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1.20 Allegations 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 the Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures.

  • Guidance on Handling Allegations of abuse against those who work with children or young people;
  • The Children Living Away from Home - Foster Care procedures.


Contents

1. Policy
2. Introduction
3. Procedure
  3.1 Initial Action
  3.2 Strategy Meeting
  3.3 Investigation and Action
  3.4 Concluding the Investigation


1. Policy

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 Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures.

All staff, volunteers and carers have a duty to promote the safety and welfare of children. They must act in accordance with Northumberland Fostering Service Safeguarding policies and procedures and those of the Safeguarding Board. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action or de-registration as a foster carer.

Children looked after have a right to be and feel safe and protected from significant harm. They should be supported to protect themselves and know how to access support from others who can protect their welfare.

The safety and welfare of children is the paramount concern of the Northumberland Family Placement Service and all staff are accountable for ensuring safe practice and for working with other agencies to promote the welfare of children.

Disabled children living away from home are particularly vulnerable to abuse. The individual needs of children must be considered in care planning, with communication aids and plans in place to best support children to express their needs. There should be appropriate support to in place to ensure their safe care. Care Plans, PIR, Safer Care Policy and risk assessments should identify and address these additional needs

There are different procedures for responding to allegations and complaints. Care should be taken to ensure that the correct procedures are followed. It is important that the processes do not become confused and a clear differentiation is drawn between allegations of significant harm investigations and considering standards of care. There is a separate procedure for addressing standards of care.

Foster carers provide a care service within their own home and family to children who are in public care. The responsibilities of providing that care within a family setting, subject to statutory regulation, is to be recognised in the way that carers are treated throughout any investigation. Foster carers should not be suspended automatically without careful thought.

Children come to carers with complex emotional issues; some will have challenging behaviour and have experienced difficult family relationships. Foster carers are at risk of being subject to false accusations and this can be traumatic for families.

There is a risk that children may be removed unnecessarily and this can therefore impact upon their placement stability. The Children Act Guidance and Regulations Volume 4 state that the 2010 Regulations and Volume 2 must be adhered to when moving a child. They also state that the possible risk of harm of an accused person needs to be carefully evaluated, when considering the unplanned removal of a child from a foster placement.

The welfare and safety of all children/young people (including the carers own children) in the foster carer’s household, and children/young people with whom the foster carer may have contact, must be the paramount consideration during any investigation.

Foster carers must be adequately supported throughout any investigations. The Family Placement Service recognises the crucial role that foster carers play in looking after its most vulnerable children and acknowledges that the children they care for may exhibit behaviour that can be damaging both to themselves and those around them.

Dealing with allegations or complaints against them is a stressful and difficult time for Foster Carers and their families. The Family Placement Service will ensure that referrals are made to the commissioned Independent Support Service (Fostering North East) in all cases, following the first strategy meeting. Enquiries are progressed in a way that is fair and open to the carer and their family as well as to the child. Decisions and actions will be taken without delay and in line with government timescales.

This means that during any investigation, the carer should be:

  • Treated fairly and honestly by sharing information we hold at the earliest opportunity (providing this would not compromise any child protection concern involving a police investigation);
  • Given verbal information about the nature of the concern, procedures that are being followed and timescales as soon as possible;
  • Provided with ongoing support by their supervising social worker and given information about sources of independent advice and support;
  • Given verbal information about the financial support available to foster carers who have had children removed or have been suspended from taking further placements during the course of enquiries;
  • Provided with a written summary by the chair (Local Authority Designated Officer) of the information shared following each strategy discussion within agreed timescales. The information shared of relevance to the foster carer only.

Allegations or suspicions that a foster carer or member of the household 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.


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 Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures;
  4. All foster carers will have access to the Foster Carer Portal in order to access the Allegations Against Foster Carers;
  5. All foster carers will be familiar with and adopt the procedures for recording requirements on a daily basis the progress of children placed with them, including any incidents or complaints, and understand that these recordings could be requested at any time by Family Placement Service.

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

  • The Family Placement Manager is identified to be the Designated Person who liaises with the LADO in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process. The Assistant Manager as line manager for the Supervising Social Worker has a role in this process to keep the Family Placement Manager and the LADO informed of any relevant information;
  • All staff within the Fostering Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosure and Barring Service.


