Allegations against foster carers
Foster care can be a truly rewarding career, but it is not without its challenges.
Because of the nature of fostering, the welfare and safeguarding of children is a priority. Many children in the looked-after system have experienced abuse and neglect; because of their damaging life experiences may display behaviours that can sometimes put foster carers at risk of facing allegations at some time during their fostering career.
If an allegation is made, an investigation must be commenced to ensure the safety of the child in question. Although this is a necessary process, it can put the foster carer under considerable emotional strain.
While many allegations may prove unfounded, or are not upheld, the impact of the investigation may leave carers feeling unable to continue to foster.
Continuation of the foster parent’s career can also depend on the level of support and help they receive from their fostering service throughout this process, and whether or not they and their family feel able to continue to offer care for vulnerable children.
Reasons for allegations against foster carers
Foster care is by definition an activity that takes place in the home.
It means devoting a great deal of time and attention to young people who may display a range of challenging behaviours or have extremely complex needs. In this close, and often delicate environment, allegations against carers can be made at any time and for any number of reasons.
The reasons for such allegations can vary. Sometimes, birth parents make allegations as they believe this may cause the child to be returned home. On other occasions, the child in foster care may make an allegation because they also believe that this will enable them to go home.
Other times, it is because they are unhappy with their placement and want to move, or it could be for another reason entirely. The motives behind allegations are often complex and it is only in a minority of cases that they are found to be true.
Sadly, children do not always realise the consequences for them and for their foster family when they make false allegations.
They may do this on the spur of the moment, because they are angry about something that has been said or done, or because they are looking for an excuse for their own behaviour. Often they will retract the allegation when they have calmed down, but unfortunately all too often the damage has been done and the placement will have ended.
Types of Allegations
The main types of allegations made against foster carers and their families include:
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Standards of care issues, such as being treated differently from other family members
National Minimum Standards seek to ensure that carers are provided with independent support throughout the process of the investigation and in dealing with the aftermath. Fostering services:National Minimum Standards
NMS 22.12 states:
“During an investigation the fostering service makes support, which is independent of the fostering service, available to the person subject to the allegation and, where this is a foster carer, to their household, in order to provide:
- Information and advice about the process
- Emotional support, and
- If needed, mediation between the foster carer and the fostering service and/or advocacy (including attendance at meetings and panel hearings)”
Support for Foster Carers facing allegations
At Fosterline, we believe that providing the best possible support during these difficult times can make the process clearer and more manageable for everyone involved. We provide help, information and support to foster carers who find themselves in this situation, enabling them to feel more in control and to identify their options for further action.
If you have had an allegation made and would like to speak to one of our independent fostering advisors please call Fosterline on 0800 040 7675 or use the contact us via our contact form.
FosterTalk has recently commissioned a small scale research study into the impact of allegations against foster carers which was carried out on our behalf by the Rees Centre at Oxford University. This research entitled “Pilot Study into the impact of allegations made against foster carers who accessed FISS or FosterTalk Services” can be downloaded here Rees FosterTalk allegations report 07 2014
The NSPCC has also published some research into allegations called “Keeping Children Safe: Allegations concerning the abuse or neglect of children in Care” This was carried out by the University of York and can be accessed here Keeping children safe -Allegations concerning the abuse or neglect of children in care June 2014
Allegations against Foster carers: Frequently Asked Questions
How can I protect myself from allegations?
The simple answer is that it is impossible to fully protect yourself against this eventuality.
However you should work towards avoiding investigations by taking all the necessary steps that will allow you to minimize risk against allegations. Your fostering service should also help you implement useful strategies which will ensure that you keep you and your family as safe as possible.
In situations where there are physical signs of abuse such as bruises or other marks, it is important to consider how these might have been caused. Many children in foster care ‘self-harm’ and scratches or cuts to the wrists and forearms may be a sign of self-abuse.
Bruises can be caused by falls or knocks, sports injuries and fights with other children. Any cuts, scratches or bruises that are noticed on foster children should always be noted by the carer, then entered into daily records and reported to the child’s social worker.
