So much legislation has been rushed through since the country entered lockdown that it can be hard to keep up with the pace of change. One of the pieces of legislation which has slipped under the radar involves foster carers, and care of vulnerable children. This is of particular concern in situations where children require emergency care, perhaps due to their parents being too ill to care for them. Councils around the country are trying to tread a fine line between speeding up the process of getting new carers on board, but at the same time ensuring that processes are robust enough to safeguard some very vulnerable children and young people.
Under previous legislation, fostering panels – groups of professionals including social workers and lawyers – would periodically review arrangements when a child was placed into foster care. However, in light of the current situation, this requirement for periodic review by a panel has been made optional. This should provide more security for children who are already in foster care. Another major change concerns the vetting of emergency foster carers. Previously, only someone with a close connection to the child could be considered as a foster carer, usually a member of the immediate family. The new rules broaden out the category of who can be considered to permit members of the wider family, or family friends to step in an act as emergency foster carers in a situation where a child needs to be placed urgently.
There are also changes in the process for people who are interested in adopting a child into their family on a permanent basis. There is a rigorous approval process for potential adoptive parents, which includes interviews with social workers, background checks, character references and enhanced disclosure checks for all adults involved in the process. The aim of the process is to weed out people who, for whatever reason, are unsuitable as adoptive parents.
The new legislation will not change any aspect of the process, as the main aim will still be to safeguard children. Prospective adopters will still need to be vetted by social workers and have an enhanced disclosure certificate. What has changed are the timescales for doing the vetting and checking. Previously, councils were compelled by law to wait 21 days between making an order for a child to be adopted and that child actually being allowed to move in with their new parents. This rule has been suspended to allow children to be moved more quickly, where possible.
Duration of Changes
Many of these changes are temporary, and once the pandemic crisis has passed, the system will revert to original ways of working. The legislation is initially in place until the end of September 2020, at which point it will be formally reviewed by the government. This is in line with other changes to legislation made to ease the country through the summer months of social distancing, changes to education and many people trying to work from home rather than in the office.