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4.8.9 Allegations Against Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS PROCEDURE

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 Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures, which should be followed when dealing with allegations against foster carers.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was amended in March 2015 and is compliant with the Fostering Services (England) Regulations 2011, Associated Guidance and National Minimum Standards – Standard 22 Handling Allegations and Suspicions of Harm.


Contents

1. Policy
2. Introduction
3. Procedure
  3.1 Initial Action
  3.2 Support and Action During Investigation
  3.3 The Process and Conclusion of 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 Guidelines and Procedures of the Hull Safeguarding Children Board.

Allegations or suspicions that a foster carer or a member of a foster carer's household has caused Significant Harm to a child will be investigated thoroughly, in a timely manner and sensitively under the Hull Safeguarding Children Board procedures and will involve open and honest communication with and support to all those affected.

Clear timescales will be integral to the process 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, should there be insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution, this does not prevent action being taken to protect a child nor that the termination of a foster carer's approval cannot be considered.

It will usually be necessary during an investigation to consider what action, if any, should be taken with regard to other children with whom foster carers have contact, including other fostered children, their own children and other relevant employment or voluntary roles.


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 for their household during the assessment process, which will be shared with any child placed (subject to their age and understanding), and reviewed annually;
  5. 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.


3. Procedure

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 Local Authority Designated Officer (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).

3.1 Initial Action

Any person who receives information or suspects that a child has suffered or is suffering Significant Harm caused by a foster carer must immediately inform the child's social worker or their manager.

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

  • Inform his or her Team Manager and Integrated Group Manager;
  • Inform the supervising social worker linked to the foster carer and his or her manager; and
  • Notify the LADO for the Local Authority Concerned.

Following the Designated Officer and the LADO discussing the allegation to determine how it should be handled, the supervising social worker will:

  • Inform the social workers for any other child in the placement;
  • Inform any other local authority with an interest in the foster placement;
  • If the timing is appropriate, provide support to the foster carer to ensure they have access to information and advice from an independent source source (NB this would be deferred if the allegation was of a sexual nature, for example, where to inform the carer prematurely might undermine the process of a police investigation);
  • 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 fostering service and the foster carer, even when the foster carer has independent support.

This process must follow the Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures into Allegations of Harm Made Against People who Work with Children Procedure.

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

  • A police investigation of a possible criminal offence;
  • Enquiries and assessment by Hull City Council Children's Social Care about whether a child is in need of protection Section 47 Enquiry or in need of services;
  • The review of the foster carer's suitability to foster and then recommendation by the Fostering Panel and decision by the agency decision maker.

In rare cases, allegations will be so serious to warrant immediate intervention by Children's Social Care and/or the Police. Others may be less serious require internal consideration of the carer’s conduct, such as their use of behaviour management techniques including restraint and their safe caring policy. In all cases, the allegation must be discussed with the LADO who provides neutral oversight to the initial decision making process in all circumstances.

If there are decisions made to remove foster children during the course of an investigation, the Group Manager for Fostering will determine if the carers should then be put on hold. The Group Manager for Fostering will also ensure that Ofsted are informed of allegations in line with procedural requirements

There are four possible outcomes to the first stages of an investigation.

1. Significant Harm Threshold Reached

The process must follow the Hull Safeguarding Children Board procedure for handling Allegations of Harm Made Against People who Work with Children.

2.Threshold of Significant Harm has not been reached but a criminal offence may have been committed

The process must follow the Hull Safeguarding Children Board procedure for handling Allegations of Harm Made Against People who Work with Children.

3. Significant Harm Threshold NOT reached and police investigation NOT necessary

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

The Fostering Team Manager should ensure that the Independent Fostering Reviewing Officer is notified of the allegation so that an ad hoc review can be arranged within 28 days of the conclusion of the enquiries.

This review should then be presented to the next available Foster Panel.

Where there are serious concerns about a foster carer's 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 before this review.

The process for a review following an allegation or serious concern about practice or standards of care is contained within Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.

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 be given to the approval range and type of foster placement 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 carer's strengths and areas of development.

4. No further action under the Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures

Following initial screening it may be decided that No Further Action is required under the Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures such as when the allegation is evidenced to be malicious or unfounded from the outset.

3.2 Support and Action During Investigation

Independent fostering support must be arranged for the foster carers and the IFS provider must contact them 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 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 Hull Safeguarding Children Board Guidelines and Procedures;
  2. Discuss with the foster carer the role of an independent support worker and if requested provide the address and contact telephone number of the Foster Talk FIS Service and Fostering Network Advice line. A referral for support will then be made by the Team Manager or Group Manager;
  3. The foster carers should be given a copy of 'Protecting Children - Supporting Foster Carers, Dealing with an Allegation;
  4. Advice about insurance arrangements for any legal expenses;
  5. Information about the complaints procedure.

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 foster carer's views should be taken into account and another representative from the fostering service should fulfil the task if it is not to be the usual supervising social worker.

3.3 The Process and Conclusion of the Investigation

In all cases whether there are deemed to be grounds to undertake section 47 enquiries into significant harm to a children and/or a police investigation into a possible criminal offence, the investigation will be managed through one or more strategy meetings. These will be chaired either by the LADO or by an Independent Conference and Reviewing Officer (ICRO) if the carer resides in the Hull area. For carers located outside of the Hull, the LADO for that area will determine this process

When a final Strategy Meeting is held this will include within the agenda a decision on the outcome of the investigation and responsibilities for any further action including reporting on the matter to the Fostering Panel. At the conclusion, the allegation will be determined to be either : substantiated, unsubstantiated, unfounded or malicious.

The Fostering Team Manager will notify the foster carers of the outcome and, the Chair of the Strategy Meeting will ensure there are named persons to inform the child, the parents and other relevant agencies of the decisions made at the meeting. The Group Manager for Fostering) will notify the Regulatory Authority of the outcome of the investigation.

A report should be presented to the next available Fostering Panel. The Review of Foster Carers should be followed. See Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.

As stated above a Fostering Review should be held if the carers are to continue fostering.

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 matter should be referred to the Fostering Panel with full details of the allegation, investigation and the recommendation. Care must be taken no to disclose any confidential information to the carer's which is part of any ongoing police investigation.

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 and loaded onto the electronic database.

If the allegation is substantiated and the carer/s are de-registered, the Group Manager for Fostering must complete a referral to Disclosure and Barring Service for consideration of whether the carer/s should be barred from working with children. In the event of a conviction of a carer for arm to a child, the electronic database should be updated with a Risk to Children warning indicator as applicable.

End