3. Procedure

3.1 Initial Action

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.

The role of the children’s social worker

On receipt of any such information, the child's social worker, or their team manager must immediately:

  • Inform his or her team manager and district/service manager;
  • Inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
  • Inform the supervising social worker or their manager;
  • Refer the matter to the relevant district team.

The role of the supervising social worker

The supervising social worker will:

  • Inform the designated senior manager within the Fostering Service and complete an initial written notification of serious Events form - see Section 2, Introduction; and, in consultation with the designated senior manager;
  • Inform the Assistant Manager/Senior Manager if the designated senior manager is not available;
  • Inform the social workers for any other child in the placement;
  • Inform any other local authority with an interest in the foster placement;
  • Collate a list of historical placements relevant to the foster carer and begin to compile a chronology.

The relevant district team must implement the Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board Procedures in relation to the allegation/suspicion. They will gather relevant background information and convene a Strategy Meeting as soon as possible. If the allegation/suspicion is against the approved foster carer, the designated manager in the fostering service will gather relevant background information and convene a Strategy Meeting.

Other investigative routes may be identified as more appropriate at this stage, for example, the complaints process and Standards of Care, and should be considered as an alternative to a Section 47 Enquiry. The decision to follow the Standard of Care Procedure must be made in conjunction with the designated manager within the fostering service.

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.

3.2 Strategy Meeting

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:

  1. The manager of the team undertaking the Section 47 Enquiry;
  2. The child's social worker and his or her manager;
  3. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
  4. 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 - see Section 2, Introduction);
  5. The police;
  6. Any other agency involved with the child or foster family;

The Strategy Meeting must consider:

  1. The nature of the allegation, its source and reliability;
  2. 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;
  3. The involvement of other agencies, for example if the child was placed by another local authority;
  4. The need to inform other agencies who use the foster home;
  5. Who will notify the Regulatory Authority of the outcome of the meeting, if a representative is not present;
  6. 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;
  7. 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;
  8. How the needs of any child who has to leave the placement will be met including contact with other children in the placement;
  9. 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 all allegations and concerns. Interview notes must be taken and made available to future meetings and/or the Fostering Panel);
  10. The time-scales for the investigation (see below) and any contingencies should timescales prove unlikely to be met;
  11. How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
  12. 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;
  13. How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
  14. Once informed of the decision what support to offer the foster carers;
  15. How reports on the investigation will be shared with the foster carers and the child or children in the placement;
  16. Whether further placements should be suspended in the meantime;
  17. Arrangements for reconvening the Strategy Meeting.

Whether or not the Strategy Meeting considers that the allegation or suspicion has any foundation, the matter should be investigated within the notifications process.

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.

3.3 Investigation and Action

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.

The role of independent foster care support

Those supporting the foster carers must contact them as soon as practicable after they are made aware of the allegation by the allocated supervising social worker, and explain their role to the foster carers.

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

  • 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;
  • The contents of this procedure and the relevant Northumberland Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures;
  • The address and contact telephone number of the independent agency identified to provide the foster carers 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 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.

3.4 Purpose of Review Strategy Meeting

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 purpose of the review 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/LADO will notify the foster carers by providing a written summary of the recommendations. The Chair/LADO will seek advice if necessary whether the child, their parents, other children in the placement or involved, other relevant agencies should be made aware the recommendations made at the meeting. It is the decision of the Chair/LADO to provide information to other relevant parties.

Decisions of No Further Action

Any decision to take no further action following the Strategy Meeting must be clearly recorded and communicated by the LADO who will:

  • Inform the child’s social worker who will record this on the child’s record;
  • Inform the designated manager in the fostering service who will request the Assistant Manager will record on foster carer’s record;
  • Inform the carer of the outcome in a written summary;
  • The chronology will be updated clearly indicating the allegations were unfounded.

The supervising social worker will finalise the notifications process and provide this information for approval by the designated manager for closure. They will also contact the carers to advise them of the outcome.

The designated manager, in consultation with the supervising social worker, and their line manager give consideration to whether the Standards of Care procedure should be initiated.

