Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for local authorities on children’s social care
What happens to foster children if foster carers are self-isolating or become ill?
We recognise the importance of maintaining a permanent stable setting for children wherever possible. In most cases, we expect that children will remain with their foster parents in line with the social distancing guidance issued by the government. We are considering what further steps fostering services can take to support foster families in these circumstances.
If a foster carer is in a vulnerable group, should the foster child continue to attend their educational setting?
If a foster carer, or someone in their household, is in a vulnerable group, local authorities should discuss the potential risks with them. They should ensure that these factors are taken into account when assessing, with the local authority Virtual School Head, how the child’s need can best be met and whether attending education is in the best interests of the foster child.
Further guidance is available on social distancing for everyone in the UK and protecting older people and vulnerable adults and shielding and protecting people defined on medical grounds as extremely vulnerable.
What if there are not enough foster carers to care for additional children or provide respite for other foster carers who have become ill?
We recognise that it might be challenging to provide additional respite for foster carers in this context. We are exploring flexibilities in the fostering regulations and guidance around the time restrictions on short breaks, temporary approvals for foster carers and emergency placements, and ways to free up more space within existing foster homes to make it easier to identify potential placements and ensure new foster carers are assessed and approved without delay.
We might need to recruit and approve more foster carers in the short term. What is being done to change the regulations related to fostering panels?
We recognise that fostering services will want to bring in more emergency foster carers to help build capacity within their services in case of additional demand. We would encourage them to do this. Whilst they will want to ensure that assessments and approvals are thorough and comply with regulations, we do not want this to be unnecessarily delayed. Under Regulation 24 of the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, there is already sufficient flexibility for fostering services to convene remote panels.
We are considering whether we need to make amendments to the regulations to reduce the required number of members.
Can we change the number of children that a foster household can care for?
Foster carer approval terms, including age range and number of placements, may need to be flexible in the current circumstances. Schedule 7 of the Children Act 1989 currently allows for some flexibility in placing multiple children together by allowing local authorities to grant exemptions to the usual fostering limit in specific placements (explained further in the Assessment and approval of foster carers: Volume 4: Fostering Services guidance (2013)).
Where fostering services are concerned about capacity, they could start identifying potential fostering households that may be able to accommodate additional children and to have sensitive and appropriate conversations as part of their contingency planning. No fostering household will be expected to take additional children into their home but many will want to offer help and these families should be enabled to do so.