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6.1.7 Allegations, Incidents and Concerns Against Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS PROCEDURE

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 Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Boards Procedures.

AMENDMENT

In June 2017, this guidance was rewritten and should be read in full.


Contents

  1. Policy
  2. Introduction
  3. Allegations
  4. Incidents
  5. Concerns
  6. Complaints


1. Policy

All children are entitled to be protected from harm, including those in foster care.

Allegations or suspicions that a foster carer has caused Significant Harm to a child will be investigated thoroughly, speedily and sensitively under the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Boards 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 during an investigation into allegations against foster carers to what action, if any, should be taken with regard to other children with whom foster carers 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. A matching and placement episode to be completed and inform. An individual Safe Care Policy will be completed and the Family Safe Care Policy should be uploaded;
  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 these procedures and the Derby and Derbyshire SCBs Procedures;
  4. All foster carers record on a daily basis the progress of children placed with them, including any incidents or allegations. They will be clear that such recording is required 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. This is in accordance with the Foster Carer Handbook (Documents Library).

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

  • A senior member within the Fostering Service is identified to be the Designated Person who liaises with the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process; in Derbyshire this person is the Fostering Team 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. Allegations

Definition

Information is received which suggests some feature of a fostering arrangement has a potentially adverse effect on the welfare of a child.

For example:

  • Disclosures of abuse or mistreatment by currently or previously placed children;
  • Third party referrals reporting harm whether via anonymous or named sources.

Procedure Following an Allegation

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 and Team Manager;
  • Inform the foster carer’s Supervising Social Worker and Team Manager who has specific responsibility for the foster carer;
  • Team Manager Fostering to inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO); and Head of Service Locality;
  • Following discussion to ascertain any further action, refer to a relevant Children and Family Team; if other children involved;
  • Inform the Social Worker and Team Manager of any other children placed;
  • Inform the Adoption & Fostering Operational Manager and the Agency Decision Maker.

The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) must implement the Derby and Derbyshire SCBs Procedure for dealing with Allegations Against Staff, Carers and Volunteers in relation to the allegation/suspicion. The LADO will gather relevant background information and decide – within 2 working days of the referral - whether a Strategy Meeting will be held and what information can be shared with the foster carers and by whom.

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.

Consideration must be given regarding the safeguarding of any children in the household.

Recording Allegations within Framework-i

The Supervising Social Worker will record the details of the incident/allegation on the incident/allegation episode and a concern case note using the template and uploaded into the episode. This must then be updated and concluded with a clear outcome agreed by Team Manager. When completed, the task from the incident/allegation episode is sent to the Team Manager.

The Team Manager of the Fostering Team will notify the Head of Service Locality, Child Protection Manager (where necessary), Professional Adviser to Fostering and Adoption Panel, Fostering and Adoption Operations Manager, and the Independent Reviewing Officer.

Following discussion with the above individuals, a decision will then be made as to whether the matter needs to be referred to the Central Foster Panel for a review or no further action is agreed. If no further action is agreed the Fostering Team Manager will complete the allegation, concern and incident grid and forward to the Panel Administrators who will inform the Agency Decision Maker.

Strategy Meeting

If it is agreed to proceed to Strategy Meeting a meeting should be arranged. 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 Manager of the team who would undertake the Section 47 Enquiry; if required;
  • The child’s Social Worker and his or her Manager;
  • The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
  • 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;
  • The Police;
  • Any other agency involved with the child or foster family, such as LAC nurse.

