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6.1.9 Allegations Against Foster Carers

REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS

See also Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 Regulation 12, 17, 30, 36, and Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 3, 4, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30.

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter is based on Regulation 12 of the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 and Standard 22 of the National Minimum Standards for Fostering 2011.

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

See also the Pan Lancashire Policy and Procedures for Safeguarding Children Manual - Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children (including Carers and Volunteers)

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in February 2016, Section 3, Procedure for Investigation, any move of a child following an allegation should have senior management agreement and recorded on Protocol. Section 4, Review of the Foster Carer’s Approval and Registration, the foster carers should receive the full review report and the recommendation of the review with the Managers comments on, prior to panel so the foster carers have significant time to respond to their review report and for this to be included in the paperwork for panel members.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. General Principles
  3. Procedure for Investigation
  4. Review of the Foster Carer’s Approval and Registration
  5. Responsibilities of Foster Carers
  6. Responsibilities of the Fostering Service
  7. Historical Abuse Allegations

    Appendix 1: Process for Dealing with an Allegation Made Against a Foster Carer or a Member of Their Household – Flowchart


1. Introduction

All allegations and complaints against foster carers will be investigated promptly and thoroughly, whilst ensuring that the foster carers are adequately supported.

Where allegations of abuse are made against a foster carer, they should be treated in the same way as any other concern about possible abuse. An investigation will be undertaken in respect of cases where the alleged abuse has occurred within Blackburn with Darwen. In these instances referrals will be dealt with by the child’s social worker or another member of their team.

If abuse is against a child who is placed in a foster placement outside Blackburn with Darwen, then the investigation will be carried out within the procedures of the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board. The matter should be referred to the child’s social worker who will refer the matter to the local authority in which the child actually lives for investigation.

It is acknowledged that the role and tasks of a foster carer can be complex and demanding. This procedure is intended to be used in those cases where initial enquiries indicate that child protection procedures should be followed.


2. General Principles

Local Authorities have a statutory duty to investigate where they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer Significant Harm.

Children in accommodation provided for them as a service are entitled to the same level and standard of protection from harm that is provided for children in their own homes. In arranging or providing placements with foster carers, the welfare of the child must be safeguarded and promoted. The duty to investigate applies equally to children in foster care as it does to children living with their own families. Action taken to investigate allegations of abuse of foster children should also include consideration of the safety of any other children living in the household, including the foster carer’s own children.

Where parent and child placements are planned it is important to ensure that:

  1. There is a clear written agreement about the respective responsibilities of the foster carer and the child’s parent in relation to the child’s care;
  2. For the purposes of the 2011 Regulations, a parent living with a foster carer in the above circumstances is a member of the foster carer’s household. The 2011 Regulations allow for DBS checks to be obtained but there is no requirement for these to be undertaken as a prerequisite to the individual joining the household (regulation 26 and 28(3)). A risk assessment must be made to determine and address any safeguarding issues which result from the parent becoming part of the foster care household, particularly when other children are placed in, or reside in, the household;
  3. Any known or potential risks to the foster carer and his or her family from members of the child’s family or others involved in the child’s life must be assessed and a risk assessment and Police Disclosure duly completed prior to the placement beginning. A DBS disclosure will also be sought if there are any other children in placement. No child, foster carer or member of the fostering household should knowingly be placed in a position of risk as a consequence of the foster carer providing a parent and child placement.

Local authorities must terminate unsatisfactory foster care placements and in some circumstances remove the child forthwith. The investigation and assessment of allegations of child abuse by foster carers must be undertaken in accordance with Blackburn with Darwen Child Protection procedures. These take precedence over any other procedures, processes or considerations.


3. Procedure for Investigation

In situations where a foster carer is alleged to have abused a child, it is important to appreciate that each of 3 strands of investigation has to be followed through to a positive conclusion.

  1. The inter-disciplinary child protection investigations which can proceed to a Child Protection Conference, where decisions will be made to ensure the continuing protection of the child and other children within the household. Professional judgements will be based on the balance of probabilities;
  2. The police investigation focuses on whether a crime has been committed. In order to prosecute, there must be sufficient evidence to support a case beyond reasonable doubt;
  3. The allegation is referred to the local authority in which the child lives. In some cases this will be outside of Blackburn with Darwen.

