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8.7 Allegations against Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS PROCEDURE

This procedure applies where it is alleged that an approved York foster carer has:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child;
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child;
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates they pose a risk of harm to children;
  • Behaved or may have behaved in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children.

It applies in relation to a child who was formerly fostered, who is currently fostered or any other child where there are concerns that any of the above 3 criteria may apply. It should be read in conjunction with the City of York Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures.

AMENDMENT

In September 2020 this chapter was reviewed and refreshed throughout.


Contents

CAPTION: Contents list
   
1. Policy
2. Introduction
3. Procedure
  3.1 Initial Action
  3.2 Strategy / Evaluation 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 into allegations or concerns relating to foster carers must be dealt with under the City of York Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures.

This procedure takes into account the Foster Carer Minimum Standards 2011 supporting the Care Standards Act 2000 and Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018, in terms of investigations and the role of the LADO.

It is in everyone’s interest to resolve cases as quickly as possible, consistent with a fair and thorough investigation. All allegations must be investigated as a priority to avoid any delay. The time taken to investigate and resolve individual cases depends on a variety of factors including the nature, seriousness and complexity of the allegation.

LADO involvement in relation to foster carers applies to:

  • Allegations or suspicions that a foster carer has behaved in a way that has harmed or may have harmed a child; or
  • Committed a criminal offence against a child; or
  • Behaved in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children;
  • Behaved or may have behaved in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children;
  • All investigations that meet any of the above 4 criteria in relation to a City of York foster carer will be investigated thoroughly, speedily and sensitively under this procedures and will involve open and honest communication with and support for all those affected.

There may be up to three strands in the consideration of an allegation:

  • A police investigation of a possible criminal offence;
  • Enquiries and assessment by CSC about whether a child is in need of protection or in need of services;
  • Consideration by an employer / regulatory body of action in respect of the individual. In the case of foster carers, this means their suitability to foster.

It is important to note that, although there may be insufficient evidence to support a Police investigation or Section 47 enquiry, this does not mean that action should not be taken to consider a foster carer's approval.

The nature of the concerns expressed may suggest poor care or actions are below the standards of conduct expected of a Foster Carer. It should be noted that the threshold for allegations regarding persons in a position of trust is ‘harm’, not ‘significant harm’.

There may therefore be some circumstances where a professional judgement is required and made by the fostering service in relation to concerns that indicate a practice issue in relation to care standards, as opposed to a breach of trust that is sufficiently concerning as to warrant LADO involvement. All such cases should be discussed between the Supervising Social Worker and the Team Manager, Placement Finding, Commissioning and Support and a manager decision recorded on the foster carer file.

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 any other children the foster carers have contact with, including their own children.


2. Introduction

The expectation is that:

  1. When a child is first placed with foster carers, the social worker will provide them with all relevant information needed to keep the child safe, including details of any abuse or neglect they have experienced, 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 any children in their care and all members of the foster family. This includes performing their role in accordance with Standards and Regulations and therefore, about their conduct;
  3. All foster carers will have received information about this procedure, the role of the designated officer in the local authority (LADO) and the City of York Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures;
  4. All foster carers must follow agreed recording procedures, and note on a daily basis the progress of children placed with them, including any incidents or concerns and any complaints made by the child and their family.

    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. In York this is the Group Manager for Achieved Permanence;
    • 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 which suggests that a foster carer has:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child; or
  • Committed a criminal offence against or related to a child; or
  • Behaved in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children; or
  • Behaved or may have behaved in a way that indicates they may not be suitable to work with children.

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 their team manager;
  • Inform the Group Manager Achieved Permanence, who will function as the named Senior Manager with designated responsibility for allegations against foster carers. The Group Manager Achieved Permanence is responsible for ensuring the 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 Placement Finding Commissioning and Support Team Manager and in consultation with the child's social worker and Team 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 Group Manager Achieved Permanence or the Team Manager Placement Finding, Commissioning and Support (in their absence) 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 Team Manager Placement Finding, Commissioning and Support in consultation with the Supervising Social Worker 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 Group Manager Achieved Permanence or Team Manager Placement Finding Commissioning and Support (in their absence) must consult with the LADO within 1 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 harm by another person;
  • Is the child suffering or likely to suffer significant harm? If so a strategy meeting should be held in accordance with the Child Protection Procedures;
  • Could a criminal offence have been committed? If so consideration should be given to whether a strategy / evaluation meeting should be held;
  • Could the person have behaved towards a child in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children and are therefore unsuitable to work them? If so, consideration should be given to holding a strategy / evaluation meeting;
  • Do none of the above apply? If so the LADO will advise what, if any, internal action should be taken.

The Group Manager Achieved Permanence or the Team Manager Placement Finding Commissioning and Support (in their absence) 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 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 Group Manager Achieved Permanence will decide with the LADO who should chair any Strategy / Evaluation Meeting.

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 their manager may decide to request that a new placement be identified. This should be discussed with Team Manager Placement Finding Commissioning and Support.

3.2 Strategy / Evaluation Meeting

The 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 (where such an enquiry is taking place);
  2. The child's social worker and their manager;
  3. The Designated Officer in the local authority (LADO);
  4. The supervising social worker linked to the foster carer, and their manager (who will liaise as necessary with the service manager Family Placement;
  5. The police (where appropriate);
  6. Any other agency involved with the child or foster family (where appropriate).

The 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 role;
  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;
  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 and devise a ‘communication strategy’ to ensure they are kept up to-date (where this is appropriate). Also to consider, depending upon the nature of the allegation, whether this impacts upon any contact arrangements that are in place. (Note that where a child is accommodated under section 20 Children Act 1989, the local authority do not have Parental Responsibility);
  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 Meeting.

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 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 associated with the carer' standard of care need to be considered in a review of the carers' suitability to continue as a foster carer.

Where a Section 47 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

The actions agreed at the Strategy / Evaluation 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 / Evaluation 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.

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.

The Supervising Social Worker must contact the foster carers as soon as practicable after they are made aware of the allegation, and explain their role to them. They must make clear their responsibility to report to the local authority, and in some cases, the Police, but also their role in supporting foster carers confirming how they will be 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 Partnership 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.

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 / Evaluation 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 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. The following should be considered when categorising the allegation:

  • Substantiated: there is sufficient evidence to prove the allegation;
  • False: there is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation;
  • Malicious: there is clear evidence to prove there has been a deliberate act to deceive and the allegation is entirely false;
  • Unfounded: there is no evidence or proper basis which supports the allegation being made. It might also indicate that the person making the allegation misinterpreted the allegation or was mistaken about what they saw. Alternatively they may not have been aware of the circumstances;
  • Unsubstantiated: this is not the same as a false allegation. It means that there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove the allegation. The term, therefore, does not imply guilt or innocence.

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 that should be reviewed and considered or any other lessons to be learned.

A Foster Carer Review must be held as soon as possible to consider on-going registration and terms of approval. Consideration must also be given to whether the concerns / outcome require oversight and independent evaluation by the Fostering Panel. Where a decision is made to present the case to the Fostering Panel, the foster carers and their representative should be seen beforehand, and have 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.

End