The Strategy Meeting must consider:

  • The nature of the allegation, its source and reliability;
  • 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;
  • The involvement of other agencies, for example if the child was placed by another local authority;
  • The need to inform other agencies who use the foster home;
  • Who will notify the Regulatory Authority of the outcome of the meeting, if a representative is not present;
  • Whether to make 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;
  • 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;
  • How the needs of any child who has to leave the placement will be met including contact with other children in the placement;
  • 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 must interview the foster carers about the allegations and concerns. Interview notes must be taken and made available to future meetings and/or the Fostering Panel);
  • The time-scales for the investigation (See below) and any contingencies should timescales prove unlikely to be met;
  • How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
  • Whether the alleged perpetrator should be asked to leave the home while the investigation is conducted and confirmation that the Chair will inform the carers of the allegation verbally and then in writing;
  • How to inform the child’s parents of the allegation;
  • Once informed of the decision what support to offer the foster carers;
  • How reports on the investigation will be shared with the foster carers and the child or children in the placement;
  • Whether further placements should be suspended in the meantime; and
  • Arrangements for reconvening the Strategy Meeting.

Whether or not the Strategy Meeting considers that the allegation or suspicion has any foundation, the matter should always be investigated unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the Regulatory Authority must be notified, when applicable, 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, the Regulatory Authority where applicable to be informed.

Investigation and Action

In anticipation of the outcome of the investigation being reported to the Central Fostering Panel, the Supervising Social Worker or his/her Manager should contact the Professional Advisor 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 find 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 supervising the foster carers must contact the foster carers as soon as practicable after the foster carers are made aware of the incident/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.

Support to Foster Carers

It is recognised that any allegation of abuse against a carer is distressing. Carers are entitled to receive support from the fostering service, and any independent support they wish to use, including support from another foster carer or an independent agency.

The plan of action developed at the strategy meeting will include identifying who will provide support to the foster carers. Carers must be informed of how they will be supported and paid whilst they are under investigation.

The Supervising Social Worker will continue to work with the foster carers through the investigation to:

  • Provide as much information as possible about the progress of the investigation recognising that if the matter is under Police investigation if may limit the information to be shared;
  • Ensure that carers are clear about the nature of the allegation and provide the carer this in writing;
  • Maintain monthly supervision visits, more if appropriate, as well as telephone contact.

They should confirm that the foster carers are aware of the following:

  • The contents of this procedure and the Derby and Derbyshire SCBs Procedures;
  • The address and contact telephone number of the independent advocacy available through Foster Talk to provide the foster carer support;
  • Information regarding consulting a solicitor;
  • 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 carer’s 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.

Concluding the Investigation

The Strategy Meeting may 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 ensure it is agreed who will notify the foster carers (if not in attendance), the child, the parents, other children in the placement or involved, other relevant agencies of the recommendations made at the meeting.

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, any learning points, and any necessary assistance should be made available as necessary.

A review should be presented to the next available Fostering Panel. The Social Worker preparing the report should consult with the Professional Adviser to 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. The review report should include the safety and wellbeing grid.

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.


4. Incidents

Definition

An event reported in respect of a child, carer, family member or relevant person, which might adversely affect the circumstances or functioning of a foster placement

The following are defined as incidents but this list is not exhaustive. Any similar occurrences can be defined as an incident by a manager and recorded as such:

  • Offences committed by carers or children;
  • Illness, accident or injury;
  • Conduct of carers;
  • House fires;
  • Serious illness or injury to a child, requiring medical attention or hospital treatment;
  • Significant damage to property;
  • A child missing from their foster home (see Runaway and Missing from Home or Care (RMFHC) Protocol);
  • Use of restraint to manage behaviour - ‘Physical restraint' means stopping a foster child/young person from doing something they appear to want to do by physical means. For example, the foster carer moving the child/young person or blocking their movement to stop them hurting themselves or others or from seriously damaging property;
  • Children involved, or suspected of being involved, in child sexual exploitation;
  • Serious incident relating to a child, where the police need to be called to the foster home;
  • Any other relevant event which could affect the stability of safety or the foster home;
  • Physical assault or violence cause to a child or carer;
  • Damage, of a serious nature, caused maliciously or non-accidentally;
  • Illegal access/possession of controlled drugs or substances;
  • Self-harming;
  • Suicide, attempted suicide or death of a child – see Death or Serious Injury to a Child (Looked After and Child In Need) Procedure;
  • Bullying, of a persistent or serious nature; and
  • E-safety concerns.

