Legislation for England
The Law and Fostering
Most of the law relating to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of looked after children and the approval and assessment of foster carers is contained within the Children Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations Volume 4 Fostering Services, the Care Standards Act 2000, the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the Children Act 2004 and the Children and Young Persons Act 2008. Specific requirements relating to placement planning for looked after children are contained in the Children Act 1989 regulations and guidance Vol 2, care planning, placement and case review (June 2015) which also contains as section on the delegation of authority to foster carers.
The Fostering Services Regulations 2011 and National Minimum Standards as amended provide a clear framework for Fostering Service Providers, Foster Carers and associated staff with regard to how fostering services should be delivered, how foster carers should be assessed and what foster carers can expect to receive by way of support. The Regulations and Standards are used by OFSTED when inspecting fostering service providers.
Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers
The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013 come into force on 1st July 2013. This significantly changed the process for assessing foster carers by introducing a new, two-stage process and introduced a shortened process for revising a foster carers terms of approval subject to his/her consent.
The process for assessing a person’s suitability to foster consists of two parts, which can be carried out concurrently, but the information required in stage 1 must be obtained as soon as possible and the decision made about their suitability at stage 1 made within 10 working days of all the information required at that stage being received. If the fostering service’s decision maker decides that the applicant is unsuitable to foster at stage 1, he/she must write to the applicant to inform him/her of the reasons for their decision. The applicant does not have the right of appeal to the Independent Review Mechanism at stage 1, but may make a complaint to the fostering service if they are unhappy about the way in which their application has been handled.
At Stage 2 of the process, if following a brief or full report being presented to the fostering panel and agency decision maker, the applicant is considered not suitable to foster, he or she should be informed in writing of the reasons and that they may, within 28 days, seek a review of this determination either by the Independent Review Mechanism or the fostering service.
A useful flow chart illustrating the 2 Stage process can be found here.
Delegation of Authority to Foster Carers
Delegated authority is all about giving children in care as normal lives as possible, with the same opportunity as other children, and with foster carers being able to make every day decisions without having to ask a social worker for their consent. Every local authority is required to have a published policy setting out its approach to delegation of authority in respect of looked after children in foster care. Volumes 2 and 4 of the Children Act 1989 statutory guidance confirm that, except where there are factors that dictate the contrary, foster carers should be given delegated authority to make day-to-day decisions about health, education, leisure, etc and the matters to be delegated to them recorded in the child’s Placement Plan.
Overnight Stays, school trips and holidays:
In making decisions whether or not to allow a looked after child to stay overnight with a friend, go on holiday with a friend’s family, or go on a school trip, foster carers and responsible authorities should consider the following:
- Are there any restrictions in the child’s care plan or placement plan
- Are they any court orders prohibiting or restricting overnight stays or holidays
- Are they any factors in the child’s background, past experience or behaviour that preclude the trip or holiday
- Are there any grounds for concern that the child might be at risk in the household concerned or from activities proposed
- What is the age and understanding of the child about the trip
- What are the reasons for the stay/trip
- How long is it for
Looked after children should always be told of the criteria that will be used to make decisions, and once these factors have been considered and weighed, they should be told of the reasons for the decision being made. Needless to say, contact details for where the child will be staying and information about all activities to be undertaken should be provided to the foster carers, in the same way as for your birth child.
Two further points worth mentioning are:
- There is no statutory duty to obtain DBS checks in relation to a private household where a child may stay overnight or visit, or who the child may accompany on holiday or a school trip
- There is no requirement for the adults in the household that the child visits or accompanies on holiday to be approved as a foster carer, as the child remains formally placed with their usual foster carers.
Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations, Vol 2, Care planning, placement and review (June 2015) contains a full description of the regulations concerning delegated authority and a pdf of the relevant section can be found here.
A useful checklist entitled “Things you need to know about delegated authority” can also be found here.
The Children Act 1989 – General Principles
The Children Act 1989 is the primary legislation governing work with children and their families.
The key principles of the Act can be summarised as follows:
The Welfare Principle –
safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, including protecting the child from harm or abuse. The child’s welfare should be the ‘paramount’ consideration of anybody dealing with a child.
Partnership Working –
it is expected that all professionals supporting and working on behalf of children and young people should work in partnership with families. This includes foster carers. Compulsory powers should only be used when this is better for the child than working with the family on a voluntary basis. Promoting and maintaining contact between children and their families should be a priority wherever possible.
