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7.1.17 Delegation of Authority to Foster Carers and Residential Workers

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter sets out the arrangements for delegating to carers the authority to make decisions relating to Children in Care.

‘Carer’, in this context, means the foster carer or registered manager of the children’s home where the child resides. This will include Connected Persons given temporary approval as foster carers, but will not include Private Foster Carers.

Principles:

  • Authority for day-to-day decision making about a Child in Care should be delegated to the child’s carer(s), unless there is a valid reason not to do so*;
  • The child’s Placement Plan should record who has the authority to take particular decisions about the child. It should also record the reasons where any day-to-day decision is not delegated to the child’s carer;
  • Decisions about delegation of authority should take account of the child’s views, and consideration should be given as to whether a child is of sufficient age and understanding to take some decisions themselves.

*‘The carer’ means the foster carer or registered manager of the children’s home where the child resides.

RELATED GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations - Volume 2: care planning, placement and case review, June 2015

AMENDMENT

In July 2021, the guidance was reviewed and extensively updated. Section 7, Key Principles is new.


Contents

  1. Delegation of Authority (DA)
  2. Delegation in the Context of the Permanence Plan
  3. Delegation in the Context of the Law on Parental Responsibility
  4. The Child’s Competence to Make Decisions Themselves
  5. Types of Decision
  6. Delegation Relating to the Child's Education
  7. Key Principles


1. Delegation of Authority (DA)

What is delegated authority?

  • Delegated authority is the process that enables foster carers to make common sense, everyday decisions about the children and young people they care for, such as allowing them to go to friends’ houses for sleepovers, signing consent forms for school trips and even arranging haircuts;
  • Holders of parental responsibility can delegate authority to foster carers to undertake such tasks and decisions. Foster carers never have parental responsibility for a fostered child, so they can only take decisions about the fostered child where that authority has been delegated to them by the local authority and/or the parents;
  • Clarifying who is best placed to take everyday decisions depends on many factors: the young person’s age, views, legal status and care plan, the parents’ views and the experience and views of the foster carers. Collaboration and consultation are essential for successful working partnerships.

At City of York:

  • We are committed to ensuring that, as part of their corporate parenting role, looked after children in their area are able to enjoy the safe, stable childhood that all children and young people are entitled to;
  • We are committed to taking the steps needed to embed a culture which is not risk averse but which allows decisions to be taken at the appropriate level, including allowing decisions about young people’s day-to-day care to be taken by their carers;
  • We understand the importance of achieving this if young people are to enjoy a full childhood and family life where they’re not made to feel different from their peers, don’t miss out on opportunities that their peers enjoy and have carers who are allowed to get on with day-to-day parenting;
  • We understand the importance of involving carers in care planning decisions – they often know the child best;
  • We are committed to supporting staff and carers who appropriately delegate and/or take on responsibility, so they feel confident that they will be supported, even if problems occur.

It is essential to fulfilling the local authority’s duty to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare that, wherever possible, the most appropriate person to take a decision about the child has the authority to do so, and that there is clarity about who has the authority to decide what.

Decisions about delegation of authority must be made within the context of:

  • The child’s Permanence Plan, which sets out the local authority’s plan for achieving a permanent home for the child; and
  • The legal framework for Parental Responsibility in the Children Act 1989.

The Delegated Authority form is intended to be used to assist social workers, parents, foster carers and young people to talk to each other about delegated authority and decision making to the foster carer whilst the child is placed in foster care. It can help to prepare for the initial Placement Planning Meeting and each subsequent review when the Placement Plan is considered. It can be used in existing placements when further clarification may help the foster carer understand their delegated responsibilities more clearly. It is an aide to good practice in working with delegated authority.

It is expected that foster carers will be given appropriate flexibility to take decisions relating to children in their care taking account of the placement plan.

Foster carers must be given delegated authority to make day to day decisions regarding things such as health, education and leisure unless there are particular reasons against this. As far as possible foster carers must be able to make the same sort of every day decisions that other parents make so that the child can experience as normal a family life as possible.

It is also important to remember that children and young people’s views should be sought in the same way that one would do with one’s own child, and the weight given to their views must take into account their ages and vulnerability.

The delegated authority agreement form does not replace or replicate the Placement Plan which is the legal requirement for this purpose. The required content of the Placement Plan is set out in Schedule 2 of the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review Regulations 2010 and relevant statutory guidance.

Clarifying who is best placed to take everyday decisions depends on many factors: the young person’s age, their views, legal status and care plan, the parents’ views and the experience and the views of the foster carers. Collaboration and consultation are essential for successful partnership working.

