Allegations Against Foster Carers
See also these chapters in the Rotherham SCP procedures manual:
AMENDMENTIn June 2019, this chapter was updated locally. It should be re-read in its entirety.
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 the children in receipt of such services must be dealt with under the principles, policies and procedures laid down by the local safeguarding Children Partnership procedures, allegations against person's who work with children.
Allegations or suspicions that a foster carer has caused harm to a child will be investigated thoroughly, quickly and sensitively under these procedures and will involve open and honest communication with and support to all those affected.
Clarity with regards to timescales is an important part of this process and all professionals involved must work towards avoiding any unnecessary prolonging of this process, unless reasons dictate. Clarity with regards to access to reports and documents used as a part of the investigation will be highlighted in the process.
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 whom foster carers against whom allegations are made have contact, including their own children.
The expectation is that:
- 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;
- 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;
- All foster carers must have their safe caring policy amended / updated for each new child placed, this should include a risk assessment which will consider / determine any information which points towards any present additional risks;
- The role of the SSW will be to draw up with the carers the Safe Caring Policy pertinent to the whole fostering family. This will then be shared with each child placed and will be updated for each foster carer annual review;
- All approved foster carers will receive a copy of the Foster Carers Handbook be this online or in hard copy (this should be at the choice of the individual foster carer) format. The handbook will contain up to date information relevant to the Safeguarding Children's Partnership procedures and processes followed;
- All foster carers will be familiar with and adopt the procedures for recording on a daily basis the progress of a child 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. It is for this purpose that carers will be advised that the keeping of daily logs is vital and that this process includes placements who are long termed matched to the foster carer.
In addition, in relation to the Fostering Service, it is an expectation of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 that:
- The appropriate Fostering Team Manager will act as the designated person who liaises with the allocated LADO in cases to which this procedure applies;
- All staff within the Fostering Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosure and Barring service (DBS).
Any person who receives information or suspects that a child has suffered or is suffering harm in a foster placement 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 Service head;
- Inform the SSW who provides support to the foster carer or their manager;
- Refer the matter to MASH to consider LADO threshold being met or not.
The supervising social worker will:
- Inform their Team Manager;
- Advise the CSW of any other children resident in the placement;
- Contact any other Local Authority who has involvement in child care placements with the foster carer concerned;
- Continue with the provision of support to the foster carer once they have been made aware of the allegation. The form of this support must be qualified by the relevant SSW team manager.
The SSW shall continue to hold case accountability for the support by the fostering service to this carer. This will continue regardless of whether independent support is also being provided.
- Advise the foster carer of the support available to them during this process from the independent 'Foster Talk' organisation. That this conversation is clearly recorded on the foster carers file, including the carer's decision.
That where requested a referral is made to Foster Talk in order for the carer to receive support. (Foster Talk will liaise with the fostering team manager concerning payment for this service);
- Advise the foster carer of the support available to them as members of the 'Fostering Network'. Carers should be encouraged to make use of this provision.
(Should a carer be receiving support from Foster Talk and the Fostering Network, carers should be reminded to advise each organisation of the other's support to them with the matter concerned);
- The SSW shall give consideration to the support needs of any of the foster carer's own children resident within the foster home. This should be discussed with the foster carer regardless of whether the allegation by the child has been made against them.
The investigation process shall follow the Rotherham Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures concerning allegations made against a member of staff.
The team manager responsible for the child case involvement, should report the allegation to MASH in order to consider the threshold criteria being met within 24 hours (one working day). A referral to MASH should not be delayed due to the wish to gather further information, the failure to report such an allegation or concern shall be deemed a matter for potential disciplinary action against the TM concerned.
If an allegation which requires immediate action is received out with office hours, a referral should be made to the OOH service or local Police and MASH should be informed as soon as possible.
