A guide to unannounced visits for foster carers
Introduction to unannounced visits
Unannounced visits are a statutory requirement, however, like many things in a devolved foster care sector, you can find them open to interpretation.
The purpose of unannounced visits is to inspect the fostering family home environment the child or young person is living in on a day-to-day basis, at a time when the foster carer or child is not expecting it.
It is a requirement set in National Minimum Standards and statutory regulations and is part of the contractual obligations of the foster carer.
Unannounced visits can feel intrusive to foster carers, but if carried out in accordance with consistent written policies, where everyone is clear about the expectations they can be navigated and understood by all involved.
Unannounced visits are a vital part of safeguarding.
The legal bit about unannounced visits
The requirement for unannounced visits to foster carers is set out in the Statutory Guidance and the National Minimum Standards.
National Minimum Standard 21: Support and Supervision of Foster Carers
21.8 Each approved foster carer is supervised by a named, appropriately qualified social worker who has meetings with the foster carer, including at least one unannounced visit a year.
Fostering Services, Guidance and Regulations (2011)
5.67 Every foster carer should be allocated an appropriately qualified social worker from the fostering service (the supervising social worker) who is responsible for overseeing the support they receive.
It is the supervising social worker’s role to supervise the foster carer’s work, to ensure that they are meeting the child’s needs, and to offer support and a framework to assess the foster carer’s performance and develop their skills.
They must make regular visits to the foster carer, including at least one unannounced visit a year.
3.82 Every foster home must be visited without appointment by a supervising social worker of the fostering service at least once a year, as a check on the standards of care being provided.
National Minimum Standard 10: Providing a suitable physical environment for the Foster Child
10.5 The foster home is inspected annually, without an appointment, by the fostering service to make sure that it continues to meet the needs of foster children Examples of different provider’s policies Each fostering provider, both local authority and private agency, should have an unannounced visit policy, this will be their interpretation of the NMS and Fostering Regulations.
Here are 3 examples of individual provider’s in-house unannounced:
Example of unannounced visits policies
There should also be unannounced visits at least twice a year. The main purpose of the unannounced visit will be to look at the home environment that a child is living in. Good practice would be to undertake additional visits. In cases where there have been concerns, a plan should be in place to undertake additional visits. The unannounced visits will usually be undertaken by the foster carers’ supervising social worker, although other supervising social workers could undertake the visits.
On the visit, they would need to have a knowledge of:
- Who is in the home
- Who is looking after the child
- If the carer is not at home, what arrangements have been made for the care of the child?
If the foster carers are not at home, the supervising social worker should leave a note for the foster carers to say that s/he has visited. If the foster carers are not at home but the child is present and being looked after by someone else, the social worker should check the identity of that person but should not continue with the visit.
Unannounced visits should include:
- An opportunity to talk to the LAC child;
- See the child’s bedroom;
- Observe the home environment in terms of health and safety and safe caring. Address any concerns;
- Observe the relationship between all adults and children present.
Unannounced visits should be recorded on case notes, utilising the unannounced visit proforma, which should be shared and discussed with the carer(s).
1. Why do Foster Carers have Unannounced Visits
Unannounced visits are a way for the foster service to get a better understanding of the child’s lived experience within the foster home. Although the minimum requirement is at least once a year our expectation is that there will be a minimum of at least 2 unannounced visits per year. This requirement better reflects the changing compositions of fostering households and will allow us to better monitor the experience of children.The use of additional unannounced visits should be considered if there are concerns about the standards of care or as part of an action plan agreed upon with carers.
2. The Visit
Unannounced visits should be timed for when the looked-after child or young person will be at home. This allows the supervising social worker to observe the relationship between the foster carers and the child or young person and speak to the child or young person about how they are getting on in the fostering household During the unannounced visit all areas of the home should be seen, this includes the garden and any outbuildings.
The supervising social worker should be checking that standards are consistent throughout the home e.g. bedrooms for looked after children are of the same standard as other bedrooms within the foster home.
Where children and young people are present, whether looked after or children of the foster carers, their permission should be sought to view their rooms. The supervising social worker should explain the reason for the request and be clear that it is not about whether bedrooms are tidy.
Although it is not necessary to complete a full health and safety during the announced visits consideration should be given to issues of health and safety. For example, are windows and doors locked, and are the stair gates and fire guards in place if appropriate?
Any issues should be addressed during the visit and checked on the next visit.
If neither of the foster carers is at home when the unannounced visit is undertaken then the visit should not be continued, even if other household members are at home.
It should be recorded that the visit was attempted but a further unannounced visit will need to be undertaken. If the foster carers are not at home and the looked-after child or young person is at home the SSW should check what the arrangements are for the supervision of the child or young person (e.g. alternative carer, or if there is none when the carer is expected home).
If it is not possible for the supervising social worker to see all areas of the home and undertake appropriate checks a further unannounced visit should be completed.
The supervising social worker should complete the Visit Summary and note that it was an unannounced visit in the Purpose of Visit section. A case note should also be added but this should signpost to the completed Visit Summary. There is no need to add the details of the visit on a case note.
Team Managers as part of the supervising social worker’s supervision should track unannounced visits and discuss whether there have been any issues arising from them.