This form has been partially completed for ease of use. It should meet most situations for a child in care of the Local Authority. There are some gaps which will need further consideration and completion at the placement planning meeting and in any event, all parts of the form must be checked to ensure they reflect the arrangements needed for the child.

Where the child is accommodated, the birth parent’s role in the day to day parenting may be significant and therefore some of the completed boxes may need amending.


2. Delegation in the Context of the Permanence Plan

When deciding who should have authority to take particular decisions, the most appropriate exercise of decision-making powers will depend, in part, on the long term plan for the child, as set out in the child’s permanence plan. For example:

  • Where the plan is for the child to return home, the child’s parents should have a significant role in decision-making;
  • Where the plan is for long term foster care/fostering for adoption, the foster carers should have a significant say in the majority of decisions about the child’s care, including longer term decisions such as which school the child will attend;
  • Whatever the Permanence Plan, the carer should have delegated authority to take day-to-day parenting decisions. This enables them to provide the best possible care for the child.


3. Delegation in the Context of the Law on Parental Responsibility

The child’s parents do not lose Parental Responsibility when the child is Looked After. Where the child is voluntarily Accommodated under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 the local authority does not have Parental Responsibility. The local authority does have Parental Responsibility where there is a care order or emergency protection order. The foster carer never has Parental Responsibility.

Where a child is being voluntarily accommodated, the child’s Care Plan, including delegation of authority to the local authority or child’s carer, should (where the child is under 16), as far as is reasonably practicable, be agreed with the child’s parents and anyone else who has Parental Responsibility. If the child is 16 or 17 the Care Plan should be agreed with them. A local authority cannot restrict a person’s exercise of their Parental Responsibility, including their decisions about delegation, unless there is a Care Order or an Emergency Protection Order in place.

Where a child is subject to a Care Order or Emergency Protection Order, the local authority should, wherever possible and appropriate, consult parents and others with Parental Responsibility for the child. The views of parents and others with Parental Responsibility should be complied with unless it is not consistent with the child’s welfare.

It is important to build effective relationships between parents and others with Parental Responsibility so that they understand that appropriate delegation is in the best interests of the child. Where parents initially feel unable to delegate, this may change over time as trust develops, so decisions should be kept under review through the care planning process, which parents should be involved in, where reasonably practicable (whether the child is voluntarily Accommodated or under a Care Order).

Where a parent is unable to engage in the discussions about delegation of authority for whatever reason, or refuses to do so, the local authority will need to take a view. If the local authority has a Care Order, then they can exercise their Parental Responsibility without the parent. Where the local authority does not have Parental Responsibility they can still do what is reasonable in the circumstances for the purpose of safeguarding and promoting the child's welfare.

There are some decisions where the law prevents authority being delegated to a person without Parental Responsibility. These include applying for a passport (a child aged 16 or over who has the mental capacity to do so can apply for their own passport). Where there is a Care Order, the child cannot be removed from the UK for more than a month without written consent of everyone with Parental Responsibility or the leave of the Court (where the child is voluntarily accommodated the necessary consents must be obtained as for a child outside the care system). A local authority cannot decide that a child should be known by a different surname or be brought up in a religion other than the one they would have been brought up in had they not become Looked After.


4. The Child’s Competence to Make Decisions Themselves

Any decision about delegation of authority must consider the views of the child. In some cases a child will be of sufficient age and understanding to make decisions themselves. For example, they may have strong views about the often contentious issue of haircuts, and if the child is of sufficient age and understanding, it may be decided that they should be allowed to make these decisions themselves.

When deciding whether a particular child, on a particular occasion, has sufficient understanding to make a decision, the following questions should be considered:

  • Can the child understand the question being asked of them?
  • Do they appreciate the options open to them?
  • Can they weigh up the pros and cons of each option?
  • Can they express a clear personal view on the matter, as distinct from repeating what someone else thinks they should do?
  • Can they be reasonably consistent in their view on the matter, or are they constantly changing their mind?

Regardless of a child’s competence, some decisions cannot be made until a child reaches a certain age, for example, tattoos are not permitted for a person under age 18 and certain piercings are not permitted until the child reaches age 16.

Where appropriate, consider seeking the child’s views on the preferred decision maker.


5. Types of Decision

Decisions about the care of a Child in Care are likely to fall into three broad areas:

  • Day-to-day parenting, e.g. routine decisions about health/hygiene, education, leisure activities;
  • Routine but longer term decisions, e.g. school choice;
  • Significant events, e.g. surgery.

Day-to-day Parenting

This Delegated Authority Decision Agreement Form (on mosaic) provides guidance for foster carers making common sense, everyday decisions about the children and young people they care for in agreement and in conjunction with supervising social workers and children’s / young people’s social workers. 

