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6.1.12 Joint Agency Protocol to Assist in Dealing with Offences in Foster Homes

REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS

See also Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011 Regulation 13, and Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011, 3, 5.

AMENDMENT

In July 2015, this chapter was amended following review to reflect current practices.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Categories of Response to Incidents
  3. Incident Liaison Meeting with Police
  4. Recording of Incidents
  5. Monitoring the Protocol

    Appendix A: Crown Prosecution Service - Response to Offending in Foster Care

    Appendix B: Example of Incidents Reported to the Police

    Appendix C: Foster Care - Categories of Incident Response


1. Introduction

This protocol is intended to assist foster carers, the police and the CPS, in determining an effective and proportionate response to juvenile offending behaviour within foster homes. This includes incidents of a criminal nature allegedly committed by a young person in the care home where he or she lives.

It does not include reports of:

  • Offences committed outside the home;
  • Young people reported missing from the home.

This protocol should be read in conjunction with the following documents:

These establish standards of care within fostering services. All fostering services must have a written behaviour management policy – see Promoting Positive Behaviour and Relationships within Foster Families Procedure.

They should also have procedures and guidance on police involvement in the home, which have been agreed with the local police.

The CPS protocol is guidance to assist prosecutors in determining where the public interest lies, when it is alleged that a looked after young person has committed an offence in foster care.

It is anticipated that the guidance contained within this Blackburn with Darwen protocol will act as a framework for ensuring standardisation and best practice for Looked After children across Blackburn with Darwen.

The Blackburn with Darwen joint agency protocol aims to:

  • Strike a balance between the rights and needs of children in foster care, carers, the local authority;
  • Inform decisions to instigate police action and the CPS right to prosecute;
  • Underline the importance of regular and effective liaison between the local authority and the local police.

Whilst it is accepted that carers have a duty to report known or suspected crimes to the police, the carers will need to use their judgment about where this threshold lies, particularly when the information to hand is minimal and the crime or suspected crime is of a minor nature. All carers need to consider both the nature and seriousness of the incident before deciding to involve the police immediately, or at a later stage, or to involve them at all. The fact that carers report an incident does not mean that the police will follow a pre-determined course of action, or in some cases any action at all. Wherever possible the process to be taken will be determined following discussions by all concerned, including the young person in order to determine the most appropriate course of action.


2. Categories of Response to Incidents

Appendix B: Example of Incidents Reported to the Police outlines the most common incidents in foster homes where police involvement might be appropriate.

This protocol identifies three categories of response:

  • Level 1;
  • Level 2 (See Appendix B);
  • Level 3.

Level 1 Incidents (immediate police response required)

These include offences and incidents of violence requiring an immediate police response, where young people or carers, are at risk of immediate serious physical harm and where there is a risk of substantial damage to property or risk of significant disorder within the home. In such situations, the carers should contact the police, either via the main force switchboard or the 999 system.

Level 2 Incidents (no immediate police response required)

These include incidents where no immediate police response is required, for example where a physical assault or damage has occurred and there is no risk of recurrence/ significant harm to people, or incidents or theft. The incident should be reported to the fostering team manager who then has the responsibility of identifying the appropriate course of action. In addition, carers should inform the young person's social worker at the first opportunity.

Level 3 Incidents (no police response required)

It is anticipated that relatively minor incidents will be addressed using routine foster care processes. No police response is required.


3. Incident Liaison Meeting with Police

When a situation involving a looked after young person needs to be discussed with the police at an informal meeting, the young person’s social worker (case manager) should be informed, as they may wish to take part in the discussion.

If the need for a discussion of an incident is more immediate, an urgent multi-agency meeting/discussion should take place involving all relevant  professionals.

If the need for discussion of an incident is more immediate, the team manager should arrange for a local officer to attend a meeting as soon as possible. The Nominated Officer (Head of Service, Social Work Services) will be identified via the Single Point of Contact (SPOC) system. If this officer is unavailable, alternative officers from the NPT will be identified as part of this system. If no other officer from the NPT is available, the home manager should contact the local police control room to request a delayed or scheduled response visit by another NPT officer or if necessary a response officer.

In certain circumstances, preservation of evidence may be an issue and carers will need to ensure that reasonable steps are taken to retain articles relevant to any criminal reports. The local police should provide guidance on the preservation of evidence.

It is not the intention of this protocol to restrict the options available to carers and police officers, but to emphasise the importance of flexibility in determining the most suitable option for dealing with incidents involving Looked After children.


4. Recording of Incidents

4.1 Recording of Incidents by Carers

It is necessary for incidents within foster homes to be accurately recorded to provide an informed history on the young person. This information then assists any assessments and liaison meetings.

