SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies where allegations are made or suspicions are raised that approved foster carers have caused Significant Harm to a child. It should be read in conjunction with the Wirral Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures.
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 Wirral Safeguarding Children Board, LADO and Managing Allegations against Staff 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.
The expectation is that:
In addition, in relation to the Fostering Service, it is an expectation of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 that:
Any person who receives information or suspects that a child has suffered or is suffering significant 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:
The IFD will implement the Wirral Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures. They will gather relevant background information and convene a Strategy Meeting within 2 working days of the referral.
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.
At this stage, the regulatory authority must be informed of the allegation/suspicion and the supervising social worker's manager must ensure that an invitation is sent to them to be represented at the Strategy Meeting.
In exceptional cases were 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.
The Strategy Meeting will take place within 2 working days of the referral and will involve a face-to-face meeting. The purpose of the meeting will be to decide if an investigation is necessary and, if so, how it should be carried out. The following people will be invited:
The Strategy Meeting must consider:
Whether or not the Strategy Meeting considers that the allegation or suspicion has any foundation, the matter should be investigated unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the Regulatory Authority must be notified of the decision and the outcome.
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.
Any decision to take no further action following the Strategy Meeting must be clearly recorded by the decision-maker on the child's and the foster carer's records, and reported to the Regulatory Authority.
In anticipation of the outcome of the investigation being reported to the Fostering Panel, the supervising social worker or his/her manager should contact the Panel Chair to consider whether a special Panel meeting will be required.
The actions agreed at the Strategy 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 Strategy 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.
Where considered appropriate by those at the Strategy 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 suspend 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
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.
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.
The social worker undertaking the investigation will prepare a report on the investigation and a copy will be provided to the foster carers and their representatives.
The Strategy Meeting will be reconvened to conclude the investigation. The same people will be invited and the same person will chair the meeting; the foster carers and their representative will be invited to participate as considered appropriate by the Chair.
The purpose of the final Strategy Meeting is to agree on the outcome of the investigation and responsibilities for any further action including reporting on the matter to 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.
Although this will always be envisaged as the final meeting, should new information come to light further actions may be required thereby necessitating the suspension and rescheduling of the meeting.
The Chair will notify the foster carers (if not in attendance), the child, the parents, other children in the placement or involved, other relevant agencies and the Regulatory Authority (if they do not attend the meeting) of the recommendations made at the meeting.
In any event the meeting may wish to draw to the attention of Fostering Panel members certain areas of the foster carer's practice in need of their close consideration.
A report should be presented to the next available Fostering Panel. 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) and whether or not a special Panel meeting should be convened.
Prior to Fostering Panel, 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.
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.
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.