Permanency Options for looked after children
Fosterline receives a number of calls from foster carers who have been asked to consider “permanency” for their foster child. Often they are unsure what this means and have been given very little information by their social worker. Fosterline has produced this information to help foster carers and others relatives clarify the terminology that might be used and the implications for looked after children and their caregivers.
What do we mean by “permanence”?
Permanence means giving a child a sense of security, continuity, stability and belonging. It means that they know where they are going to be living for the rest of their childhood and who their parents are going to be.
What are the options for achieving permanence?
There are a number of ways that a looked after child can be placed in a permanent placement. These include:
- Kinship placements (living with a family member or “connected person”) also known as Family and Friends Foster Care
- Child Arrangement Orders (previously known as Residence Orders)
- Special Guardianship Orders (SGO)
- Long Term Foster Care
Which option is best for any particular child and their carer will depend on individual circumstances, which we explore in more detail below.
|Type of Order||Child Arrangement Order (Residence Order)/Special Guardianship Order||Adoption||Long Term Foster Care (Care Order)|
|Impact on child/family||Child needs the security of a legally defined placement but does not require a change of identity. Foster Carers are increasingly being asked to take Special Guardianship Orders for foster children.||Child’s primary need is to belong to a family who will make a lifelong commitment to the child. Adoption is used primarily for young children who cannot return home to birth family||Primary need is for a stable loving family environment while there is still a significant level of contact with birth family. Long Term Fostering is not generally used for younger children as adoption will be the preferred option.|
|Does carer gain Parental Responsibility (PR)?||Yes. Holder of Child Arrangement Order or SGO gains PR for the child and is able to make all day to day decisions for the child||Yes. Child gains a new family name and identity. Child has same legal status as any birth child in the family.||No. Child continues to be “looked after” PR is shared by parents and Local Authority.|
|Level of Support, including financial support.||No on-going monitoring by LA, although a support package should be put in place including financial support. This is means tested/time limited.||Child is no longer “looked after”. Adoption allowances may be payable but are means tested.||LA responsible for the supervision and support of the foster placement and for monitoring the welfare of the child. Fostering allowances continue to be paid.|
Frequently Asked Questions about Permanency
What are the financial implications of changing the status of the placement?
If you are being asked to become a child’s long term foster carer, you might be expected to accept a reduction in your weekly fostering allowance for the child, or a reduction in your respite/holiday entitlement.
If you are being asked to take out a Special Guardianship Order, or to adopt the child, there will also be financial issues to be considered. The Local Authority may pay a Special Guardianship Allowance linked to the fostering allowance but this is reviewable after 2 years and there may also have tax or benefit implications which you should explore thoroughly.
Adoption allowances are payable in certain circumstances but these are means tested. Our advice in all of these situations to ask for information in writing as to how this will affect you financially before making any decisions.
What are the benefits of permanency?
There are a number of benefits for the child and for the foster carer, not least of which in the case of Adoption or SGO’s, the child is no longer “in care” and this is a huge bonus. The Adopter or Special Guardian will have PR which means that they can make all decisions about the child without having reference to a social worker. For many children the stigma of being “in care” is very great and they will be much happier once they do not have to have LAC Reviews, social worker visits and all the meetings that go with being a “looked after child”.
What support is available for me if I do go for permanency?
With long term foster care, you and the child will still have a social worker and you will still be an approved foster carer. You may receive a slightly reduced support package and you should therefore ask for details of this before you commit to permanency.
Post-Adoption support is very patchy, so if you are asked to consider adopting a looked after child you will need to check what, if any, support will be available to you once the order is made.
First4Adoption’s can provide information about adoption for foster carers, including the new ‘fast track’ process. www.first4adoption.org.uk
Special Guardians are entitled to a Support Package which should be confirmed in writing as part of the court process. This can include
- Financial support
- Access to support groups for special guardians
- Help with contact arrangements with birth relatives
- Access to therapy for the child if necessary
- In some circumstances, respite, training and emotional support.
If you have previously been a Foster Carer for the child, you may be able to receive an allowance. (generally reviewed after 2 years but in certain cases can be for a longer period of time). The financial support may differ from the level it was received as a foster carer and it can be withdrawn by the Local Authority completely. Financial support will depend on the Local Authority assessment of the child’s needs and your own circumstances, including eligibility for benefits and tax credits.
Special Guardians are able to apply for child tax credits and claim for child benefit.
Questions to consider before proceeding:-
- What are the reasons for considering Special Guardianship and do I feel pressured?
- Is it the right option for the child, for me, for my family?
- Can I afford to commit to Special Guardianship, what financial support is available and for how long?
- What contact will I have with birth family and will I be able to negotiate contact without conflict?
- Do I have the details of the support package in writing so I can take legal advice on the package?
- Will the Local Authority pay the legal fees?
- Do I have all the information to be able to make a decision?