The Foster Care Review Process

Whether or not the investigation is inconclusive or allegation founded, in all cases an early foster care review should be convened by the allocated supervising social worker within 28 days of the last Strategy Meeting. The foster care review will consider whether termination of approval is necessary and/or suitability for continued registration.

Allegation Founded

Where the allegation is founded and the foster carer is considered not suitable to work with children. The supervising social worker will inform the foster carers with immediate effect and meet with the carers within 5 working days of the strategy meeting.

The purpose of this meeting is to share the content of the strategy meetings and the reasons for the recommendation to remove from the list of registered foster carers and to record the foster carers’ account of the matter under investigation, for inclusion in the report to the Foster Care Review.

It is not the role of the Fostering Service to advocate for the foster carer, that role is undertaken by the appointed independent worker. However it is the role of the Fostering Service to ensure the the carer’s views are obtained for the Foster Care Review.

The carer should have a copy of the supervising social worker’s report 10 working days in advance of the Foster Care Review so that they have the opportunity to respond and consult with the appointed independent worker.

When an allegation is founded, all reports submitted to the early Foster Care Review will be provided to the next available Fostering Panel for consideration of the recommendations made and provide a view about the carer’s continued registration along with a formal deregistration report to terminate approval. This report should reference the Fostering Services: National Minimum Standards and state clearly the relevant standards which will not be met the by the foster carer. The foster carers and their allocated independent worker should be invited to attend the Fostering Panel.

Allegation Unfounded/Inconclusive

When an allegation is unfounded/inconclusive, all reports submitted to the early Foster Care Review will be provided to the next available Fostering Panel for consideration of the recommendations made and provide a view about the carer’s continued registration. The foster carers and their allocated independent worker should be invited to attend the Fostering Panel.

If the recommendation from the Foster Care Review is to terminate approval, the supervising social will complete a deregistration report to be submitted to Panel to accompany all documentation submitted to the Foster Care Review. The foster carers should be provided with the deregistration report 28 days in advance of the Panel. This report should reference the Fostering Services: National Minimum Standards and state clearly the relevant standards which will not be met the by the foster carer. The foster carers and their allocated independent worker should be invited to attend the Fostering Panel.

The Fostering Panel

Prior to Fostering Panel, the foster carers and their representative should have seen, and had time to comment on the reports being presented to the Panel.

Resignation of Foster Carers

Where the recommendation is that the carer is not suitable to work with children and the carer decides to resign in preference to engaging in the consideration of such a recommendation, the matter should still be referred to the Fostering Panel so that a view can be taken about the foster carer’s registration in order to inform any subsequent application to foster.

Foster Carer Fees

If the Agency Decision Maker’s decision is to confirm any proposal to de-register, any fees will cease. Should the carer be successful through the appeal process or through the Independent Review Mechanism (Adoption and Fostering) the payment of fees as a carer will recommence.

Debriefing 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, and any necessary assistance should be made available as necessary.

Appeals Process

If a foster carer decides to make written representation about the decision made by the Panel and the Agency Decision Maker, they must do so within 28 days of receiving the written confirmation, i.e. ‘the qualifying determination’. They are also able to apply to the Secretary of State for a review by an independent review panel within 28 days of the decision. There are however no right to apply to the Secretary of State when the service is exercising its discretion in relation to the approval being terminated because of a specified offence.

The Panel will hear any representation and make a recommendation following this. If the panel previously considered this matter, it may uphold its previous recommendation. The foster carer will be invited to attend the panel meeting to present their representation if they so wish. The panel will record their reasons for its recommendation in the same way as other matters.

After making its decision the Agency Decision Maker will write to the foster carer giving notice that:

  • The household continues to be suitable and the terms of approval continue to the appropriate;
  • The foster carer’s approval is terminated from a specific date and the reasons for the termination; or
  • The revised term of the approval and the reasons for the revision.

In cases where a foster carer has been terminated for reasons of misconduct, the service will consider whether the foster carer’s name should be referred to the Secretary of State for consideration of the inclusion in the Protection of Children’s List. In such cases, the panel should form a view about this when making its recommendation regarding termination of approval.

End