3.1 Procedures for Joint Investigation

The Fostering Panel is required to review continued use and /or approval of foster carers who are alleged to have abused a child. It is essential that the common facts of the allegation of abuse are applied independently to each of the three strands of investigation. It is most important to understand that if there is insufficient evidence to support a prosecution, it does not mean that action in relation to child protection or foster carer approval is not appropriate or necessary. The outcome of one strand of investigation may well have a bearing on another. The important thing is that a definite conclusion is reached in each case, and that the details are fully recorded in the foster carer’s file, and the child’s file.

3.2 Procedure

When an allegation of child abuse is received in respect of a foster carer, the person in receipt of the initial referral will advise the Fostering Team Manager immediately. The Team Manager will ensure that the Service Leader is informed of the details of the allegation. The Fostering Team Manager will ensure that OFSTED are notified in accordance with the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 and that the LADO (Local Authority Designated Officer) is consulted as appropriate. The Head of Service for Placement Services is the designated person with responsibility for ensuring all allegations are handled appropriately and in accordance with policy and procedure.

The Team Manager will then liaise with other staff, who are in direct contact with the foster carer, or who hold some degree of responsibility for a child in the placement or the placement itself, and inform them that an allegation has been made.

If the child resides within Blackburn with Darwen then there will be preliminary discussion with the LADO, social workers, Police and a Strategy Meeting will be arranged by the child’s social work team, which will be chaired by the LADO from Review and Protection. If immediate protective action is required, the Head of Service will have to consider the need to remove the child(ren). Any move of a child following an allegation should have senior management agreement and recorded on Protocol.

The Supervising Social Worker for the foster carer will have continued support by Fostering Team Managers. Management meetings with the Supervising Social Worker will be held throughout the process.

Review and Protection should chair the Strategy Meeting and ensure that minutes are taken. The following people should be invited to the Strategy Meeting:

  • The child’s Social Worker and their supervising manager;
  • Fostering Team Manager;
  • Supervising Social Worker;
  • Police;
  • Other relevant professionals.

The purpose of the Strategy Meeting is to ensure an early exchange of information, and clarify what action needs to be taken, by whom, how, when and where.

The meeting will need to determine whether the circumstances warrant formal investigation, and if so, should it be a joint Police/Children's Social Care or single agency investigation. Joint investigations should take place in all cases of alleged Sexual Abuse or serious Physical Abuse.

The investigation team is normally the child’s social worker and police officer, and an independent worker. If it is not appropriate for the child’s social worker to be involved, reasons should be clearly stated and recorded, and consideration should be given to involving another worker.

Where the carer lives outside of the Borough, the investigation is the responsibility of the other local authority and will take place according to their procedures. Close liaison will need to take place between the authorities.

The point at which the foster carer can be informed of the allegation will be subject to careful and detailed discussion with the police. If it appears that an offence may have been committed, and a criminal investigation is therefore necessary, the police must determine the management of that part of the case. However, the general rule should be that the foster carers will be informed as soon as possible, where it will not compromise the enquiries being undertaken.

Subject to the above conditions and not before consultation with the police, the foster carers receive a written statement of the allegation (in confirmation of any face to face communication), must be kept informed of the progress of the investigation and must be advised of any meetings which they may attend or should be informed about.

What support/advice can be rendered to the foster carer by whom – the ability of the foster carer’s Supervising Social Worker to continue to offer support will need to be carefully considered. If it is felt involvement can continue, the role may be much altered and circumscribed by the requirements of the investigation. The Strategy Meeting will need to define precisely what the Supervising Social Worker’s role is to be, and how it may be carried out.

The roles of the Investigation Team and the Supervising Social Worker must be clearly stated to the foster carers, and care taken that these roles are not confused or compromised. However, any information to which the fostering team worker is, or becomes privy, may have to be shared with the Investigation Team, and the carer needs to be made aware of this possibility.

