Allegations Against Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure applies where allegations are made or concerns are raised that indicate that an approved foster carer has:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child;
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child;
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way which indicates that they may pose a risk to children;
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates that they may not be suitable to work with children.

It should be read in conjunction with LADO Allegations – Wirral Safeguarding Children Partnership.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was adjusted in May 2022 to remove the maximum timescale for the skills fee being paid should a foster carer be suspended. (See Section 3.3, Investigation and Action).

1. Policy

All allegations of harm made against foster carers should be investigated through the Section 47 Children Act 1989 Procedure and this will identify whether a child has suffered, or is likely to suffer, significant harm (see Wirral Safeguarding Children Partnership, The Definition of Significant Harm).

Alongside this The Managing Allegations Procedure will provide advice and guidance, liaison with the police and other agencies, monitor the progress of cases to ensure that they are dealt with as quickly as possible consistent with a thorough and fair process.

The Allegations procedures will consider whether a foster carer has:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child;
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child;
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children; or
  • Behaved or may have behaved in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children.

Through the process, the Supervising Social Worker (SSW) will work sensitively with the carers and child and ensure that appropriate support is given.

Although there may be insufficient evidence to support a Police prosecution, this does not mean that action cannot be taken to protect a child or that the termination of a foster carer’s approval cannot be considered.

It may be necessary to consider during an investigation what action, if any, should be taken with regard to other children the foster carers have contact with, including their own children.

The policy also supports the professionals involved to fully evidence their decision making and contextualising events that have occurred and therefore produce a judgement and recommendations that is not solely based on whether something happened, but also how and why it happened. To understand, therefore, the significance of the event, the impact, any likelihood of reoccurrence, as well as the severity, to ensure a proportionate judgement as to the way forward.

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 LADO and Managing Allegations against Staff Multi-agency Procedure;
  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.

3. Procedure

3.1 Initial Action

Any person who receives information or suspects that a child has suffered, or suffers, significant harm in a foster placement must ensure that plans are made to safeguard the child in the household. The supervising social worker and the child’s social worker, and with their team managers, should agree the arrangements for informing relevant professionals and family members. The following people must be made aware of the allegation within 1 working day:

  • Child’s Social Worker (SW) and their manager;
  • Supervising Social Worker (SSW), and their manager;
  • Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO);
  • Fostering Reviewing Officer (FRO); and,
  • Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO).

    (Consideration must be given by the SW and team manager as to the need for a strategy meeting under section 47 of the Children Act 1989. The outcome of the strategy meeting will be communicated to the LADO within one working day. The decision regarding the need for a strategy meeting, or not, should be recorded in the child’s record. (See Wirral Safeguarding Children Partnership, Strategy Discussions and Section 47 Enquiries)).

If a Section 47 strategy meeting is not needed, decisions will be made through the allegations process about who will objectively assess the allegations (i.e. this could be a professional who is not the SSW for the foster carers). On occasions this will need to be an independent assessor.

Consideration must be given to managing the safety of other children in the household or those children who are in contact with the carers. Supervising social work team to liaise with relevant professionals and carers to develop a safe plan for all children in the household during the allegations process.

The supervising social worker will:

  • Inform the social workers for any other child in the placement;
  • Inform any other local authority with an interest in the foster placement.

All safeguarding concerns and allegations in respect of foster homes must be clearly and accurately recorded by the SSW on the foster carer file, and fully investigated. It is expected that information gathered would be added by the SW to the child’s file under section 47 workflow and chronology.

Where there are three or more recorded low level concerns about a foster carer'’s abilities to deliver basic practice within a 12 month, this should trigger an early review and referral to Fostering Panel for consideration.

The Operational Lead should consider if the allegation / incident is notifiable to the Regulatory Authority (Ofsted) and relevant senior managers, this should be undertaken by the fostering team manager (see Death or Serious Injury to a Child (Looked After and Child in Need))There may be cases where immediate action may be necessary to safeguard the welfare of the child where significant harm may have been identified, For or example, the child’s social worker and their manager may decide to request that a new placement is identified.

3.2 Management of Allegations Meeting

The Management of Allegations Meeting must consider whether the foster carers has:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child;
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child;
  • Behaved towards a child, or children, in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children; or
  • Behaved, or may have behaved, in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children.

The record of the meeting must contain clear action points and clear time-scales for each action. The action points and timescales will be circulated to relevant professionals following the meeting. Actions agreed must be recorded and be the responsibility of named individuals.

Copies of the action points and the minutes will be recorded in the ‘allegations tab’ on the foster carer Liquid Logic file.

Any decision to take no further action following the Management of Allegations Meeting must be clearly recorded in the ‘allegations tab’ and reported to the Regulatory Authority if required.

3.3 Investigation and Action

The actions agreed at the Management of Allegations Meeting should be implemented by those responsible within the agreed timescales.