The importance of the child’s family is highlighted and the expectation is that, whenever possible, children and young people should be brought up in their own immediate or extended families.
The wishes of the child and/or their parents –
finding out and taking account of the wishes of the child and/or their parents in making decisions about the child’s future.
The importance of considering key aspects of the child’s background is highlighted – the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin, cultural and linguistic background, and a child’s particular needs as a result of any disability, must be taken into account in planning for the child.
What is parental responsibility?
Parental responsibility is defined in the Children Act 1989 as all the rights, duties, powers, responsibility and authority a parent has for a child or young person and their property.
As children grow older, they assume greater responsibility for themselves. Parents never lose their responsibility for their child, even when they share it with the Social Services Department when the child is subject to a Care Order. The only exception is that when a child is adopted; the new adoptive parents obtain parental responsibility for the child and the birth parents lose it.
Legal status of children in foster care
All children and young people in foster care are the responsibility of the Local Authority in the area where the child’s birth family is resident at the time of being taken into care. The key responsibility remains with that Local Authority regardless of whether they are placed in local authority foster care or with an independent fostering provider.
Looked after children
The term ‘looked after’ is a shortening of the phrase ‘looked after by the Local Authority’. It was introduced by the Children Act 1989. Children and young people are ‘looked after’ if there is a Care Order. This means that the Local Authority shares parental responsibility with one or both birth parents.
Children and young people who are ‘accommodated’
The word ‘accommodated’ refers to children and young people who are provided with accommodation by the Local Authority as a result of a voluntary agreement with parents or others with parental responsibility. Such children/young people are not usually subject to any court orders. Young people over the age of 16 can ask to be accommodated without the agreement or consent of their parents.
Implications for foster carers:
- This is a voluntary arrangement made with the parent’s or parents’ agreement. When a child is accommodated, the parental responsibility remains with the parent/s. They have the right to remove the child at any time.
- If parent/s demand to take a child back without that being part of the plan for the child, foster carers can take reasonable steps to protect the child by contacting their supervising social worker or duty officer and, if necessary, the police in an emergency.
- If it is in the best interests of the child who is accommodated to become subject of a Care Order, the Local Authority can apply to the court.
More than one order can be made in respect of an individual child or young person. Foster Carers should be informed of any court orders and any restrictions applying to the child or young person or contact with her or his family. It may be appropriate for Foster Carers to have a copy of the Court Order. This should be discussed at the start of the placement.
The main Court Orders are:
Emergency Protection Order (EPO)
The Children Act 1989 sets out the responsibilities of the Local Authority to protect children if it is assessed that a child or young person is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm.
The Local Authority can apply to the court for an Emergency Protection Order if there is an urgent need to protect a child or young person. The order gives the applicant the power to remove or detain the child for up to eight days (extendable for up to 15 days).
The Order could contain directions about the amount of contact (including no contact) the child should have with his/her parents and family, and about medical examination or treatment of the child.
Implications for foster carers:
- The parents cannot remove the child from the foster home without the permission of the Social Services Department
- The carer needs to ensure that any directions given by the court are adhered to
Child Assessment Order
A Child Assessment Order can be applied for in non-emergency situations where there are suspicions of harm or lack of parental co-operation, but not grounds for an Emergency Protection Order or Care Order. It is used to get urgent medical examination or psychiatric assessment of the child.
This order is for a maximum of 7 days, and the period of assessment and starting date is decided by the court. In rare cases, the child could be assessed away from home.
Interim Care Order
An Interim Care Order will often follow an Emergency Protection Order and gives the court time to collect more information whilst protecting the child. The Local Authority decides where the child will live.
An Interim Care Order is made for not more than eight weeks. Further Interim Care Orders can be made which last up to four weeks but they should be kept to a minimum to avoid delay in making a decision.
The child may be asked to have a medical examination or psychiatric assessment.
Implications for foster parents:
Birth parents may not remove the foster child without the permission of the Social Services Department.
Usually, a child’s birth parents will have contact with their child under interim orders.
There may be specific restrictions or conditions attached to the order e.g. contact.
A Care Order is usually made to protect a child from harm, abuse or neglect and states that the Local Authority must look after the child and provide somewhere for him or her to live.
A Care Order gives the Local Authority parental responsibility jointly with the parent or parents.
The court can direct who the child should have contact with, where and what sort of contact it should be etc. In rare situations, a court can decide to restrict or stop contact if it is harming the child, or is not in his or her best interests.
