Thursday, May 24, 2018


A reader asks about PANEL.

The reader is getting ready to be approved to foster. She/he has undergone the induction process, which is what happens when a person asks to come into fostering. That process goes something like this;

You put your name forward either with a fostering agency or your local authority and you receive a quick visit from someone, a flying call to check you and your home out.

They aren't looking for a palace, or an angel with wings. They are looking for a home that is reasonably tended and has a spare bedroom. They want a regular person, by which I mean someone who is capable of carrying out life's basics of keeping a home and family afloat with enough left over to devote to someone extra. Your age doesn't matter (you have to be an adult, obviously), neither does gender, or physical abilities as long as you can cope with day to day activities. Religion and sexual preferences don't matter either. 

Obviously if an applicant's lifestyle is way out there it could be an issue. Nobody's completely normal, but we all know roughly what normal is, and if someone is too far removed from normal it could be a problem for a child coming to live there.

The initial visit doesn't last long; one chap once told me he could tell in 5 minutes. He told me about an applicant he had to let down gently because sadly the applicant needed a carer himself, never mind about his fifteen snakes.

That done the process begins for real. You start getting visits from the social worker who is assigned to you. I'd gone with Blue Sky, I liked their friendly family-style approach. They chose one of their social workers to process my application. She started visiting me. We sat at the kitchen table drinking tea and talking. Talking about me. My life so far. My trials and tribulations. She didn't take notes (that would have been a bit intimidating), just jotted down a few things and wrote up the visit later. They are building your file.

They do all the work.

We talked about my own childhood, then my various jobs. We talked about my relationships; past romances, friends and work colleagues. It wasn't intrusive, I enjoyed opening up. In fact I reckon it's the sort of thing you get if you're one of those film stars who spends a lifetime on the psychiatrists couch.

We talked a lot about my marriage and children, after all they are part and parcel of any foster home. The social worker arranged ways to meet them too, just friendly chats.

She was passing my file up to her line manager to make sure there was a seconder overseeing my application.

The process took a few months, Blue Sky have got it down to a fine art. It sounds thorough because it is thorough. It has to be thorough for obvious reasons. When you become a foster parent you are appointed to undertake one of the most serious and responsible roles going. Plenty of countries don't have the safeguards we do in the UK, and they pay the penalty. So do any number of innocent children.

The process of being approved might include pre-training visits to your agency or local authority offices for group sessions, so you meet people in the same boat. It might even include your social worker paying a visit to your own parents. I remember nominating my 'support network' (my best and most trusted friends), and one of them was pleasantly surprised to get a visit.

The whole shebang is heading towards getting final approval, which happens at Panel.

I've personally got a bee in my bonnet about the very word because it comes out sounding a bit Big Brotherish, a tad daunting.

Whereas in fact it's a red-letter day. You go in as Jo Bloggs, just another cog in the wheel and you come out a five star, ocean going somebody. A fully qualified Foster Carer.

So, Panel IS a big deal, but mainly for that reason. It's your graduation. It's where you get your gong.

I'll give you a rough A-Z of how Panel works, or at least how it was for us. I dare say panels vary slightly from place to place, but I'm pretty sure the basics are universal.

'Panel' is what it says it is; a panel of people with various types of expertise in fostering. They are independent of whoever has processed your application, they have no vested interests in you or your mentors and that's important because that way your approval comes from an impartial body. In my case, as I remember, the panel was nine or ten folk all of whom looked like cheery types underneath, but put people in formal clothes and shiny shoes and sit them in a horseshoe facing you, even the Seven Sisters of Mercy would look like a jury.

But make no mistake; underneath their serious faces, they like and respect you and desperately want you to be as good as your file says you are. Despite all the trappings of their essential impartiality, they are on your side.

So. What happens first is that a few weeks before your Panel day you put the date in your diary. And start to get a bit anxious. What will they ask? Suppose I get flustered? What should I wear?

Looking back I realise I should have been relieved more than anything because, put simply, you wouldn't have got this far if the people vetting you had any significant doubts about your potential to foster.

I'm not saying here that Panel is a mere rubber-stamping of your final accreditation, it's more than that. I don't know of the numbers of people who are informed by Panel that they need to do a bit more work on a few things and come back in a few months. To be absolutely honest, I've never heard of that happening, but I imagine it does from time to time.

Look, the nation's child care services are cash-strapped enough without taking a punt with hundreds, maybe thousands of pounds of their time and money. Your fostering agency or local authority have already invested in you and have confidence in your application. If they put you up for panel approval the panel know that a whole lot of professionals believe you cut the mustard, and even if you don't do your best in front of them, they know that to be a good foster carer you need other skills besides talking a good talk in front of an audience.