Family and Friends/Kinship Foster Carers are entitled to be paid an allowance based on the usual fostering allowance for foster carers in that LA but other support may be limited.
Considering permanency is a major, life changing decision for foster carers and children, which should be given careful thought and consideration. Fosterline is here to help you make these decisions.
What is long term fostering?
Long Term Foster Care (also known as Permanent Fostering) can often be the best option for many children and young people that come into the care system and fall into the recognised groups of children that wait the longest or are perceived the most difficult to place.
Permanent fostering can be the best option for children with complex care needs and include children within the following.
- Children with special needs including health conditions, physical or learning disabilities, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Specialised support including therapeutic treatment can be obtained and foster carers may feel happier with the professional back up that an agency or local authority can provide. Long term fostering may provide the option when a child is too young for a prognosis resulting in uncertainty over their future so the level of support will not be realised.
- Older children statistics show that children over the age of five are prone to wait considerably longer to be matched with a family (including adoption) but the need for the child to have stability is as great as ever if not more so due to them interacting in the world around them and their peers. Long term fostering offers placement security and can also cement the involvement with their birth family allowing the young person the stability to develop and receive the same opportunities as children outside the care system.
- Black and minority ethnic children regularly wait longer to find an adoptive family in comparison to white children. When children are matched within families of the same ethnic, cultural or religious identity their outcomes are usually better. This can unfortunately create delays in permanent placements for the children coupled with a lack of foster carers in certain backgrounds making matches difficult.
- Siblings that need to remain together most siblings will be placed together where appropriate but the larger the sibling group it is often the case the more difficult it is to place them together. Some sibling groups are separated because their needs can’t collectively be met in a single placement or no suitable family comes forward.
Long term fostering can often be the solution in supporting placements from the above groups. Many people will think of long term fostering as being stable but the children that enter permanent fostering have generally endured significant lack of care and have complex needs that require the support of the local authority or the carer will need support with contact between the child and birth family. Foster carers will need the support to build positive and trusting relationships.
Glossary of Terms Regarding Placement
Care and Supervision Orders:-
The Court can only make a Care Order or a Supervision Order if it is satisfied that:
• the child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm and
• the harm or likelihood of harm is attributable to the care given to the child, or likely to be given if the Order were not made, not being what would be reasonably expected of a parent;
• or the child is beyond parental control.
• A Care Order (under Section 31(1)(a) of the Children Act) places the child in the care of the Local Authority, with parental responsibility being shared between the parents and the Local Authority.
• The Court will expect to be informed by the Local Authority of what plans there are for a child and be satisfied that the Care Order is in the child’s best interests.
• A Care Order can last until a young person is 18 years old; or until an Adoption, Supervision Special Guardianship or Residence Order is made; or until the Court decides that the Order is no longer necessary. The Local Authority, or persons with parental responsibility for the child, can apply for the discharge of the Order.
Interim Care Order:-
• The court may make an Interim Care Order (for up to eight weeks in the first instance) where, in an application for a Care Order, the proceedings are adjourned or where a court in any proceedings gives a direction for the investigation of a child’s home circumstances.
• This places a child or young person under the supervision of the Local Authority or a Probation Officer, who are required to advise, help and befriend the child.
• The Order can only be for one year in the first instance, but the Supervisor can apply for this to be extended although it must not be for more than three years in all, and not after the person is 18 years old.
• A Supervision Order may have conditions. For example, that the child should have medical or psychiatric examination or treatment. It may also say that the child should take part in particular activities at specified times.
• The Order can be stopped if any interested parties apply to the Court and the Court agrees, or if a Care Order is made.
Accommodation – Section 20:-
• Some children are looked after by the Local Authority by agreement with, or at the request of, their parents. Under Section 20 of the Children Act, it is the duty of all Local Authorities to make accommodation available for such children in need. Children may be accommodated (in residential or foster care) for a short or longer period. No court proceedings are involved, and the parents retain full parental responsibility.
Child Arrangement Order (previously known as Residence 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 Arrangements 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.”
• A Child Arrangement Order is a Court Order made under section 8 of the Children Act 1989, which gives Parental Responsibility to the person in whose favour it is made. Orders made on or after 30 December 2005 can last until the child is 18 unless discharged earlier by the Court or by the making of a Care Order. Prior to that, Residence Orders usually lasted until the child was 16 unless there were exceptional circumstances.
• A Child Arrangement Order in favour of a relative or Foster Carer with whom a child is placed may be an appropriate outcome of a Permanence Plan for a Looked After Child.
Parallel Plan/Twin Track:-
• A Parallel Plan, also referred to as a Twin Track Plan, is a term used when a Contingency Plan for a Looked After Child is being explored at the same time as the primary plan for the child. As part of Permanence Planning for Looked After Children, Parallel Plans must be drawn up to ensure that alternative plans have been explored and are available without delay if the preferred permanent outcome proves unachievable.