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4.2.5 Averting Foster Placement Disruptions

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  1. Key Issues in Placement Disruption
  2. Dealing with a Potential Disruption

1. Key Issues in Placement Disruption

Caption: Key Issues table

Good matching of foster carers with children and the full exchange of information prior to the placement are both linked with placement stability.

The term disruption is used to describe the situation where a placement can no longer continue and ends prematurely before the date which was originally planned.

2. It is the policy of the authority to minimise the occurrence of foster placement disruptions by ensuring that:
  • An assessment of the child or young person's needs is always carried out prior to placement.
  • Unplanned placements will be the exception, and will only take place with the agreement of a senior manager.
  • All available information concerning the needs of the child will be shared with the foster carers prior to placement.
  • When potential disruptions are identified, any appropriate additional services will be speedily mobilised to ensure that foster carers receive adequate support.
3. The movement of children for reasons other than their best interests should not happen. The decision to seek an alternative placement should never be made hastily, and whenever practicable should be endorsed at a statutory review.
4. When it becomes apparent that it is no longer in the interests of the child for the placement to continue, or foster carers are unable to continue with the placement, despite every avenue of additional support being explored, the child/young person's move from the placement needs to be well managed so that the impact in the long term on her/him and the foster family is minimised.
5. Disruption can generate strong feelings of anger; sadness, disappointment, frustration, relief, in everyone involved with the placement. In these circumstances it is easy for those closely involved to lose sight of the needs of the child. Foster carers and their family as well as the child or young person will need additional support.
6. Managers should not overlook the impact that placement disruptions can have on the social workers involved, and have a particular role in ensuring that the child or young person's needs are kept uppermost, and that decisions and actions are not unduly influenced by the negative emotions surrounding the disruption. Apportioning blame or adopting a punitive stance towards foster carers is not helpful and should be avoided.

Understanding the Cause

Caption: Key Issues table 2

The cause of a particular disruption is rarely the consequence of any one single factor. A number of contributory factors can usually be identified, many of which relate to the planning and preparatory stages of the placement. Some important points are:

Lack of information about the child

An understanding of the impact on the child of individual life experiences as well as full factual information is required if carers are to have the best chance of meeting the child's needs. Carers need information about

  • the child's history, the quality of their care and attachments,
  • their level of functioning,
  • patterns of behaviour and how these have been managed,
  • the adult/child messages and role models they have experienced
  • medical, educational and psychological reports.

Whilst it is considered good practice to keep family groups of children together whenever possible, it is important to identify the individual needs of each child, and not treat the children as a "package".

Inadequate preparation of the child or young person for the placement

Children will need help to understand and handle their feelings associated with separation and loss, which can often get in the way of making successful relationships with foster carers. Preparation of younger children can often be overlooked, through underestimating their need for information and capacity to understand and express a view. Every child has a right to know:

  • basic information about themselves,
  • why they are living away from their family of origin,
  • how long they are likely to be away,
  • when they will be seeing family members,
  • what plans are being made for their care, in the short and long term.

Lack of sufficient preparation of foster carers

This may lead to unrealistic expectations of the child or young person. Foster carers need, therefore, to have:

  •  an understanding of the significance of the information they are given about the child,
  • a realistic view of their capacity to meet the child's identified needs,
  • the implications of any information about the child explained to them, prior to making any decision to proceed with a placement,
  • gaps in their knowledge and experience identified and steps taken to remedy these.

There is a particular risk of inexperienced foster carers being stretched beyond their capacity, as initially they may be less skilled in assessing the viability of `placements.


At the point when a placement disrupts, the foster family is clearly not meeting the needs of a particular child at that particular time. This may indicate that inadequate consideration was given to the match at the outset of the placement. A successful match requires a good understanding of the needs of the child linked with a good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the foster family. A mismatch may occur because:

  • It was not possible to identify a better alternative placement
  • Information about the child or foster carers may come to light subsequently
  • The circumstances of the foster family might have changed

In all these cases consideration needs to be given to how the unmet needs of the child can be addressed, through mobilising additional services for the child or foster family. The child must, when they leave the home, be helped to understand the reasons and be supported with the transition- including return home and independence.

