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Allegations, Incidents and Concerns Against Foster Carers

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 Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures.

This guidance is written within the context of the "Working Together to Safeguard Children", and The National Minimum Standards for Fostering (Fostering Services Regulations, Care Standards Act 2000).

This guidance seeks to differentiate between allegations, serious concerns and complaints and to guide staff in the investigation and management of each type. The child in question in each case is a child who is being Looked After by the local authority and is either fostered or placed for adoption.

The procedures for dealing with allegations, concerns or complaints need to be applied with common sense and judgement.

An allegation is defined as an accusation of physical, sexual or emotional abuse or neglect: for example that a carer has injured a child or that the carer or someone in the family has behaved in a sexually inappropriate way towards the child in question.

Derbyshire Children's Services may have serious concerns about the quality of care/practice provided by a carer, which may not warrant investigation under safeguarding or child protection procedures – for example involving the disciplining of children, or non-cooperation with contact arrangements with the child's family.

A complaint may involve a view about a carer's approach to the care of a child, or the way in which they respond to a child's behaviour. For example when a child complains that they are not being fed properly or a parent complains that a child's culture or religion is being ignored.

Staff must be clear about whether the issue that they are dealing with falls under safeguarding or child protection procedures or whether it constitutes a standard of care issue.

Following receipt of a concern, fostering social workers must consult with their team manager and the operational manager to decide which category any referral falls into and decide a course of action. There may be consultation with the Designated Officer in the local authority (LADO) who must be informed.

Allegations would usually be dealt with under the safeguarding and child protection procedures. Consideration should always be given to whether serious concerns or complaints require implementation of safeguarding and child protection procedures. Social workers must consult with their team manager and the operational manager to decide which category any referral falls into and decide a course of action.

Staff should be aware that any complaint, concern or allegation has the capacity to be redefined after initial referral or part way through a procedure, depending on forthcoming information, and may therefore require to be dealt with under a different process.

Derbyshire foster carers (approved by the Local Authority or an Independent Fostering Provider) and Prospective Adopters who have children placed with them prior to an adoption order are included in the scope of this guidance in relation to allegations.

Complaints and concerns raised in respect of Derbyshire local authority foster carers and prospective adopters would also be dealt with through the relevant Derbyshire County Council concerns and Complaints and Representations Procedure. Complaints and concerns regarding carers approved by Independent Fostering Providers, Voluntary Adoption Agencies and other local authorities would be dealt with under the procedures of their approving agency.

This guidance complies with the procedures for dealing with allegations against people who work with children. It offers additional elements which recognise the nature of fostering (and pre-order adoptive placements) where carers look after children in their own homes, often working alone, and where the consequences of an allegation may affect their home as well as work environment.

AMENDMENT

In December 2019, this guidance was re-written and should be read in full.

1. Policy

Every Child in Care has the right to be protected and to feel safe in their foster or prospective adoptive home: their safety is of paramount importance. Foster carers, prospective adopters and members of their families who face allegations must be treated sensitively and fairly within a clear procedure. This guidance aims to ensure a clear process to take account of the law, national guidance and Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures.

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 Partnership 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. 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 Safeguarding Children Partnership 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).

3. Allegations

An allegation is an assertion from any person that a foster carer or another member of the fostering household has or may have behaved in a way that has harmed a child, committed a criminal offence against a child or behaved towards a child in a way that indicates they are unsuitable to work with children.

Allegations are more serious than general complaints against foster carers because allegations have to be investigated under the local safeguarding and child protection procedures. Allegations should be treated differently from concerns about poor standards of care.

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 Designated Officer in the local authority (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 Designated Officer in the local authority (LADO) must implement the Derby and Derbyshire Safeguarding Children Partnership 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 their manager may decide to request that a new placement be identified.

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

Strategy Meeting

In all situations where an allegation of child abuse is made, the LADO will have a strategy discussion or convene a Strategy Meeting. The purpose of a Strategy Meeting is to make a timely decision as to whether an investigation should be undertaken, by whom and in what timescale.

The foster carers are not invited to the Strategy Meeting and are not informed, at this stage, that an allegation has been made. (This is because it may lead to the investigation of a criminal offence).

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 their Manager;
  • The Supervising Social Worker, and their Manager (who will liaise as necessary with the Designated Senior Manager within the Fostering Service);
  • The Police;
  • Social Workers of other children placed, if appropriate;
  • Any other agency involved with the child or foster family, such as Designated Nurse for Children in Carer.

