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7.7 Allegations against Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS PROCEDURE

This procedure applies where allegations are made or suspicions are raised that approved foster carers have caused Significant Harm to a child. It should be read in conjunction with the City of York Safeguarding Children Board Procedures.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was amended in December 2012 in relation to a change of job titles. Section 3.4 Concluding the Investigation was also updated to include reference to holding a Foster Carer Review and sharing findings and recommendations of the Review with the Fostering Panel. It was also amended to reflect that as from 1 December 2012, the Independent Safeguarding Authority and the Disclosure and Barring Service have been merged to form the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). Their functions remain the same, but they will be now performed as one organisation. For further information please see Changes to Disclosure and Barring: What You Need to Know (HM Government, 2012).


Contents

1. Policy
2. Introduction
3. Procedure
  3.1 Initial Action
  3.2 Strategy Meeting
  3.3 Investigation and Action
  3.4 Concluding 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 City of York Safeguarding Children Board Procedures.

Allegations or suspicions that a foster carer has caused Significant Harm to a child will be investigated thoroughly, speedily and sensitively under those procedures and will involve open and honest communication with and support to all those affected. 

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 with whom foster carers against whom allegations are made have contact, including their own children.


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 will have received information about this procedure and the City of York Safeguarding Children Board Procedures;
  4. 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.

In addition, in relation to the Fostering Service, it is an expectation of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 that:

  • A senior manager is identified to be the Designated Person (SMO) who liaises with the LADO in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process. In York this is the Head of Service, Operations;
  • All staff within the Fostering Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosure and Barring Service.


3. Procedure

3.1 Initial Action

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. The person initially receiving the concern/ allegation must make a full record of it, which is timed, dated, and signed.

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 manager;
  • Inform the Head of Service, Operations, who will function as the named Senior Manager in their Organisation with designated responsibility for allegations against staff. The Head of Service, Operations is responsible for ensuring that the LSCB procedure for dealing with allegations against professionals and volunteers is followed;
  • Inform the foster carer's supervising social worker.

The supervising social worker will:

  • Inform the Fostering Practice Manager and the family placement service manager and, in consultation with the Practice Manager 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 foster carer lives outside the boundaries of the City of York Council, the LADO for that local authority should also be informed, and that local authority will be responsible for undertaking enquiries in accordance with its own safeguarding procedures.

Prior to contacting the LADO the Head of Service, Operations will organise the gathering of information including:

  • Details of any potential witnesses;
  • Account of the person receiving or witnessing the allegation;
  • Details of any potential witnesses.

The Service Manager Family Placement will gather information on:

  • Names, addresses, D.o.B's of the child/ren and  foster carer concerned;
  • History of child's placement with the foster carer;
  • Details of child's fostering previous placements ( if any);
  • Details of any other children in placement;
  • Details of any previous allegations/concerns in respect of the foster carer;
  • Account of the person receiving or witnessing the allegation;
  • Information regarding any other paid or voluntary work the foster carer  undertakes with children or vulnerable adults;
  • If the foster carer has their own children, any other information which may be of relevance.

Consultation with LADO

In all circumstances of concern or allegation the Head of Service, Operations must consult with the LADO within one working day of the allegation being made.

Consultation with the LADO will consider:

  • Is the allegation demonstrably false i.e. is there clear evidence to suggest that the event(s) did not take place? If so the LADO will advise on appropriate action and will consider if the child may have suffered or be at risk of suffering significant harm by another person;
  • Could the child have suffered or be at risk of suffering significant harm? If so a strategy meeting should be held or if complex abuse procedures should be invoked;
  • Could a criminal offence have been committed? If so a strategy meeting should be held or if complex abuse procedures should be invoked;
  • Could the person have behaved towards a child in a way that indicates s/he is unsuitable to work with children? If so a strategy meeting should be held;
  • Does none of the above apply? If so the LADO will advise what, if any, internal action should be taken.

The Head of Service, Operations and the LADO should exchange confirmation in writing about the discussion, including next steps, within 24 hours.

Any Strategy Meeting /initial evaluation meeting must be held within 2 working days.

Initial Evaluation Meetings are convened where a criminal offence may have been committed but there are no concerns that a child could have suffered or be at risk of suffering Significant Harm or where it is unclear whether an issue falls within the procedure. The Initial Evaluation Meeting will be similar to a Strategy Meeting and references to Strategy Meeting should therefore be read to apply to Initial Evaluation Meeting where appropriate.

The Head of Service, Operations will decide with the LADO who should chair any Strategy Meeting, having considered any possible conflict of interest and/or confidentiality issues.

The Head of Service, Operations will:

  • Convene a Strategy Meeting within 2 working days of the referral:
    • Invite to the Strategy Discussion the service manager family placement; the service manager and social worker(s) responsible for any child/ren placed; the practice manager fostering; the foster carers' supervising social worker.

Other investigative routes may be identified as more appropriate at this stage, for example, the complaints process, and should be considered as an alternative to a Section 47 Enquiry.

At this stage, the Regulatory Authority (Ofsted)  must be informed of the allegation by the supervising social worker's manager.

In exceptional cases where immediate action may be necessary to safeguard the welfare of the child, the child's social worker and his or her manager may decide to request that a new placement be identified.

3.2 Strategy Meeting

The Strategy Meeting will take place within 2 working days of the referral 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 people will be invited:

  1. The manager of the team undertaking the Section 47 Enquiry;
  2. The child's social worker and his or her manager;
  3. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
  4. The supervising social worker linked to the foster carer, and his or her manager (who will liaise as necessary with the service manager Family Placement;
  5. The police;
  6. Any other agency involved with the child or foster family.

