Moving children

When a child or young person first comes to stay

When a child or young person comes to stay, whether this be in an emergency, or in a planned way, the first few days and weeks are important in helping the child deal with separation from their family, or previous foster carers, as well as helping them get to know their new surroundings and the people within it. Many foster carers will have had many experiences of welcoming a child or young person into their home. All children and young people are different, and their previous experiences will guide them in how they respond to you, your family and new surrounds. 

Many will be scared, suspicious, eager to please or ambivalent. We know through our experience that for some, understanding where they are and the proximity to their own community is key. For some young people, the wifi password is what they want to know, whilst for others, an inviting friendly and caring face will be the one that they remember in years to come.  For some, the basic requirements are food, drink and warm surroundings, and for others it’s getting to know who’s who. Whichever way, consideration is needed, and this is where foster carers and their family demonstrate their skills and achieve a good balance for welcoming any child or young person in this transition and adjustment period. 

For those children and young people who can experience a planned placement, this enables us to share important information with them and their family prior to meeting any foster carer and their family. It could be photographs or a carer profile that you have prepared in advance, and one which is held by us. A planned placement also gives time to consider what is important to that child and young person and allows preparations to take place. This could involve adding something personal to a child or young persons’ bedroom or being prepared with a favourite snack or game. Introductory visits could possibly be arranged and where possible introductions could continue at a pace suitable to the child or young persons’ age, understanding and capacity.

Children’s transitions

A placement may end when the child or young person returns to the care of their birth family, moves to a permanent placement, to another foster placement or a residential unit. Most moves can be well planned, but some happen as a result of a crisis or by the placement disrupting. 

Generally, moves are considered carefully at a Looked After and Accommodated (LAAC) review meeting. Returning a child or young person to the care of their family can be an anxious experience for all involved. It is important that any concerns are shared with the child or young persons’ social worker and FBC social worker. Foster carers should receive extra support at this time. Foster carers and social workers should be sensitive to the feelings of the child and young person in such a situation and ensure their welfare and best interests remain paramount. Children and young people should be able to return home with the support of all those involved in the placement. There are many situations when the move back home a happy event for the child, young person and foster carers. This is especially so where there has been an improvement in the parents’ situation and where the foster carers feel that they have been successful in initiating or supporting change. Form many foster carers, this is often cited as one of the greatest rewards of fostering.

For a child or young person, a move can be a disruptive experience, whether this is moving into, or out of placement. Support and planning can limit disruptions. No child or young person should be transferred to another placement at less than 24 hours’ notice and it is preferable that 28 days’ notice is given by foster carers, if, for some reason they feel unable to continue. Exceptions to this may be if the child or other people are at immediate risk. This could be due to the actions of the child or their family or if emergency circumstances in the foster family, eg severe illness, require the transfer.

Whatever the reason for the child or young persons’ move, whether this be home or another care arrangement, it is important that the child or young person leaves the foster home with a positive message about their stay and what they have achieved. Even if the child or young persons; stay has been for a short time, foster carers should ensure that photographs of them, their family, pets and their house are available for the child to help them make sense of their life when older. It is preferable that two copies of photographs with a clear description and dates on the back are provided so one copy can be retained in the child’s file. Foster carers may also wish to give the child a small keepsake to remind them of their time in the foster home.

The carer’s own children and others in the household may be affected by the move. Children and young people should be given opportunities to express their feelings about a move. Sometimes foster children, young people, or their parents, may want to keep in touch with foster carers and their families. This can be very helpful for both the child or young person and their parents. Continuing contact should be discussed with the child or young person's social worker and FBC social worker to agree an appropriate arrangement. 

Children and young people should have adequate clothing when they leave foster carers. It is important that all personal belongings brought into the foster home or acquired during the placement accompany them. Occasionally complaints are made regarding disposal of children or young peoples’ possessions provided by their birth family. It can be useful to keep an inventory of all their possessions. Where the carer has insufficient space to store clothes that no longer fit or toys that are broken or no longer used, it may be appropriate to check if the parent wants them returned.

Adoption or permanent Care – preparation and placing children

Though it can be difficult, interim foster carers need to keep in mind that the child or young person will move on. This may be particularly difficult if there is a delay in finding a suitable permanent placement. Regardless of the time it takes to find a permanent family, foster carers must be always clear about their role in the child or young persons’ life. Clarity about the process involved in achieving a permanent placement and the process of introductions makes it easier for all parties to work together.   FBC social workers are happy to share information or resources and hold discussions about transitions processes, and how best to support these.

The foster carer’s role is to help the child or young people to understand and accept their move to permanent care and to look towards the future in a positive way. Explanations of the differences between interim and permanent care can be done naturally in the foster carer’s home especially if the child or young person sees others move on. In many cases, relationships continue between the child and the foster carer, at least for a while, and this can help support the transition and loss which this generates.

Life story work

Foster carers are involved in helping the child or young person to understand facts about their life. These need to be explained in a manner which is appropriate to their age and stage of development and understanding. A child or young person will find it easier to understand their family situation if they have a good understanding about their past.  It helps the child and young person to develop a positive sense of themselves as they grow.

Throughout a child or young persons’ stay, foster carers are encouraged to add to existing Life Story books a child or young person may come with, or continue gathering photos, mementoes, and detailed information from their time with them and their family. How the task is to be undertaken should be agreed between the carer and the child’s social worker.  FBC continues to develop practice in relation to Life Story work. Further information can be sought from a FBC social worker. 

