What Decisions Can I Make?

Many foster carers and children who are looked after face obstacles to everyday activities, like going for haircuts, school trips and sleepovers, which can make children's lives more difficult.

Delegated authority is the term used when the responsibility for making day to day decisions about a child/young person is passed to you. Poor planning around delegation of authority can delay decision-making and lead to Looked After Children missing out on opportunities that enable them to experience a fulfilled childhood.

When deciding who should have authority to take particular decisions, this will depend usually, in part, on the long term plan for the child, for example:

  • Where the plan is for the child to return home, the child's parents should have a significant role in decision-making;
  • Where the plan is for long term foster care/Fostering For Adoption, you should normally have a significant say in the majority of decisions about the child's care, including longer term decisions such as which school the child will attend.
Whatever the Permanence Plan, you should have delegated authority to take day-to-day parenting decisions. This enables you to provide the best possible care for the child.

An officer of the local authority such as a social worker can pass the delegated authorities onto you if they have an Emergency Protection Order or a Care Order. If they don't have an order the only person that can pass the delegated authorities on is the person with Parental Responsibility which is usually the parent.

It is the social worker's responsibility to work with parents sensitively to make sure you are well prepared and clear about what decisions you can make. The Placement Planning meeting which is held when a child is placed with you should clearly state what decisions you can make about everyday life. The views of the child should also be considered. In some cases a child will be of sufficient age and understanding to make decisions themselves. For example, they may have strong views about their personal appearance, and it may be decided that they should be allowed to make these kinds of decisions themselves.

This includes things like when a child wants to stay with a friend; use of social media; decisions around education and faith and religious observance. You can make a decision as any good parent would about whether this is safe and appropriate. All decisions to delegate authority should be recorded in the Placement Plan.

How this can help:

  • Reduces delays in decisions being made;
  • Reduces the emotional stress delays can cause to the child/young person;
  • Reduces the stress for you and your family;
  • Acknowledges you as a professional and part of a team working with the child;
  • Normalises the child/young person's experience of being in foster care;
  • Better use of resources and people's time.

The law says that the person who has care of the child (you) can do what is reasonable in all circumstances for the purpose of safeguarding and promoting the child's welfare. This means in an emergency if no agreement has been made about what to do, you should do what is reasonable.

If the young person is 16 there are some things that they can give consent to in their own right. Young people aged 16/17 are generally able to give their own consent to medical treatment. Younger children may be able to consent if they are of sufficient age and understanding. This will be for the medical professional to decide, depending on the individual circumstances. They can also consent to their own Care Plan if there is no court order. For example, they may have strong views about the often contentious issue of haircuts, and if the child is of sufficient age and understanding, it may be decided that they should be allowed to make these decisions themselves.

When deciding whether a particular child, on a particular occasion, has sufficient understanding to make a decision, the following questions should be considered:

  • Can the child understand the question being asked of them?
  • Do they appreciate the options open to them?
  • Can they weigh up the pros and cons of each option?
  • Can they express a clear personal view on the matter, as distinct from repeating what someone else thinks they should do?
  • Can they be reasonably consistent in their view on the matter, or are they constantly changing their mind?
Regardless of a child's competence, some decisions cannot be made until a child reaches a certain age, for example, tattoos are not permitted for a person under age 18 and certain piercings are not permitted until the child reaches age 16.

Delegated authority should be consistently monitored in case there is a need for change and discussed at the child's review or with the child's social worker if the decision needs to be taken quickly.