Outcomes of unannounced visits will be part of the foster carers’ annual review.
Unannounced Visits Guidance and Protocol
The UK National Standards for Foster Care and the Fostering Services regulations recommend that Foster Carers have at least one unannounced visit conducted per year. For best practice, PCC aims to carry out two unannounced visits per year. We are aware that some Foster Carers have anxieties about the nature of the visits. This guidance sets out the expectations about how these visits should be conducted and recorded.Guidance
Why ‘Unannounced Visit’?
XXX acknowledges and recognises that the Supervisory service we provide is of a good standard but we are continually striving to improve to ensure that children in foster care are safe.
Unannounced visits are one of the measures available to ensure that foster care is being provided by XXX and is of a high standard.
What we will want to know?
- Who is looking after the child or the young person?
- Who is in the home?
If the Foster Carer is not at home, what arrangements have been made to care for the child/young person?
- What is to be seen?
The child(ren)’s bedroom(s) and the communal spaces available to the child such as the bathroom, kitchen, and living rooms. We will not want to see the foster carer’s bedroom or their children’s bedrooms unless they share with the fostered child (i.e. baby under 2 years)
XXX will complete the visit as quickly as possible.
Clarify any issues with you and then have a standard format for unannounced visits so that all visits are the same.
NB: This visit is not about checking on how tidy your home is. The visits will be conducted by the supervising social worker who is aware of the general standard of your home.
All unannounced visits will take place between 8:00 am and 8:00 pm, on any day of the week (however it is anticipated that most visits will take place from Monday to Friday).
All carers will have an unannounced visit at least once a year (can be more, at the discretion of the supervising social worker and the manager).
If a foster carer is not at home, the supervising social worker will leave a note to say they have visited.
If the child/young person is being looked after by a babysitter or backup carer, the supervising social worker will seek to identify the person looking after the child/young person.
If the circumstances warrant it, the supervising social worker may request that the child is seen and continue with the visit, or may not continue the visit.
We would not expect foster carers to refuse an unannounced visit. All supervising social workers must follow the standard Pro-forma.
Foster carer’s and birth children’s bedrooms
Unannounced visits can feel very intrusive at times, however, they are part of our contractual agreement with (Fostering Agreement) that we sign with our provider on approval. These visits are underpinned by the National Minimum Standards and Fostering Regulations (2011) and are therefore part of our professional role.
One of the most contentious areas for foster carers is the inspection of their more private spaces, their own bedroom, and their birth children’s bedrooms, and as you can see from the policies above some providers will see these areas as part of the inspection and some won’t.
It can be frustrating when inspections are so different, even varying between workers within the same local authority or agency. Clear concise policies and details of how the inspections will work in practice make all the difference to both the provider and foster carer.
How do unannounced visits work in practice?
- If you have a review coming up and you haven’t had an unannounced one all year, you will most likely get one on the day before.
- If there has been any question around standards of care or any issues you will most likely get more frequent ones.
- You might not be in, but you can not help that, that’s the very nature of an unannounced visit, you don’t know they are coming. You can not be penalised for not being there, even if it happens multiple times.
- Some providers do them once a year, some twice a year, and many carers fed back to us that they haven’t had one for several years.
- It varies hugely who carries out these visits, it can be a carer’s own social worker or link worker (the National Minimum Standards/stat regs seem to suggest this is who should do it) however in practice it’s often also carried out by anyone in services.
- Each Unannounced visit can be different, in terms of what is inspected and what they entail.
FosterWiki comments and recommendations
Foster carers across the UK, from both local authorities and independent agencies, gave us feedback for this page. They all expressed their acceptance that unannounced visits were integral to their role, and understood the relevance of them within a safeguarding context and as part of their fostering agreements, National Minimum Standards, and statutory regulation.
However, the inconsistent erratic nature of the delivery of policies, the lack of adherence to in-house policies, National Minimum Standards, and statutory regulations cause widespread distress to foster families across the UK.
It is clear from the research we did for this page, the comments below, and our own team’s experiences that unannounced visits are extremely inconsistent, even within the same provider.
Many foster carers had never seen and had no idea of their in-house unannounced visit policy.
- FosterWiki recommend providers ensure they have a clear policy for unannounced visits, they make sure that every foster carer has received a copy and understands it.
- Policies should set out clear expectations of how the unannounced visit will be carried out, and what inspections will take place.
- All staff carrying out unannounced visits should be trained in consistent delivery and adherence to the in-house policy and are clear about the National Minimum Standards and statutory regulations regarding these visits. If for any reason inspections are to reach outside the policy remit, in terms of frequency or inspection of the family home, the foster carer must be told in advance, not of the date of visit but that they will be subject to a specific inspection outside of the remit of the policy.
- Fostering family homes are also a place of work, however, they are not owned by the councils or agencies, foster carers and the children they care for have a right to family life. All statutory visits must be by appointment, and any unannounced visits must follow clear guidelines and policies.
Foster carer’s comments
- National Minimum Standards (NMS)
- NMS UK Government website
- The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011
- The Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009
- The Regulation and Inspection of Social Care (Wales) Act 2016
- Guide to supervision
- Fostering agreement
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