Five potential allegations outcomes are available:
- The commission of a criminal offence requiring a Police investigation;
- A referral made to the appropriate social work team to undertake enquiries or assessment as to whether a child needs protected or service input;
- Should the Police conclude that an investigation is not required by them, the fostering team may be required to undertake their own enquiries into the issues highlighted;
- Fostering service's procedures being followed to consider the need for an early review of the carer's ability to foster, the foster panel and agency decision makers view on the same.
If a foster carer is involved in work paid or voluntary with children or they have birth children, this will also be given consideration as a part of the assessment process;
- That no further action is being taken.
The allocated LADO to the case will be accountable for the management of the LADO process to its conclusion. This shall be accomplished by the provision of appropriate advice and guidance as to the allegation made meeting statutory guidance. The LADO takes responsibility for ensuring that any enquiry following an allegation is undertaken within a timely manner taking into consideration those parties involved.
If the allegation is determined to have substance and is not considered false and that it is determined that a child is or likely to suffer harm, the LADO will refer the matter to the appropriate children's team to complete and prompt a Section 47 Strategy meeting.
The Strategy meeting will take place within 1 working day of the referral being made 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 personnel shall be invited:
- Manager of the team undertaking the Sec 47 enquiry;
- The child's social worker (CSW) and their team manager;
- The allocated Local authority designated officer (LADO).
- The allocated SSW who supports the foster carer concerned and their respective team manager;
- The Police;
- Any other agency involved with the child or foster family;
- Representative from the Regulatory body.
The Strategy meeting shall consider:
- The nature of the allegation;
- Background relating to the foster family, how long the family has been known, how many children have been placed there, the family's strengths and weaknesses and any exceptional features about the child and the placement;
- The involvement of other agencies, for example if the child was placed by another local authority;
- The need to inform other agencies who use the foster home;
- Who will notify the Regulatory Authority of the outcome, if a representative is not present;
- A referral to the DBS for inclusion on the Children's barred list. This should be considered whenever a carer is suspended from their duties;
- The safety of all children in the household including the foster carers own children and whether any action is necessary to protect the children including the removal of all or any of the children during the duration of the investigation;
- How the needs of any child who has to leave the placement will be met including contact with other children in the placement;
- 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 CPS recommends no further action then the social worker must interview the foster carers about all allegations and concerns);
- The timescales for the investigation and any contingencies should timescales prove unlikely to be met;
- How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
- 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;
- How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
- Once informed of the decision, the support to offered to the foster carer;
- How reports from the investigation will be shared with the foster carers and the child or children in the placement;
- Whether further fostering placements should be suspended in the meantime;
- 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 unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the regulatory authority must be notified of the decision and the outcome.
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.
Any decision to take no further action following the Strategy meeting, must be clearly recorded by the decision maker on the child's and foster carers records, and reported to the regulatory authority.
Support and Action whilst an investigation is underway
Once an allegation has made against a foster carer the SSW responsible for support of the carer or the appropriate fostering team manager, must make contact with the foster carer within a maximum of 24 hours. If the allegation occurs out with office hours, then the carers should be notified as soon as possible the next working day. The SSW or TM must make clear to the carer their role during this process. They must be satisfied that the foster carer understands that whilst their role is to support them, a part of the SSW / TM role will also be a duty to report back information to the Local Authority, law enforcement agencies which can potentially include the court, if information pertaining to any investigation, is brought to their attention.
The SSW / TM must also make the carer aware of any potential financial impact on their fostering allowance this will include when a child is removed from their care:
- When a child is removed, for the duration of that child no longer residing with the carer, the weekly allowance will cease from the date the child is moved;
- The Skill level element of the carer's weekly fostering allowance will remain for the duration of the child being removed from the placement and until the conclusion of the enquiry/ decision of ADM;
- Should the enquiry conclude and recommend the carer be deregistered this payment will continue until the Agency Decision Maker (ADM) has signed off the recommendation from the fostering panel. However should the foster carer appeal the ADM decision of de registration to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM), this payment will cease until the matter has been heard by the IRM, the IRM determination received by the Fostering Service and the final decision made by the ADM. Only once this conclusion has been reached and the original ADM decision has been rescinded, will the Skills level payment be paid to the carer. This will be backdated to the original ADM decision and to the subsequent one post IRM, should the ADM decide the carers can continue as foster carers for RMBC;
- At any point in this process should the foster carer cause what is deemed by the Fostering Service Manager to be an unnecessary delay either in the investigation process or to the matter being heard by or presented to the Fostering panel, that the Fostering Service Manager can make the decision to withdraw the payment of this fee to the foster carers. The carers would have the right to appeal this decision to the ADM.
