Exemptions to the Usual Fostering Limit
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter has been drawn up and agreed as a tool which can be used by all Local Authorities who comprise of the West Midlands Family Placement Consortium. These are Walsall, Wolverhampton, Dudley, Sandwell, Birmingham, Solihull, Coventry, Telford and Wrekin, Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Herefordshire. The reason that this has been agreed as an inter-agency tool is because on occasions, one Local Authorities carer resides within another Local Authority, and it is the Local Authority in which the carer resides, who can grant an exemption to the usual fostering limit.
AMENDMENTIn February 2016, updated details on changes to extensions/terms of approval for Foster Carers.
1. Introduction and Policy
This chapter deals with exemptions to the limit on the number of children in a foster home. If the usual number of children is exceeded without an exemption having been granted, then the foster home will be classed as a children's home and be required to register as such.
This is a separate issue from variations of a foster carer's terms of approval / emergency placements of a child with a foster carer outside the terms of their approval for up to 6 working days – see Changes to terms of Approval Procedure.There may be occasions where the placement of a child will involve both a variation to terms of approval / emergency placement for up to 6 working days and an extension beyond the usual number of children.
The Children Act 1989 (Section 63(12) and Schedule 7) prescribes the 'usual fostering limit' of THREE children in foster homes, except in the case of one sibling group (including step siblings, half siblings and adopted siblings). In exceptional circumstances, Local Authorities have the power to grant an exemption from the usual fostering limit (THREE children). A decision to grant an exemption may be accompanied by conditions specified by the authorising manager.
As a matter of policy, this Local Authority interprets this part of the Children Act 1989 as applying to each foster home rather than each foster carer. The implication of this is that the usual fostering limit that will be applied to all foster homes within the Local Authority is three foster children per household.
This guidance applies to all fostering situations i.e. task-centred, permanent placements, placements with a relative or friend under the fostering regulations, shared care and respite care placements. (It also applies to private fostering arrangements).
Placing three children together should not be taken as the norm. The individual needs of each foster child, the needs of the foster carers and their own children must be taken into consideration.
A foster carer may exceed the usual fostering limit only if s/he is exempted by the Local Authority within whose area s/he lives.
An exemption is a written notice stating that the exemption is granted, naming all the children who may be fostered and stating any conditions of the exemption.
Where a foster home is outside the Local Authority boundary that has approved them, any request for exemption can only be dealt with by the Local Authority for the area in which the foster carer lives. Equally, an exemption for foster carers approved by another agency, but living within the Local Authority, can be granted only by this Local Authority.
Walsall Children's Services must not cause an approved foster home to exceed the usual fostering limit unless an exemption has been granted. If foster carers have not been granted an exemption but they continue or propose to exceed the limit, they will be treated as running a Children's Home and the Children's Home Regulations 2002 will apply. This will also apply if a person who is exempted breaches any condition of exemption or fosters a child not named in the exemption. Such situations must be referred to the Regulatory Authority e.g. Ofsted, for investigation.
Only in the most exceptional circumstances would a foster home accommodate more then 6 children (i.e. under 16 years of age), including exempted children and the foster carer's own children.
Conditions which may qualify for an exemption including the following:
- A child joining a sibling which, together with unrelated foster child(ren) already in placement, brings the total number of foster children over the limit;
- A placement which meets a child's needs to be placed near to his / her home where it is known that one of the foster children will be leaving the foster home within the near future. (This will normally be interpreted as being within 21 days);
- A child returning to a known foster home (i.e. where a significant relationship exists) for a holiday periods or from the breakdown of a placement elsewhere;
- Where the placement is the best or only way to meet a child's needs arising from his / her race, language, religion, culture or disability.
When deciding whether to grant an exemption, the following should be considered:
- Name, address and approval status of the foster carers;
- Name, age and proposed plans for those children for whom exemption is required;
- Name, age and proposed plans for those children already place;
- Views of social workers of children already in placement;
- Name and age of foster carer's own children;
- Practical arrangements for the children's care and accommodation, e.g. sleeping arrangements, additional support, transport arrangements etc;
- The intended and likely relationship between the carer and the foster children;
- The length of placement proposed for all children;
- Likely impact of the proposed arrangement upon all children involved;
- Any other relevant information;
- Reason for exemption request;
- The qualifying conditions for the exemption;
- Details of any exemptions granted within the past 3 years.
