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3.8.10 Support for Foster Carers Facing Allegations

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure applies in the following circumstances:

  • Where allegations are made, or suspicions are raised that approved foster carers have caused Significant Harm to a child;
  • Or where there are serious concerns about foster carer's standards of care or practice.

Both allegations and serious concerns may lead to the termination of a carer's approval to foster.

This procedure refers to managing allegations and serious concerns about foster carers in broader terms and specifically the support that should be given to foster carer's. This procedure should be read in conjunction with the Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board Procedures, Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure which should be followed when dealing with investigating allegations against foster carers.

OTHER RELEVANT CHAPTER

Whistleblowing - Foster Carers Procedure

AMENDMENT

This chapter was significantly amended in September 2011 to take account of the changes in the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, Associated Guidance and National Minimum Standards and should be read in its entirety.


Contents

1. Policy
2. Introduction
3. Procedure
3.1 Initial Action
3.2 Support and Action during the Investigation
3.3 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 principles, policies and procedures laid down by the Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures, Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children.

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. 

Clear timescales will be integral to the procedure and those involved must avoid delay unless there is good reason. There will be clarity regarding access to reports and documents relating to the investigation.

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 should have a risk assessment undertaken for each new placement and following any new information which indicates additional risks may be present;
  4. All foster carers will be assisted in producing a Safe Care policy during the assessment process which will be shared with any child placed, and reviewed annually;
  5. All foster carers will have received information about this procedure in the foster carers handbook and the Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures;
  6. All foster carers will be familiar with and adopt the procedures for recording on a daily basis the progress of children placed with them, including any Incidents or complaints, and understand that these procedures have been made 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. For this reason it is essential that they keep a diary records up-to-date.

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

  • A senior manager within the Fostering Service 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;
  • All staff within the Fostering Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).


3. Procedure

3.1 Initial Action 
3.2 Support and Action during the Investigation
3.3 Concluding the Investigation


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.

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

  • Inform his or her team manager and Service Manager;
  • Inform the supervising social worker linked to the foster carer and his or her manager;
  • Refer the matter to the social work team for the area where the foster carer resides.

The supervising social worker will:

  • Inform the Designated Senior Manager within the Fostering Service;
  • Inform the social workers for any other child in the placement;
  • Inform any other local authority with an interest in the foster placement;
  • Provide support to the foster carer once they have been made aware of the allegation;
  • Ensure that the foster carer has immediate access to information and advice from an independent source;
  • Give consideration to support for the foster carer's own children, whether or not the allegation has been made against them;
  • Continue to have responsibility for being the link between the fostering service and the foster carer, even when the foster carer has independent support.

The process must follow the Local Safeguarding Children Board procedures into allegations against a member of staff. See Lincolnshire Safeguarding Board Procedures, Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure.

There may be up to three strands in the consideration of an allegation against a foster carer:

  • A police investigation of a possible criminal offence;
  • Enquiries and assessment by Lincolnshire County Council Children's Services about whether a child is in need of protection or in need of services;
  • The operation of the review of a foster carer's suitability to foster and the recommendation by the fostering panel and decision by the agency decision maker.

It may be necessary for these three strands to operate in parallel.

In rare cases, allegations will be so serious to warrant immediate intervention by Children's Services and/or the Police. Others may seem less serious and may not warrant a police investigation or enquiries by Children's services. However, the role of the LADO is central to the initial decision making process in all circumstances.

There are four possible outcomes to the first steps of the investigation;

  1. Significant Harm

    The process must follow the Local Safeguarding Children Board procedures into allegations against a member of staff. Section D: 3 Allegations of Abuse made against a Professional, Foster Carer, Day Care Provider or Volunteer.
  2. Threshold of Significant Harm has not been reached but a criminal offence may have been committed

    The process must follow the Local Safeguarding Children Board procedures into allegations against a member of staff. Section D: 3 Allegations of Abuse made against a Professional, Foster Carer, Day Care Provider or Volunteer.
  3. Significant Harm Threshold NOT reached and police investigation NOT necessary

    It may be that following the Initial Screening or the Evaluation meeting above, a decision is reached that police investigation is not necessary as the threshold for Significant Harm is not reached.

    A formal Review should follow any allegation against a foster carer or member of their household. The Fostering Team manager will make a decision whether the review should be presented to the next available foster panel.

    Where there are serious concerns about foster carers practice or standards of care where the Significant Harm threshold is NOT reached and Police investigation is NOT necessary, further assessment of the carer may be required.

