Social workers will only be required to visit children in long-term foster placements at least once every six months, under plans announced by the government.
Currently visits must take place at least once every three months, but the Department for Education now intends to extend the time limit to six months for foster arrangements that have been in place for a year or more.
The plan is part of a suite of changes to long-term fostering set out in the DfE’s response to its consultation on improving permanence for looked-after children.
In the response, the DfE said that extending the maximum time between visits will enable placements to more effectively mirror family life as children “may find ongoing visits intrusive or unnecessary”.
The decision to press ahead with the change comes despite only 52% of responses to the consultation backing the idea of allowing more time to pass between visits.
Opponents of the proposal, which included most of the young people consulted by the Who Cares? Trust, raised concerns about the impact fewer social worker visits could have on children’s safety and placement stability.
The government says that it will ensure the statutory framework makes it clear that the frequency of visits by social workers should reflect the needs of the child and that interested parties can request additional visits when needed.
Other changes to long-term foster care proposed in the consultation the DfE intends to enact include requiring delegated authority to be discussed at every review meeting and adding long-term foster care to the definition of permanence for looked-after children.
Respondents issued concerns about implementing the proposals. These included fears for the capacity of social workers and level of resources available which could make some requirements difficult to implement. They also said that local authorities already have arrangements in place for supporting long-term fostering as a permanence option.
Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of The Who Cares? Trust said they understood the intention behind reducing social work visits for children in long-term foster care, but raised concerns about what it will mean in practice.
“Children in care consistently tell us that their relationships with their social worker are extremely important to them. If children only see their social worker twice a year, it will be even harder than it already is to develop the sort of safe, trusting relationship that children – even those in long term placements – say they need,” she said.
The full list of proposals for long-term foster placements are as follows:
- There will be an explicit requirement in regulations that delegated authority is considered at every review meeting
- There will be an explicit requirement in regulations that, so far as practical, the wishes and feelings of carers should be ascertained and taken into account as part of the review process
- The care planning guidance will be strengthened to make it clear that foster carers and registered managers should be invited to review meetings where these are held. A registered manager may delegate the duty to attend a review to the appropriate key worker
- The care planning guidance definition of permanence will be amended so as to make it clear that it can be achieved for children through long-term foster care
- The care planning guidance will be amended to ensure that, where long-term foster care is identified as the right permanence option as part of the care planning process, it is clear that this could be with existing carers or with those sought for and matched with specific children
- A definition of long-term foster care will be introduced into relevant regulations
- A clear expectation will be set out in guidance that, when long-term foster care is the permanence plan for the child, local authorities should consider assessing foster carers who have expressed an interest in caring for the child on a long-term basis
- The nature of the long-term foster care arrangement must be clearly communicated to the foster care. It’s format will be decided by local authorities
- Reduced requirements for visits to children in long-term placements from intervals of no more than three months to intervals of no more than six months where the arrangement has been in place for at least a year. The framework will remain clear that the number of visits should reflect the needs of the child and that interested parties (like social workers) can request additional visits when needed
- Where a long-term foster care arrangement has been through a decision making process and in place over a year, care planning guidance will make clear that, while the review process should continue every six months, the review meeting may only need to happen once a year when in the child’s best interests
- Guidance will be set out to say that matters considered at the review should reflect the nature of the arrangement