Berkshire Safeguarding Children Board Procedures
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6.2.11 Allegations Against Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS PROCEDURE

This policy and guidance applies to the following who have been approved by Slough Children’s Services Trust: Short and long term foster carers, carers offering short breaks to disabled children, relief foster carers and carers providing supported lodgings to young people over the age of sixteen.

RELEVANT CHAPTERS LEGISLATION / GUIDANCE

The Children Act 1989; Fostering Services Statutory Guidance 2011

The Protection of Children Act 2002

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015

Care Standards Act 2000, S. 23(1): National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services 2011: 4.1-4.7& 22

Children Act 1989: Fostering Service Regulations 2011 - Regulation 12 (arrangements for the protection of children)

Berkshire Local Safeguarding Board Child Protection Procedures

Allegations Against Staff, Carers and Volunteers Procedure

AMENDMENT

In January 2017, the terminology and organisational arrangements in this chapter were revised as were details of roles and responsibilities


Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Definitions
  3. Introduction
  4. Allegation of Abuse/Risk of Serious Harm
  5. Complaints
  6. Standards of Care
  7. Role of the Fostering Panel
  8. Notifying Carers
  9. Support to Carers
  10. Financial Support
  11. Other Support

Appendix 1: Children and Families Complaints Procedure

Appendix 2: Front Sheet, Allegation Against Foster Carer


1. Overview

Policy Aim

To set out the policy and practice guidance to be followed when an allegation or a complaint is made against a foster carer or a serious concern has been expressed which necessitates a standards of care investigation.

Slough Children's Services Policies

Berkshire Local Safeguarding Board Child Protection Procedures available on line particularly Allegations Against Staff Carers and Volunteers Procedure.

Policy Application

This policy applies to the following who have been approved by Slough Children’s Services Trust: Short and long term foster carers, carers offering short breaks to disabled children, relief foster carers and carers providing supported lodgings to young people over the age of sixteen.


2. Definitions

Allegation

An allegation involves an accusation that a child or young person has been physically, sexually or emotionally abused or neglected by a foster carer or a member of their household or family. It can also be defined as an unproven assertion of abuse or neglect that has yet to be proved or supported by evidence.

Standards of Care

A standards of care concern arises where no allegations of abuse or neglect have been identified but where there is serious concern that the foster carer is not meeting agreed standards of practice in respect of their care of the child.

Complaint

A complaint is likely to arise through different approaches to meeting the needs of a child/young person. Anyone is entitled to make a complaint: the fostered child/young person, their parent or person with parental responsibility for them, or anyone with a legitimate interest in the child/young person's welfare including the social worker or the independent reviewing officer.


3. 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 Local Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency 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 within the Fostering Service is identified to be the Designated Person who liaises with the LADO in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process;
  • All staff within the Fostering Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).


4. Allegation of Abuse/Risk of Serious Harm

Where an allegation is made that a child has been abused or is at risk of significant harm, the Berkshire Local Safeguarding Board Child Protection Procedures must be followed.

4.1 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.

On receipt of any such information, the child's social worker, or their Practice manager must immediately:

  • Inform his or her team manager and district/service manager;
  • Inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
  • Inform the supervising social worker;
  • Refer the matter to the relevant Assessment Team;

The supervising social worker will:

  • Inform the designated senior manager within the Fostering Service - see Section 3, Introduction; and, in consultation with the designated senior manager;
  • Inform the social workers for any other child in the placement;
  • Inform any other local authority with an interest in the foster placement

The relevant Assessment Team must implement the Berkshire Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures in relation to the allegation/suspicion. They will gather relevant background information and convene a Strategy discussion within 2 working days of the referral, and arrange a Strategy Meeting.

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 and Responsible Authorities must be informed of the allegation/suspicion and the supervising social worker's manager must ensure that an invitation is sent to them to be represented at the Strategy Meeting.

In exceptional cases were 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.

4.2 Strategy Meeting

The Strategy discussion will take place within 2 working days of the referral and a face-to-face meeting will also be held. 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 designated senior manager within the Fostering Service - see Section 3, Introduction;
  5. The police;
  6. Any other agency involved with the child or foster family;
  7. A representative from the Responsible Authority;
  8. A representative from the Regulatory Authority.

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. The need to inform other agencies who use the foster home;
  5. Who will notify the Responsible Authority of the outcome of the meeting, if a representative is not present;
  6. Who will notify the Regulatory Authority of the outcome of the meeting, if a representative is not present;
  7. A referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) for inclusion on the Children's Barred List. This should be considered whenever a carer is suspended from their duties;
  8. 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;
  9. How the needs of any child who has to leave the placement will be met including contact with other children in the placement;
  10. 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);
  11. The time-scales for the investigation (see below) and any contingencies should timescales prove unlikely to be met;
  12. How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
  13. 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;
  14. How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
  15. Once informed of the decision what support to offer the foster carers;
  16. How reports on the investigation will be shared with the foster carers and the child or children in the placement;
  17. Whether further placements should be suspended in the meantime;
  18. 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 Responsible 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 the foster carer's records, and reported to the Responsible and the Regulatory Authorities.