The SSW / TM must provide to the foster carers:
- Copies of the relevant sections of the Rotherham Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures and a copy of this document. (A copy should also be provided to 'Foster Talk' should they be supporting the carers in this process);
- The SSW / TM must ensure the carers have all relevant information pertaining to their Fostering Network membership and be advised of the role of 'Foster Talk'. The carers should be urged to discuss their part in the investigation with the Fostering Network and to accept the support of 'Foster Talk' being offered;
- (SSW and TM must ensure when requested that a prompt referral is made to 'Foster Talk');
- (The carers should be reminded that general legal support during this process, can be provided via the Fostering Network);
- The RMBC leaflet on how to make a formal complaint should also be given to the foster carer at the earliest opportunity.
The completed report by the CSW undertaking the investigation will be made available to the Foster carer and their representative in this matter.
The SSW who is the allocated support social worker to the foster carers concerned, will have continued responsibility for the carers support during this process. It is the responsibility of the SSW to advise on how this support will take place and how this may differ from any support offered by the Fostering Network and / or Foster Talk. The SSW must ensure that the carer is clear how their fostering allowance will change during the investigation and any subsequent processes. In order for to consider fully the carer's views, should it be inappropriate for the supporting SSW to present this, then either the independent body supporting the carers during the process should be allowed to do so. Where the carers have not taken up the offer of independent support, the TM may consider the allocation of another SSW who has had no involvement with the foster carers at any time to undertake this role.
The relevant fostering team manager will also contact the carers and their representative (should they have one) at the end of each allegation management meeting. The purpose of this will be to give the foster carers an update on the process. What can be shared with the carers at this point, will be considered by the fostering team manager and the meeting chair prior to this telephone call taking place. The fostering team manager will follow this up with a letter to the foster carer confirming the content of the afore mentioned telephone call.
Investigation and Action
In anticipation of the outcome of the investigation being reported to the Fostering panel, the SSW or TM should contact the Foster panel advisor to consider whether a special fostering panel will be required.
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 the 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 the 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 to the foster carer by the SSW or TM.
If an Initial Child Protection conference is convened the Conference chair must be contacted in advance by the fostering TM concerned, to discuss whether the foster carers should be invited to attend. In any event, the foster carers' views must be obtained and communicated to the conference.
Concluding the investigation
Rotherham Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures should be followed, which will include reconvening of a Strategy meeting involving the same persons in attendance at the initial meeting and the same Chair person. This should take place within 15 days since the initial meeting.
The purpose of the final strategy meeting is to agree on the outcome of the investigation and responsibilities for any further action including reporting on the matter to the Foster panel and / or considering whether it may be appropriate to make a referral to the DBS 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 re scheduling of the meeting.
The Chair or appointed representative (e.g. SSW or TM, CSW or CSW TM) will notify the foster carers, the child, the parents, other children in the placement or involved, other relevant agencies and the regulatory authority (if they do not attend the meeting) of the recommendations made at the meeting.
Following the conclusion of the enquiries, and when the carer is allowed to return to fostering practice, the carer will remain on hold for future placements until an early Annual Review is convened. The SSW shall liaise with the Annual Review officer to arrange a review meeting.
The concluded annual review when a matter against the carer has been substantiated will then be booked on to the next available Fostering panel, so that the panel can consider the foster carer's practice.
