Allegations and Complaints Against Foster Carers
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure provides information on the process to be followed allegations of abuse or neglect are made against foster carers, or when there are concerns about standards of care which result in complaints. It also explains the support available to foster carers who are the subject of complaints or allegations.See also: West Yorkshire Consortium Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures Manual, Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children Procedure.
Foster carers and their families make an enormous commitment to the children and young people they care for. They share their lives and their homes with children who may have undergone difficult or traumatic experiences.
Foster carers, like other childcare workers, can find themselves facing allegations about the quality of their care. It is always important that such allegations are taken seriously and investigated properly as experience has shown that, on rare occasions, children can be ill-treated by the very people who are supposed to care for them.
Becoming the subject of an allegation is always stressful for the individual concerned and their family. It is likely to be particularly stressful for foster carers, whose work and home life are so closely linked. The challenge for everyone involved is to ensure that children are safeguarded and that their welfare is promoted, while at the same time treating foster families fairly. Foster families should be provided with support during an investigation and investigations need to be completed as quickly as possible.
This information for foster carers and their families describes the procedures to be followed allegations of abuse or neglect are made against foster carers, or when there are concerns about standards of care which result in complaints. It also explains the support available to foster carers who are the subject of complaints or allegations.
Although the procedures are separated into allegations involving a child protection/safeguarding issue and complaints that fall below the allegation threshold it is important to realise that an investigation may change from one to the other, as enquiries progress.
Any allegation made by a child must be taken seriously and investigated so children and young people are kept safe. However, foster carers do face a risk of being the subject of false allegations and this can be extremely traumatic for those involved and their families. Concerns may be expressed by a child, parent or other professional. The foster carer assessment process will have explored the foster carer's ability to provide safe care to vulnerable children and young people as well as promoting placement stability.
The matching process and placement risk assessment should be completed before all placements are made, an individual safe care plan put in place, and the placement agreement meeting established to outline day to day care arrangements as part of the care plan for the child/young person. The child's Placement Plan must set out any specific behavioural issues that need to be addressed or approaches to be used. Placement Stability Meetings should be used to support placements requiring additional support and any increasing risks identified.
Foster carers are expected to protect children from harm, including abuse, accidents, bullying or negative attitudes and operate within a safeguarding culture and ethos.
It is in everyone's interest to resolve cases as quickly as possible, consistent with a fair and thorough investigation. Unnecessary delays should be avoided at each stage of the investigation.
All allegations made against a foster carer must be brought to the attention of the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) within 1 working day.
2. Background Information
Foster carers are expected to provide a high standard of care for the children they look after. Being able to promote positive behaviour and manage children's behaviour well is central to the quality of care provided in any foster home. Negative behaviour should usually be managed through building positive relationships with children, diffusing difficult situations and avoiding situations escalating.
Foster carers, and members of their household, are not allowed to use any form of corporal punishment or any measure of control, restraint or discipline which is excessive or unreasonable. Therapeutic Crisis Intervention Training is available for foster carers. Foster carers are also expected to promote a child's emotional and psychological wellbeing and to avoid the use of demeaning verbal reprimands or personal criticism that undermines self-esteem.
The Local Authority has a statutory duty to refer concerns that a person has caused harm, or poses a future risk of harm to children to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
Before a referral is made to the DBS, Local Authority internal procedures will be followed. See: West Yorkshire Consortium Procedures Manual, procedure for Allegations Against Persons who Work with Children which describes the internal and external processes and thresholds for action in cases where allegations are made against foster carers.
These procedures apply whenever it is alleged that a person who works with children has, whether in a paid or unpaid capacity,
- Behaved in a way that may or has harmed a child;
- Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child;
- Behaved toward a child or children in a way that indicates that they may pose risk or harm to children.
3. Complaints against Foster Carers
A complaint against foster carers, for example regarding standards of care, may come from a number of sources including the child/young person, parents or family members, professionals and other members of the community.
A complaint may involve a view about the carers approach to the care of a child or the way in which they respond to a child's behaviour, their management of contact arrangements, or day to day issues regarding general fostering practice.
Complaints might be investigated under "Standards of Care" and/or in accordance with the Complaints procedures.
4. Standards of Care
The Fostering Service may have concerns about a foster carer, which may not warrant investigation under the child protection procedures but raise significant concerns about standards of care being provided. Although such concerns would not necessarily cross the threshold for Section 47 Enquiry they may nonetheless constitute an allegation of a safeguarding concern against the carer.
Standards of Care issues should consider previous history of concerns and whether these are significant to an overall picture of risk.
The Fostering Team Manager must be informed of any Standards of Care issues. The Fostering Team Manager must discuss such issues with the child's Social Worker and Practice Manager and a joint decision must be reached as to whether the threshold for Section 47 is met. The LADO should be informed of the outcome of the discussion and may make further recommendations.
Where it is agreed that the threshold for Section 47 has not been met, the Fostering Service will lead on the subsequent investigation and interventions. Careful consideration should be given on a case by case basis as to whether the investigation should be:
- Conducted by the fostering social worker allocated to supervise the foster carer
- Be dealt with by an experienced social worker from the fostering service who is independent of the foster carer; or
- Be dealt with by a senior social worker/ Fostering Team Manager
The investigation must work in conjunction with the child's social worker to interview the child. Consideration should be given to the context of the allegation, the placement history, and information on the foster carers. In some circumstances it will be appropriate for the investigation to be delegated to an alternative officer within the service.
Any allegation which is deemed to be substantiated at outcome or where there are remaining considerations of risk or suitability must be taken to panel.