Foster carers should have flexibility to make decisions relating to children in their care taking account of the placement plan. Delegated Authority assists foster carers make decisions regarding issues such as health, education, contact and leisure unless there are particular reasons why this should not be the case helping to ensure that the children and young people experience as normal a family life as possible.

Clarifying who is best placed to make everyday decisions depends on many factors: the young person’s age, their views, legal status and care plan, the parents’ views and the experience and the views of the foster carers.

Collaboration and consultation are essential for successful partnership working and it is important, subject to their age and level of understanding, that the child or young person is involved in the completion of this document.

Using this Form

This form provides guidance on each task area of possible Delegated Authority for each child / young person placed.

  • Relevant placement specific details on how Delegated Authority will be achieved must be completed in the right hand column to ensure it effectively meets the needs of the placed child / young person.
  • It should be completed at the initial placement planning meeting and updated at each subsequent review when the placement plan is considered. This is particularly so where the child is accommodated and the birth parent’s role in day to day parenting may be significant.
  • Agreement and any subsequent amendments to this form must be signed and dated.

Reasons not to delegate to the carer may include, if the child’s individual needs, past experiences or behaviour are such that some day-to-day decisions require particular expertise and judgement. For example, where a child is especially vulnerable to exploitation by peers or adults, where overnight stays may need to be limited, the foster carer or children’s home may need the local authority to manage this.

Routine but Longer Term Decisions

This category of decisions will require skilled partnership work to involve the relevant people. The child’s Permanence Plan will be an important factor in determining who should be involved in the decision. For example, if the plan is for the child to return home, their parents should be involved in a decision about the type of school the child should attend and its location, because ultimately the child will be living with them. Where the plan is for long term foster care, or care in a residential unit until age 18, then while the child’s parents must be involved (unless there is a Care Order and the local authority has decided not to involve them), where possible the school choice should fit with the foster carer’s family life as well as be appropriate for the child.


6. Delegation Relating to the Child’s Education

The Education Act 1996 defines ‘parent’ as including a person who has care of the child in question. Therefore a child’s foster carer or residential worker is deemed a parent for the purposes of education law. This means, for example, that a foster carer should be treated like a parent with respect to information provided by a school about the child’s progress; should be invited to meetings about the child; and should be able to give consent to decisions regarding school activities.

Young people can sometimes apply in their own right for a place at sixth form or FE college. If they are of compulsory school age their application must also be signed by a parent (which in the context of education includes foster carers or residential workers) confirming their approval of the application. Once they are over compulsory school age they can apply in their own right without the need for parental consent. Young people can also appeal against the refusal of a sixth form place along these lines.


7. Key Principles

Key principles:

  1. Listen to what children want. The people who look after children on a daily basis are usually the ones who make day-to-day decisions such as whether to agree sleepovers and school trips. This should be no different for foster carers. Children do not want social workers making these decisions – it makes them feel different to their peers, can result in missed opportunities and gets in the way of them enjoying a full childhood and family life;
  2. Involve birth families in care planning. Children’s relationships with their birth families vary. Some birth families will be very involved in making decisions about their child’s care, particularly where the child is likely to return home. It is essential wherever possible, and always where children are voluntarily accommodated, to involve birth families in discussions about delegating decision making to foster carers, helping them understand how beneficial this can be to the life of their child;
  3. Set out clearly what decision making is delegated Authority for day-to-day decision making should be delegated to foster carers unless there is a good reason not to. Every fostered child must have a placement plan which sets out the plan for their day-to-day care and how decisions about them will be made. This plan should include what decisions can be made by their foster carer and where decision making is not delegated to the foster carer the reasons should be clearly explained in the child’s placement plan;
  4. Help promote placement stability and good outcomes for children. Ensuring that foster carers are supported to make day-to-day decisions helps the children in their care to have confidence in these relationships and supports the development of trusting and secure attachments to their foster carers;
  5. Work together in the best interests of the child. Effective partnership working is core to good quality foster care. Where the foster carer, supervising social worker and child’s social worker are clear about how day-to-day decisions are to be made, decisions are more likely to be on time with everyone working in the best interests of the child;
  6. Support foster carers to develop the skills and confidence they need through appropriate training and supervision, fostering services should support their foster carers to develop the skills and confidence to take day-to-day decisions, empowering them to make these decisions within a strong framework of support;

Further sources of information

Other departmental advice and guidance:

  • The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations, Volume 2: Care Planning, Placement and Case Review;
  • The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations, Volume 4: Fostering Services;
  • The Care Planning, Placement and Case Review and Fostering Services (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2013;
  • Fostering Services: National Minimum Standards.

Associated resources (external links)

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