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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 Local Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures.

An allegation is where it is alleged that a foster carer or member of their household 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 she/he is unsuitable to work with children.

Norfolk has developed a separate procedure Concerns About A Foster Carer regarding situations which do not meet these criteria and should be addressed separately.


Contents

1. Preamble
2. Policy
3. Introduction
4. Procedure
  4.1 Initial Action
  4.2 Strategy Meeting
  4.3 Investigation and Action
  4.4 Concluding the Investigation


1. Preamble

This policy sets out Norfolk County Council's procedure where allegations are made against foster carers by children in care, and/ or an investigation surrounding injury sustained by a child in foster care is required, including child sexual abuse. This policy aims to provide social workers and other professionals with a framework within which fair and proportionate investigations can proceed. Every case is fact specific, and nothing in this policy deflects from the need to consider each case according to its own facts and circumstances.

The policy aims to inform foster carers what they can expect from any investigation. Foster carers are an essential part of the package of support that local authorities provide to children in care. In many circumstances removal of a child in care from a foster carer and/or investigating a complaint made against a foster carer will involve the engagement of a foster parent's rights enshrined by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to respect for family and private life). Those who foster children are entitled not only to be treated fairly but also to be seen to be treated fairly. This requires professionals to consider in each case and at every stage what role foster carers should play in the particular circumstances of any investigation.

All those involved with a looked after child or an investigation surrounding a child should not lose sight of the fact that the child's safety is paramount. Article 3(1) of The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) demands that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions concerning the child. Where rights of parents and those of a child are at stake, the child's rights must be paramount. If any balancing of interests is necessary, the interests of the child must prevail.

Foster carers have access to the local authority's complaints procedure, and are free at any stage in the investigation process to seek their own legal advice. Depending on circumstances, free legal advice may be available via Fostering Network membership.


2. 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 Local Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency 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,  honest and timely communication with and support to all those affected.

National guidance is that 80% of cases should be dealt within one month, 90% within 3 months and all but the most exceptional cases should be completed within 12 months.

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.


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 reporting 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:

  • The senior manager of 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.


4. Procedure

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. Please also see the Foster Care Whistle Blowing Policy.

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

  • Inform his or her team manager;
  • Inform the supervising social worker and fostering team manager;
  • Inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
  • The Team Manager (or their nominee) for the child in consultation with the LADO will consider any immediate action to protect and safeguard the child. This will involve consideration for immediate referral to Child Abuse Investigations Unit (CAIU/MASH) and or the relevant health professionals. This consideration should establish whether awaiting a strategy meeting may cause harm to the child or contaminate the investigation, in which case a strategy discussion will be needed, see 4.2 below.

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 LADO will implement the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures in relation to the allegation/suspicion. They will gather relevant background information and convene a Strategy Meeting as soon as possible but not later than 72 hours of the referral. The supervising social worker for the foster carer (or team manager) will complete CH(F)52 - Preparation for strategy meeting form and forward to the LADO before the strategy meeting is held.

As the person with the safeguarding responsibility the LADO may decide that other investigative routes may be identified as more appropriate at this stage, for example, the complaints process or the fostering regulations should be considered as an alternative to a Section 47 Enquiry.

In exceptional cases where immediate action may be necessary to safeguard the welfare of the child and where a strategy discussion has taken place, the child's social worker and his or her manager may decide to request that a new placement be identified. This decision must be agreed by the Assistant Director Social Work. The Local Authority has a duty to consult all interested parties when making significant decisions regarding a looked after child when relevant and reasonable practical to do so, this includes foster carers, parents, Independent Reviewing Officers and the views of the child. Any decision not to consult with a foster carer must be recorded by the child’s team manager and the fostering service. Please note with Section 47 enquiries in relation to fostering, the threshold is to have “reasonable cause to suspect”, a lower threshold than “reasonable cause to believe”.

4.2 Strategy Meeting

The Strategy Meeting* will take place as soon as possible and within 72 hours of the referral. The purpose of the meeting will be to decide if an investigation is necessary and, if so, how it should be carried out. The LADO will invite:

  1. The team manager or their nominee undertaking the Section 47 Enquiry;
  2. The Independent Reviewing Officer for the child;
  3. The child's social worker and his or her manager;
  4. The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
  5. The supervising social worker for the foster carer, and his or her manager;
  6. The police;
  7. The child’s school;
  8. Any other agency involved with the child or foster Family, where considered appropriate.

* In exceptional circumstances where there may be an immediate need to safeguard a child an urgent strategy discussion with the police and other agencies where possible will take place. This discussion will be led by the child’s team manager and must include the LADO, CAIU and the Fostering Agency.

The Strategy Meeting must consider:

  1. The LADO referral and seek confirmation of its accuracy regarding 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, and any other work or involvement with children (CH(F)52);
  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. Independent Fostering Provider, who will notify the Regulatory Authority of the outcome of the meeting, if a representative is not present;
  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; the needs of the foster carers’ own children must be considered and where necessary, advice and support offered;
  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.
  9. 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. Best practice is that these interviews should be undertaken by a senior social worker from the child's team and from the fostering service (this must not be the foster carer's supervisor). An interview record must be produced and made available to future meetings and/or the Fostering Panel);
  10. The time-scales for the investigation (see below) and any contingencies should timescales prove unlikely to be met;
  11. How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
  12. Whether the alleged perpetrator should be asked to leave the home while the investigation is conducted and confirmation that the fostering manager  will inform the carers of the allegation verbally and then in writing;
  13. How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
  14. What reports on the investigation can be shared with the foster carers and the child or children in the placement and when and by who;
  15. Once informed of the decision what support to offer the foster carers;
  16. Whether further placements should be suspended in the meantime;
  17. Arrangements for reconvening the Strategy Meeting.

