The ‘threat’ to Adoption Panels posed by implementation of Clause 29 of the Children & Social Work Bill has provoked strong feelings across the sector. Fears about the loss of ‘independent scrutiny’, the ‘monitoring’ of decision-making and the ‘safeguarding’ functions get high profile coverage. And of course the possibility of losing the ‘added value’ Fostering Panels provide in the same areas has also been raised.

But is that all that Fostering Panels do? Are we really there just to put another layer of quality assurance, another process in place? If that’s the case then we shouldn’t be surprised about criticisms that Panels are costly, create delay, give members (especially Chairs) the impression that they know more than anybody else. And can ask highly personal questions of strangers….. If that’s all Panels do would it really be such a loss?

I’m involved in Fostering Panels across the sector, and I’ve seen that when they’re working well they can do so much more than this. When you bring individuals together from different personal and professional backgrounds and when the meetings are well-organised and well-run (and allowed to maintain their independence). And where people are given the space and permission to share their views (and listen to others’) there are real opportunities to identify and develop best fostering practice. 

Where else can assumptions about backgrounds, age, life experience and the personal qualities which make a good foster carer be explored and discussed? Where else can you hear about the impact of fostering on family life – and what helps you keep going? Where else can carers tell you (openly) what training works? And for me most important – where else have I learned more about the daily strategies our best carers use to do the ever more complex tasks we’ve given them? 

I would never have known how a foster carer sensitively and patiently showed a young man how taking a bath could be fun (as well as keeping him healthy) when he had never had this experience and was frightened. I might never have thought about asking a carer about the young person who was ‘no trouble’ and stayed in their room if I hadn’t been on a Panel with a young woman whose care experience gave her insight the rest of us will never have. 

Yes it’s true that creating an effective Panel which does more than scrutinise the work of others is far from easy. Managing the dynamics, finding the balances and providing the leadership required of an effective Chair is even more challenging. It can be lonely too – because with all the excellent guidance we have (thank you Jenny Lord and Sara Borthwick) no one can tell you how to do it on the day. And in the end you have to have the personal and professional confidence to do it your way. 

But that doesn’t mean you ever stop learning. Observing other Panels is one way. Or being part of NAFP’s Forum for Chairs and Vice Chairs another. Coming together with others to talk about how it’s done has been invaluable. Because I believe in fostering there are no ‘Experts’ and we can only keep learning from each other…… If you share these aspirations for your Fostering Panel you’d be very welcome to join us (see below).

 

NAFP Panel Chair/Vice-Chair Forum, 25 January, London - for all panel chairs and vice-chairs of NAFP members