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6.1.8 Allegations Against Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS PROCEDURE

This procedure applies where allegations are made or suspicions are raised that approved Foster Carers or members of visitors to a Foster Carers household has:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed, or may have harmed a child;
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child; or
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates that they may pose a risk of harm to children.

It should be read in conjunction with the Wirral Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures (Managing Allegations Against Staff, Volunteers, Foster and Adoptive Carers who Work with Children).

This chapter is compliant with the Fostering Services National Minimum Standards and Regulations 2011, Standard 22 - Handling Allegations and Suspicions of Harm.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was significantly updated in September 2012 and should be re read in its entirety. In September 2013, it was updated in line with Working Together 2013. The third bullet  point of the above criteria was changed from ‘ Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates that  s/he is unsuitable to work with children’ to ‘Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates that  they may pose a risk of harm to children’.


Contents

1. Policy
2. Introduction
3. Procedure
  3.1 Initial Action
  3.2 Professionals Meeting
  3.3 Investigation and Action
  3.4 Concluding the Investigation
  3.5 Reporting on Investigations


1. Policy

All children are entitled to the same level and standard of protection from harm including those receiving services from statutory or other agencies. For this reason, enquiries and investigations relating to children in receipt of such services must be dealt with under the Local Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures, (see Wirral Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures).

Allegations or suspicions that a Foster Carer has caused Significant Harm to a child will be investigated thoroughly, speedily and sensitively under those procedures and will involve open and honest communication with and support to all those affected.

It is important to note that, although there may be insufficient evidence to support a Police prosecution, this does not mean that action cannot be taken to protect a child nor that the termination of a Foster Carer's approval cannot be considered.

It should also be noted that it may be necessary to consider during an investigation what action, if any, should be taken with regard to other children with whom Foster Carers against whom allegations are made have contact, including their own children.


2. Introduction

The expectation is that:

  1. At the time of a child's placement, Foster Carers will be provided with detailed information as to the child's background and in particular the context of any abusive experiences of and/or previous allegations made by the child;
  2. All Foster Carers will receive preparation, training and guidance to help them provide a safe environment for the child and all members of the foster family;
  3. All Foster Carers will have received information about this procedure and the Local Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures;
  4. All Foster Carers will be familiar with and adopt the procedures for recording on a daily basis the progress of children placed with them, including any incidents or complaints, and understand that these procedures have been made to protect all those involved in the child's placement, particularly at times of high stress, and will provide important evidence if an allegation is made.

In addition, in relation to the Fostering Service, it is an expectation of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 that:

  • A senior manager within the Fostering Service is identified to be the Designated Person who liaises with the LADO in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process. For Wirral the Designated Person is the Looked After Child Service Manager;
  • All staff within the Fostering Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosure and Barring Service.


3. Procedure

3.1 Initial Action

Any person who receives information or suspects that a child has suffered or is suffering harm in a foster placement must immediately inform the child's Social Worker or their manager.

On receipt of any such information, the child's Social Worker, or their team manager must immediately:

The Supervising Social Worker will:

  • Inform the designated senior manager within the Fostering Service - see Section 2, Introduction; and, in consultation with the designated senior manager;
  • Inform the Social Workers for any other child in the placement;
  • Provide the LADO with the details of any other children placed with the Foster Carer and provide the names of the child’s Social Workers;
  • Inform any other Local Authority with an interest in the foster placement.

Where the foster carer lives outside the Wirral Local Authority area the LADO will liaise with the LADO from the relevant Local Authority.

The child’s Social Worker must implement the Local Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures in relation to the allegation/suspicion. They will gather relevant background information and the appropriate Practice/Team Manager or Principal Manager will convene a Section 47 Strategy Meeting within 2 working days of the referral which will focus on the needs of the child.

Other investigative routes may be identified as more appropriate at this stage, for example, the complaints process, and should be considered as an alternative to a Section 47 Enquiry if it is identified that the harm threshold has not been met.

In exceptional cases where immediate action may be necessary to safeguard the welfare of the child, the child's Social Worker and his or her manager may decide to request that a new placement be identified.

3.2 Professionals Meeting

The LADO will consider calling a Professional’s Meeting/discussion within 2 working days of the referral which will focus on the action required relating to the Foster Carer. The purpose of the meeting/discussion will be to decide if an investigation is necessary and, if so, how it should be carried out. In certain situations the Professionals Meeting/Discussion and the Section 47 Strategy meeting held by the Practice/Team Manager can be the same meeting. The following people will be invited to be involved:

  1. The manager of the team undertaking the Section 47 Enquiry;
  2. The child's Social Worker and his or her manager;
  3. The child’s Social Workers and their managers for any other children placed with the foster carer;
  4. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
  5. The Supervising Social Worker linked to the Foster Carer, and his or her manager (who will liaise as necessary with the designated senior manager within the Fostering Service - see Section 2, Introduction);
  6. The police;
  7. Any other relevant agency identified by the chair.