A plan should be set-up from the start of the young person’s placement. This will begin with examining the background of the child who will be in your care. This will answer questions such as:
- What was the reason the child came into care?
- Have they been physically or sexually abused in the past?
- Do they have a history of making allegations about foster parents or their families?
- Do they self-harm? If so, how long for? Is this related to a previous allegation?
- Do they have attachment disorder or any behavioural issues which are likely to impact on the placement?
Ensure all relevant information is recorded in the placement plan, including information which answers further questions such as:
- Does the parent or extended family or friends feel animosity towards you?
- Is there any on-going action in the courts?
- Is everyone happy with the contact arrangement?
- Where will the contact take place?
Following the completion of the placement plan, ensure that there are methods and procedures set in place to deal with any issues that might arise.
Safe caring plan
Every foster home should have a safe caring plan in place whereby the foster carer will be required to:
- Attend all safe caring training offered by the fostering service. It is vital for both partners to attend this as male carers can be particularly vulnerable to allegations.
- Have a written agreement about sleeping arrangements, living arrangements and clothing etc. These could include: offering hugs appropriately, closing the bathroom door, wearing appropriate night clothes and dressing gowns and respecting personal space.
- Discuss your safe care plan with your supervising social worker and update it regularly.
- Be aware of the issues and worries that the child or young person in your care might have, and encourage them to take time to talk to you about anything that is bothering them.
- Monitor their use of the internet, particularly social networking sites to prevent cyber bullying or grooming. Think about keeping any computers downstairs where time online can be supervised.
- Keep a record of any concerns you have and speak to your placing or supervising social worker.
Taking these simple precautions and letting your fostering service know that you are taking the safe care seriously will help you in the event that an allegation is made against you.
Why don’t my fostering team and the local authority believe me?
Many carers tell us that during an investigation they feel they are treated as though they are ‘guilty until proven innocent’.
Each fostering service will have set procedures in place when it comes to dealing with allegations. National Minimum Standards state that foster carers who are under investigation should be provided with support that is independent of their fostering service, to help them through the process.
It is not unusual for carers to feel like outcasts during the investigation process. Some have told us that their supervising social worker has stopped visiting them, or has been told to withdraw support.
This shouldn’t be perceived as a personal attack, or that the social worker has “taken sides”. On the contrary, it is actually down to policies that call for the temporary withdrawal of social worker support to avoid any conflicts of interest during the inquiry.
While Fosterline is not there to replace your fostering service or supervising social worker, we can provide you with all the advice, information, and support that you will need to cope throughout the process.
Will the child be removed from my care?
Good practice guidance suggests that foster children should not be removed from your care.
In practice however, once an allegation has been made, any foster children in the household are likely to be removed pending an investigation.
In some circumstances, it may be suggested that the person who is the subject of the allegation leave the house until further investigations can take place and alternative arrangements can be made. This would be the most likely course of action if it was suggested that the child and others within the household are at risk.
Will my own children be removed?
When carrying out an investigation into allegations of abuse against a foster child, the local authority has a legal duty to consider the welfare of any other children in the household – including your own children. This includes birth children, adopted children or children on Special Guardianship Orders or Residence Orders.
If your children are deemed to be at risk of “significant harm”, they would be subject to the same safeguarding procedures as any other child in the community. In these circumstances, you are advised to seek independent legal advice.
What happens during an investigation?
Whenever there are concerns of a child protection nature, the fostering service has a duty to inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) for the area in which the carer lives and/or the police.
The LADO will convene a strategy meeting of all the relevant professionals and they will discuss the allegation and decide the next steps to take. This may involve an “interview under caution” carried out by the police, and a joint interview of the child or children by the police and local authority.
Being interviewed by the police can be a distressing and frightening experience for anyone, especially as until this point they are usually unaware of the nature of the allegation held against them.