Unless there are circumstances when the details or nature of the allegation cannot be shared immediately, the foster carers should be advised of the allegation as agreed at the section 47 Strategy Meeting or Management of Allegations meeting, 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 and other children in their care.

Where considered appropriate by those at the Managing Allegations Meeting, 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 put on hold the making further placements with the foster carer while the investigation is being conducted should be communicated in writing to the foster carer by the manager of the fostering service.

If a carer is “suspended” following an allegation, the skills fee will continue to be paid.

If the foster carer agrees, a referral for independent support for the carer should be made via Foster Talk. 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. 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 LADO and Managing Allegations against Staff Multi-agency Procedure;
  2. The address and contact telephone number of the independent agency identified to provide the foster carers support;
  3. Information regarding consulting a solicitor;
  4. Information on insurance arrangements for legal expenses.

FosterTalk membership offers carers a wide range of advice and support if they are unfortunate enough to be the subject of an allegation. This includes: legal advice (24 hours a day, 7 days a week); arrest and interview support from a qualified solicitor if they need to attend for a police interview; legal expenses insurance to cover your defence costs if necessary; a 24 hour counselling helpline, and advice and support from qualified social workers on our fostering helpline.

If an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened for other children in the household, 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.

The social worker undertaking the investigation will be a different social worker from their allocated Supervising Social Worker. This enables independence during the investigation process and allows the allocates supervising social worker to continue to provide support. The investigation social worker will prepare a report on the investigation and a copy will be provided to the foster carers and their representatives.

The LADO should monitor and record the progress of each case, regularly depending on its complexity. This could be by way of review Management of Allegations Meeting or direct liaison with the Police, Local Authority Children’s Services, or employer, as appropriate. Each agency is responsible for ensuring the LADO is kept up to date on at least a monthly basis as to their agency’s progress with the case, what their agency has planned and what timescales have been set. It may also be appropriate for agencies to update the LADO on a more frequent basis than this when specific incidents, progress or outcomes are reached. Where the target timescales cannot be met, the LADO should be made aware of this and record the reasons.

The LADO should keep comprehensive records in order to ensure that each case is being dealt with expeditiously and that there are no undue delays. The records will also assist the Wirral Safeguarding Children Partnership to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the procedures for Managing Allegations and provide statistical information to the Department for Education (DfE) as required.

If a police investigation is to be conducted, at the outset, the police must set a date for reviewing its progress and consulting the CPS about continuing, or closing, the investigation or charging the individual. Wherever possible, this should be no later than four weeks after the strategy meeting or Managing Allegations meeting. Dates for further reviews should also be agreed, depending on the complexity of the investigation.

3.4 Concluding the Investigation

The Management of Allegations Meeting will be reconvened to conclude the investigation. The same people will be invited and the same person will chair the meeting.

The purpose of the final meeting is to agree on the outcome of the investigation and responsibilities for any further action. It will be agreed with the LADO who will provide feedback to relevant parties including foster carers, child and guardians.

Potential Outcomes

Caption: lado outcomes
   
LADO Outcomes
Substantiated There is sufficient evidence to prove the allegation that a child has been harmed or there is a risk of harm.
Unsubstantiated There is insufficient evidence to either prove or disprove the allegation. The term, therefore, does not imply guilt or innocence.
Malicious There is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation and there has been a deliberate act to deceive. The police should be asked to consider what action may be appropriate in these circumstances.
False

There is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation.

There is no evidence to suggest that there was a deliberate intention to deceive.

False allegations may be an indicator of abuse elsewhere which requires further exploration. If an allegation is demonstrably false, the employer, in consultation with the LADO, should refer the matter to local authority children's social care to determine whether the child is in need of services, or might have been abused by someone else.
Unfounded

There is no evidence or proper basis which supports the allegation being made.

It might indicate that the person making the allegation misinterpreted the incident or was mistaken about what they saw. Alternatively they may not have been aware of all the circumstances.

The Chair of the meeting / discussion should make a record of the agreed outcome and forward this to the employer.

Once an outcome has been reached the Team Manager will send a letter to the foster carer/s advising of the outcome and next steps.

Taking advice from those involved in the LADO process the Fostering Service Manager will need to consider whether there is a duty to refer to the Disclosure and Barring Service's (DBS) Children's Barred List. (See DBS Barring and Referral Guidance).

Following the allegations process, where the outcome is unsubstantiated or substantiated there will be a foster carer review, chaired by an independent fostering reviewing officer.

The SSW will present the review to the Fostering Panel commenting on the outcomes of the Allegations meeting and the implications for the Carers continued involvement in their fostering role.

This report will be shared with the foster carer and their representative in advance of the Panel.

All relevant documents in relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome, must be retained on the child's and the foster carer's records, a copy of which should be given to the carer.

The investigative process may conclude that there has been no harm experienced by the child but that other procedures may be identified as appropriate, for example, the complaints process.

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 all necessary assistance and support should be made available as necessary.