AMENDMENTIn June 2019, this chapter was updated locally. It should be re-read in it's 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 board 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:
In addition, in relation to the Fostering Service, it is an expectation of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 that:
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.
On receipt of any such information, the child's social worker, or their team manager must immediately:
The supervising social worker will:
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.
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 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 significant 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:
The Strategy meeting shall consider:
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 and 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:
The ssw / Tm must provide to the foster carers:
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.
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 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.
Local safeguarding board 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 enquiries conclusion, 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.
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:
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.