Guidance on the Assessment of New Partners within Fostering Households (changes in the fostering household/circumstances)


This chapter was updated in August 2021.

1. Introduction

A foster carer's household composition may change over time with new or returning household members or new partner coming to live in the fostering home.

Having new members to the fostering household changes the practical and emotional functioning of the household, requires the investment of both energy and time in different ways and will impact on the developing relationships within the household. It is important that foster carers are aware that when new people join or come to live within their household, this will impact upon the household and any children who are being looked after. Any such changes in the fostering household composition, set up or circumstances therefore need to be carefully considered by the Fostering service to ensure that the fostering role is not adversely affected.

For the purposes of this guidance an adult in the household is defined as “a person who moves into a foster carer's home to live permanently or for the foreseeable future” e.g., a relative, new partner, foster carer's adult children returning to live at home, adult children's partners or friends who move in to live in the household.

Single foster carers may form new partnerships and significant relationships and any changes in the fostering household/circumstances need to be considered. Forming a new relationship; joining households and taking on a joint fostering role are all significant changes and require careful assessment.

Some carers will have applied to foster as single carers. Their assessment should consider what would happen if they form a new partnership or develop a significant relationship. Other foster carers may experience separation or divorce whilst fostering. A re-assessment should be completed as a single carer and forming new relationships covered within this assessment. See Reassessment Template (Forms/Practice Guidance).

The supervising Fostering Social Worker will ensure that approved foster carer(s) are clear about their responsibility to notify the Fostering Service before any change in the composition of their household occurs or where there is any significant change in their circumstances which affects their fostering, for example any new relationship, pregnancy or bereavement.

Sharing information about personal/household changes are a key part of the supervisory relationship and rely on openness and transparency between carers and the fostering team. Foster carers need to understand the reasons why such information is required, how it may impact on their role, and consider the needs of children within placement.

2. Expectations of Carers

The Foster Care Agreement (section 7.1) states that the foster carer must immediately give the local authority full written notice of:

  1. Any intended change of the foster carer's address;
  2. Any intended change in the composition of their household;
  3. Any other change in their personal circumstance and any other event affecting either their capacity to care for any child placed or the suitability of their household, and
  4. Any request or application to adopt children, or for application for child minding or day care.

Kent Foster Carers Charter (Information) also highlights the commitment of Kent's foster carers to “inform their Fostering Social Worker of significant events or changes in the carer's life or family”.

Consideration will need to be given to the stage of the relationship and how this relationship will impacts/is likely to impact on the fostering role and the fostering household. The needs of children in placement should be given careful consideration and new partners should not be introduced without prior discussion.

Consideration will need to be given to the stage of a new relationship and how this relationship will impact/is likely to impact on the fostering role and the fostering household. This is the same for any new adult joining the fostering household. The needs of children in placement should be given careful consideration and new partners and new adults should not be introduced without prior discussion.

Carers are expected to conduct any new relationship within an agreed Safe Care Plan and the Safe Care Plan may need to be updated to take into account the specific circumstances, new partner or new adult joining the fostering household.

3. Initial Stages of a New Partner Relationship (no contact with foster child)

The foster carer should let the FSW know they have begun a new relationship. The impact and process of conducting this relationship should be explored including when and where it takes place and how this fits in with their fostering responsibilities.

The FSW should explore with the foster carer the new partners understanding of the carers fostering role and assessment requirements.

The foster child's understanding of the situation should also be ascertained.

4. New Partner is a Visitor to the Foster Home and has Contact with Foster Children

The foster carer must supervise contact between a foster child and the new partner, not leaving the foster child alone. The frequency and duration of visits to the foster home should be discussed and the impact of any change in dynamics within the household.

The Safe Care Plan should be used and updated as necessary and risk assessment completed/updated.

How and when a foster child is informed of a new partner needs to be carefully considered by the carer; FSW and child's social worker taking into account their needs, understanding and impact and the status of the relationship.

Once the foster carer has confirmed the status of the relationship as a new partner, within one month of a new partner visiting the foster home the FSW should visit to discuss their intentions and explain the assessment process as/when/if their relationship develops. It is recognised that this period may be uncertain as relationships are still forming. The intentions of the couple should be explored.