An exemption cannot be granted without the full knowledge and approval of the foster carer(s).
Foster carer(s) who are dissatisfied or who wish to make representation with regard to a decision relating to an application for an exemption may make their representations or complaints by using Walsall Children's Services Representations and Complaints Procedure.
Private foster carers may appeal to the court within 14 days of receipt of a notification of refusal or withdrawal of exemption from the usual fostering limit.
Prior to the additional placement being made, the supervising social worker for the foster carer(s) or, where necessary, the fostering team's duty social worker will fully complete the form 'Application for Exemption from the usual fostering limit', (WSS953) and the "Exemption Certificate, (WSS953a).
The supervising social worker will seek the approval of the person who has the responsibility for granting or refusing an exemption. In this Local Authority this is the Group Manager Family Placement Service, and they must authorise and sign the form and the exemption certificate, prior to the placement beginning.
Where an exemption is granted the signed 'The Exemption Certificate", (WSS953a), must be given to the foster carer(s) by the placing social worker, before they leave the child at the foster home. In urgent situations a copy must be faxed to the social worker placing the child.
In addition to the statutory responsibility for the child to be visited, the supervising social worker for the foster carer(s) will be required to visit them as soon as is practicable after the arrangements described in the notice of exemption come into force.
In granting an exemption, the Group Manager Family Placement Service may impose a condition that the circumstances may be reviewed at a fixed point or in the event of a particular change. All exemptions must be notified to the next fostering panel and a provisional foster carer review arranged with the Coordinator (Foster Carer Reviews). This foster carer review must be held no later than six weeks from the date that the exemption is agreed and this review should be presented to the next fostering panel following the review meeting.
The supervising social worker for all carers approved by Walsall Children's Services, will inform the Independent Reviewing Officer for all children placed with a carer where an exemption has been granted. They may wish to provide information to the foster carer review.
The Group Manager Family Placement Service will monitor the use of exemptions to ensure that conditions are met and terms reviewed and that the procedures is not being used inappropriately or excessively.
Where the foster carer(s) lives in another Local Authority, the procedure will be the same, except that the supervising social worker has to seek the approval of the person who has responsibility for granting or refusing an exemption in the Local Authority in which the foster carer(s) lives.
The supervising social worker must send the completed form and certificate to the responsible person, who will decide whether to grant or refuse an exemption. They will then fax the signed form and certificate back to the fostering team social worker. The Exemption Certificate", (WSS953a), must be given to the foster carer(s) by the placing social worker, before they leave the child at the foster home. In urgent situations a copy must be faxed to the social worker placing the child.
The process and information for the review will be the same as that specified in Changes to terms of Approval Procedure.
Where the foster carer(s) live in this local authority, but are approved by another agency (this includes independent fostering agencies), the procedure will be the same, but undertaken by the fostering team social worker (or equivalent) of the other agency. They will then need to seek approval of the person who has responsibility for granting or refusing exemptions in this local authority (the Group Manager Family Placement Service). The fostering team social worker from the other agency should arrange for the Group Manager Family Placement Service to receive the completed form and certificate. They will decide whether to grant or refuse an exemption and will fax the signed form and certificate back to the relevant agency fostering team social worker.
For urgent needs arising out of hours the ERT manager may carry out these procedures to grant an exemption. In the case of an out of hour's placement, made by the ERT manager, the maximum exemption will be two weeks from the date of placement. However, this should be reviewed by the person who has responsibility for granting or refusing exemptions in the appropriate Local Authority on the following working day.
3. Extension / Changes to the Foster Carer's Terms of Approval
The placement must also be compatible with the foster carer's terms of approval. If the placement would not be compatible, then an extension / change to their terms of approval will be required. (This will usually be in addition to an extension to the usual number of children, as detailed above). See Changes to terms of Approval Procedure.