Case Study: How We Made Panel Meetings a Virtual Reality.

Virtual Fostering Panel

Anchor Foster Care is an Ofsted registered ‘Good’ foster care agency with foster carers in five regions throughout England. These include Kent, the Midlands, East Sussex, North of London and South London. Supporting looked-after-children and young people to provide them with safety, stability, hope and support is our priority.  

Throughout the coronavirus health crisis, Anchor has continued to operate as normal as possible to ensure children, young people and foster carers get the support they need. 

Fostering Throughout Changing Times

Amid the health scare, many businesses have closed, and others have become less available.  

With the UK preparing for what at the time was a possible lockdown mode, a major concern for local authorities, foster carers and social workers was how young people would be supported.  

Anchor realised from the outset that contact with carers would be crucial in supporting young people. We also knew that the significant consequences of cancelled panels would be: 

  • the inability to approve much-needed foster carers and
  • failure to review existing foster carers to ensure they were still best able to carry out fostering duties.  

As such, we quickly galvanised our team to ensure the continuity of our service through an IT-based solution

Remote-Led Service Delivery

On March 11th the WHO sadly announced the coronavirus outbreak had become a pandemic. Anchor responded to the announcement immediately taking prompt action to prioritise the logistics of Panel Meetings.  

Steps included enlisting Mitec (our external IT support team) to support panel members with the physical implementation of Microsoft Teams. This alleviated apprehension around technological issues. Furthermore, Anchor's Panel Coordinator, Stephanie Bird, continued to manage vital stages of the panel meeting process to ensure members knew when, where and how to access information, and how to join the new virtual setting. 

Stephanie also went some way to resolve concerns about the impact of an 'impersonal' panel. Being on-hand to listen to anxieties, provide reassurance and refocus on the positive outcomes that the meeting would achieve helped to alleviate concerns.    

How Our Actions Helped Communities 

On Monday 23rd March, less than two weeks after the pandemic announcement, Anchor held its first-ever virtual panel. Influenced by Anchor and guided by the vision of Stephanie Bird, we were able to host a four-hour, seven-member video conference call connecting all panel members, applicants and their representing social workers. 

Our dedication to our young people and the combination of skills and knowledge we had, equipped us to accelerate the process and ensure the panel went ahead, being successful beyond expectations. 

 

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In a time when communities have felt let down, Anchor has helped to by enabling connections to remain intact.

Stephanie Bird is Anchor’s Panel Coordinator.

Stephanie began at Anchor in April 2010 and has been our Panel Lead for four years. 

 

 

 

 

About Panel Meetings

Panel Meetings are essential as they advise IFAs and LAs about who might be suitable foster carers and who would be suitable to continue as a foster carer.  

Fostering Panels take place for the following various reasons: - 

  • To recommend the approval of applicants to become Foster Carers 
  • To recommend continuation of approval at Foster Carer’s first Annual Review 
  • To recommend a continuation of approval if there are changes to a Foster Carer’s approval or personal circumstance 
  • To recommend the termination of a Foster Carer’s approval 

Fostering panels can be a daunting experience but carers and applicants are always supported by an allocated Social Worker. 

Panel members form part of our Central list and all have their own individual skills, knowledge and background to bring to the table. These can include being a foster carer with another agency, a social worker, health or educational professional and also having experienced being in care themselves. 

Panel members read all reports and documentation relating to the case that needs to be presented to the panel. From reading and analysing the information within the reports, panel members will identify strengths and vulnerabilities and form questions to ask at the panel. After questions have been answered the panel will discuss the answers and as a collective group, will make a recommendation to pass onto the Agency Decision Maker. 

The Panel is not an approving body and although they make a recommendation as to whether to approve or not to approve, the decision lies with the Agency Decision Maker. The Agency Decision Maker is an independent qualified Social Worker with working background and knowledge in Child Care Law and Practice. 

At Anchor, panels are held, where possible once a month and serve our existing and future foster carers in all our regions. In 2019 Anchor held 10 panels which contributed to 17 families having their approval continued and 18 new families approved.