Effective communication in foster care settings
People working in fostering settings often communicate to share ideas/information; to offer reassurance; to build relationships; to ask questions and much more. Factors to consider for effective communication includes: the level; pace; tone; sensory needs; content; use of jargon/slang; child or young person’s or colleagues wellbeing and ability. This includes taking factors into consideration that may impact on how you communicate with individuals with certain disabilities; developmental delay and emotional trauma.
Gaining an appropriate level of trust sometimes forms the foundation for effective communication, as it promotes the communication process as well as supporting the development of relationships.
Understand the importance of keeping good records
In psychological terms communication represents the transmission of something from one location to another. Therefore, fostering settings should ensure an up-to-date, comprehensive case record is maintained for each child or young person in foster care which details the nature and quality of care provided and contributes to an understanding of her or his life events is in place. In addition, relevant information from the case records should be made available to the child or young person and to anyone involved in her or his care. Each fostering service must ensure it has a written policy on case recording.
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TSD standard 4 know how to communicate effectively
Overall, knowing the record keeping policy of your fostering agency, and how information is shared with others, including children and young people and their families may contribute to better outcomes for children. Ofsted framework for independent fostering services (2014:27) states ‘Records are clear, up to date, stored securely and contribute to an understanding of the child’s life’ (NMS 26)’.
Staff and foster carers should also ensure they know how to record understandable, relevant, clear and concise, factual information, which audited/sampled by the service managers. Fostering service staff and foster carers must know how to enable children and young people to participate in record keeping and keep their own records and memorabilia. Thus, Ofsted framework for independent fostering services (2014: 12) assert that ‘children and young people Looked After ‘have access to the independent fostering agency records about their life, which are provided, with appropriate support, when they are needed’.
Useful statutory guidance
Children Act 1989 Fostering Services (Volume 4)
In accordance with Working Together, it is important to keep on the foster carer’s record a clear and comprehensive summary of any allegations made, details of how the allegation was followed up and resolved, and details of any action taken and decisions reached, and to make this available to the individual. Notwithstanding the requirements of regulation 32 regarding retention of records, such information should be retained on file at least until the person concerned reaches normal retirement age, or for 10 years if that is longer. The purpose of the record is to enable accurate information to be given in response to any future request for a reference. It will provide clarification in cases where a future DBS Disclosure reveals information from the police that an allegation was made but did not result in a prosecution or a conviction, and will prevent unnecessary re-investigation if allegations re-surface at a later date.
Malicious allegations should be removed from personnel records and unsubstantiated, unfounded and malicious allegations should not be referred to in references.
Written records should be kept detailing every individual incident of a child going missing and the fostering service should share these with the responsible authority and the child’s parents where appropriate.
There should be explicit policies in place to enable foster carers and staff to keep clear records about children in placement and the work of foster carers with those children. Information recorded should be non-stigmatising and distinguish between fact and opinion. Children must be made aware of policies regarding their access to all records kept about them, whether by the foster carer or the fostering service itself.
A record must be kept in relation to each foster carer, covering the carer’s assessment and approval, children placed, and other matters as set out in regulation 30. This includes foster carers who are temporarily approved under the 2010 Regulations. The records must be kept for at least 10 years after the foster carer’s approval ends. There is also a requirement to keep records relating to people who do not go on to be approved as foster carers, and to retain these records for 3 years (regulation 32).
The fostering service must keep a register of foster carers, containing the information set out in regulation 31, and retain on this register information about foster carers for at least 10 years after their approval has ended. It must also keep a register of children placed with foster carers and include in it the information set out in Schedule 2 of the Regulations, and keep this for 15 years after the date of the last entry (regulation 22). They must also keep a register of foster carers, containing the information set out in regulation 31.
All records of the service must be kept under conditions of confidential and secure storage so as to prevent their loss or destruction (standards 26 and 27). Premises must be suitable to enable secure storage of records, both paper and electronic.
If a person who has previously been approved as a foster carer but has had their approval terminated (which includes as a result of their resignation) applies to another fostering service to become a foster carer, they may consent to that fostering service inspecting their previous fostering record (regulation 26). In such circumstances the service holding the record must comply with the request within 28 days (regulation 32(6)).
Guide to Children’s Homes Regulations (2015)
Records must be kept detailing all individual incidents when children go missing from the home (regulation 36 (schedule 3(14)). This information should be shared with the placing authority and, where appropriate, with the child’s parents. Evaluation of missing incidents should be undertaken to identify any gaps in training, skills or knowledge for staff or to record and retain evidence of what worked well. This evaluation should inform the review of the quality of care.
Records of restraint must be kept and should enable the registered person and staff to review the use of control, discipline and restraint to identify effective practice and respond promptly where any issues or trends of concern emerge. The review should provide the opportunity for amending practice to ensure it meets the needs of each child.
Children should be encouraged by staff to see the home’s records as ‘living documents’ supporting them to view and contribute to the record in a way that reflects their voice on a regular basis.
Some records may be kept electronically (regulation 38) provided that this information can be easily accessed by anyone with a legitimate need to view it and, if required, be reproduced in a legible form. Electronic records should be held at the individual home in accordance with data protection principles. IT systems should ensure the safe storage of these records and business continuity planning should be in place to prevent loss or damage to them.
Staff should be familiar with the home’s policies on record keeping and understand the importance of careful, objective, and clear recording. Staff should record information on individual children in a non-stigmatising way that distinguishes between fact, opinion and third-party information. Information about the child must always be recorded in a way that will be helpful to the child.
The home’s records on each child represent a significant contribution to their life history. Children and their parents should be supported to understand the nature of records kept by the home and how to access them. Staff should understand their important role in encouraging the child to reflect on and understand their history, according to their age and understanding. Staff should keep and encourage children to keep appropriate memorabilia of the time spent living at the home and help them record significant life events.
Children should be actively encouraged to read their records and to add further information to them. They should be regularly reminded of their rights to see information kept about them and be given information about how they might be supported to access their records in later life.