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7.1.7 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 harm to a child. Harm is defined as the ill treatment or impairment of health and development. It should be read in conjunction with the West Midlands Safeguarding Children Procedures.


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 West Midlands Safeguarding Children Procedures.

Allegations or suspicions that a foster carer has caused 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 West Midlands Safeguarding Children 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.


3. Procedure

3.1 Initial Action

Any person who receives information or suspects that a child has suffered or is suffering 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 team manager must immediately:

  • Inform his or her team manager and Group Manager;
  • Inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) for the Local Authority where the carers reside;
  • Inform the supervising social worker;
  • Refer the matter to the Children's Access Team if in Worcestershire or the relevant Assessment team in another Local Authority.

The supervising social worker will:

  • Inform the designated Group Manager within the Fostering Service - see Section 2, 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 a Child in the foster placement.

Children’s Access Centre or the relevant Assessment Team must implement the West Midlands Safeguarding Children Procedures in relation to the allegation/suspicion. They will gather relevant background information and convene an independently chaired Strategy Meeting within 2 working days of the referral.

Other investigative routes may be identified in consultation with the LADO as more appropriate at this stage, for example, the complaints process, and should be considered as an alternative to a Management of Allegations process. 

At this stage, Ofsted must be informed of the allegation Consideration should always be given to whether immediate action may be necessary to safeguard the welfare of the child or other children within the home including any children of the foster carers. If there are safeguarding concerns about the foster carers own children the Safeguarding Process should be followed. 

3.2 Strategy Meeting

The Independently chaired 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 Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO); who will chair the meeting;
  2. The manager of the team convening the Strategy meeting;
  3. The child's social worker and his or her manager;
  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 2, Introduction);
  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. Relevant information relating to the foster family, including how long the family has been known, how many children have been placed there, the family's known strengths and weaknesses, any previous allegations and when they were last reviewed;
  3.  Relevant information about the child and other members of the household.

The meeting will make a recommendation on whether an investigation is needed and how and by whom the investigation is to be conducted.

The meeting will consider any other action that needs to be taken to safeguard children.

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 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.

3.3 Investigation and Action

In some circumstances the strategy meeting will decide that a Section 47 investigation is required and consideration needs to be given about what information can be shared with foster carers and by whom. If the strategy meeting decides that a Section 47 investigation is not required the fostering service in consultation with meeting will decide what action to take. This could include a post allegation review to the fostering provider's panel to consider the foster carers approval status. 

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 West Midlands Safeguarding Children 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.

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

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.

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 meeting will decide who will will notify the foster carers), the child, the parents, other children in the placement or involved, other relevant agencies and the Regulatory Authority of the recommendations made at the meeting. 

When a Section 47 investigation has been undertaken report should be presented to the next available Fostering Panel. The social worker preparing the report should consult with the Panel Advisor 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). 

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

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