Confidential Reporting and 'Whistleblowing' Policy for Derbyshire County Council Foster Carers
The National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services (Standard 19.6) requires that all foster service providers must have a confidential reporting procedure (more commonly known as 'whistleblowing' policy) that is made known to all staff members and foster carers.
There is a separate policy for Derbyshire County Council employees (see Whistleblowing Procedure), which the Foster Carer Confidential Reporting Procedure reflects and takes guidance from and which carers are to refer to, should they wish to proceed further. A copy can also be obtained from the Children's Services Quality Assurance department (Complaints and Representations Procedure).
The Foster Carer Confidential Reporting Procedure is distinct from our Complaints and Representation Procedure which provides guidance for carers who wish to formally complain, following dissatisfaction with the service. The Foster Carer Confidential Reporting procedure is to be followed where a carer wishes to report malpractice or raise concerns in confidence, and, where necessary, bypass their normal line management.
2. Duty of Care
Although Derbyshire County Council does not directly employ foster carers, they are bound to us by the same common law 'duty of care' as our salaried staff members. This duty of care means that the authority, the authorities' employees and foster carers have a responsibility to report any incidents where, in their considered opinion, they believe misconduct, negligence and/or unprofessional behaviour to be taking place, such as:
- A child is being abused;
- A child's rights and dignity have been compromised or overlooked, either deliberately or unintentionally;
- A child is put at risk, of abuse, exploitation or discrimination through decisions which are contrary to their best interests;
- Circumstances arise regarding the environment, employment conditions or the authorities' practice which could put children in care, members of the public, carers and staff members at risk or harm;
- Conduct which is, or is perceived by the carer to be, an offence or breach of the law;
- Disclosures related to miscarriages of justice;
- The unauthorised use of public funds;
- Suspected fraud and corruption;
- Conduct which is unethical or contrary to the working practices stipulated by Derbyshire County Council.
It is expected that a carer, should they have any concerns, would be able to speak directly to their supervising social worker, their fostering team manager or through the authority's Complaints and Representations Procedure.
However, there may be occasions when a carer may have concerns which go beyond these processes. Whichever way a carer chooses to contact the authority, they do so knowing that they will be treated with the utmost confidentiality, without fear of recrimination and that they will be assured a swift, thorough and fair response. It should be remembered that, in some cases, following an investigation, whereby disciplinary proceedings or court actions are instigated against those people who have been reported, carers may be required to come forward as a witness.
Any concerns made must be done so in good faith; if the allegation is proved to unsubstantiated but the allegation was made without any harmful intent, no further action will be taken against the carer. However, where an allegation is found to be wilfully malicious, the authority will take an appropriate and commensurate response, which could result in the carer being de registered.
While we understand that a carer may not be able to provide proof, beyond reasonable doubt, with regards their allegation, it is expected that they should be able to establish that their concerns are not unfounded. Wherever possible, carers should direct their concerns to their supervising social worker or relevant team manager, where this is appropriate and depending upon the seriousness and complexity of the claim. If the carer is unwilling to discuss these issues with staff members, with who they are directly involved, they can contact either of the following:
- Through Call Derbyshire the Deputy Executive Director (Children's Services); Assistant Director (Children's Services, Safeguarding & Specialist Services); or the Head of Quality Assurance (Children's Services);
- The Fostering Network Helpline - 020 7401 9582.
Once an appropriate member of staff has been contacted and the concerns raised are as such, that action will be taken, the carer will be contacted within 10 working days with a written acknowledgement. This letter will outline the response that will be taken in dealing with the matter, how long the process may last and provide information for the carer, as to where to access independent support. Following this letter, a position statement will be made within 28 working days, if the matter has not been resolved.
Depending upon the nature of the allegation, and where there are considered, reasonable grounds for action to be taken which, it is felt, can be dealt with through existing procedures, the authority will conduct an investigation.
Should the allegation fall beyond the scope of the authorities' procedures, it may be referred to an external auditor, the police or an independent inquiry.
It may be that the carer is dissatisfied with the findings of the authority. If they have contacted their supervising social worker and fostering team manager, and feel that their concerns have still not been addressed in a manner they consider appropriate or satisfactory, they are advised to contact the Quality Assurance team, who will liaise with the relevant service managers and may recommend that the carer goes through the Complaints procedure.
If, following this process, the carer feels that the issue is still unresolved, and if that view is shared by the Quality Assurance team, they may formally present their concerns to the Assistant Director (Safeguarding and Specialist Services). The Assistant Director will recommend that either a senior manager, where appropriate, or an independent investigation will review the case - a report will be prepared within 21 working days of the registration of concerns being presented and they will then contact the carer, with their findings, in writing, within 28 working days.
Whilst the authority will make every effort to resolve any carer's concerns through its own channels, if the final findings are still not acceptable and the carer feels the incident has not been fully investigated, they can contact the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (telephone 0300 061 0614).
The authority has taken great care to ensure that any and all concerns will be dealt with in a robust, impartial and fair manner, through its internal procedures and that carers will not need recourse in contacting Elected Members, Members of Parliament or the media, and it is advised that the authority remains their first point of contact. However, in all cases, a carer retains the right to refer to independent bodies.