Fosterline strongly advises carers to have legal representation at their interview under caution, in order to protect their interests. This is not an admission of guilt, but a sensible precaution which will ensure that you are able to answer any questions put to you clearly, calmly and with support.
Once the investigation has been concluded, further strategy meetings will be held until an outcome has been agreed. You will then be informed of the outcome and advised on the recommendations of the investigation, together with any actions that have been agreed which you are entitled to have in writing.
Glossary of Terms Regarding Allegation
• A criticism against a foster carer that can be usually resolved by informal discussion or via the formal complaints procedure.
• When the LA or IFA has an interest or worry of importance regarding a situation or practice.
• A troubled or anxious state of mind arising from a situation or practice.
• The following actions are available and may include a combination of the following:
• Cases where there is no substance to the concern or the issue has already been addressed – No further action.
• In cases where there is some substance to the concern but the issues can be dealt with in supervision – Further discussion with the carers, recorded in supervision notes. This option could include the Practice Manager in a joint visit.
• In cases where there is significant substance to the concern but the issues can be dealt with in training – The development of a specific training and development programme to address the concerns. The Fostering or Permanence Panels should also be informed as they may wish to advise or require action to be taken.
• In cases where the concerns may affect registration – Bring forward the carer’s annual review with a report and specific recommendations to the Fostering or Adoption and Permanence Panel.
• Formal accusation against a foster carers practice that involves elements of the childs welfare or protection
• Will require further investigation
• Can lead to section 47 child protection and legal proceedings and can result in criminal prosecution
• Where a child is judged to have suffered or be at risk of significant harm.
• a duty on LAs to investigate and make inquiries into the circumstances of children considered to be at risk of ‘significant harm’ and, where these inquiries indicate the need, to decide what action, if any, it may need to take to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. The investigation will form a core assessment, which is an in-depth assessment of the nature of the child’s needs and the capacity of his or her parents to meet those needs within the wider family and community context.
a meeting between child protection staff and other relevant bodies such as the police, school, healthcare staff and any professional involved in the initial referral.
• Children’s Social Care must hold a Strategy Meeting whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm.
• This may be following a Referral and Child in Need Assessment or at any time during an assessment or where a child is receiving support services, if concerns about Significant Harm to the child emerge.
• The purpose of the Strategy Meeting is to decide whether a Section 47 Enquiry under the Children Act 1989 is required and if so, to develop a plan of action.
• More than one Strategy Meeting may be necessary.
Child Protection Case Conference:-
Following its Section 47 investigation, the LA may decide that concerns about the child are substantiated and wish to convene an Initial Child Protection Conference. It should take place within 15 working days of the last strategy discussion. Government guidance for convening Child Protection Case Conferences is contained in the Working Together to Safeguard Children. The purpose of the Child Protection Conference is:
• To bring together and analyse in an inter-agency setting the information that has been obtained about the child’s developmental needs and the parents’ or carers’ capacity to respond to these needs to ensure the child’s safety and promote the child’s health and development within the context of their wider family and environment;
• To consider the evidence presented to the conference and taking into account the child’s present situation and information about his or her family history and present and past family functioning, make judgements about the likelihood of the child suffering significant harm in the future and decide whether the child is continuing to, or is likely to, suffer significant harm; and
• To decide what future action is needed to safeguard the child and promote his/her welfare, how that action will be taken forward, and with what intended outcomes.
an assessment of a case made by an experience social worker as part of a Section 47 enquiry.
Professionals Only Meetings:-
• There are occasions when professionals need to come together to discuss a case of concern which does not meet the threshold or is outside the scope of Child Protection/Child in Need Policy and Procedures. Aimed at professionals to share information whilst participating in professional meetings of concern.
• A professional’s only meeting differs from a multi-agency meeting as it does not involve the family members.
Where the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the child’s health and development, his health or development shall be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child.
• ‘harm’ means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development (including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another),
• ‘development’ meant physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development;
• ‘health’ means physical or mental health; and
• ‘ill-treatment’ includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment which are not physical.