That doesn't stop you getting anxious.  My other half got himself a bit worked up as well, because as the nominated 'secondary carer' (I'm our primary carer), he was invited too.

So, come the day we dressed smart-casual with the emphasis on smart, were met by Blue Sky people in reception (our support) and waited outside the door. Someone came out smiling and got hugs and back-slaps from their team. The Blue Sky lot went "Good luck" and we walked in. Nine or ten pairs of eyes on us. Yike.

The chair, a formal-looking woman, welcomed us by name (just to make sure everyone was referring to the right set of files) and invited us to sit down. 

I expected us to get an introduction to all the panel but that didn't happen, instead the chair got down to it;

"Well, Mr and Mrs Cool (not my real name, wish it was) may I on behalf of the panel thank you for seeking to foster, and may I also say that having read your application and file notes it's clear that you come before us as strong candidates. However, as I'm sure you understand, it is important that we ask some questions of you so that we can be confident in our decision and as certain as we can reasonably be that the outcome will be the right one." 

Then we had to field a few straightforward questions, easy ones (mind, being human we both felt we could have answered better). Questions such as;

"Why do you wish to foster?"

"What do your family think about you becoming foster parents?"

"Do you have any strong preferences to look after any particular sort of children?"

Easy. Then they asked one or two trickier ones. One of the panel said;

"I notice that one of your sons has a criminal record. Should we be concerned about that?"

I told them the truth, obviously. He had gone to a party at a school friends house and several of them had brought alcohol. The mother of the boy whose birthday it was didn't know much, for example when it was time up she made them all stand in the street for their lifts. However mine and one of his mates lived walking-distance away so were making their own way home. Their route took them past their school. One of them - we never found out which - threw a rock through a window. My son guilted out and phoned the police himself. The pair got the works; handcuffs, back of a police car, interview and cell. The incident was to be removed from his CRB (now DBS) file shortly.

Panel nodded with half-smiles as in "Kids! Whatchagonna do?"

This was just what we'd expected. They asked about the easier and the harder things, but we knew they weren't impediments or we wouldn't be there. If we'd said anything radically different from what was in our files that might have set off alarm bells. 

What was in our files was the truth about us, so we naturally answered honestly and openly.

Another pointed question from one of them was;

"I see that you recently bought a car using a loan, does this indicate any financial hardship we should know about?"

My other half fielded that one, he said;

"Well we're not millionaires, but it makes sense when they're offering interest-free credit. I don't know anyone who buys a car outright any more."

On the way home we laughed about that one because it was pretty obvious from the silence that none of the panel were millionaires either and all of them had probably borrowed to buy their wheels.

The twenty minutes or so was filled with other questions we knew all the right answers to because they were answers we had already given and were in our file.

One slightly crotchety question came from a man I suspect was deeply Christian about the fact that we weren't deeply Christian, but that's not a crime any more so we stuck to our guns again.

Then came smiles all round as we heard the chair say;

"Well Mr and Mrs Cool I believe that I can say on behalf of the panel - and with great delight - that you are now, officially, approved to foster. Congratulations."

Then she said;

"Is there anything you'd like to ask?"

And this is the bit I remember best. I turned to the panel member who had introduced himself as a foster carer and said;

"Do you have any good advice?"

He thought for a moment and replied (and I can still see his face saying this);

"You're going to need a lot of love."


  1. Awh thanks for this post. Very useful, and reassuring.
    My panel is pencilled in for Aug (subject to all checks and various bits and bobs being complete). In one sense looking forward to it as it means if one passes, one can foster, but in the other sense it seems like a job interview all over again - I had a panel type interview for my job in a bizarre manner. 10 candidates and four interviewers.
    I agree though, nothing can stop you getting anxious. Even thinking about what to wear (I dont own any 'smart' clothing). On the plus point already spoken to my boss at work and he says I can have two days off (the day of panel and one whichever side of that day i prefer) without losing pay or taking holiday, which is refreshing.
    Thanks again!

  2. I'm grateful you requested. I'd not touched on Panel before and it's a milestone for all of us in fostering.
    If I'm any judge from what little we know about you, you'll look back on Panel as a red-letter day.
    Probably not too different from your job interview, which you passed (and got yourself a pretty good boss by the sound). This time you're not up against anybody else.
    Probably not worth buying an outfit just for Panel. Iron the best you've got and have an early night.