If the decision is that the report should be presented to the Fostering Panel, this should be at the next available Panel. The report and recommendations should include:
- The carers suitability and competence to foster;
- Matters relevant to the placement of all children currently in the foster carer's household;
- The placement of other children in the future and any variations in approval;
- Implications for the registration of the foster carers;
- Identified training needs and additional support requirements.
5. Safeguarding Allegations against Foster Carers
Where the threshold for Section 47 is met the Social Work Team with responsibility for the child lead the investigation and subsequent interventions.
The responsibility for investigating concerns or allegations lies with the Children's Social Care where the child is living.
If an allegation is considered to be serious and a child is considered to be at risk in the foster placement, Local Authority Children's Services have the power to remove fostered children without first consulting with the foster carers. This should only happen in exceptional circumstances, in order to fulfil their responsibility to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
6. What Form does an Enquiry take?
The Team Manger for the child chairs a Strategy Meeting in line with safeguarding procedures and directs investigations under Section 47. The LADO will be kept informed and be invited to any Strategy Discussions or Strategy Meetings.
7. Strategy Discussions
Foster carers will not be involved in the Strategy Discussion. However, it is important that foster carers' views are obtained at as early a stage as possible and that they are informed promptly about any outcomes or decisions.
Strategy meetings will be chaired by the Team Manager who has a responsibility for the child and the LADO will be invited. Where a number of children from different teams are involved, a lead Team Manager will be identified. In cases of complex and serious abuse, a Service Manager should make a decision as to the most appropriate person to Chair the meeting.
8. Keeping Foster Carers Informed
Foster carers should be kept informed by the Local Authority dealing with the allegations about the type of enquiries that are being carried out and the expected timescales.
For the Foster Carer who is subject to this process, there has to be a written record of the outcome. However, when an allegation is being investigated by the Police, it is essential to agree with the Police and LADO, what information can be shared with the Foster Carer.
Working Together to Safeguard Children sets clear timescales for child protection conferences, which are expected to take place within 15 working days of the Strategy Discussion (or of the last Strategy Discussion, if more than one has taken place).
9. Treating Foster Families Fairly during an Investigation
Foster families who are the subject of an investigation should always be:
- Treated fairly and honestly;
- Informed in writing as soon as possible about the nature of the allegation or concerns;
- Given written information about the enquiry/procedures that are being followed and scheduled timescales;
- Provided with on-going support by their supervising social worker;
- Given information about sources of independent advice and support;
- Informed about all decisions as soon as possible, which should also be confirmed in writing.
10. Support for Foster Carers and their Families
The relationship between the Fostering Service and foster family should be open and honest, and should address concerns from any source as soon as they arise.
Pre-approval and post-approval training should address the issue of how allegations of abuse are managed. Unless those responsible for undertaking child protection enquiries and/or related police investigations impose restrictions, Local Authority Fostering Services will inform foster families as soon as possible about the nature and substance of any allegation or serious concern.
This should enable foster carers to consider how they can best respond. Local Authorities Children's Services and the Fostering Services have a written procedure that governs how they conduct enquires. Foster carers can ask for information about these procedures if they do not already have this.
The supervising social worker should continue to have responsibility for providing the link between the Fostering Service and the foster family throughout any child protection enquiries, police investigation or Fostering Service investigation, even when the foster family has independent support.
11. Independent Support
Independent support can be of great help and benefit to foster carers in the course of an investigation. Independent supporters should be able to offer:
- Information and advice about the process of enquiries and the rights and responsibilities of all parties;
- Emotional support for foster carers and their families;
- Mediation – as the process of an investigation can put enormous strain on the relationship between foster carers and the Fostering Service;
- Advocacy – some foster carers may wish their independent supporter to advocate on their behalf, for example in meetings.
12. Financial Support if Children are Removed
When fostered children are removed from their foster carers and/or the foster carers are suspended from taking new placements, the payments and allowances which foster carers receive may be affected. This is detailed in the foster carer's agreement and further information will be provided by the Fostering Service.
13. Referrals to the Disclosure and Barring Service
If Fostering Services withdraw the approval of a carer in relation to an allegation, or a foster carer resigns, but would have had their status is withdrawn by the fostering panel, the Local Authority has a statutory duty to refer the person to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
The DBS consider whether or not to bar the person from working with children. The decision making process for referrals to the DBS must involve consultation with the Local Authority Safeguarding, Allegations and Complaints Manager. Referrals in relation to Foster Carers will be made by the Fostering Team Manager.
Referrals to the DBS must state the grounds for the referral and the evidence that demonstrates the referral criteria are met. If the Local Authority recommends referring a Foster Carer to the DBS, e.g. following a strategy discussion, it is essential that there is a written agreement of the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), stating the evidence that supports the Local Authority's request.
The Local Authority would normally only refer Foster Carers to the DBS once any fostering panel process is complete and referrals must be made in line with the DBS guidance demonstrating how the individual has:
- Engaged in relevant conduct;
- Satisfied the Harm Test;
- Received a caution or conviction for a relevant offence.
14. Good Practice in Dealing with Allegations
Being under investigation is always very stressful and this process can be helped by:Minimising delay:
A delay can have very damaging effects on foster carers and their families, and on the fostered children and young people affected by the allegationProviding full written information:
The importance of written information that spells out the nature of the allegation or concerns, the enquiry process and the rights and responsibilities of those involved cannot be underestimatedBeing open:
Calderdale will share the information held, and also information about procedures and activities, at the earliest time possible, provided that the enquiries are not compromisedEnsuring access to independent support:
Fostering Service should arrange this for foster carers who are the subject of enquiries into allegations.