The Strategy Meeting must consider:

  • The nature of the allegation, its source and reliability;
  • Background information relating to the foster family, provided by the fostering service;
  • Whether information has been conveyed to the Social Workers of other children placed;
  • How and by whom the investigation is to be conducted and a timescale for reconvening the Strategy Meeting to discuss and conclude the investigation;. The safety of all children in the household including the foster carer's own children, or other children they may have regular contact with, 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, and whether any safeguarding or child protection procedures need to be instigated in relation to their own children;
  • What information should be shared with foster carers and by whom;
  • 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;
  • Consideration to be given as how and when the carer's will be informed of the allegation;
  • How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
  • Who will communicate with and support the foster carer throughout the process of investigation;
  • 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 to agree and confirm outcomes.

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 foster carer's records, uploaded by LADO Business Services.

Investigation and Action

The actions agreed at the Strategy Meeting should be implemented by those responsible within the agreed timescales.

As part of the investigation, the foster carers should be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations.

Support to Foster Carers

It is recognised that any allegation of abuse against a carer is distressing. Carers are entitled to receive support and communication from the fostering service, and any independent support they wish to use. We provide an information leaflet covering allegations against foster carers.

The plan of action developed at the Strategy Meeting will identify who will provide support to the foster carers. 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;
  • As far as possible, dependent on the whether there is a potential or ongoing Police investigation, ensure that carers are clear about the nature of the allegation record this in their supervision notes, a copy of which must be provided within 3 working days;
  • Maintain monthly supervision visits, more if appropriate, as well as telephone contact.

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. The foster carer's views must be obtained 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 following an Allegation

The Strategy Meeting will be reconvened by the LADO to conclude the investigation. The purpose of the final Strategy Meeting is to agree on the outcome of the investigation and responsibilities for any further action.

The LADO or nominated person will consider responsibilities for any further action and may advise around reporting on the matter to the Fostering Panel and/or 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. The conclusion of the Section 47 Enquiry should also be available for discussion at this meeting.

The following definitions should be used when determining the outcome of allegation investigations:

  • Substantiated: there is sufficient identifiable evidence to prove the allegation;
  • False: there is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation;
  • Malicious: there is clear evidence to prove there has been a deliberate act to deceive and the allegation is entirely false;
  • Unsubstantiated: this is not the same as a false allegation. It means that there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegation. The term therefore does not imply guilt or innocence;
  • Unfounded: to reflect cases where there is no evidence or proper basis to support the allegation made.

Actions should consider:

  • Reporting to the Fostering Panel;
  • Referring to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion of the foster carers on the Children's Barred List. This should be considered, even where a foster carer resigns or is deregistered;
  • Informing OFSTED;
  • Who will notify the foster carers, the child, the parents, other professionals.

Should new information come to light further actions may be required and a further Strategy Meeting convened.

A review should be presented to Fostering Panel within 3 months of the outcome. Where necessary consideration should given, by the professional adviser, to whether there needs to be an additional panel to consider the case. The review report should include information from the child's Social Worker, the voice of the child, the chronology, the incident log and 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.

All relevant documents must be retained on the child's and the foster carer's records.

4. Action following a Concern or Complaint about a Foster Carer's Practice

The fostering Social Worker and their manager must consider the course of action following a concern about practice or complaint. Outcomes could be:

  • Supervisory visit to address the issues and report back to the complainant;
  • Joint visit of Supervising Social Worker and child's Social Worker to address the issues and report back to complainant;
  • Internal investigation by the fostering service;
  • Joint visit of Supervising Social Worker and their team manager;
  • Review report and presentation to Central Panel.

N.B. This list is not exhaustive and other actions may be considered.

The fostering service should work with the foster carer in an open and transparent way, making it clear what the concern/complaint is, how this is to be addressed and what actions are required. This should be evidenced in their supervision record.

5. Actions following Serious Concerns about a Foster Carer's Practice and Complaints

The fostering social worker and their manager must consider the course of action following a concern about practice or complaint. Outcomes could be:

  • Supervisory visit to address the issues and report back to the complainant;
  • Joint visit of Supervising Social Worker and child's Social Worker to address the issues and report back to complainant;
  • Internal investigation by the fostering service;
  • Joint visit of Supervising Social Worker and their team manager;
  • Review report and presentation to Central Panel.

The fostering service should work with the foster carer in an open and transparent way, making it clear what the concern/complaint is, how this is to be addressed and what actions are required. This should be evidenced in their supervision record.

In the instance of prospective adopters who are resident in Derbyshire but were approved by another local authority or adoption agency, workers should make immediate contact with the placing and approving agencies to agree who will lead the process of responding to the allegation. Prospective adopters approved by Derbyshire County Council who have a child placed for adoption by (and still in the care of) another Local Authority. Any foster carer approved by an Independent Fostering Provider would also be subject to the policies and procedures relevant to that particular agency, and Derbyshire County Council staff should make themselves aware of these.

Trix procedures

Only valid for 48hrs