    1. My job interview was bizarre for sure, but been in same company 11 years now. 10 candidates, four interviewers all asking questions of all of us, sat around a big conference type table and at the end two of us were kept behind and offered jobs then and there. Though for entry level jobs, we've both been promoted numerous times...
      ...As it happens whilst my boss has been great (informally) my company, which has 200.000 staff worldwide, has no formal HR policies for fostering, and so I emailed director of HR to ask why other day, thinking I'd get no reply. Got one. She said no one has ever asked before, so they hadnt put policies in place. Not sure if paying lip service but she said for the UK at least they'll look at what they can implement. I suggested not having to use up holiday days for training and panel and updating dependents' leave policies to include foster carers as a starter. Will have to see what happens.
      Oh, I dont even own an iron. Let alone something that needs ironing. I shall have to dig out my finest, er, jumper. :) I'll let you know how it goes.

    2. Please do.
      You're going to be a credit to the corps. I have not the slightest doubt.
      Look, you've already shifted a big business to get with the programme.
      Mind, that might turn out to be the easy bit...

  3. Thank you for this, your timing is perfect, my Wife and I are up in front of the panel next week and we're starting to feel a little anxious too

  4. How could anyone not feel a bit tense?
    I bet you 5p to £1 you sail through. Please let us know.
    Maybe Panel's an opportunity to sharpen a key skill; absorbing a bit of pressure without ripples going out.
    'Cos fostering is great, but not without moments of pressure.

    1. GUTTED, our panel date should have been today but it's been postponed because our daughter's DBS has been delayed

    2. So sorry to hear that Ian, panel is an anxiety at best, must be rotten for you to have a delay especially through no faults at your end. DBS can drag on unfortunately. Good luck, fingers crossed for you.

  5. we were approved in March this year and got our first placement in April. We went with an agency, and their process was very different - an initial phone interview, self assessment forms, a raft of other background checks, then a lengthy interview in our home (4 hours) then two home safety checks, a training weekend and interview with the CEO (no panel) We decided after a lot of thought and reflection NOT to continue with that agency. The second agency had a process similar to Blue Sky's which was a lot more thorough, and a panel interview. What to wear? Same as a job interview!

  6. Hi, can you do a post on ending a placement? I know its not very common to ask for a child to be moved, but we really feel in over our heads. Our agency is giving us good support, but this child has very complex needs - Reactive Attachment Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, as well as previous multiple placements (we can see why...) and we feel he is more than we can handle. We feel by asking him to be moved that we are another family letting him down, and its just been 7 weeks - do we need to give it more time? Thanks :-)

  7. Oh Lily, my heart goes out to you, your wonderful family, and this tormented child.
    I often meet other carers who have ended a placement, it's not great but not uncommon.
    I'm always sad for them that they feel various negatives; they feel like they let other people down, they feel totally inappropriate things like shame and guilt.
    I can't advise too much on your specific placement except to say that I've always been advised at Blue Sky to make sure I and my family are well, strong and protected from events that could endanger our equilibrium and capacity to foster to the best of our abilities.
    There are moments in almost every placement when you feel frustrated, unappreciated ...wronged even. Most times you break through having learned more about the child and more about yourself.
    Sometimes it's not possible to stay ahead of events.
    If you stick with this child it may take a while for things to show tiny improvements, but it will probably happen. And when it does you'll feel fantastic for the child and for your resilience.
    But. Your calculation is how much your own self and family can deal with until the twinkling begins.
    Hand on my heart, thank you from the rest of the world for everything you've done this last two months, the child might be reeling to have discovered there's love and kindness out there, stability, safety and peace. Testing you just to make sure.
    And: your social workers think you're good, better than good.
    Protecting yourself Lily, is the bottom line.
    You are clearly a kind and caring person so please protect yourself against ever feeling bad, you've already contributed more to this messy world than most. If you ask to end the placement no-one will condemn you, you will do no harm, and you must stay with fostering.
    One of the best carers I know ended their first placement, and went on to foster their next child to the greatest success.

  8. We have finally got our new panel date, Thursday the 26th July.

    Time to start getting scared again

  9. Good luck buddy, I'm sure you'll be brilliant.

    1. We're approved, it was a whirlwind day climaxing in us agreeing to take a sibling group of 4 so we're currently converting one of our downstairs rooms into a twin room so that we can take all 4. Talk about in at the deep end!

    2. Hello again

      I thought you'd like an update on our fostering experience so far.

      The group of 4 siblings came to us a couple of weeks after my last post and in December the judge asked for us to be approved as long term foster carers so that 3 of them could stay with us permanently, one has gone to live with their half brother (recently approved as a foster carer). It's been a crazy and fabulous time so far

  10. Wonderful! How kind you are in what you do, and to find time to keep us posted.
    Thank you so much and keep up the amazing work!