All the incidents must be recorded in the foster carer log and recorded on a specific incident form.

4.2 Recording of Incidents by the Police

The ‘Home Office Counting Rules for Recorded Crime (HOCR)’ determine when a crime should be recorded. However this policy recognises that in some cases an alternative method may be available and a more appropriate way to deal with the situation than via judicial process, even though a police officer may have a crime confirmed to them. The key is that the decision making process both before and during discussions between the parties involved must be documented to negate the need for a crime report.

It is important to remember that each foster carer has the responsibility of care towards the young persons in their care, with their welfare interests being paramount. Therefore, the requirement to record offences should be considered in conjunction with the desire to avoid unnecessary criminalisation of parties to the incident.


5. Monitoring the Protocol

To evaluate the implementation and working of this protocol, the local police and fostering team manager should be aware of its impact, in particular;

  • The number of incidents dealt with internally;
  • The number of incidents dealt with jointly with the police resulting in a formal disposal;
  • The number of incidents dealt with jointly with the police resulting in an RJ disposal.


Appendix A: Crown Prosecution Service - Response to Offending in Foster Care

If agreed that prosecution should be sought for an incident involving a Looked After child, the following factors will be considered by the CPS when deciding to prosecute, and should be included in any prosecution file presented to the CPS:

  •  The care plan of the young person;
  • The positive care and control strategies used;
  • An explanation from the carer regarding their decision to involve the police, which should refer to the procedures and guidance on police involvement;
  • Information from the carer about the recent behaviour of the young person, including similar behaviour and any incidents in the young person’s life that could have affected their behaviour, any history between the young person and the victim, any apology or reparation by the young person, history of the incident and any action under the disciplinary policy of the home;
  • The views of the victim, including their willingness to attend Court to give evidence and/or participate in mediation or other diversionary programme;
  • The views of the carer, social worker, counsellor or ELCAS worker on the effect of criminal justice intervention on the young person, particularly where the young person suffers from an illness or disorder;
  • Any explanation or information about the offence from the Looked After child;
  • If the Looked After child wishes it to be considered, information about the Local Authority’s assessment of his/her needs and how the placement provided by the carer is intended to address them. The Local Authority should be able to provide this information, as it should be an integral part of the Care Plan for the Looked After child.

Specialists should consider all of the aggravating and mitigating features when deciding on the appropriate outcome.

Aggravating features include:

  • The offence is violent or induces the genuine fear of violence in the victim;
  • The offence is sexual;
  • The offence is motivated by hostility based on the gender, sexuality, disability, race, religion or ethnicity of the victim;
  • The victim is vulnerable;
  • The damage or harm caused is deliberate and cannot be described as minor;
  • The offence forms part of a series of offences;
  • Informal measures have been ineffective in preventing offending behaviour.

Mitigating features include:

  • The damage or harm caused is at the lower end of the scale and has been put right;
  • Appropriate action has already been taken by the carer in terms of sanctions or other ‘informal’ disposal;
  • Genuine remorse and apology to the victim;
  • The behaviour is a symptom of a disorder or illness that cannot be controlled by medication or diet. (Refer also to mentally disordered offenders, elsewhere within the CPS’s guidance). Care should be taken where it appears that the youth has deliberately refused medication or deliberately consumed a substance knowing that his or her behaviour will be affected;
  • Isolated incident or incidents which are out of character;
  • The young person is under extreme stress or appears to have been provoked and has overreacted.

The reasons for the charging/diversion decision should be clearly recorded and show the factors that have been considered by the team manager and social worker/police officer/social worker/YOT worker etc, to determine how the public interest is satisfied.


Appendix B: Example of Incidents Reported to the Police

Violence by a Child or Young Person to Another

Incidents between young people in foster care can range from minor disagreements to serious assaults where physical injury is caused. Having two vulnerable parties can complicate such incidents. Carers will need to ensure that internal health and safety reporting and anti- bullying procedures are followed.

Attendant factors for this category of offences are listed below (NB the list does not reflect any order of priority):

  • The wishes of the victim;
  • Severity of injury sustained/nature of threat received by victim;
  • Probability of a repeat incident;
  • Previous relationship between victim and offender;
  • Potential impact on the child/ young person following formal police involvement;
  • Effectiveness of police action/court proceedings;
  • Future best interest of both parties;
  • The message that such action will send to other residents;
  • Availability of alternative courses of action (e.g. conflict resolution approaches) – with the consent of the victim.

Violence to Carers by a Young Person

Violence towards foster carers can vary from verbal threats to physical acts amounting to assault. Whilst each carer has the responsibility of care towards the foster child(ren), their welfare needs must be balanced with the rights of carers not to be subjected to violence in the course of their caring. Such incidents are affected by factors similar to those listed above.