4.3 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.

  • The contents of this procedure and the relevant Local Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures;
  • The address and contact telephone number of the independent agency identified to provide the foster carers support;
  • Information regarding consulting a solicitor;
  • 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.

4.4 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 foster carers and their representative will be invited to participate as considered appropriate by the Chair.

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 (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 rescheduling of the meeting.

The Chair will notify the foster carers (if not in attendance), the child, the parents, other children in the placement or involved, other relevant agencies and the Responsible Authority 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 Panel members certain areas of the foster carer's practice in need of their close consideration.

A report 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 supporter 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 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, a copy of which should be given to the carer.

Consideration should be given to holding a resolution 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.

Please note the procedure to be followed at the conclusion of a S.47 investigation:

In accordance with the Berkshire Child Protection procedures (Section 5.41 - 5.46), following the conclusion of a S.47 (Children Act 1989) investigation, it is a requirement that the fostering team must undertake a review of the foster carer's approval within 28 days of the conclusion of the enquiry and present a report to the Fostering Panel. The Fostering Service will follow the same procedure for this review as they would for a carer's annual review and present their report, with the accompanying documents, to the Fostering Panel. Any recommendations from the Local Authority's Designated Officer should also be made known to the Panel by the Fostering Service. Following the recommendation of the Panel and the decision of the Agency Decision Maker, the Fostering Services report together with the Fostering Panel minutes and the record of the decision of the Agency Decision Maker should be sent to the Local Authority's Designated Officer to inform them of the outcome.


5. Complaints

SCST has a complaints procedure which should be followed by anyone responding to a complaint. This is available on the intranet and is attached also as Appendix 1: Children and Families Complaints Procedure. There is a leaflet which gives guidance to service users or carers on how to make a complaint, compliment or comment and a separate leaflet for children called "Let us know". These can be obtained from any administrative staff within Children's Services.


6. Standards of Care

A standards of care investigation may take place in the following circumstances:

  • Where the decision has been reached at a strategy meeting that an allegation is not upheld but serious concern remains regarding the carer's practice or standard of care;
  • A complaint has been received expressing serious concern about a carer's practice or the standard of care they provide;
  • Serious concerns have been expressed about a carer's practice or the standard of care they provide.

Where concerns are expressed regarding the care of a child but these are not of a serious nature (see "Decision regarding seriousness" below), they will be raised in the usual way by the supervising social worker with the carer and a decision made as to how this may be addressed (e.g. training, mentoring, etc.) This will be recorded on the carer's file and discussed at their annual review.

Decision regarding "seriousness"

Unless the decision has been made at a Strategy Meeting that a standard of care investigation should be undertaken, the relevant Hub Manager, in consultation with the Fostering Service will make the decision regarding the seriousness of a complaint or concern and therefore the action to be taken.

Person undertaking the investigation

Standards of care investigations should be undertaken by a qualified social worker with an appropriate level of knowledge of the fostering task but who is independent of the fostering service.


7. Role of the Fostering Panel

Under the Fostering Services Regulations, the Fostering Panel is required to recommend whether or not a person remains suitable to act as a foster parent and whether the terms of their approval remain appropriate on the carer's first review and on the occasion of any other review when asked to do so. The Panel is also required to give advice and make recommendations on any other matters or cases which may be referred to it.

Therefore any review following a S.47 investigation or any report on the standards of care provided to a child or young person by a foster carer should be presented to the Fostering Panel.


8. Notifying Carers

In respect of a S.47 investigation:

Berkshire LSCB procedures must be followed with regard to notifying carers. If a carer is to be questioned, the advice of the police and decision of the strategy meeting is likely to be that the carer should not be notified.

In respect of a standards of care investigation:

Carers should be informed in writing of the complaint or concern and that this will be investigated. They should also be informed that they will be offered the opportunity to read the report of the investigation, to respond in writing and to attend the Fostering Panel when the report is being presented if they wish to do so.

The report of the standards of care investigation should be presented to the Fostering Panel at the earliest opportunity. Following the presentation of this report, it is a requirement that carers are notified in writing of any decisions made by a fostering agency (e.g. Slough Children’s Services Trust) taking into account the recommendations of the Fostering Panel in respect of the continuation, termination or change in the terms of their approval.

Carers should be invited to make any representations in writing within 28 days of this notice either to the agency or to the Independent Review Mechanism. (They cannot do both.) If no representations are received within this period, the agency can proceed with its decision.

If the carer makes a representation to the agency, this should be referred to the Fostering Panel for further consideration. Once the agency has made a final decision, the carers should be informed in writing as soon as practicable.