Unless overturned the care order can last until the child reaches the age of 18.
The court process leading up to the making of a care order is called Care Proceedings.
Implications for foster carers:
- The parents may not remove the foster child without the permission of the Social Services Department.
- Children should be encouraged to see their families and friends unless the court states otherwise.
- Foster parents should work closely with and consult parents as agreed in the plan for the child.
- Carers need to be aware of any specific restrictions or conditions attached to the order.
The role of the Family Court Adviser/ Children’s Guardian
In all care proceedings a Family Court Adviser is appointed to represent the interests of the child and provide a report for the court. The Family Court Adviser is a social worker who is not employed by social services. They will want to talk to the child, usually on more than one occasion, and may also arrange for the child to be legally represented at the hearing.
Other Orders which may be made by the Court:
Child Arrangements Order
There will no longer be ‘Contact’ (previously known as Access) or ‘Residence’ (often referred to as child custody) orders in proceedings regarding children. Instead these orders are replaced by a Child Arrangement Order. This type of order will regulate arrangements relating to any of the following:-
- with whom a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact, and
- when a child is to live, spend time or otherwise have contact with any person”
The rationale behind the new order is “to move away from loaded terms such as residence and contact which have themselves become a source of contention between parents, to bring greater focus on practical issues of the day to day care of the child.”
The Order sets out the contact (visiting arrangements etc) between a child/young person and his or her parent(s), or others mentioned in the order such as grandparents or former foster carers.
Parents or other relatives may apply for to stay in touch with their child/young person. In fact; anyone may apply including the child/young person and also carers if the child has been living with them for three years.
The order often specifies the frequency and the arrangements for the contact e.g. where and when it should take place. Contact can take the form of visits but may be letters or phone calls.
The Order confers parental responsibility on the carer and puts him/her on a similar legal footing as the birth parents. A child or young person who is the subject of a Child Arrangements Order is not a “looked after Child” and the order ceases when the child is 18.
Foster carers may apply for a Child Arrangements Order
Prohibited Steps Order
A Prohibited Steps Order specifies that certain things cannot happen without the court’s permission e.g. a child should not be taken out of the country.
Specific Issue Order
A Specific Issue Order means that the court will decide on what should be done and how it should be done in the best interests of the child e.g. where there is a disagreement about how a child should be brought up with regard to schooling, religion, health care etc.
Special Guardianship Order (SGO)
SGO’s were introduced as an amendment to the Children Act 1989 by the Adoption & Children Act 2002, and implemented on the 30 December 2005. This followed a review of adoption in 2000 which had recommended that a new legal order was needed to meet the needs of children separated from their birth parents which would offer more security to the children and their carers than provided by long-term fostering – but without severing all legal ties with their birth parents, as is the case with Adoption.
Anyone with whom the child has been living for 12 months or more can apply to the Court for a Special Guardianship Order. This can include foster carers, grandparents, or family and friends foster carers.
The key issue is that there is an established relationship between the child and the person applying for the SGO. If the person applying for an SGO has previously been the child’s foster carer, they will be entitled to a package of support from the local authority, including financial assistance.
The Special Guardianship (Amendment) Regulations 2016
This amendment takes effect from 29th February 2016.
These Regulations amend the Schedule to the Special Guardianship Regulations (2005) (“the 2005 Regulations”) which prescribes the matters to be dealt with by local authorities in reports they prepare for the court in applications for special guardianship orders.
The amendments do not apply where a local authority has been placed under a duty to report prior to the date that these amendments come into force (regulation 3).
Regulation 4 amends paragraph 1 of the Schedule to the 2005 Regulations (matters in respect of the child) by requiring the report to deal with any harm which the child has suffered and any risk of future harm to the child posed by their parents, relatives or any other person considered relevant, for example a partner of the parent. It also amends the provision relating to the child’s needs to ensure that both the child’s current needs and their likely future needs are dealt with in the report.
Regulation 5 amends paragraph 4 of the Schedule to the 2005 Regulations (matters in respect of the prospective special guardian or, where more than one, each of them). It replaces the provision relating to the prospective special guardian’s relationship with the child with a more detailed provision requiring an assessment of the nature of the child’s relationship with the prospective special guardian both at the time of the assessment and in the past. It also substitutes a new and more detailed provision relating to the parenting capacity of the prospective special guardian.