    The Fostering Service Manager will need to decide whether they require any further information prior to undertaking a review of the foster carer's approval. The process for a review following an allegation or serious concern about practice or standards of care is contained within Review of Foster Carers Procedure and should be referred to.

    A clear plan of the additional training and development required by the foster carer should be recorded together with timescales for completion.

    Consideration should also need to be given to the approval range and type of foster placements that are most suitable for the foster carer. Any consideration of changes to the approval range must return to the foster panel with a revised assessment which details the issues, analyses the carers strengths and areas for development. A review should be completed within 27 working days, (10 days for the investigating officer to provide a report and two days for the fostering service to decide if a panel hearing is required) A panel should then be held within 15 days.
  4. No further action under the Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures

    Following Initial Screening it may be decided that No Further Action is required under the Local Safeguarding Children Board procedures. The Fostering Team Manager may decide to bring forward the carer's annual review. See above. If so the Review of Foster Carers Procedure should be followed.

3.2 Support and Action during Investigation

Those supporting the foster carers must contact the foster carers as soon as practicable after they are made aware of the allegation and explain their role to them. They must make clear that whilst they are there to provide support to the carer, they have a responsibility to report to the local authority, the Police and in some circumstances to the Court, if any information relevant to the investigation that comes to their attention.

They must ascertain and inform the foster carers of any implications for the foster carer's financial allowances particularly where placements have been suspended.

They must provide to the foster carers:

  1. A copy of this procedure and the relevant part of the Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures;
  2. The address and contact telephone number of the Fostering Network Mediation Service (see the Fostering Network website) and of ICAS;
  3. The foster carers should be given a copy of DfES leaflet "Protecting Children- Supporting Foster Carers, Dealing with an Allegation;
  4. Advice about consulting a solicitor;
  5. Advice about insurance arrangements for their legal expenses;
  6. Information about making a complaint.

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 Supervising Social Worker should normally have continuing responsibility for the link between the fostering service and the foster carer, even when the carer has independent support. The Supervising social worker must inform the foster carers on how they will be supported and paid whilst they are under investigation. The foster carer's views should be taken into account and another representative from the fostering service should fulfil this task if it is not to be the usual supervising social worker.

3.3 Concluding the Investigation

The Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures should be followed. This will include holding a Strategy Meeting which will be reconvened within 15 days of the first meeting. The same people will be invited and the same person will chair the meeting.

The purpose of the reconvened 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 (DBS) for inclusion of the foster carers on the Children’s Barred List.

The response of the foster carers to the social worker's report should be reported to the meeting.

The Fostering Team Manager will notify the foster carers, the Chair of the Strategy Meeting will inform the child, the parents, other relevant agencies and the Regulatory Authority (if not in attendance) of the decisions made at the meeting.

A report should be presented to the next available Fostering Panel. The Review of Foster Carer's procedure should be followed.

All relevant documents in relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome, must be retained on the child's file and the foster carer's file, loaded onto the electronic database and onto the contact file. A copy should be given to the carer.

If the allegation is substantiated consideration must be given to a referral to Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).

The carers should be given written notice if it is proposed that the carer's approval should be terminated, together with the reasons, and inviting any representations within 28 days. The letter should also confirm that payments will cease and the date. The matter should be referred to the Fostering Panel with full details of the allegation, enquiry and the recommendation. Care must be taken not to disclose any confidential information to the carer's that is part of any ongoing police investigation.

Evaluation Meeting

Following a section 47 enquiry or an investigation by the fostering service foster carers should be offered a formal opportunity of having an evaluation meeting during which they are enabled to express the impact of the proceedings on them and their family and any needs they may have as a result. This should be offered within 14 days of the conclusion of the enquiry or investigation.

The meeting should be chaired by the fostering service manager and attended by the foster carer, their supervising social worker and any adult family members who were subject of an allegation, or substantially affected by it. Care should be taken to ensure that such a meeting is not a repeat of an investigation. Consideration should also be given to whether a separate process is needed for any children and young people, including the carer's children. A record of the meeting should be recorded and sent to all present within 3 working days.

The meeting should consider:

  • The impact of the allegation and investigation on the carers/family member who was subject of the allegation/others in family;
  • The impact of the decision to remove any children in placement;
  • The needs of everyone in the foster carers family;
  • The perspective of the fostering team;
  • Clarification of the carer's current approval status and the need for any review of the carer's approval;
  • The foster family's comments on the way in which the fostering service undertook their roles and responsibilities;
  • How any needs raised by the foster carer's or identified by the fostering service will be met.

End