What is it like appearing before a fostering panel?
Attending your first fostering panel is a big and important moment in your career as a foster carer. It’s the last hurdle before you’re approved to welcome foster children into your home.
Naturally, it can also be quite a daunting moment. Not only can it feel like everything you’ve been working towards hangs on how the discussion goes, but sitting down in front of a group of experts and answering questions about your life is a bit of a strange thing to do.
To help demystify what it’s like appearing before a foster panel, we’ve asked a couple of Lika foster carers to share their experiences. The first, Andi, is from east London and has been fostering just over a year. The second, Dee, is from south London and has been fostering for several years.
GOT QUESTIONS?: If you want to know more about becoming a foster carer in London, ask our team here.
What does the fostering panel do?
Before we hear from Andi and Dee, here’s a quick rundown on what the fostering panel is, what it does, and how it works.
What does the foster care panel do?
It makes recommendations about whether a person is suitable to become a foster carer, and any terms on which they should be approved (for example, the age and number of children that can be placed with them).
Who is on the panel?
The panel is a group of experts, including social workers, psychologists, educators, other foster carers, a representative from Lika, and even people who have lived in foster care or are the biological child of a foster carer or someone who has a child in foster care.
How does the panel work?
It’s really just like a big meeting. There’ll be at least five people on the fostering panel including an independent chairperson, who will direct the conversation. (They’ll all have name cards on the table, so you’ll know who is whom!)
Everyone on the panel will have a copy of a comprehensive report, prepared by your social worker and a clinician. It contains things like your family tree, medicals, references, and so on. The panel will have discussed the report before you’re invited into the room. They may even ask to speak separately to your assessing social worker before inviting you into the room.
When they’re ready for you, the panel chair will pop out into the waiting room to let you know which areas they’re keen to discuss with you. Then they will invite you into the meeting (together with your assessing social worker), where you’ll meet the panel members and join the conversation.
It’s normal for the meeting to take an hour to 90 minutes. You’ll get immediate feedback and verbal notice of the panel’s decision within two working days (and in writing within a week).
Andi’s experience attending a foster care panel
So, what’s it like going into a foster care panel for the very first time? For Andi, a new carer from east London, it was a surprise to find so many people in the meeting room.
“While I was waiting I kept seeing people pop in and out, so I knew there were several people in there,” she said. “But when you walk in you think ‘wow, so many’ – and then your mind just goes completely blank! I’m not someone who worries about things like that, but when I walked into the room it suddenly hit me.
“So when you’re answering a question, you’re never sure who to look at.”
Andi said she could tell from the questions the panel asked that they had read her profile thoroughly.
“They didn’t just ask me random questions; they’d clearly come up with their questions from what they’d read, because all the questions were quite relevant to me,” she said.
“But of course you’re thinking ‘why are they asking me that? Do they think I’m a mass murderer?’
“I remember I did dry up a bit at one point, but you’ve got your social worker sitting there beside you, so you can rely on them a bit.
“My best advice is just to relax because all the stuff they’re asking you is real stuff you’ve experienced in your life – so you can’t prepare for it.”
Andi said leaving the panel she felt a big sense of relief, but wondered whether she’d “given them what they wanted”.
She must have! Andi has been looking after an 11-year-old girl for a little over a year. That means she’s not just met the panel once, but twice – as all carers return for an annual review.
“It was very flattering,” Andi said of her review feedback. “I didn’t think I’d done as fantastic a job as they obviously felt I’d done. So, I felt reassured that I had done the right thing. It was a positive experience.”
Dee’s experience appearing before the foster panel
Dee and her husband have been carers in south London for several years. She recalls feeling “as prepared as you can be” for her first fostering panel experience, “in terms of your assessment and the work that you need to do”.
“But nothing prepares you for being sat around the table,” she said. “You are nervous going in… there’s an element of this pressure [in your own head] to get the responses right.
“But as part of the process, Lika will have explained to you the makeup of the panel and the different people who will be there. You get introduced to the chair. They take you off for a private chat, anyway, before you start.
“Then you’re asked the questions. But they’re not there to ‘catch you out’. All they’re doing is unpicking some of your assessment, so it’s only about you: you can’t go wrong.”
How did she feel once that first assessment panel was over?
“I just thought, oh my God, what have I done?” she said. “Because it all becomes real then. You think, ‘I’m actually going to be a foster carer’.
“You go through all these feelings: there was a feeling of relief because you’ve got through it. Then there’s a realisation that you’re going to start receiving referrals (for potential foster care placements).
Dee’s experience of foster care panel annual reviews
Since that first foster panel experience, Dee and her husband have had three annual reviews. She said she regards them as a chance to reflect on your year with your young person.
“Lika are very interested in how the agency has worked for you: what’s worked well, are there things you want to change, and so on,” Dee said. It’s about you as a family, you as a foster carer, and about how the agency have been there for you and your young person.
“I really enjoy it. It’s like rubber-stamping your approval and achievements for the year. All the hard work, all the challenges, the struggles, the weaknesses… you can sit around a table and talk about them.
“I find it quite therapeutic. Other people might not find it that way. I like reflection. You fill out all your forms beforehand so you already go in with memories of the past year.
“But there’s always going to be something you’re challenged on and I like that, because we’re human and there’s no such thing as a perfect foster carer. I think that’s healthy.”
If you’re in London and you’re interested in becoming a foster carer, give the helpful team at Lika a call on 020 8667 2111. We’re here to answer all your questions.
We’re in the London boroughs of Croydon, Sutton, Bromley, Merton, Lambeth, Westminster, Wandsworth, Lewisham, Southwark, Islington, Camden, Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Ilford, City of London, Haringey, Newham, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, Hammersmith and Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea.