Allegations against foster carers

Foster care can be a truly rewarding career with many benefits; it is also a huge commitment and one that is not without problems. Many of the children who come into care have been abused or neglected, and because of the nature of fostering, this can put foster carers at risk of allegations during their fostering career.

When allegations against foster carers are made, the local authority and the fostering service have a legal duty  under the Children Act 1989, S47, to carry out an investigation to ensure that the child is safe and receives appropriate help, regardless of whether the allegation is true or not

Although this is a necessary process, it can put the accused foster carer and their family under considerable emotional strain.

While research has shown that the majority of allegations (78%) are unsubstantiated, (Biehal, (2014)  Sebba & Plumridge, (2016) ), the impact of the investigation may leave foster carers feeling extremely vulnerable and distressed. The willingness and ability of the foster carer to continue to foster following an unsubstantiated allegation often depends on the level of input and support they receive from their fostering service throughout this process.

An allegation is an accusation that someone has caused harm to a child by physical, sexual or emotional abuse.

Anyone in the foster home may be accused of harming a child, including the foster carer’s own children or extended family members.  An allegation may also be made by the child or someone acting on their behalf such as a parent or a teacher.

Every fostering service has a duty to investigate ‘allegations of harm’ as well as look into ‘allegations of poor standards of care’ (sometimes referred to as a concern or a complaint) and fostering services will have a separate policy for dealing with each of these scenarios.

A complaint about a foster carer would not generally be treated as an allegation unless it related to physical, emotional or sexual abuse of the child. Complaints would normally be investigated under the fostering service’s complaints procedure. Similarly concerns about standards of care which don’t reach the threshold of an allegation, should be followed up separately.

In England, National Minimum Standard 22 (NMS 22) sets out what support foster carers are entitled to be given during the process and what information they are entitled to after the investigation has been concluded.

Regulations, guidance and legislation can be found at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fostering-services-national-minimum-standards

“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:

  1. Information and advice about the process
  2. Emotional support, and
  3. If needed, mediation between the foster carer and the fostering service and/or advocacy (including attendance at meetings and panel hearings)

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 advice, 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

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.  Or 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.

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.  Or 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.

Working Together to Safeguard Children (2018) sets out the statutory guidance which must be followed when there are concerns about the safety or welfare of children, regardless of whether they are in care or living with their birth family.https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/working-together-to-safeguard-children--2

Whenever there are concerns of a child protection nature, the fostering service has a duty to inform the Local Authority Safeguarding Team or 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. If this meeting decides that further investigation is necessary, this will be done jointly between the local authority and the police. 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/or 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 in writing and advised on the recommendations of the investigation, together with any actions that have been agreed.

The flowchart below illustrates the typical process that will be followed.

After the investigation is concluded, your fostering service will carry out a review of your suitability to continue to foster. This will look at the nature of the allegation, the recommendations from the final strategy meeting and what lessons can be learned from it, for example whether further training is needed.

Once the review has taken place, a report will be prepared for the fostering panel. You should be given a copy of this report and the opportunity to provide your own report in writing if you wish to do so. You should be invited to attend panel with a supporter, if you wish, to answer any questions panel may have.

Fostering Panel will then make a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker (ADM) regarding their view of your suitability to continue to foster. This might be that your approval remains the same, your changes to reflect a different number or age of children, or that you should not continue to foster. Once the ADM has make the final decision they will write to you to inform you of this, after which you have 28 days in which to decide whether to accept the decision (known as a qualifying determination (QD) or wish to appeal, either back to the fostering panel or to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM).

Hopefully the outcome of panel will be that the allegation is not proven (unsubstantiated) and that you are able to continue to foster. However, if you wish to discuss the letter from the ADM with Fosterline and seek further advice, please remember to do so within 28 days of the date of the letter as this is the deadline for you to make a representation.

Allegations against Foster carers: Frequently Asked Questions

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.

The following should help you to be prepared for receiving a child into your care and reducing the risk of allegations being made.

  • Make sure you have a Placement Plan for the child.

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?
  • Ensure you are clear how to report any issues that may arise. Write any issues down and report accordingly.
  • Update your Safe Caring Plan for each placement

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.

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; you should have a copy of this. If not, ask for one immediately you are told that there is an allegation against you.  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. (NMS 22.12)

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, so please contact us for emotional and practical support.

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.

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.

During and after an investigation you will hear a lot of acronyms and jargon being used. Below we explain what some of them mean  
LADO or DO Local Authority Designated Officer (Safeguarding) or Designated Officer
Section 47 or S47 Child Protection Investigation carried out under S47 ofChildren Act 1989
Strategy Meeting Strategy meeting usually involving police, local authority and fostering service. Also called a POT meeting or a LADO meeting.
IUC Interview under caution (police)
ADM Agency Decision Maker
QD Qualifying Determination (made by Agency Decision Maker)
IRM Independent Review Mechanism  (a service that considers representations against QD’s in England and Wales)
NMS National Minimum Standards (2011) England
Regs Fostering Service Regulations (2011) England
SOC Meeting Standards of Care Meeting
POT Meeting Positon of Trust Meeting, sometimes called strategy meeting
Significant Harm Whether a child is, or is likely to suffer, harm to his health, welfare or development when compared to a similar child.

In 2016 FosterTalk jointly commissioned research into Allegations against foster carers with the Sir Halley Stewart Trust. This was carried out by the Rees Centre at Oxford University and the report entitled The Impact of Unproven Allegations on Foster Carers ( Plumridge, G & Sebba, J, 2016)  can be found here: Rees FosterTalk allegations study 07 2016

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.

Both reports found that while the incidence of allegations against foster carers was relatively low (less than 4% of foster carers in any one year) the impact on them can be devastating and good support was crucial in their decisions to continue fostering. Fosterline is here to support you and advise you of your rights, so don’t hesitate to call us.