will ‘triage’ referrals for children slightly differently. Some will have placement officers dedicated to that role (like Family Care), while others could have support staff or even social workers co-ordinating referrals.
Add some bad press into the mix following high-profile incidents such as the Parsons Green bomber or the White British girl ‘forced’ into Muslim foster care (which wasn’t true) and you’ve got a challenging task that carries some mystery and controversy.
It all starts with a referral.
Referral – a secure message/email sent to the fostering agency requesting a placement for a child or children.
Referrals should contain relevant information about the young person which helps the agency and foster carer decide if a placement can be offered. Basic info such as age, gender, school and medical conditions should be given, along with some details about family history, any history of being in care, and why the placement is needed. An important consideration is also proposed contact with birth family, how often this will be and where.
Stage 1: The child’s referral is triaged by a placement officer who matches the needs of the young person to an available foster family. For example, let’s say we have five available foster families but three live in Manchester and the referral is for a child from Telford who must attend school in the area, we can quickly rule out those 3 families in Manchester. Family Care receive around 1,400 fostering referrals every month (60-70 a day) covering the North West and the Midlands.
Stage 2: If the placement officer thinks there could be a match, he/she will discuss further with the carers’ supervising social worker. The SSW or placement officer will then contact the carer and discuss the referral, highlighting reasons for the positive match and any concerns which have been spotted during the review. If needed, we can return to the LA and pose questions for information not included in the referral. A lot of referrals are time-sensitive and the sooner a formal offer is made the higher the chances of a foster family supporting that child.
Once everyone is in agreement, an offer is submitted on behalf of the foster parents. The offer will include a brief bio on the carers, reasons why this match is positive for the child and a profile book with pictures of the family, the home and the bedroom for fostering. The best profiles also contain a little about the strengths of the foster carers and their relevannt experience.
But who decides which placement to accept?
Normally it’s the child’s social worker and this is where the foster carer’s skills & experience can make a big difference. Family book profiles bring the carers to life so a good one is a must.
Once the local authority social worker has selected a placement the preferred agency is contacted to inform of the decision. Ideally a placement planning meeting is arranged although in emergencies this may not be practical.
If an offer isn’t selected, it’s 50/50 as to whether the agency is informed at all. Children’s Services are stretched so thinly and time scarce, so when a placement is selected the priority becomes placing the child with the selected foster carers. This can be frustrating for foster carers and agencies who would like feedback regarding why they weren’t successful. Placement officers will chase feedback and usually get something, but it’s rarely very definitive.
The matching process highlights the importance of trust between the foster carer and their fostering agency.
If you are interested in fostering or going through the assessment process, make sure you feel comfortable with the agency you’re with, as they will be responsible for matching referrals to your family.
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