In some circumstances, where there is concern that the Supervising Social Worker's position would be untenable, and /or the investigation would be put in jeopardy, it may not be possible for the worker to continue to offer support, at least for the duration of the investigation. In these circumstances, and in any event, the foster carer should be informed of all other possible sources of support. Contact names and/or telephone numbers should be provided. A foster carer should also be reminded of his/her right to seek legal advice. The foster carers should be advised to contact Fostering Network which provides independent support to Blackburn with Darwen foster carers. All Blackburn with Darwen foster carers have individual membership of Fostering Network, which will provide independent support. It is sometimes necessary to remove the child from the placement pending investigation, or during the course of the investigation. A decision to follow this course should only be taken by the Head of Service after careful consideration of the known facts, balancing the need to safeguard the child, against the potential damage removal could cause to both child and carer. Care should be exercised over the timing of sharing such a decision to facilitate a planned removal.

If a child is removed,  the foster carer will continue  to receive the fee element of their banding for the child’s age  whilst the investigation proceeds, an allowance could be paid  until the outcome of the IRM and and confirmation of the Agency Decision Maker confirmation

Information to be given to the child’s parents about the allegation: When, what, how and by whom information is to be imparted must be determined, bearing in mind one of the key principles of the Children Act – that of working in partnership with parents. They should normally be consulted before any decision is made affecting a child who is being Looked After. This reflects the fact that parents normally retain their Parental Responsibility. Not advising parents of the allegation, and proposed response to it, will need to be especially justified in terms of the child’s best interests and welfare. This would be a consideration of the Strategy Meeting.

The safety of all children in the household, including the foster carer’s own children and whether they should be included in the investigation, is to be considered.

Staff/agencies responsible for other children in the placement will need to be informed and included as necessary. Other children in the household must be seen during an investigation and assessment of their position must include consideration of the need to obtain parental co-operation in arranging medical examination and the need for action to ensure their safety.

Depending upon the nature of the allegation, it may in certain circumstances be necessary to consider the removal of foster carers’ own child(ren) from the home. In reaching such a decision, the same standard of test will be applied as in any other child protection case. Again, such a decision should only be taken by the Head of Service. As in other cases, wherever possible, the foster carer’s child(ren) should go to relatives rather than be Looked After. Another preferred option would be for the alleged abuser, rather than the child(ren) to leave the household.

Arrangements for continuing liaison – close contact between the investigators must be maintained throughout so that each is aware of progress and development of the case at every stage. A case planning meeting will be necessary in all lengthy and/or complex cases, and should be arranged between the investigators and their supervisors. The meeting should be held within a mutually agreed time-scale and prior to the first Child Protection Conference.

When a Child Protection Conference is held as a result of an allegation, the foster carer should be notified that the conference is taking place. It may be appropriate for the foster carer to be invited to attend for part of the conference, providing that would accord with the interests of the child who is the subject of the conference.

Where participation is not appropriate, the Foster carer could seek to make representation to the chair either via the worker who has acted as support/adviser during the course of the investigation, or by means of a written/audio-tape submission. The Foster carer should be informed of the recommendations of the conference as soon as possible (verbal communication subject to written confirmation), other than in exceptional circumstances when to do so might adversely affect the interests of the child.


4. Review of the Foster Carer’s Approval and Registration

An investigation into an allegation of abuse by a foster carer will always be followed by a foster carer review. The assessment, views and recommendations of the Child Protection Conference must be made known to, and taken into account within the review and at the panel.

The review should begin therefore, as soon as possible after the initial investigation phase and presented to the Fostering Panel. It would be usual for the foster carers to attend that panel however, if it is considered inappropriate for the foster carers to attend the panel, or they do not wish to do so, they should be given the opportunity to put forward their view, in writing, in advance of the panel or have their representative attend on their behalf. Any decision to exclude the foster carers from the panel must be agreed by the Fostering Team Manager who should sign/date to that effect on the foster carer’s case file, giving reasons.

Any social worker or other agency/authority having had a child in placement in the foster home within the year must be invited to give their views during the review. The review and decisions should be recorded and the foster carers informed, in writing, of the outcome.

The foster carers should receive the full review report and the recommendation of the review with the Managers comments on, prior to panel so the foster carers have significant time to respond to their review report and for this to be included in the paperwork for panel members.