2. Dealing with a Potential Disruption

  1. The child's designated SW and the foster carers' fostering social worker must both be alert during routine supervisory visits to the foster home to signs that indicate that the placement is in difficulty. Indicators may include:
    • An apparent increase in the level of tension within the home
    • Changes in the usual pattern of behaviour of the child or young person which interfere with household routines
    • Arguments between the carers about managing the child which are straining their relationship
    • The foster child becoming the centre of attention and takes up all the family time.
    • Differences between the fostered child/young person become increasingly apparent
    • Increased frequency of telephone calls from the carers to the child's social worker or family placement social worker
    • Foster carers present a catalogue of minor problems which normally they would cope with
  2. When either the child's social worker or the fostering social worker identify signs that indicate that there is a significant risk that the placement will disrupt they should consult with each other and their respective managers without delay, sharing all relevant information. Consideration should be given to undertaking a joint visit to the foster home to discuss the concerns about the stability of the placement and agreeing a course of action to address the concerns.
  3. The child's social worker and the fostering social worker should satisfy themselves that sufficient attention has been given to the issues raised in Understanding the Cause. Sometimes arranging a meeting at this early stage, following the format for disruption meetings, can assist in identifying whether further work in any of these areas is needed. It can also provide foster carers with valuable information and insight into the needs of the child or young person, and enabling a more considered decision to be made about the future of the placement.
  4. Consideration must be given by the child's social worker or the fostering social worker to the provision of additional support to the child/young person and foster family. This could involve:
    • Additional visits to the child/young person
    • Additional visits to the foster carers
    • Mobilisation of other in house services such as the multi disciplinary family support service; priority care teams; or other statutory services such as CAMHS; pupil referral unit
    • Additional financial assistance to meet specific identified needs
    • Respite care
    • Referral to specialist agencies

      If an alternative placement, or other significant change to the Care Plan needs to be considered, a statutory child care review should be held as soon as possible, bringing forward the next one due.

Moving the Child to an Alternative Placement

  1. Once the decision to move the child has been made, the child's social worker and fostering social worker should agree as soon as possible a plan for the child/young person's move with the foster carers. The plan should establish:
    • The type of alternative placement needed
    • Who will be responsible for finding the placement
    • A timescale for the move
    • A contingency plan in the event that the preferred placement is not available within the agreed timescale
    • What preparatory work needs to be done with the child/young person
    • Who will be responsible for preparing the child for the move
  2. All the usual procedures must be followed when moving the child to a new placement. It cannot be overemphasised how important it is not to be tempted to "cut corners" in an attempt to speed up the process and save the child/young person from suffering further distress in an unsatisfactory placement.
  3. Responsible authorities must be informed of any emergency placement moves within one working day.

After the Child has Moved

  1. The child's social worker should visit the child/young person within the first week following the move. S/he is likely to need extra support at this time and the opportunity to talk about what has happened. The social worker will also need to consider and discuss with the child/ young person whether there should be any further contact with the foster family or any other significant person associated with the placement.
  2. The fostering social worker should telephone the foster carers the day following the move, and follow up with a visit within 10 working days. The purpose of this visit is to provide an opportunity to debrief the carers, deal with any outstanding matters associated with the disrupted placement, including the possibility of future contact with the child, and assess the need for further work with the foster family.
  3. A Disruption Meeting should be considered when:
    • The child had been placed on a permanent or long-term basis (long term is defined as a placement which has lasted or was planned to last for 2 years or longer).
    • A child placed on a shorter term basis (up to two years) has experienced two or more successive disruptions immediately prior to the placement

      In other circumstances the Area Manager responsible for the child should decide, after consultation with the Fostering Team Manager, whether a Disruption Meeting should be held.
  4. A foster carer review should normally be held before further placements are made with the foster carer. This should take place following the Disruption Meeting (if being held). Authorisation should be obtained from the Fostering Team Manager before arranging any placements with the carer prior to this.
  5. Foster carers must be supported to maintain links with children who leave their care.