The Professional’s Meeting/discussion must consider:

  1. The nature of the allegation, its source and reliability;
  2. Background information relating to the foster family, how long the family has been known, how many children have been placed there, the family's known strengths and weaknesses and any exceptional features about the child and the placement;
  3. Any previous allegations against the Foster Carers or previous allegations made by the person making the allegation;
  4. The involvement of other agencies, for example if the child was placed by another Local Authority;
  5. The need to inform other agencies who use the foster home;
  6. A referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion on the Children's Barred List. This should be considered whenever a carer is suspended from their duties;
  7. The safety of all children in the household including the Foster Carer's own children and whether any action is necessary to protect the children including the removal of all or any of the children while the investigation is conducted;
  8. How the needs of any child who has to leave the placement will be met including contact with other children in the placement;
  9. What information can and cannot be shared, by whom and when. It is vital that this is considered at the earliest opportunity after the allegation is made to ensure that information sharing does not prejudice any police investigation;
  10. How and by whom the investigation is to be conducted. (It is important that careful consideration is given to the planning of criteria when a joint investigation is recommended. In situations where the Police or Crown Prosecution Service recommend no further action then the Social Worker identified during the Professional’s Meeting/discussion in liaison with the designated manager for the Fostering Service must gain an account from the Foster Carers about all allegations and concerns. Notes must be taken and made available to future meetings and/or the Fostering Panel);
  11. The time-scales for the investigation (see below) and any contingencies should timescales prove unlikely to be met;
  12. How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
  13. Whether the alleged perpetrator should be asked to leave the home while the investigation is conducted and confirmation that the Fostering Service will inform the carers of the allegation verbally and then in writing;
  14. How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
  15. Once informed of the decision what support to offer the Foster Carers;
  16. How reports on the investigation will be shared with the Foster Carers and the child or children in the placement;
  17. Whether further placements should be suspended in the meantime;
  18. Timescales for all actions to be completed;
  19. Arrangements for reconvening the Professional’s Meeting if it is felt appropriate.

Whether or not the Professionals Meeting considers that the allegation or suspicion has any foundation, the matter should be investigated unless there are exceptional circumstances.

The minutes of the meeting must contain clear action points and clear time-scales for each action. The action points and timescales will be circulated immediately after the meeting. Actions agreed must be recorded and be the responsibility of named individuals.

Copies of the action points and the minutes should be held on the child's and the foster carer's records, but should not be shared further without the expressed permission of the LADO.

Any decision to take no further action following the Professional’s Meeting/discussion must be clearly recorded by the decision-maker on the child's and the Foster Carer's records.

3.3 Investigation and Action

The actions agreed at the Professional’s Meeting/discussion should be implemented by those responsible within the agreed timescales and appropriate feedback provided to the chair of the Professional’s Meeting/discussion and the LADO.

Unless there are circumstances when the details or nature of the allegation cannot be shared immediately (e.g. where there is a suggestion that there will be a police investigation or where the children have not yet been, the Foster Carers should be advised, as decided by the designated manager for the Fostering Service, of the allegation as agreed at the Professional’s Meeting/discussion and of the process to be followed in the investigation, including the possibility that an Initial Child Protection Conference may be convened in relation to their own children. 

Where considered appropriate by those involved in the Professionals Meeting/discussion, the Foster Carers should be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations before any final decision is made about necessary action to protect the child and other children in the household. Such protective action may include asking the person against whom the allegation has been made to leave the household while the investigation is conducted.

Any decision to suspend making further placements with the Foster Carer while the investigation is being conducted should be communicated to the Foster Carer by the Supervising Social Worker.

Foster Carers will be offered support independent of the Fostering Service or they will be supported by the Supervising Social Worker.

Those supporting the Foster Carers must contact the Foster Carers as soon as practicable after the Foster Carers are made aware of the allegation, and explain their role to the Foster Carers. They must make clear their responsibility to report to the Local Authority, the Police and in some circumstances to the Court if any information relevant to the investigation comes to their attention. They must inform Foster Carers on how they will be supported and paid whilst they are under investigation.

They should confirm that the Foster Carers are aware of the following:

  1. The contents of this procedure and the relevant Local Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures, (see Wirral Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures);
  2. Independent support can be identified and provided if required;
  3. Information regarding legal advice;
  4. Information on insurance arrangements for legal expenses.

If an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, the Conference Chair must be consulted in advance to discuss whether the Foster Carers should be invited to attend. In any event, the Foster Carers' views must be obtained for and communicated to the Conference.

3.4 Concluding the Investigation

The LADO will recommend to the fostering service any further actions following the Professional’s Meeting/discussion including reporting on the matter to the IRO, the Fostering Panel and/or considering whether it may be appropriate to make a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion of the Foster Carers on the Children's Barred List and whether the placement can be resumed or not.

If the allegation is founded or unsubstantiated a report should be prepared by the Supervising Social Worker and presented to the Fostering Panel. This report will detail the allegations, how they were resolved, actions taken and the decisions that were reached. A copy of this report must be given to the Foster Carers and retained on the Foster Carers file. The Social Worker preparing the report should consult with the Chair of the Fostering Panel who will advise on who should attend the Panel meeting (usually the child's Social Worker and the Supervising Social Worker for the Foster Carers).

Prior to Fostering Panel, the LADO, the chair of the Strategy Meeting, the Foster Carers and their representative should have seen, and had time to comment on the report being presented to the Panel. The procedure to be adopted for the Fostering Panel will be the same as for any other Foster Carer review - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.

If following of the investigation and subsequent Panel Review the Foster Carers are de registered as a result of the allegation a referral should be made to the Disclosure and Barring Service for consideration of the carers being included on the Children’s Barred List.

All relevant documents in relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome, must be retained on the child's and the Foster Carer's records.

Consideration should be given to holding a debriefing meeting for all involved as to the impact of the allegations and the investigation, whatever the outcome, and any necessary assistance should be made available as necessary. 

3.5 Reporting on Investigations

The LADO will provide an annual report of all allegations against Foster Carers to the Agency Decision Maker for the Fostering Service.

End