Today we hear from Heather, who manages the adoption and fostering panel service at Leeds City Council. The panels are the independent groups of people who prospective adoptive parents and foster carers meet near the end of their assessment process.
We started by asking her how she got into managing the service.
“I’ve worked for the council since 2006, initially as a social worker and then as an adoption officer. I started this role in September 2013 as I fancied a change in responsibility and this fantastic opportunity arose.”
What are the panels? What do they decide?
“The panels are forums that make a recommendation to the agency’s decision maker about the approval of foster carers or adopters, and other issues such as adoptive matches or the on-going approval of foster carers. The panels do not make any decisions as such, but they scrutinise the work of the agency and make a recommendation to the decision maker, who makes the final decision. The decision maker takes their recommendation seriously as the panel members are respected as independent and experienced people.”
So who are the panel members?
“The panels have a mix of people, including social workers from the agency and professionals involved with looked after children, such as health and education professionals. They also have independent members who have personal experience of adoption or fostering. As the agency is part of the local authority, there are also community representatives, and local councillors on some panels.”
They sound very important, but possibly quite intimidating to people coming for the first time. How do your team and the panel members try to make the experience less stressful for the people whose lives are about to change?
“They can sound quite scary, especially as they are such an important milestone in a prospective adopter or foster carer’s journey, but social workers always support their families attending panel, and will have prepared them beforehand in terms of what to expect. The panel members are all very friendly, and we encourage attendees to ask questions. Whilst going to the panel is a formal thing, we try to keep the atmosphere as relaxed as possible.”
What would you say are the main constraints to your service at the moment?
“The main constraint is always volume of work compared to resources! I have the fortune to work in a large agency, so there is a huge volume of work each month from the various panels and meetings we manage. From the adoption and fostering service’s point of view, the main constraint is getting the approval of enough adopters or foster carers coming through and making sure this is done in a timely and thorough manner, and the panel service is an important part of this process.”
What’s the best thing about your role?
“The most satisfying thing is seeing plans for children and families come to fruition, so that the children can move to their permanent placement as soon as possible. I also really enjoy working with social workers to help them improve the quality of their work and future information for children.”
Why should people think about adoption or fostering children with Leeds City Council?
“Fostering and adoption represent a unique opportunity to contribute and make a difference to the lives of our most vulnerable children. If you are thinking about fostering or adoption, the best thing is to attend an information evening or look at our information online, and then take it from there. We’re very happy to discuss people’s individual circumstances and are open to all expressions of interest.”
Thanks Heather. You can find our information evening dates on our websites www.adopt4leeds.co.uk and www.foster4leeds.co.uk. For a real life experience of a couple going to their panel, see our blog post from a few weeks ago here.
We have used a stock photo.