The Strategy Meeting must consider:

  1. The nature of the allegation, its source and reliability;
  2. Background information relating to the foster family, how long the family has been known, how many children have been placed there, the family's known strengths and weaknesses and any exceptional features about the child and the placement;
  3. The involvement of other agencies, for example if the child was placed by another local authority;
  4. Who will notify the Regulatory Authority of the outcome of the meeting, if a representative is not present;
  5. A referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion on the Barred List. This should be considered whenever a carer is suspended from their duties;
  6. The safety of all children in the household including the foster carer's own children and whether any action is necessary to protect the children including the removal of all or any of the children while the investigation is conducted;
  7. How the needs of any child who has to leave the placement will be met including contact with other children in the placement;
  8. 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 Crown Prosecution Service recommend no further action then the social worker must interview the foster carers about all allegations and concerns. Interview notes must be taken and made available to future meetings and/or the Fostering Panel);
  9. The time-scales for the investigation (see below) and any contingencies should timescales prove unlikely to be met;
  10. How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
  11. 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;
  12. How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
  13. Once informed of the decision what support to offer the foster carers;
  14. How reports on the investigation will be shared with the foster carers and the child or children in the placement;
  15. Whether further placements should be suspended in the meantime;
  16. 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 on the restricted section of the child's and the foster carer's records. A record should be placed on the complaints and allegations section of the foster carer's file.

Any decision to take no further action following the Strategy Meeting must be clearly recorded by the decision-maker on the child's and the foster carer's records, and reported to the Regulatory Authority. A decision also needs to be made as to whether to recommend that any other issues connected with the carer' standard of care need to be considered in a review of the carers' suitability to continue caring for children.

Where a Section 47 Enquiry enquiry or police investigation is to be undertaken a date should be set for a reconvened meeting within 2-4 weeks.

If a decision is made to initiate s47 enquiries or a criminal investigation, the foster carer should be contacted by an agreed person and told, (subject to the agreement of the strategy/initial evaluation meeting):

  • The nature of the allegation (details re what can be said will be agreed in the strategy meeting);
  • How the enquiries will be conducted;
  • Any conditions preventing discussion/ contact with relevant persons.

This information should be confirmed in writing. Additionally they should be informed of:

  • The possible outcomes e.g. criminal and/or review of their approval;
  • Arrangements for ongoing support and provision of information;
  • How decisions will be made regarding referral for consideration of inclusion on those lists preventing or restricting their work with children and young people.

3.3 Investigation and Action

In anticipation of the outcome of the investigation being reported to the Fostering Panel, the supervising social worker or his/her manager should contact the Panel Chair to consider whether a special Panel meeting 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 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 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 in writing to the foster carer by the manager of the fostering service

Those supporting the foster carers must contact the foster carers as soon as practicable after the foster carers are made aware of the allegation, and explain their role to the foster carers. They must make clear their 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 inform foster carers on how they will be supported and paid whilst they are under investigation.

They should confirm that the foster carers are aware of the following.

  1. The contents of this procedure and the relevant City of York Safeguarding Children Board Procedures;
  2. The address and contact telephone number of the independent agency identified to provide the foster carers support;
  3. Information regarding consulting a solicitor;
  4. Information on insurance arrangements for legal expenses.

If an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, the Conference Chair must be consulted in advance to discuss whether the foster carers should be invited to attend.  In any event, the foster carers' views must be obtained for and communicated to the Conference.

The social worker undertaking the investigation will prepare a report on the investigation and a copy will be provided to the foster carers and their representatives.

Police Investigations

Where a police investigation is undertaken, the police must set a date for reviewing its progress and consulting the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) about continuing or closing the investigation or charging the individual. Wherever possible, this should be no later than 4 weeks after the strategy/initial evaluation discussion. Dates for further reviews should also be agreed, either fortnightly or monthly depending on the complexity of the investigation.

3.4 Concluding the Investigation

The Strategy Meeting will be reconvened to conclude the investigation. The same people will be invited and the same person will chair the 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 Fostering Panel and/or considering whether it may be appropriate to make a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion of the foster carers on the Children's Barred List.

Where, following Children's Social Care enquiries/police investigations, it is concluded that there is insufficient evidence to substantiate an allegation, the chair of the strategy/initial evaluation meeting may be called upon to prepare a separate report of the enquiry and forward this to the Head of Service, Operations to enable consideration of what further action, if any, should be taken. The report should include, where appropriate, information from the police and CPS stating the reasons why the case was closed without charge.

If an allegation is demonstrably false, consideration should be given to whether the child is in need of services and/or may have been abused by someone else.

Allegations may be unsubstantiated from a criminal perspective either because they do not reach the threshold for a criminal prosecution, or a person has not been convicted on the burden of proof 'beyond reasonable doubt'. However, there may be sufficient evidence for the case to be considered under internal procedures where the burden of proof is 'balance of probabilities'.

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 rescheduling of the meeting.

The Chair 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.

In any event the meeting may wish to draw to the attention of Fostering Service certain areas of the foster carer's practice in need of their close consideration. 

A Foster Care Review must be held as soon as possible to consider on-going registration and terms of approval. The recommendations and report of the Chair of the Review should be presented to the next available Fostering Panel. The social worker preparing the report should consult with the Chair of the Fostering Panel who will advise on who should attend the Panel meeting (usually the child's social worker and the supervising social worker for the foster carers) and whether or not a special Panel meeting should be convened.

Prior to Fostering Panel, the foster carers and their representative should have seen, and had time to comment on the report being presented to the Panel. The procedure to be adopted for the Fostering Panel will be the same as for any other foster carer review - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.

All relevant documents in relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome, must be retained on the child's and the foster carer's records.

Consideration should be given to holding a debriefing meeting for all involved as to the impact of the allegations and the investigation, whatever the outcome, and any necessary assistance should be made available as necessary. 

End