ALLEGATIONS AGAINST FOSTER CARERS
Allegations against foster carers
Being a foster carer for Sunbeam Fostering can be a truly rewarding career, but it is not without its challenges.
Because of the nature of fostering, the welfare and safeguarding of children is a priority. Many children in the looked-after system have experienced abuse and neglect; because of their damaging life experiences they may display behaviours that can sometimes put foster carers at risk of facing allegations at some time during their fostering career.
If an allegation is made, an investigation must be commenced (in line with the local authorities and Sunbeam’s Child Protection Policies) to ensure the safety of the child in question. Although this is a necessary process, it can put the foster carer under considerable emotional strain.
While many allegations may prove unfounded, or are not upheld, the impact of the investigation may leave carers feeling unable to continue to foster. Continuation of the foster parent’s career can depend on the level of support and help they receive from their fostering service throughout this process, so Sunbeam does all they can to support their foster carers through this challenging time.
Reasons for allegations against foster carers
Foster care is by definition an activity that takes place in the home.
It means devoting a great deal of time and attention to young people who may display a range of challenging behaviours or have extremely complex needs. In this close and often delicate environment, allegations against carers can be made at any time and for any number of reasons.
The reasons for such allegations can vary. Sometimes, birth parents make allegations as they believe this may cause the child to be returned home. On other occasions, the child in foster care may make an allegation because they also believe that this will enable them to go home.
Other times, it is because they are unhappy with their placement and want to move, or it could be for another reason entirely. The motives behind allegations are often complex and it is only in a minority of cases that they are found to be true.
Sadly, children do not always realise the consequences for them and for their foster family when they make false allegations. They may do this on the spur of the moment because they are angry about something that has been said or done.
Types of Allegations
National Minimum Standards (NMS) seek to ensure that carers are provided with independent support throughout the process of the investigation and in dealing with the aftermath. Fostering Services: National Minimum Standards (2011)
NMS 22.12 states:
“During an investigation, the fostering service makes support, which is independent of the fostering service, available to the person subject to the allegation and, where this is a foster carer, to their household, in order to provide:
A. Information and advice about the process
B. Emotional support, and
C. If needed, mediation between the foster carer and the fostering service and/or advocacy (including attendance at meetings and panel hearings)”
Support for Foster Carers facing allegations
Due to the nature of the allegation process, your supervising social worker may not be able to give you the support you feel you will need during the investigation, which may leave you feeling isolated and frustrated. It is very difficult for a supporting social worker to fulfil a supporting role during these situations. They will, however, endeavour to continue to communicate effectively with you and will signpost you to additional Independent Support.
Sunbeam has commissioned the Fostering Network to provide Independent Support to all their foster carers as we believe that providing the best possible support during these difficult times can make the process clearer and more manageable for everyone involved. They provide help, information and support to foster carers who find themselves in this situation, enabling them to feel more in control and to identify their options for further action.
If you have had an allegation made against you and would like to speak to one of the Fostering Networks Independent Fostering Advisors, please call the Fostering Network’s Advice & Mediation Service on Tel: 020 7620 6400, they will put you in touch with your local Advice & Mediation worker.
How can I protect myself from allegations?
The simple answer is that it is impossible to fully protect yourself against this eventuality.
You should, however, work towards avoiding investigations by taking all the necessary steps that will allow you to minimise risk against allegations. Sunbeam will help you to implement useful strategies which will ensure that you keep yourself, the foster child and your family as safe as possible. These will include encouraging effective communication in written and verbal form between the foster carer, your fostering supervising social worker, the child’s social worker and relevant others identified in the Placement Plan.
In situations where there are physical signs of abuse such as bruises or other marks, it is important to consider how these might have been caused. Many children in foster care ‘self-harm’ and scratches or cuts on the wrists and forearms may be a sign of self-abuse.
Bruises can be caused by falls or knocks, sports injuries and fights with other children. Any cuts, scratches or bruises that are noticed on foster children should always be noted by the carer, then entered into daily records and reported to the child’s social worker.
