SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies where it has been alleged that a foster carer approved by LBC has:
- Behaved in a way that has harmed a child;
- Committed a criminal offence in relation to a child;
- Or behaved towards a child in a way that indicates they may pose a risk to children.
They should be read in conjunction with the LSCB, Allegations against adults working with children and young people - including the role of the local authority designated officer (LADO).
In cases where the information received is not deemed to meet the criteria above, but may indicate issues relating to standards of care in the foster home, this will be managed by the Fostering Service under their own procedures
This chapter was extensively updated in September 2017 and should be read throughout.
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 principles, policies and procedures as set out by the Bedfordshire and Luton LSCB Safeguarding Procedures. Where a foster carer has an on going history of Standards of Care Concerns (as defined by the Fostering Services regs 2011,standard 22) although individually these would not normally meet the LSCB Safeguarding threshold, by virtue of the number of concerns noted over time the case will be referred to the LSCB. This will also be the procedure where several standards of care concerns have been noted in 1 occurring instance.
Allegations or suspicions that a foster carer has caused harm to a child will be investigated thoroughly, sensitively and in a timely manner under those procedures and will involve open and honest communication with and support to all those affected.
When and how often those involved (child/ren and foster carer/s) will be updated about the progress of the case should be agreed as part of the Section 47 or Joint Evaluation Meeting. As a minimum this should be every two weeks, unless agreed otherwise. Clear timescales will be integral to the procedure and those involved must avoid delay unless there is good reason. There will be clarity regarding access to reports and documents relating to the investigation.
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. In some circumstances further placements may be suspended until the investigation is concluded.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 have contact, including their own children.
The expectation is that:
- At the time of a child's placement, foster carers will be provided with detailed information as to the child's background and that is available to the Fostering Service at the time of the placement request;
- 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;
- All foster carers will be sign posted to this procedure (online) in the Foster Carers Handbook;
- 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. For this reason it is essential that the foster carer keeps records up-to-date and includes detailed information in their monthly report.
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 for allegations who liaises with the LADO in all cases to which this procedure applies. The Designated Person is the Fostering Team Manager and in their absence the Deputy Team Manager;
- All staff within the Fostering Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosure and Barring Service.
3.1 Initial Action
Any person who receives information/suspects a child has suffered harm ( or may be at risk of harm )in a foster placement must immediately inform the child's social worker.
Action by child’s social worker:
On receipt of any such information, the child's social worker must immediately:
- Inform his or her team manager;
- Inform the supervising social worker linked to the foster carer and his or her manager;
- Refer the matter to the LADO where the foster carer resides;
- Inform the Designated Person for allegations within the Fostering Service.
Action by Supervising Social Worker:
- Inform the social workers for any other child in the placement;
- Inform any other local authority with an interest in the foster placement;
- Provide information to the foster carer, as agreed with the Designated Person for Allegations.
Action by the Fostering Service Designated Person for allegations:
- Contact the LADO in the area the foster carer resides, within one working day or immediately in more urgent cases;
- Inform the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) that an allegation/concern has been raised. Note: the IRO is not involved in the investigation process and is therefore being informed for information only at this stage.
The social work team for the area where the foster carer resides will be responsible for deciding if the allegation requires investigation under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989. If so, they should convene a Strategy meeting within 2 working days. The LADO and Designated Person for Allegations should be invited to this meeting.
At this stage the manager of the social work team where the foster carer resides should notify OFSTED
Arrangements for handing over to the LSCB allegations management procedures in cases being investigated under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989.In cases where Children’s Social Care are conducting a Section 47 investigation this process is regarded as the primary vehicle for managing the concern. Although the child’s social work team will arrange and chair strategy meetings, the LADO will attend and/or contribute as required. The LSCB allegations management procedures will be activated during this period. However JEM’s would not normally be convened until after the Section 47 has been concluded. The child’s social work team should make a record, or agree as an action in a strategy meeting, the point at which the case is formally handed over to be managed under the LSCB allegations management procedures.
3.2 Joint Evaluation Meeting (JEM)
In cases which do not meet the requirement for a strategy meeting under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 consideration will be given to the need for a Joint Evaluation meeting (JEM) in line with the LSCB procedures for managing allegations against adults working with children and young people. It is not necessary for the ‘significant harm’ threshold to be met for a JEM to be held. A JEM is chaired by the LADO.
The adult subject to the allegation/ concern will not be invited to this meeting.
The following people will be invited as appropriate:
- The child's Social Worker and his or her manager;
- 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);
- The Police – Child Abuse and Vulnerable Adults (CAAVA) team;
- Other professionals or agencies involved will be invited on a case by case basis.
