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)
  • Adoption
  • 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

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.

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 child in care reviews, social worker visits and all the meetings that go with being a “looked after child”.

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.

A Special Guardianship Order (SGO) is an order of the court under the Children Act 1989 which grants the holder(s) parental responsibility over a child until they reach the age of 18. This enables the special guardian(s) to make day-to-day decisions on behalf of the child, for example in relation to their education.

Special Guardianship orders (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, and amended in 2016.  SGO is a legal order intended 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.

Special Guardianship Order Factsheet

Some foster carers contact Fosterline to say that they feel they are being pressurised to take out a Special Guardianship Order on their foster child or told that if they don’t do some the child will be removed.  Regulations are clear that children should not be moved for financial reasons and therefore you should not be pressurised into taking out an SGO if you do not feel it is right for you or your family. Fosterline can help you decide whether this is right for you and you should always take independent legal advice before proceeding with this serious step.

Special Guardians are entitled to a Support Package which should be confirmed in writing as part of the 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?

When a young person reaches the age of 18, any Care Order is automatically revoked, and they are no longer considered to be “looked after”. However, Foster carers play an important part in ensuring that young people are prepared for the move to independence or by continuing to support them after the age of 18 through supported lodgings and other schemes, such as Shared Lives and Staying Put.

Arrangements for young people leaving care at the age of 18 vary according to where they live in the UK and it is important to be aware of the guidance and policies that apply to them. It is also important that foster carers understand the implications of changes to their financial arrangements if they continue to care for a young person after the age of 18.

Some young people prefer to move to independent living and foster carers play an important role in supporting young people as they begin this transition. Other schemes are briefly discussed below, with links to organisations that can provide further information and support.

The age of leaving home among the population as a whole is rising and the transition to adulthood is becoming increasingly complex. Children looked after often leave care to become independent before the age of 18. Research and evidence highlights that where children in care experience an extended transition more akin to their peers, outcomes improve and the experience is more normative.

The Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers Regulations and Guidance 2010 and the Fostering Regulations and Guidance 2011 (Children Act 1989) both require local authorities to have a Staying Put policy. The Staying Put policy should set out the practical, financial, tax and benefit issues (for both the foster carer and the child) which impact on the decision to extend foster care as Staying Put care when a looked after child reaches the age of 18 years.

Recent Guidance issued by the DfE, sets out the Department for Education, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions (DfE, HMRC and DWP) frameworks that local authorities must be aware of, and take account of, when developing a local Staying Put policy.

The primary aim of the guidance, and the requirement for local authorities to develop a local Staying Put policy, is to ensure arrangements are in place that can enable a young person’s foster care placement to be extended beyond their 18th birthday. Staying Put will enable young people to experience a transition from care to independence and adulthood that is similar to that which most young people experience, is based on need and not on age alone.

Staying Put arrangements are exactly as the title suggests. It is an arrangement or an agreement between the local authority, the current foster carer and the young person that wishes to remain within their fostered home.

The Pathway Plan assessing the needs of the young person as they move towards independence should begin when the young person reaches 16 years. If staying put is an option then it should be included in reviews and recorded in the pathway plan.

The Local authority has a duty to support staying put arrangements unless the arrangement is not consistent with the young person’s welfare.

The role of the local authority is as follows:

    • Explain the intricacies of what staying put is by giving advice and explaining how it can benefit the young person
    • Explain the intricacies of what staying put is and the effect it will have on the carer’s (former foster carer) financial support. Financial support will still be available but will be different to what the carer received as a foster carer
    • Provide training to the carer
    • Monitor the placement, but the placement is not governed by fostering regulations as the young person leaves care at 18 years
    • If you have a young person approaching 16 or over you may find the following guidance written by Catch 22 NCAS of help to them when thinking about their transition into independence

Foster Carers need to bear in mind that they will no longer receive their fostering allowance and the young person will be expected to contribute financially to the placement either through work or claiming benefits.  Furthermore, the Staying Put carer will no longer be classed as a “foster Carer” unless they also have other young people in placement as Staying Put falls outside of the Fostering Regulations.

Constraints on the role of fostering may occur when a foster carer enters into a staying put arrangement. The household may not have the space to continue to foster etc. If the decision is that the foster care no longer wishes to foster then they are free to submit their resignation to the fostering service and their registration will automatically cease 28 days after it is received by the service.

The young person will no longer be a looked after child and will be classed as another adult within the fostering home.  The foster carer would be able to take in another foster placement within the terms of their approval but may not always be possible or appropriate due to lack of accommodation or the terms of the staying put arrangement.  A review of the foster carers approval should be undertaken as some aspects of the young person remaining in the foster home may impact. If the staying put carer wishes to remain as a foster carer and wishes to return to fostering in the future, then if the fostering service agrees, statutory requirements must be maintained. The carer would be subject to regular supervising social worker visits and an annual, unannounced visit.

Once the young person becomes 18 they are an adult in the eyes of the law and would be treated as another adult within the fostering home so would be subject to an enhanced disclosure from the Disclosure and Baring Service (DBS) as regulation 26(2) Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011. Although this should not present any surprises the foster carer would be bound under their fostering agreement to notify the fostering service of any circumstances which may affect the fostering household such as any criminal offences committed by the young person etc.

Financial support must be provided to staying put carers but will depend on the individual needs and circumstances but the local authority should pay former foster carers an allowance that will cover all reasonable costs of supporting the care leaver in order for them to remain in their foster home.

Statutory guidance suggests that the previous fostering allowance paid by the fostering service prior to the young person becoming 18 (as this is required to cover the full cost of caring for the child, Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering services, paragraph 5.71) but taking into account any financial contribution made by the young person from employment, benefits or other sources as an applicable financial support should remain appropriate.

Considerations for Staying Put carers:

  • Amount to be paid
  • When payment will cease
  • Any review of payments
  • What the payment is expected to cover
  • Any additional discretionary payments
  • What contribution (if any) the young person is expected to make
  • Whether any allowance paid to the carer is to transfer to the young person
  • What happens if the young person is temporarily away from the home e.g.  university or holiday
  • What happens if there is a temporary loss of the young person’s entitlements
  • How payments will affect benefit entitlements and tax liabilities

Former relevant children who have a liability to pay rent can claim Housing Benefit, subject to the usual entitlement conditions. The payment of rent must be on a commercial basis and not contrived, a licence agreement would have to be made, detailing the costs broken down into rent, support, utilities and food.

Payments made to a staying put carer by a local authority under section 23C of the Children Act 1989 are to be disregarded when calculating any entitlement to benefits but other payments such as housing benefits claimed by the young person would be considered as income.

The term Shared Lives Carers is used to cover arrangements under a “specific social care scheme” and covers Adult Placement Carers, Kinship Carers, Staying Put Carers and Parents & Child arrangements. Follow the link to an easy online step by step explanation of tax specifically for Shared Lives Carers. The guide is written and produced by the HMRC as an e-learning tool.

Tax for Shared Lives carers learning tool

Transition into adulthood is not a one-off process triggered by a significant birthday but is a process of natural development. As the child gets older the care plan should reflect the movement towards adulthood. Local authority has a duty under section 19BA of the Children Act 1989, inserted by section 98 of the Children and Families Act 2014 to consider the possibility of staying put when undertaking the assessment of the young person’s needs within three months of their 16thbirthday.

The pathway plan should include if a staying put arrangement is being considered even if no commitment has been formalised.

Planning and Pathway Plans

Staying put arrangements are not excluded from young people that are living away from home on a temporary basis.

This includes young people in further education in a residential situation, undertaking training for employment or the armed services, but is not limited to these situations alone.  Whilst these situations exist it may result in a reduced allowance being paid to the carer but it should cover all reasonable costs to enable the carer to continue supporting the young person.

Staying put is not intended to replace the process whereby disabled young people who meet the criteria transfer to adult care services such as “Shared Lives” placements. A shared lives placement with the young person’s previous foster carer could fulfil the local authority’s duty to provide support under staying put.

Young people under SGO are entitled to advice and support from the age of 16 until they are 21 if they were looked after immediately prior to the SGO being made. Local authorities can pay a special guardianship allowance in respect to a young person over 18 if they complete a course of full time education or training.

The young person will not qualify for support under the staying put policy. Foster carers should be made aware of this when applying for SGO by the local authority.

Supported Lodgings provide vulnerable young people with places to live in the homes of local people. These might be the same people who fostered the young person when they were “looked after” or they might have been specifically recruited to be Supported Lodgings carers. These hosts/carers are assessed, vetted and trained for the role.

Most of the young people are aged 16 to 21, but exceptionally some may need support up to 24. Young people generally spend a maximum of two years living with their hosts/carers, from whom they receive significant practical and emotional support. Supported Lodgings schemes provide family-based support to young people to help them to develop the confidence and capability to live independently.

While Supported Lodgings schemes provide substantial individual support, young people who require a higher degree of support and possibly personal care (perhaps due to medical conditions or disabilities which will prevent them from becoming fully independent in the longer term) may be eligible for Shared Lives(formerly adult placement) schemes.

Supported Lodgings have been developed as an accommodation option in recognition of the evidence that, when an alternative to foster care is needed, a supportive domestic environment is more suitable for some young people than other forms of accommodation such as foyers, hostels and rented housing.

The payments received by Supported Lodgings hosts/carers constitute a combination of rent and payment for the provision of support. These can be broken down into rent, service charges, support costs and food/meals. Payments to Supported Lodgings hosts/carers may be derived from Supported Lodgings schemes, from Children’s Services Departments or from Supporting People.

In addition it is common practice that young people contribute to the cost of their Supported Lodgings including payment of housing benefit.

For further information about Supported Lodgings visit the website of the National Care Advisory Service, which is a national advice, support and development service focusing on young people’s transition from care. NCAS is supported by national charity Catch22. leavingcare.org