 Information compiled by the carer may include

  • family trees and photographs,
  • developmental milestones, eg when the child cut his first tooth, learned to walk or rode a bike,
  • injuries, illnesses or hospitalisations,
  • favourite activities, eg sports, hobbies, Brownies,
  • favourite friends and playmates,
  • photographs of the carer’s family, pets, home, neighbourhood and school, and those closely involved in the child or young person’s life. A date, place and names of the people should be recorded on the back of the photo,
  • humorous incidents and child or young person’s antics,
  • child or young persons’ contact with birth relatives and, if possible, photos,
  • details of trips or holidays with the foster carers,
  • pictures or drawings done by the child or young people with a date on the back and any letters, post cards or birthday cards received. 

Linking a child with a permanent family

Foster carers have an important role in the linking process. Foster carers attend the adoption and permanence panel to provide information about the child. Foster carers must be kept informed throughout the linking process about the progress being made. This will include if the child’s social worker has agreed a link with any prospective foster carers/adopters. Before the matching panel, the carer, along with their FBC social worker, will meet with prospective permanent foster carers/adopters to provide further information on what the child is like to care for. They will share detailed day to day information about the child and answer any queries the prospective foster carer/adopter may have.

This meeting is often the first step in establishing a relationship between the prospective foster carers/adopters and present foster carers. The prospective foster carers/adopters will also receive medical, psychological and school reports and meet with other significant people, e.g. the medical adviser.  

The co-ordination and introductions

A co-ordinator is appointed, this is a FBC social worker who is experienced and skilled in children’s transitions. Their role is to co-ordinate the child’s move. This helps to ensure that all plans are child-centred and that all necessary tasks are undertaken, with each person being clear of their role and responsibilities. This is an important area of our work and foster carers demonstrate their skill and experience from initial introductions between the child and prospective permanent foster carer/adopter to periods of time spent daily, enabling familiarity and trusting relationships to develop for the child. Generally lasting around 2 weeks, the child then transitions to their permanent home.  

Introduction planning is detailed, as well as the reasons and rational that specific styles to introductions are required. Our focus is on the child trusting their new adults enough to facilitate a move which is sensitive, considerate to their needs and at their pace. Adjustments are made to each co-ordination plan, this ensures that the child is at the centre, with different planning considerations made as required. Foster carers are required to work in a relational way, building effective working relationships with prospective permanent foster carers/adopters, supporting the children through their pre-existing attachment with them, as well as sharing their own thoughts in terms of any concerns or considerations they may have. It can be an emotive and challenging time for any foster carer.  It requires a significant amount of self-regulation and self-efficacy. It can often be an extremely rewarding part of fostering.

Keeping in touch

When a child moves to their permanent family, it is important that foster carers can continue to support the child by a series of brief visits to the child at the child’s home. This helps to reassure the child in their new environment. Support, planning and specific considerations will be made by the co-ordinator and those involved to ensure that this is carried out in a way that supports the child.

Children being moved against the foster carer's wishes

We have a responsibility for the welfare of children and young people, and it has the legal right to make decisions about a their care. Very unusually, the Organisation may exercise the right to remove a child from the foster home against the foster carers’ wishes. Every effort will be made to avoid placements ending in this way. However, if it is felt that the placement no longer meets the child’s needs, it may be in their best interests to leave. Other than in situations of abuse, this should never occur suddenly, as difficulties or concerns about the quality of care in the placement should be shared and efforts made between the foster carers, the child or young person’s social worker and their FBC social worker to overcome them. Wherever possible, any major changes in relation to the child or young person in foster care should be considered at a LAAC review. 

When a child is removed without permission

Very rarely, a parent or someone else wants to remove a child or young person without permission. The child’s placement agreement meeting should specify who can or should have time with the child or young person and whether there are any restrictions to this. If possible, the foster carer should try to negotiate with the person who wants to remove the child or young person. The foster carer should try to make a note of the full name, address, telephone number and relationship of the person to the child. If the person is still insisting on moving the child or young person, the foster carer should contact the child’s social worker, the duty worker or Emergency Social Care Direct for advice. If the situation is becoming dangerous or the carer is concerned for the welfare of the child, the Police should be called by dialling 999 and all actions and responses to these should be shared with The Emergency Social Work Service, which operates out of hours.

Preparation for adult life

Preparation for adulthood starts at an early age. It is a lifelong process, which needs to begin before a child becomes 16 years of age. Many children or young people who are in foster care return to their own families. For some, this is not possible, and they need support to become independent adults. They can be very vulnerable and are much more likely to be homeless, unemployed, exploited or get into trouble than children who have the support of their own family. Foster carers have the important role of helping young people move on towards greater independence and can provide them with opportunities to learn appropriate skills. The Throughcare and Aftercare service provides and co-ordinates services to care leavers in Edinburgh. We have a duty to provide certain services to young people until the age of 26. An individual assessment of young people’s needs with a plan of action is developed with the young person and reviewed at least every six months. Their ‘pathway plan‘ should cover seven important areas

  • lifestyle,
  • family and friends,
  • health and wellbeing,
  • learning and work,
  • where I live,
  • money,
  • rights and legal issues.