Whether or not the Strategy Meeting considers that the allegation or suspicion has any foundation, actions from the Strategy Meeting must be followed up.

The minutes of the Strategy Meeting must contain clear action points and clear time-scales for each action. The action points and timescales will be circulated within 48 hours 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 foster carer's records and reference to the LADO investigation, on the child’s file.

Any decision to take no further action following the Strategy Meeting must be clearly recorded by the relevant teams on the child's and the foster carer's records.

4.3 Investigation and Action

National guidance is that 80% of cases should be dealt within one month, 90% within 3 months and all but the most exceptional cases should be completed within 12 months.

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.

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 unless this action has been considered by the strategy meeting to be a risk to a child or police investigation.

The supervising social worker (or a colleague from the fostering service) 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. The fostering social worker will detail and agree the support offered to the foster carers in writing to include the details of the Advice and Mediation Service. 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 paid whilst they are under investigation. Where a child has been removed after an allegation and an investigation is continuing the foster carer will receive their full fostering payment for 2 weeks from the date of removal of the child. This will be followed by the payment of their accreditation fee until the date of a final strategy meeting or for 6 months, whichever is the earlier.

The fostering social worker will confirm that the foster carers are aware of the following.

  1. The contents of this procedure and the relevant Local Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures;
  2. The address and contact telephone number of the fostering network advice and mediation service – 01379 608977 identified to provide the foster carers support, including information regarding consulting a solicitor and on insurance arrangements for legal expenses;
  3. The support they will receive from their supervising social worker, this must include the offer of weekly telephone calls and fortnightly support and supervision visits.

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 (this will not be the supervising social worker for the foster carer, but will be a fostering social worker and a social worker from the child’s team) and a copy will be provided to the foster carers and their representatives.

In the event that the foster carer makes a complaint about any part/person of this allegation process; the foster carer should be referred to the relevant NCC Compliments and Complaints Policy, which sets out that investigations under these procedures will take precedence over any complaints process.

Please note, decisions must be made in the best interests of the child and a police investigation does not mitigate this duty. Practitioners should challenge the police where delay or inaction is impacting on the child’s best interest.

4.4 Concluding the Investigation

The final Strategy Meeting will be convened to conclude the investigation and agree an adjudication. The same people must attend (or send a suitable representative) 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.

This meeting will be informed by a joint report by the Fostering Service and the child’s social worker’s team. In advance of the meeting, the report must be shared with the foster carer and their views recorded. Foster carer can make written submissions to the final strategy meeting.

Although this will always be envisaged as the final meeting, should there be a breach of procedure or new information come to light including from the foster carer, further actions may be required thereby necessitating the suspension and rescheduling of the meeting. Foster carers can make a case for an appeal, laying out the grounds for appeal, to the assistant director. Not being within indicative timescales or complaints, are not grounds for appeal.

The final Strategy Meeting will agree who will attend the outcomes meeting to notify the foster carers,  of the outcomes and recommendations made at the meeting. The meeting should agree the date and completion of an outcomes meeting. The outcomes meeting should be held within 5 working days of the final strategy meeting with the foster carer invited to attend. The meeting should be chaired by the Fostering Team Manager and attended by the supervising social worker, the child’s social worker, the foster carer, their recognised advocate and any other relevant attendees of the strategy meeting.

The meeting should provide written summary of the allegations, outcomes and results. It should include the carer’s views and where applicable their dissenting opinions. Consideration should be given to the needs of all children in the household. Where practical and reasonable, consideration should be given to any contact arrangements. The meeting should inform the next steps, including whether a foster panel review is required.

If the foster carer is unable to attend an outcomes meeting within 5 days of the final strategy meeting, the fostering team manager will write to the foster carer detailing the allegations, outcomes recommendations and next steps and offer another date to meet.

The supervising social worker should offer the foster carer the right to put any dissenting views or concerns they have on to their file. This discussion should also include their right to complain (at Stage 2) or request a review to foster panel. Foster carers should be notified that use of the complaints process will not delay reviews or any other process. When a review is recommended or requested by a foster carer it should be completed within 12 weeks.

Please note a decision not to prosecute does not mean in absolute terms a person has not committed the acts alleged against them.

Following the final strategy meeting, a decision will be made by the Designated Senior Manager of the fostering service regarding the need for a review of the full fostering career of the carer to be presented to the next available Fostering Panel.

If a review is agreed, 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, with the addition of a full chronological report for panel and an account of the allegations, the subsequent investigation and the recommendations of the final strategy meeting (CH(F)56). In all cases following an allegation that are taken to foster panel the ADM must be an assistant director.

In relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome, clear records and recording must be retained on the child's and the foster carer's files. The LADO strategy meeting minutes/notes will not be shared with foster carers.

If allegations are deemed unfounded or malicious and children were removed and foster carer payments were ceased, the Designated Senior Officer for the Fostering Service can agree up to a further 6 months accreditation payments to the foster carer above the normal 6 months.

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.

End