The decisions for all reviews must be validated by the Fostering Team Manager. Approval must be formally terminated by the approving Fostering Panel if it is decided that the foster carer is no longer suitable. Where approval is to be terminated, this can only proceed when Fostering Panel has reviewed the relevant information and recommends termination of approval to the Agency Decision Maker.

The final decision will always rest with the Agency Decision Maker.

A formal letter of notification is then sent to the foster carers. This letter is a statutory notice of intention. It should be dated, outline the reasons for proposed termination, and inform the foster carers of their right to complain through the complaints procedure. Foster carers should be informed how they are able to make representations on their own behalf and be provided with the information which describes how complaints will be received and handled by the Department. Foster carers who wish to appeal the decision of the Fostering Panel may appeal to the Deputy Director of Children's Services and Education. A request to appeal must be made within 28 days of receipt of the proposed Agency Decision and must be made in writing. Alternatively they can request a review of the case by the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) (see also Section 9, Representations / Independent Review Procedure of the Assessment and Approval Procedure: The letter informing them of the intended decision will provide information about how to do this.

Following the IRM, the matter returns to the fostering panel with the recommendation report from the IRM. The agency decision maker will then make a final decision.


5. Responsibilities of Foster Carers

Foster carers should be advised to retain copies of all correspondence which occurs as part of this process.

Foster carers should be encouraged to seek advice (including legal) and support from local or national fostering organisations or from any other person who might be of assistance to them when an allegation is made. As an integral part of preparation and training, foster carers must be made aware of ways in which they can protect themselves, while not reducing their care of and commitment to of the child. Clearly, foster carers can be in a vulnerable position, and to build their own safety net they should be encouraged to:

  • Attend training sessions;
  • Build up a support network (other foster carers, the Health Visitor, doctor, family and friends etc);
  • Keep a daily diary of events, including notes of who was in the house each day;
  • Keep social workers informed of events in the child’s life and the foster carer’s (and family’s) feelings about them;
  • Find out about, and be familiar with the procedures statutory agencies will implement for handling child abuse allegations.


6. Responsibilities of the Fostering Service

The fostering service is bound to some degree by the process of investigation determined at the Strategy Meeting. It can be difficult to support carers through this process and through the enormous anxiety it provokes. Independent support can be provided through a designated worker at Fostering Network for advice and guidance with regard to the process, emotional support and mediation if required. The fostering service will ensure that:

  1. Carers are kept informed of as much as they can be;
  2. A manager from the service visits within two days of the allegation being made known to the carers;
  3. At least weekly phone calls from the department to the carers will be made even if there is no new information to give. It is sometimes the case that police and other investigations can take time and this can create huge anxiety;
  4. Following the allegation investigation, a de-brief meeting is held between the service and the carer. It may be appropriate for this to be chaired independently and this should be considered. Ideally this would take place between the allegation being made and the panel meeting;
  5. Consideration is given to sustaining the payment of the fee element (at band 2 and above) of a placement during the course of the investigation where children have been removed and no others are able to be placed. This payment will be in accordance with the numbers of children in placement prior to the allegation being made. If two children were in placement then the fee element for those 2 placements would continue to be paid during the investigation period.


7. Historical Abuse Allegations

At times adults make allegations years later against their foster carers. The local safeguarding board policy with regard to this is that the procedures followed should be exactly the same and the immediacy of action determined at a Strategy Meeting.

See Complaints and Representations Procedure.

Wherever possible complaints against foster carers will be dealt with by the Fostering Team Manager and every effort will be made to resolve problems.

If the matter cannot be resolved or if some degree of independence would be preferable then the complaints department of the local authority may become involved. The Head of Service would be the next person likely to consider the complaint and resolve wherever possible.

In exceptional cases the matter may be investigated independently of the local authority.

All allegations and complaints are recorded in a file and retained for auditing purposes. Copies of details of investigations are also held on carers own files.


Appendix 1: Process for Dealing with an Allegation Made Against a Foster Carer or a Member of Their Household – Flowchart

Appendix 1: Process for Dealing with an Allegation Made Against a Foster Carer or a Member of Their Household – Flowchart

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