Full regulations can be downloaded here
Fostering legislation in England
The main legislative body in England is Parliament and primary responsibility for fostering in England is held by the Department for Education. The legislation listed below is for guidance only and not intended to be a comprehensive guide to all legislation relating to children and young people in foster care in England.
Children Act 1989 – the primary legislation governing looked after children and fostering services. Available online at www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1989/41/contents.
Care Standards Act 2000 – sets the regulatory and inspectoral regime and establishes National Minimum Standards. Available online at www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/14/contents
Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 – the primary legislation governing services for care leavers. Available online at www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/35/contents
Children Act 2004 – requires local authorities to promote educational achievement of looked after children. Available at www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/31/contents
Children and Young Persons Act 2008 – amends the Children Act 1989 regarding placement of looked after children, and strengthens visiting requirements and the role of the independent reviewing officer. Available at www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2008/23/contents
Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 – regulate all fostering services, replacing the Fostering Services Regulations 2002. Available online at www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2011/581/contents/made
Independent Review of Determinations (Adoption and Fostering) Regulations 2009 – extends the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) to fostering. Available online at www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2009/395/contents/made
Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010 – specify requirements for care plans and placement plans, placement decisions, monitoring and review of looked after children. Available at www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/959/contents/made
Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2015 – these Regulations amend the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 and also amend the Fostering Services Regulations 2011.Available online at: Care Planning and Case Review
Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010 – designed to ensure that young people leaving care receive the same support that would be expected of any reasonable parent. Available at www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/2571/made
Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Services (2011) – contains the requirements set out by government to support local authorities, working with fostering service providers, in giving the best possible care and support to children in foster care. Replaces the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Family Placements (1991). Available at www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DFE-0
Assessment and Approval of Foster Carers: Amendments to the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4 (2013): This guidance amends the assessment and approval process, and includes guidance on the usual fostering limit, terminations of approval and the IRM. Available at: www.education.gov.uk/aboutdfe/statutory/g00225430/assess-approv-foster-care.
Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (2010) – provides a central reference point for local authority work with looked after children. Available at www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DCSF
Delegation of Authority: Amendments to the Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review(2015). This Guidance places requirements on local authorities with regard to delegating authority to foster carers in respect of the children in their care. Available at: Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review
Volume 4: Fostering Services – updated to reflect the inclusion of `Delegation of authority to foster carers` in Volume 2.
Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 3: Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers (2010) – statutory guidance on how to meet the requirements of the Care Leavers (England) Regulations 2010. Available online at
IRO Handbook: Statutory Guidance for Independent Reviewing Officers and Local Authorities on their Functions in Relation to Case Management and Review for Looked After Children (2010) – guides independent reviewing officers in the discharge of their responsibilities towards looked after children, with the aim that they receive the support and services required to meet their full potential. Available at www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/Lookedafterchildren/Page1/DCS
Sufficiency: Statutory Guidance on Securing Sufficient Accommodation for Looked After Children (2010) – explains the duty of local authorities to secure sufficient accommodation within their area to meet the needs of looked after children. Available at www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/Lookedafterchildren/Page1/DCS
Short Breaks: Statutory Guidance on how to Safeguard and promote the Welfare of Disabled Children using Short Breaks (2010) – seeks to improve outcomes for disabled children through short breaks provision. Available online at www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/publicationDetail/Page1/DCSF
Promoting the Educational Achievement of Looked After Children: Statutory Guidance for Local Authorities – statutory guidance which came into force in 2010. Available at https://www.education.gov.uk/publications/standard/Childrensworkforce/Pa
Statutory Guidance on Promoting the Health and Well-being of Looked After Children – statutory guidance which came into force in 2009. Available at http://www.education.gov.uk/childrenandyoungpeople/families/childrenincare/a0065777/promoting-health-and-wellbeing
Statutory Guidance on Children Who Run Away or go Missing From Home or Care. – statutory guidance which was updated January 2014. Available at
Arrangements for Care Leavers Aged 18 Years and Above: ‘Staying Put’ Guidance
The Department for Education (DfE) has issued new guidance on the ‘Staying Put’ arrangements, which allow young people aged 18 and above who were previously looked after, to carry on living with their former foster carers. Further details and a link to the full guidance document can be found at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/staying-put-arrangements-for-care-leavers-aged-18-years-and-above
Family and friends carers: information leaflet
support that may be available to family and friends carers. It is intended to help those family members or friends access services in their local area and national helplines.