Where there is no immediate continuing threat of violence, it is in the best interests of the carers to take time to discuss and consider possible options with either the team manager or EDT. This, however, does not remove the individual’s right to involve the police.

Following such incidents, it is important that carers utilise their supervising social worker and further support from  the fostering service to be looked at through a support planning meeting.

Note: Reporting of ANY offence where the suspect is a carer is NOT covered by this policy

Criminal Damage

Consideration of reporting to the police incidents where there is damage to the carers home should be seen in the context of the needs of the child. Whether involving the police is an effective and proportionate response should be given due consideration.

  • Background history of the child;
  • The child’s communication skills and preferred method of communication;
  • Level/value of damage caused;
  • Previous incidents of a similar nature by the same child or young person;
  • Suitability and effectiveness of police involvement;
  • Impact of police involvement on the child’s overall plan;
  • Message sent to other residents;
  • Availability of alternative courses of action (e.g. mediation with the consent of the victim).

Criminal damage within the home should only be reported to the police when agreed by the fostering manager and preferably as part of a clear management strategy that the young person understands.

Claiming for any damage caused to a foster carers home must be completed in accordance with the foster carer’s agreement.

Theft within the Home

Most offences within a home are likely to be of low value, although it should be emphasised that value is a subjective issue relative to a victim. Factors to be considered include:

  • Wishes of the victim;
  • Nature and seriousness of the allegation;
  • Requirement for formal investigation (e.g. insurance claim requires a crime reference report within 24 hours);
  • Availability of alternative courses of act ion (e.g. mediation).

Criminal Damage to Carers’ Cars and Property

Factors for consideration would be similar to those listed above together with:

  • The nature and seriousness of the allegation;
  • Requirement for formal investigation (e.g. insurance claim);
  • Wishes and best interest of the victim;
  • Availability of alternative courses of action.

Disorder in or Around the Foster Home

The area of disorder is subjective and requires judgment by carers to avoid unnecessary police involvement for minor infringements of discipline. The main factors, which should be considered, are:

  • Nature and seriousness of the allegation;
  • Risk of threat of violence;
  • The wishes of and the impact on the immediate community;
  • The involvement of other agency (e.g. Local Housing Officer, Outreach Youth Worker);
  • The availability of alternative courses of action (e.g. mediation).

Substance Misuse

The misuse of controlled drugs within a foster home is a serious issue and it is essential that the response is prompt and effective. In responding to incidents, carers will be guided by the Government’s ‘Tackling Drugs Together Strategy’, which proposes collaborative action to:

  1. Reduce the acceptability and availability of alcohol and other drugs to young people;
  2. Minimise the health risks and other damage associated with substance use by the young people;
  3. Increase the safety of communities from drug related crime.

Carers will need to balance these principles with their duty of care for the young people they care for and their role in managing young people’s behaviour as part of their responsibilities, as well as their responsibilities to the wider community. In practice, carers should inform the police immediately if it is established that a young person is using illegal substances or illegal substances are found on the premises. It is important that all action taken is recorded.

All materials should be removed from the young person. Drugs and drug related materials should be stored securely before handing to the police. These should not be disposed of by carers but can be handed over for disposal without identifying the name of the young person and no further police action will be undertaken. The signature of the police officer removing the materials should be obtained.

A record of the removal should be kept by carers, which includes:

  • A name of the person removing the material;
  • A description of the material;
  • The circumstances of the removal;
  • The time and date of the removal;
  • The time and date the material is placed into secure storage;
  • The signature of the person putting the article into storage countersigned, if possible by a second adult member of the foster family;
  • The time and date of notification to the police, and the message number provided by the police control room;
  • The time and date the material was removed by the police;
  • The name and signature of the police officer removing the material.

To ensure that controlled substances are not being stored in a foster carer’s home any longer than is necessary it is important that every effort is made to ensure the police attend at the earliest convenient time.

Carers should first contact the local police control room, to arrange for the area officer to attend the home. If this officer is not available, then arrangements should be made for another officer to attend.

The officer attending is then responsible for recovering the suspected controlled substance into police possession and if appropriate, conducting any subsequent investigation in line with existing police policy.

Carers can dispose of alcohol and canisters but it is important that the disposal is witnessed and a record kept, which includes:

  • A name of the person removing the material;
  • A description of the, material;
  • The circumstances of the removal;
  • The time and date of the removal;
  • The time and date of disposal;
  • The name of the person instigating the disposal.


Appendix C: Foster Care - Categories of Incident Response

Click here to view 'Foster Care - Categories of Incident Response' flowchart.

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