Notifications

If an incident occurs, the Child’s Social Worker must also be informed by the Supervising Social Worker or Team Manager within 1 working day and an agreement reached with the Social Worker about whether it is necessary to inform the child’s parent(s). If so, it should be agreed who should undertake this task within agreed timescales, or any other action to take and who should take them.

Recording Incidents within Framework-i

The Supervising Social Worker will record the details of the incident on the concern case note using the template and including the safety and wellbeing grid. The template must be updated and concluded with a clear outcome agreed by Team Manager.

The Team Manager of the Fostering Team will notify the Locality Team Manager, Child Protection Manager (where necessary), Professional Advisor to Fostering and Adoption Panel, Adoption and Fostering Operations Manager, and the Independent Reviewing Officer.

Following discussion with the above individuals, a decision will then be made as to whether the matter needs to be referred to the Central Foster Panel for a review or no further action is agreed. If no further action is agreed the Fostering Team Manager will complete the concern grid and forward to the Panel Administrators who will inform the Agency Decision Maker.

The Agency Decision Maker will decide whether to inform the Regulatory Body.


5. Concerns

The following may be a complaint or concern dependent on who is making it. Complaints and representations may be made by anybody

  • The physical standards within the foster carer’s home;
  • Failure to support children in their education;
  • Lack of support in terms of physical and emotional health, e.g. not attending health appointments;
  • Reports of inappropriate or unclean clothing;
  • Misuse of allowances;
  • Non compliance with contact arrangements;
  • Concerns regarding quality or nature of diet;
  • Concerns regarding the routine care provided for children;
  • Concerns regarding methods used to manage children’s behaviour;
  • Inappropriate or insensitive behaviour shown towards birth family;
  • Failure to comply with notification or recording expectations; and
  • Inappropriate use of sanctions, e.g. stopping pocket money, restricting contact with birth family, stopping school activity.

Who is concerned about the care provided?

Social workers and IRO’s (or other member of the Department) cannot make a complaint/formal representation but can express a concern.

See also Complaints and Representations Procedure.

Recording Procedure for Concerns

In addition to ‘one off’ information leading to a serious concern about a foster carer’s practice, there may be continuing lower level concerns about a carer’s practice or standard of care that have arisen during the course of normal supervision of the carer and/or the annual review process.

When taken individually, such concerns and/or incidents/allegations may not be serious but over time they accumulate, or worsen to a point where they amount to a serious concern and call into question the suitability of the foster carer. Such concerns must be addressed with the foster carer immediately as they arise. Opportunities such as training must be put in place with clear milestones and intended outcomes. These opportunities should be clearly documented.

Following a second incident/concern/allegation of a similar nature the Team Manager or Senior Practitioner will undertake a joint visit to the foster carers with the Supervising Social Worker. The meeting will be minuted and shared with the foster carers.

If there is a third concern/incident/allegation of a similar nature, an incident episode will be completed and this information will be presented to Central Panel as a review.

The review should consider the approval status and any training or development issues.

If the Fostering Team Manager decides that further assessment is required as part of the independent formal review they will need to record the following decisions.

  • Who will inform the foster carer and when;
  • Who will undertake the assessment and how that person will be supervised; (Ideally this should be a suitably qualified Social Worker who does not know the foster carer);
  • Whether the foster carer should be suspended from taking further placements while the assessment is going; and
  • Who will provide independent support for the foster carer.

The process should start within 2 weeks of the decision.

Every effort should be made to take account of the carer’s needs such as language or disability.

The Fostering Team Manager should meet with the identified worker to brief them and co-ordinate the process.

The foster carer should be informed as soon as possible of the intended review, the process, the information detailed below and the concerns raised, if they have not already been made aware (except in exceptional circumstances). In the case of the latter, the Fostering Team Manager should record on FWI the reason for such a decision not to inform the foster carer at this stage. The Fostering Team Manager and/or Supervising Social Worker should be responsible for keeping the foster carer informed about the review.