Will the child be removed from my care? :-
Good practice guidance suggests that foster children should not be removed from your care unless there is evidence that the child or other members of the family are at risk of significant harm. In some circumstances, it may be suggested that the person who is the subject of the allegation leave the house until further investigations can take place and alternative arrangements can be made. This would be the most likely course of action if it was suggested that the child and others within the household are at risk.
Will my own children be removed? :-
When carrying out an investigation into allegations of abuse against a foster child, the local authority has a legal duty to consider the welfare of any other children in the household – including your own children. This includes birth children, adopted children or children on Special Guardianship Orders or Residence Orders.
If your children are deemed to be at risk of ‘significant harm’*, they would be subject to the same safeguarding procedures as any other child in the community. In these circumstances, you are advised to seek confidential independent legal advice (the Fostering Networks legal advice line tel 0844 581 0404).
What happens during an investigation? :-
Whenever there are concerns of a child protection nature, Sunbeam has a duty to inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) for the area in which the carer lives and/or the police. The LADO will convene a strategy meeting of all the relevant professionals and they will discuss the allegation and decide the next step to take. This may involve an “interview under caution” carried out by the police and a joint interview of the child or children by the police and local authority.
Being interviewed by the police can be a distressing and frightening experience for anyone, especially as until this point, they are usually unaware of the nature of the allegation held against them.
Sunbeam & the Fostering Network strongly advise foster carers to have legal representation (tel: Fostering Networks’ 24-hour legal advice line on 0844 581 0404) at their interview under caution, in order to protect their interests. This is not an admission of guilt, but a sensible precaution which will ensure that you are able to answer any questions put to you clearly, calmly and with support. Once the investigation has been concluded, further strategy meetings or professionals meetings will be held until an outcome has been agreed. You will then be informed of the outcome and advised on the recommendations of the investigation, together with any actions that require implementing.
You and Your Family? :-
Allegations of abuse affect the whole family and cause anxiety, distress and often anger. In addition to the support you receive from Sunbeam, the Fostering Network, and your family and friends, you can access confidential support and advice from Fosterline (a foster carers advice line) Freephone 0800 040 7675. The Fostering Network also provide a confidential ‘24-hour stress counselling helpline’ tel. 020 7261 1884
Glossary of Terms
Strategy Meeting :-
A meeting between child protection staff and other relevant bodies such as the police, school, healthcare staff and any professional involved in the initial referral.
Children’s Social Care must hold a Strategy Meeting whenever there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer Significant Harm.
This may be following a Referral and Child in Need Assessment or at any time during an assessment or where a child is receiving support services if concerns about Significant Harm to the child emerge.
The purpose of the Strategy Meeting is to decide whether a Section 47 Enquiry under the Children Act 1989 is required and if so, to develop a plan of action.
More than one Strategy Meeting may be necessary.
Professionals Only Meetings :-
There are occasions when professionals need to come together to discuss a case of concern which does not meet the threshold or is outside the scope of Child Protection/Child in Need Policy and Procedures. Aimed at professionals to share information whilst participating in professional meetings of concern.
A professional’s only meeting differs from a multi-agency meeting as it does not involve the family members.
Significant Harm :-
Where the question of whether harm suffered by a child is significant turns on the child’s health and development, his health or development shall be compared with that which could reasonably be expected of a similar child.
harm’ means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development (including, for example, impairment suffered from seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another),
‘development’ meant physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development;
‘health’ means physical or mental health; and
‘ill-treatment’ includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment which are not physical.
What was the reason the child came into care?
Have they been physically or sexually abused in the past?
Do they self-harm? If so, how long for? Is this related to a previous allegation?
Do they have a history of making allegations about foster parents or their families?
Do they have attachment disorder or any behavioural issues which are likely to impact on the placement?
Ensure all relevant information is recorded in the placement plan, including information which answers further questions such as:
Where will the contact take place?
Is there any on-going action in the courts?
Does the parent or extended family or friends feel animosity towards you?
Is everyone happy with the contact arrangement?Is everyone happy with the contact arrangement?
Following the completion of the placement plan, ensure that there are methods and procedures set in place to deal with any issues that might arise.
Safer Caring Plan
Every foster home will have a safer caring policy in place whereby the foster carer will be required to: