One of the trickiest, yet most important parts of fostering is finding a suitable match between a foster child and foster carer. That’s where the foster care placement matching process comes in!
Children that are taken into care have a variety of complex needs and requirements. The foster care matching process is designed to ensure that potential foster placements meet the needs of each individual child. It aims to provide a safe and risk-free environment for the child to live in.
At Compass, we understand that pairing young people with the right foster family is critically important for their ongoing development and future outcomes.
But what exactly does the short and/or long term fostering matching process look like, and what do we look for in potential carers? We spoke to George, one of our Lead Family Finding Officers at Compass to find out more.
What is the step-by-step process for matching?
At Compass, our foster care matching process has been fine-tuned to ensure that the needs of the young people in our care are always the priority. We asked George what the step-by-step process for family finding looked like.
‘Firstly, we receive the child’s referral from their Local Authority. We review the referral and consider the carers we have available for any potential matches.’
One of the key parts of finding successful matches is having an in depth understanding of our foster carers. This includes details such as their living situation, family dynamic, skills, experience and fostering placement preferences.
Upon receiving a referral, the Family Finding Team embark on a detailed review of the young person’s background and requirements. With their extensive knowledge of each foster carer and their individual circumstances, the team will identify whether there is a carer available to meet these needs.
Despite the best efforts of our team, there are some cases in which a match is not found, and the referral is passed back to the Local Authority. Despite our best efforts, the reality is is that we continually require a wide ranging need for more foster carers to be able to meet the children’s needs that are referred to us each and every day. To put this into context, we only ever manage to safely family find for around 1 to 2% of the 4,500 children that are referred to us every month! Unfortunately, the ongoing national shortage of foster carers means that we don’t always have a carer available that can meet the needs of the child in question.
George told us that ‘if a match is located, the Family Finding Team will contact the carer and provide a brief overview of the referral – reading it word for word – and ask if they feel they are suitable.’
Most often, these conversations take place over the phone. These phone calls provide an opportunity for the potential carer to get to know a little more about the child’s history and needs.
Referrals often contain details such as the child’s gender and age, specialist care requirements, as well as their general behaviour and social, emotional and physical health needs.
The carer will then be given some time to think over the referral and talk with their Supervising Social Worker to assess whether or not they are suitable for the match.
If the Carer is Suitable
If the carer confirms they are interested in fostering the child, the Family Finding team relay their interest to the Local Authority.
‘There would then be some back and forth between Compass and the Local Authority, exchanging questions that the potential carer may have, and questions the Local Authority may have about the carer.’
Throughout this part of the process, the carer has the opportunity to ask for more details about the child’s care plan, or their requirements. Our Family Finding team are always transparent with the Local Authorities regarding information about our foster carers, but sometimes the Local Authority will have additional questions regarding the skillset and experience of each foster carer.
Local Authority Review
‘Once all questions have been asked, we formally offer the carers for the referral. The Local Authority then review the offer and, if they feel the carer is a match, they will notify us that our carer has been accepted.’
Other foster carers from different independent fostering agencies may also have been put forward as potential carers for the child. In this part of the process, it is down to the Local Authority to decide who they think will best support the child and their needs.
If the Local Authority decides they would like to consider our carer as a potential match, our team pass on various documentation about the carer to the Local Authority, such as the carer’s Form F assessment.
The child’s Social Worker is introduced to our carer’s Supervising Social Worker, in order to begin discussing a placement plan. They will agree on a start date and any specialist care requirements.
The carer’s Supervising Social Worker will keep them updated throughout this process, supporting them in making the preparations for the arrival of the child.
How is the child looked after throughout this process?
Throughout the referral process, special consideration is given to the voice of the child.
Alongside assessing what the carer is looking for in a placement, Compass’ Family Finding team also ‘take into consideration what the child is looking for in terms of a carer.’
‘We try to ensure that carers are able to continue with school and contact arrangements, so that there is as little disruption to the child’s life as possible.’
‘Sadly, this cannot always be achieved – but we always make sure that every option is explored before a school move takes place.’
We understand that maintaining existing relationships is extremely important for the stability and wellbeing of young people, and the decision to move school is not taken lightly.
What happens if the match does not work out?
Throughout the matching process, our Family Finding Team do their best to ensure that the child and foster carer are a compatible match.
In order to begin forming strong bonds between carer and child, the Family Finding team coordinate planned visits for the child and carer to meet, prior to the placement beginning.
‘This helps with the transition, so that the child knows a little about the carer before joining them.’
However, we understand that fostering a vulnerable child can be a difficult and challenging process. A lot of foster children come from difficult backgrounds; half of all children in care are considered to have some form of emotional health issue or behavioural problem. These emotional and behavioural challenges require ongoing management and can be difficult for both the child and carer.
‘If once the child joined, and they do not like the family, they would be encouraged to speak to a trusted adult and their Social Worker, to take the appropriate next steps. The Social Worker will speak with both the child and their carer to understand where the placement is breaking down and implement steps to try and build these areas back up.’
‘If this does not work, the next step is for a Placement Stability Meeting to take place. All parties, minus the child, attend this meeting to try and figure out how to salvage the placement.’
Placement Stability Meetings are an early intervention mechanism that aim to act on the concerns of the Social Workers and carer, before a placement breaks down. These meetings seek to find strategies for remedying the situation and resolving problems with the placement, while keeping in mind the best interests of the child.
If these steps fail, and it is concluded that the match between carer and child does not work, ‘notice is given, and a new foster family is then sourced for the child.’
Compass understands that listening to our young people is vital. The process of matching can feel daunting, so we invited two of our young people, S and L to talk to one of our Family Finding Teams, you can read about their experience here.
At Compass, we are committed to improving the outcomes of all the children and young people placed in our care. We have dedicated local teams who work with our carers and Social Workers to provide the most suitable, safe home for each child.