The SSW responsible for the supervision of the foster carers must liaise with the Fostering panel advisor who will advise on who should attend the panel meeting (usually the CSW, SSW, foster carer, Foster Talk representative).
Prior to the Annual review and foster panel, the foster carers and their representative should have seen and had time to comment on the report being presented to the Fostering panel. The procedure to be adopted by the Fostering panel will be the same as for any other foster carer review.
All relevant documents in relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome must be retained on the child's and foster carers records, a copy of which will be given to the foster carer.
When an allegation against a carer has been substantiated, consideration must then be given by the Head of the Fostering service with regards to a referral to the DBS.
If it is decided that the carers approval is to be terminated the carers must be given the reasons for this by the fostering TM, within 28 days. An early annual review will be held to give further consideration to the termination which will then be presented to the fostering panel and ADM for the de registration process to be completed.
The carer and their representative will be invited to the annual review and subsequent panel and allowed to make representations at both meetings. Should the review meeting, foster panel and ADM agree that the carer is to be deregistered, the carer will be given information on the IRM. During the time of any IRM enquiry, subsequent hearing and re consideration by the ADM, the carer will remain an approved foster carer but will remain on hold to any foster placements.
At all times care must be taken not to divulge any information that is part of any ongoing Police enquiry.
Annual Review following any allegation
Upon conclusion of a Section 47 investigation fostering should undertake an early fostering review of the carers, chaired by the RMBC Annual Reviewing Officer. This will allow for consideration of the outcome of the investigation and the effect this has had on the foster carers. This should be offered at the earliest opportunity but no later than 4 weeks after the investigation conclusion.
In addition to the ARO, the foster carers, the SSW, the fostering TM and the carers representative should be invited to this meeting. The SSW must ensure that a review report is prepared for this meeting with feedback from the carers, any of the carers own children and the CSW involved available for this meeting. Where possible, feedback from the looked after child concerned.
The chair focus must not be to repeat the investigation.
The 'early' review meeting should consider in addition to the normal annual review process:
- The effect the investigation and outcome has had on the foster carers and their family;
- What effect having the looked after child at the centre of the allegations removed from the carers care, has had on the carers and their family;
- The specific needs of the carers and their family. This should consider all forms of support from training to the continued input of the independent support provision;
- The annual review report compiled by the SSW for this meeting must contain the views of the Fostering service concerning the situation;
- The meeting will consider the carers approval at the time of the enquiry and the need for any amendments to this renewal;
- The foster carer and their family's views on the support received by them from the Fostering Service as a whole during the investigation process;
- How needs identified from the enquiry concerning the foster carers, will be addressed
This review will then be presented by the SSW to the foster panel at the earliest panel availability.
During the time of the investigation concluding, the holding of an early annual review meeting and foster panel, the carers will remain on hold and without foster placement until the ADM has made their decision following the fostering panel.
However via the 'Management Decision Record' process agreed by the fostering Team manager, the carers may be removed temporarily from being on hold, where the Fostering Service has determined there is no risk and a short term placement made. However good practice determines this should be avoided.
Where a carer has an investigation outcome unsubstantiated or unfounded, the early review process and panel should be followed. However where it is deemed appropriate by the Fostering Service a foster placement can be made, only following a Matching Meeting, the carers not being available for use for an emergency foster placement.
If at any time during the process, for example prior to the annual review, the fostering panel appearance or any IRM meeting. Should the carer have to cancel their ability to attend same for any reason, this reason must be considered by the SSW with their team manager who will then discuss with the fostering service manager whether the reason(s) given by the carer are unavoidable and the matter re scheduled. The fostering service manager must be satisfied that the foster carer concerned is not attempting to thwart the post allegation process in any way. What action is deemed appropriate by the service manager, should the reason for the requested delay be considered unnecessary, will be considered by the service manager and ADM. The decision and reasons for same, then conveyed to the carer (and their representative) in writing by the Fostering service manager.