The Joint Evaluation Meeting (JEM) will consider:
- The presenting information including its source and any evidence that an allegation is demonstrably false;
- Relevant background information relating to the foster carer/s including 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;
- The involvement of other agencies, for example if the child was placed by another local authority;
- The need to inform other agencies who use the foster home;
- The safety of all children in the household including the foster carer's own children, including whether any action is necessary to protect the children including the removal of all or any of the children while the investigation is conducted;
- How the needs of any child who has to leave the placement will be met including contact with other children in the placement;
- How and by whom the investigation is to be conducted;
- The time-scales for the investigation;
- How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
- How, when and by whom the foster carers should be informed of the allegation and whether the alleged perpetrator should be asked to leave the home while the investigation is conducted;
- How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
- What support to offer the carers;
- How the contents of the reports on the investigation and assessments will be shared with the foster carers;
- How and when the matter should be reported to the Fostering Panel and whether further placements should be suspended in the meantime.
Whether or not the Strategy Meeting/ JEM considers that the allegation/suspicion has any foundation, the matter should be investigated, unless there are exceptional circumstances which justify not conducting an investigation.
The minutes of the meeting must contain clear action points and clear time-scales for each action. The date of the next meeting will be agreed at this point. Copies of the action points and the minutes should be held on the child's file and the foster carer's file.Any decision for further action following the conclusion of the strategy meeting/JEM can only be made by the fostering service designated person for allegations.
3.3 Investigation and Action
In anticipation of the outcome of the investigation being reported to the Fostering Panel, the supervising social worker should contact the Panel Advisor to ensure that the matter is on the agenda to be discussed at the next available meeting.
The actions agreed at the Strategy Meeting/JEM should be implemented by those responsible within the agreed timescales. In accordance with the LSCB procedures for managing allegations and concerns regarding staff, carer/s, volunteers working with children and young people 2016 the following target timescales should be adhered to:
- 80% of cases should be resolved within one month
- 90% within three months
- All but the most exceptional cases should be concluded within 12 months
In circumstances where a JEM is required we would aim to hold this meeting within 3 days of the initial notification.
If the person raising suspicions or making the allegation wishes to remain anonymous, these wishes will be respected where possible.
Unless there are circumstances when the details or nature of the allegation cannot be shared immediately, the foster carer/s should be advised of the allegation as agreed at the Strategy Meeting /JEM and of the process to be followed in the investigation. They will also be given the opportunity to respond to the allegation. In some circumstances it may be necessary to inform the foster carers about the possibility that an Initial Child Protection Conference may be convened in relation to their own children.
In line with the National Minimum standards the Fostering Service will provide a statement of the allegation to the foster carer/s as soon as practicable after the above communication.
Where considered appropriate by those at the Strategy Meeting /JEM, 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 they are made aware of the allegation and explain their role to them. They must make clear that whilst they are there to provide support to the carer, they have a 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 must provide to the foster carers with:
- A copy of this procedure and the relevant part of the Local Safeguarding Children Board Procedures;
- The address and contact telephone number of the Fostering Network Mediation Service (see the Fostering Network website) who will also give guidance on legal matters.
If an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened in respect of a looked after child, or former looked after child placed with the carer, 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.
If an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened in respect of the foster carers’ own children, then the foster carers will be invited to the Child Protection Conference, subject to the discretion afforded to the CP Chair in respect of parental participation as set out in the Local Safeguarding Children Procedures.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.
3.4 Concluding the Investigation
In line with Inter-agency procedures a strategy meeting will be reconvened within 15 days of the first meeting. The same people will be invited and the same person will chair the meeting. In cases where the concern is managed via a Joint Evaluation Meeting, a conclusion discussion/meeting will be held in all but exceptional cases.
The purpose of the reconvened Strategy Meeting/JEM is to agree on the outcome of the investigation and responsibilities for any further action including reporting on the matter to the Fostering Panel. In line with the LSCB allegations management procedures a conclusion term (substantiated, unsubstantiated, unfounded, false or malicious) will be agreed by all parties on the balance of probability. This term will be recorded in the report to Fostering Panel.
Consideration should be given as to whether it would be appropriate to make a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion of the foster carers on the Children and/or Adults Barred List. This is the responsibility of the Fostering Service.
The response of the foster carers to the social worker's report should be reported to the meeting.
The Fostering Service will notify the foster carers and OFSTED. The child’s social worker will notify the child, the parents notified as agreed. A report should be presented to the next available Fostering Panel.
The procedure to be adopted for the Fostering Panel will be the same as for the Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure. The decision to progress through this procedure will be made by the Fostering Services Designated person for allegations.
All relevant documents in relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome, must be retained on the child's file and the foster carer’s file, uploaded onto the electronic database.