If visiting becomes regular then routine background checks should be completed. (This will include Local Authority and DBS checks).

The child's social worker should also talk to the child about their understanding of the situation and their views.

5. The New Partner or New Adult Proposes to Stay Overnight

Where the foster carer wishes his/her partner to stay overnight this should be discussed with the FSW. Sleeping arrangements should also be confirmed and a risk assessment must also be completed to determine the level of additional checks required, before agreement to overnight stays can be given. (As a minimum Local Authority and DBS checks should be completed) The risk assessment should take account of, amongst other things, the number and ages of the children in the placement, their views about the foster carer's new partner or adult joining the household, the significance and stability of the relationship (including how long they have known each other) and the foster carer's history of fostering. The frequency of planned overnight stays should also be discussed.

The Safe Care Plan must be updated and discussion on safe care issues undertaken with the new partner / new adult by the FSW. The fostering responsibility remains with the approved carer.

The Fostering Manager should be made aware of any agreement for overnight stays.

6. Before a New Partner or New Adult Moves into the Fostering Household

The 'adult joining the household' assessment should be completed. See Assessment of Adult joining a Fostering Household Guidance (see Forms/Practice Guidance Section).

This assessment should be presented to the Fostering Panel as this is a significant change of circumstances. This should include a copy of the updated Safe Care Plan and Risk and Vulnerability Chronology.

The Fostering Panel will consider the change in circumstances and make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker. A timetable for a joint assessment for the current foster carers and new partner will be agreed if required.

On occasion there may be (exceptional) circumstances when a new partner or new adult moves into the household before an assessment has been completed. In these circumstances an Annual Review must take place. The change in household must be presented to the next available Fostering Panel highlighting the change in circumstances and timescale for full assessment. The Safe Care Plan and Risk Assessment must be updated. The approved foster carer retains the responsibilities to carry out all primary care including transport; contact; meetings etc. DBS checks and Local Authority checks must be completed. The approved foster carer retains responsibility for ensuring confidentiality

7. Current Foster Carer and New Partner Joint Assessment

Changes/proposed changes to the fostering household should be presented to the next available Fostering Panel. This should include a copy of the updated Safe Care Plan.

The Fostering Panel will consider the change in circumstances and agree the timetable for a joint assessment.

Where two people will be sharing the care of a child, whether they be a couple or any other partnership, they should be jointly assessed and approved as foster carers.

The same procedure for this assessment will be carried out as for any foster carer application and the case presented to the Fostering Panel and the Agency Decision Maker.

There will be no presumption that any such assessment will be approved.

Both partners (including the current foster carer) should complete the Skills to Foster training together.

It should be acknowledged that the assessment of a new relationship may be on one that is relatively untested particularly in regard to taking on a joint fostering role. While suitably as joint carers are being assessed, relationships may still be forming and will require careful consideration.

During the assessment process the foster carer remains the approved carer and responsible for the duties this entails until any changes are made by the Fostering Panel.

Recommendations for approval should consider if approval for the specific children in placement should only be given at this time.

8. Foster Carer Proposed to Join New Partner's Household

Foster carer(s) should inform their FSW of any planned changes of accommodation including moving to a new partners home/setting up a new home together. The proposed change of circumstances should be presented to the next available Fostering Panel.

9. Changes to the Household without Notification

If the Fostering Social Worker discovers that there has been a change in the foster carer's household without prior notice, the manager must be informed and an immediate review of the foster carer's approval must be convened - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure. In these circumstances, a suspension of the foster carer's approval may have to be considered at the review. The child(ren)'s social worker and IRO should be informed.

10. Children Currently Placed within the Foster Home

Children currently in placement should not be routinely moved from a foster placement that has a change in household unless it is consistent with their plan or other issues necessitate a change of placement. A CIC Review should be held when there is an unplanned move.

11. New Placements

The National Minimum Standards for Foster Care (11.2) highlights that children are carefully matched to a foster placement. New placements should not normally be made when changes to the household are being assessed.