This document contains the National Minimum Standards (NMS) applicable to the provision of fostering services. The NMS, together with Regulations relevant to the placement of children in foster care such as the The Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 (the 2011 Regulations), form the basis of the regulatory framework under the Care Standards Act 2000 (CSA) for the conduct of fostering services.
The values statement below explains the important principles which underpin these standards.
- The child’s welfare, safety and needs are at the centre of their care.
- Children should have an enjoyable childhood, benefiting from excellent parenting and education, enjoying a wide range of opportunities to develop their talents and skills leading to a successful adult life.
- Children are entitled to grow up in a loving environment that can meet their developmental needs.
- Every child should have his or her wishes and feelings listened to and taken into account.
- Each child should be valued as an individual and given personalised support in line with their individual needs and background in order to develop their identity, self confidence and self-worth.
- The particular needs of disabled children and children with complex needs will be fully recognised and taken into account
- The significance of contact for looked after children, and of maintaining relationships with birth parents and the wider family, including siblings, half-siblings and grandparents, is recognised, as is the foster carer’s role in this.
- Children in foster care deserve to be treated as a good parent would treat their own children and to have the opportunity for as full an experience of family life and childhood as possible, without unnecessary restrictions.
- The central importance of the child’s relationship with their foster carer should be acknowledged and foster carers should be recognised as core members of the team working with the child.
- Foster carers have a right to full information about the child.
- It is essential that foster carers receive relevant support services and development opportunities in order to provide the best care for children.
- Genuine partnership between all those involved in fostering children is essential for the NMS to deliver the best outcomes for children; this includes the Government, local government, other statutory agencies, fostering service providers and foster carers.
Legal status of the standards
The NMS for fostering services are issued by the Secretary of State under section 23 of the Care Standards Act 2000. The Secretary of State will keep the standards under review and may publish amended standards as appropriate.
Minimum standards do not mean standardisation of provision. The standards are designed to be applicable to the wide variety of different types of fostering service. They aim to enable, rather than prevent, individual providers to develop their own particular ethos and approach based on evidence that this is the most appropriate way to meet the child’s needs. Many providers will aspire to exceed these standards and develop their service in order to achieve excellence.
The standards are issued for use by Ofsted, who take them into account in the inspection of fostering services. They will also be important in other ways. The standards may be used by providers and staff in self-assessment of their services; they provide a basis for the induction and training of staff and carers; they can be used by parents, children and young people as a guide to what they should expect a fostering service to provide and to do as a minimum; and they can provide guidance on what is required when setting up a fostering service.
The standards apply to fostering services. Where a standard places an expectation on a foster carer, this should be interpreted as an expectation on their fostering service to support the foster carer to meet the standard.
Structure and approach to inspection
[Ofsted will be providing advice on how the individual standards fit against the judgements in their inspection framework]
The National Minimum Standards for fostering services focus on delivering achievable outcomes for children. Each standard is preceded by a statement of the outcome to be achieved by the fostering service provider. The standards are intended to be qualitative, in that they provide a tool for judging the quality of life experienced by services users, but they are also designed to be measurable. Services will normally show that they are meeting the headline statement of the outcome by following the standards below. However, these do not have to be followed exactly if the service can demonstrate, and Ofsted is satisfied, that the outcomes are being met in a different way. The exception is a requirement set out in regulations in which case the requirement must be met. The standards outline in the legislation box what the statutory requirement is which underpins the standards. Unless otherwise specified, the legislation referred to in the legislation box is a provision in the 2011 Regulations.
Across all its work, Ofsted has three core statutory responsibilities under section 117 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006: to ensure that inspection supports improvement in the services Ofsted inspects and regulates; that it is centred on the needs of users; and that it promotes the effective use of resources.
There are four elements to Ofsted’s function as a regulator: registration; inspection; compliance; and enforcement. The purpose of Ofsted’s inspection of social care is to assess the quality of care being provided for children and, where appropriate, their families. Inspection focuses on the outcomes which they are being supported to achieve. It tests compliance with the relevant Regulations and takes into account the NMS.
Following inspection, inspectors will make a number of judgements, including a judgement on the overall effectiveness of the service inspected. They will make recommendations for improvement, including any action required to ensure that provisions fully meet the NMS. For those provisions which are required to be registered with Ofsted, they will set requirements to be fulfilled in order to remedy any identified failure to meet the relevant regulations. Any identified failure in meeting the requirements of regulations may lead to consideration of enforcement action. Conditions of registration may be imposed.
The wider context
These national minimum standards are underpinned by the 2001 Regulations. Statutory guidance for fostering services - Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Services - sets out the wider context for local authorities, as providers and commissioners of fostering services. This is not an exhaustive list, and other legislation and guidance may also be relevant, for example, legislation covering such matters as health and safety, fire or planning requirements.
It is intended that the standards will be used, both by fostering service providers and by Ofsted, to focus on securing positive welfare, health and education outcomes for children, and reducing risks to their welfare and safety. All providers and staff of fostering services should aim to provide the best care possible for the children for whom they are responsible, and observing the standards is an essential part, but only a part, of the overall responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of each individual child.
Application to Short Breaks
Both the 2011 Regulations and the NMS are modified in relation to short breaks. This is in recognition that where the child receives short breaks the parents have primary responsibility for planning for their child. Regulation 42 defines short break care and sets out the modifications, which are that the following regulations do not apply in relation to the child where the child is on a short break: regulations 14, 15(2)(a) and (d), and 16.
The following NMS do not apply in relation to short break care: standard 2.5, 2.7 and all of standard nine and twelve. In addition there is no requirement for a separate placement plan for children looked after in a series of short breaks (Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010, regulation 48 (3)). For such children the short break care plan includes key elements of the placement plan. Where the NMS state ‘placement plan’ this will be the short break care plan in relation to children on short breaks.