If the carer makes representation to the Independent Review Mechanism, reference should be made to the guidance issued by Department of Education for the procedure to be followed.


9. Support to Carers

The Fostering Network has reported that around a third of all carers will face an allegation at some point in their fostering career, the vast majority of which turn out to be unfounded. However, an investigation will impact considerably on carers. It is therefore important that the appropriate support is offered to carers throughout any investigation and consideration given to any continuing support the carer or their family may need at its conclusion. Although the supervising social worker will have a key role in providing this support, s/he has a duty to protect the child and therefore cannot offer unconditional support to the carer. Consideration will need therefore to be given to the provision of independent support to the carers (NMS 17 & 22).

The local authority may identity another foster carer who has had a similar experience and it may be appropriate for them to be put in touch with the carer under investigation. The foster carer may also be a member of a local foster carers' group or association to whom they can go for support. The following is also a source of support and advice:

Fosterline

This is a national advice service funded by the Department for Education and run by the Fostering Network which provides confidential, independent and impartial advice to foster carers between 9 am - 5 pm, Monday to Friday (except Bank Holidays). They welcome enquiries by telephone, email or letter:

Freephone: 0800 040 7675

Email: fosterline@fostering.net

Address: P O Box 51566,
London
SE1 8WJ

The Fostering Network

Slough Children’s Services Trust Fostering Services pays for all its foster carers to be members of the Fostering Network. As such, they are eligible to access:

  • 24 Legal Advice Service-Ring 0844 5810404; Counselling can also be accessed from this same number;
  • Advice and mediation service. This provides independent support and advice to foster carers particularly during the investigation of allegations.


10. Financial Support

If the decision is made at a Strategy Meeting or by a Group Manager that the child/ren in placement should be removed immediately, the foster carer will cease to receive the maintenance element of their allowance from the date of the child/ren's removal. The foster carer will continue to receive the fee element of their allowance until the Agency Decision Maker has made a decision regarding the termination, continuation or change of their approval. The Short Break Scheme carers or relief carers will not receive a payment of any kind as there is no fee element to the allowance they receive.

If the decision is made subsequently that a carer's approval is to be terminated, the carer will be given a fortnight's notice that they will no longer receive any form of allowance from Slough Children’s Services Trust If the carer is to remain approved by Slough Children’s Services Trust, they will receive remuneration in accordance with the terms of the Trusts’ current Payments Scheme.

Should the carer's approval be terminated or changed and they make a representation against the decision of the local authority, they will continue to receive the fee element of their allowance until a final decision is made.

If one or more children are removed from the carer but another looked-after child or children remain in the placement, the carer will not receive any allowance in respect of the child/ren who have been removed (whether maintenance or fee element) but will continue to receive a full allowance for the child/ren who remain.


11. Other Support

In addition to financial support, the support to be offered should include the following but is not exclusive:

  • Ensure that the carer receives all the information to which they are entitled in accordance with the Berkshire procedures;
  • Ensure that the carer is given a copy of the booklet "Protecting Children - Supporting Foster Carers: Dealing with an Allegation", DCSF Publications 2009;
  • Ensure that the carer receives clear information about the amount and the duration of any payments they are eligible to receive.

Once this process is concluded and if the carer remains approved, it is important that they are offered the opportunity to discuss the process, including the impact on their family, and any future implications for the provision of care. This will take the form of a meeting chaired by the Assistant Team Manager of the Fostering Team. A record of the meeting will be sent to the carer and a copy retained on their file.

RECORD KEEPING

All information regarding any of the above investigations should be gathered together in one plastic folder and placed in the carer's file behind the information sheet at the beginning of the file. A front sheet (Appendix 2: Front Sheet, Allegation Against Foster Carer) should be put in place at the front of the plastic folder giving brief details of the investigation.

A copy must also be placed on the Fostering Service's complaints/allegations files for inspection by OFSTED.

OFSTED

In accordance with the Fostering Regulations 43 (1), OFSTED must be notified of any serious incident relating to a child placed with foster parents necessitating calling the police to the foster carer's home; any serious complaint about a foster carer; and the outcome of any child protection enquiry involving a child placed with foster parents.


Appendix 1: Children and Families Complaints Procedure

Click here to view Appendix 1: Children and Families Complaints Procedure


Appendix 2 : Front sheet, Allegation against foster carer

Name of carer:

Brief explanation of allegation:

Chronology of action taken (investigation, strategy meetings, etc.):

Outcome/Decisions made (NFA, standard of care investigation/presentation to Fostering Panel/etc.):

If this is followed by a standard of care investigation state briefly what the outcome of this was and the decision of the Fostering Panel and the decision of the Agency Decision Maker. Note any change of approval.

Date OFSTED notified of final outcome:

Date recorded on ICS:

End