Behind every child going to live with a foster family, or to live in a children’s home, there is a process to be followed.
Foster carers are not picked from a hat. Every effort must be made to ensure a child’s placement has the best chance of success.
This is called the matching process, and at the heart of this is a placement officer.
What does a placement officer do?
There are various titles for this role. Placement officer, placement coordinator and referrals coordinator are three of the most common.
Placement officers are essentially ‘match makers’ for children coming into care.
Their job is to screen incoming referrals and identify positive matches to available foster families or residential homes.
They do this by identifying key information within a child’s referral and comparing it to the suitability of available homes. For example, a child with physical disabilities would need a home suitably adapted to meet their needs.
A typical day starts by going through unopened referrals sent during out of hours. The placements team will review these and register them on a referral database such as Charms.
A ‘referral’ is the information sent to us by the local authority (LA) regarding a young person. It should contain important details such as:
- The age, needs, and behaviours of the child
- Which school they attend
- How often they see their birth family
- Any activities or hobbies they enjoy
- Medical needs
With this information, we can look for positive matches to available families. Right now we have only a small number of foster carers available, so the list isn’t long.
“Unfortunately, the fact is we cannot offer a home for a lot of the young people we receive referrals for. There are just not enough foster carers. But for the ones we do, I know we offer a safe, caring environment with a great support team behind them.”
Stuart, Fostering Placement Officer
An important part of the referral coordinator’s role is building relationships with LA placement teams to streamline the referral process.
Sometimes the easiest way to get more information is by contacting local authority colleagues directly, so it helps if you have a good rapport with them.
If we think a child’s information is well matched to an available foster carer, the placement team will discuss this with their supervising social worker. At this stage it is not uncommon for us to request additional information from the local authority.
We always do our best to anticipate questions foster carers may ask and get this information in advance.
Assuming the supervising social worker agrees, it’s time to discuss the referral with the foster carer.
“This is the part of the job I love the most – knowing that I could offer a home for a young person with one of our amazing foster families”
It is entirely the decision of the foster family whether they agree to put themselves forward. Placement officers should never pressurise carers into accepting a referral.
If the referral is for a residential placement, we screen the information same as we would for fostering, before sending it to the manager of the children’s home.
Once the manager and their staff are happy with the potential match, we put them in touch with the child’s social worker. This is so we can be confident the young person’s needs will be met at the home.
It is vitally important the match is positive alongside any young people currently living in the home. The same would be true for a fostering referral.
“Finding the right match for the homes can be a challenge, but very rewarding when a great match is found and you hear they have been progressing exceptionally well”
Sumeet, Residential Referrals Coordinator
Sending an offer for placement
Once everyone is happy with the match, we then formally submit an offer to the local authority. Offers are usually sent via email and will include:
- A summary of how the home is equipped to support the young person
- A picture book or family profile
- Costings for the placement
- Contact details for the social worker or residential manager
After that has been sent, we will follow up every few days for an update. Most placements are required within days, so if we don’t hear back within a week or two it’s unlikely we will at all.
Referrals and offers are all securely stored so we can track trends and spot areas for us to focus on. For example, if we have lots of referrals for teenagers (which we do), then we know to look for foster carers willing to support teens.
Challenges of the role
Working 5 days a week, on average we will receive 1400 fostering referral’s a month. This equates to roughly 60 a day or one every 7 minutes.
For residential, we receive around 750 referrals a month which is about 35 a day or one every 13 minutes.
Referrals can be long, detailed documents containing paragraphs of information, or brief, to-the-point emails with a contact number in the event we have a match.
A major challenge for placement teams across the UK is that each local authority has their own referral document, so they are all formatted differently.
By having a standardised referral form used by everyone it would be easier to spot key information such as placement history, identified risks, and contact expectations.
Standardised referrals could also lead to a safer more consistent matching process. Matching is one of, if not the most important part of fostering and residential care. A well-matched home to a young person is the foundation of successful care giving, and successful outcomes.
The role of the placement officer is to look for these well-matched homes and promote them to the local authority.
“The most rewarding aspect of the role for me is knowing that we are making a difference for young people who have had a tough start in life. Having a passion for this will make you thrive in the role.”
Placement officers make a huge contribution to enhancing children’s lives. For information about careers or to browse our vacancies, visit our careers page.
Healing Pasts | Building Futures