The foster carer should receive written information as follows within 48 hours of being informed of the review.

  • The substance of the concerns;
  • Who will be involved in the assessment for the review;
  • The process and timescales;
  • Who will be informed or interviewed, where information will be gathered from;
  • The foster carer’s right to independent support and advice from Foster Talk;
  • Decisions about children in placement currently and the reasons for those decisions; and
  • The next steps.

The foster carers should also be informed of:

  • The reasons for the removal of any children, if applicable;
  • Whether they are suspended from fostering during the assessment;
  • The progress of the assessment both verbally and in writing, at regular intervals.

The Supervising Social Worker will meet with the foster carers on as many occasions as are needed, interviewing them together and separately. The person providing independent support may attend any meeting or interview with the foster carer.

The Assessing Social Worker will ensure that full information is gathered. The process should include information/views of those involved either through direct interview or information received from other sources. This may include:

  • Record of information already received from children in placement currently or previously;
  • Views of the foster carer(s);
  • Information from end of placement reports;
  • Information from exit interviews;
  • Information on the foster carers file.

Information should be made available to the foster carer unless it is confidential in which case the foster carer should be informed that the assessment will take into account confidential information available.

The assessment should take no longer than 4 weeks to complete from the date of the appointment of the Assessing Social Worker and should result in a report that summarises the information, sets out the findings and makes a clear recommendation.

The Review of approval should:

  • Clarify the nature of the review, ensure that the foster carer understands the process, the role of the fostering panel, the agency decision maker and the provision for appeals;
  • Draw together a clear picture of the foster carer’s career and their strengths;
  • A summary of s.47 Enquiry findings or the findings of an investigation into the allegations or concerns;
  • Complete the safety and wellbeing grid;
  • Enable the foster carer and the fostering team to explore the future in terms of continuing the carer’s approval;
  • Identify what support has been put in place;
  • Identify and clarify any requirements on the foster carer;

Analyse the information in terms of:

  • The foster carer’s suitability and competence to foster;
  • Any variations in the terms of approval;
  • Any suggested requirements of the foster carer including specific training and development.

This review should be shared with the foster carer at least 7 days before the paperwork is required prior to panel. The foster carer should be invited to make comments in preparation for the review.

If the foster carer cannot or is unwilling to co-operate, the Fostering Team Manager should decide when the point has been reached to proceed and should inform the carer giving 7 days’ notice that all information generated by the assessment will be placed upon their file and taken forward to a formal Review of Approval.

Upon completion of the independent assessment, the Fostering Team Manager should consider the report and any report the foster carer(s) wish to submit. The Team Manager should ensure that all information has been made available to the assessment and the foster carer has been given the opportunity to give a full response.

The review should be presented to the Foster Panel including the report from the independent assessor with a clear recommendation regarding ongoing approval and any representations from the foster carer.

Any concern/incident/allegation or an accumulation may result in the termination of approval.

Circumstances in which Termination of Approval may be Considered

Termination of approval will be considered in the following circumstances; although there may be other circumstances in which termination of approval may be considered.

  1. Criminal conviction of carer or member of their household specified in schedule 4 Regulations 27(7)(b);
  2. Concern that a child in their care had suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm following a section 47 enquiry;
  3. Serious levels of concern about the quality of care given to children in the placement;
  4. Where a child’s complaint against a foster carer has been upheld and the issues raised cannot be resolved through training;
  5. Unwillingness/inability of the carer to work in partnership with either or both the local authority and birth families;
  6. Total breakdown of the carers’ relationship with the local authority;
  7. Serious breaches of confidentiality; and
  8. Misuse of local authority allowances.


6. Complaints

See Complaints and Representations Procedure.

The Fostering Team Manager in liaison with the Quality Assurance Manager will consider the complaint and decide who is the most appropriate manager to deal with the complaint.

All complaints made by foster carers should be recorded and the Panel Administrators notified who will keep a record for the Fostering Agency.

End