Guide: Devon Fostering policy on managing allegations against foster carers

3. Roles and responsibilities

3.1 The process of investigation of a complaint, concern or allegation against a foster carer or prospective adopter may well be complex. It is important therefore to be clear about the various roles and responsibilities of those involved.

3.1.1 Safeguarding Board

The role and membership of the Local Safeguarding Children Board is set down by the Children Act 2004. The board works to co-ordinate the effectiveness of member agencies in child protection.  In relation to allegations against carers and prospective adopters, the direct role will be minimal, but the procedural framework .in which the allegations are investigated will be set by the Board

3.1.2 Designated Officer

The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) is a role set out in the Working Together document. In Devon, it has been agreed that the Child Protection Officers perform the LADO function.

In the context of managing allegations against carers, the LADO function includes:

  • Assisting colleagues to determine whether an issue raised falls under the category of complaint, concern or allegation, and therefore which route should be taken for investigation/follow up
  • Offering consultation to colleagues through the process of risk assessment, particularly in relation to whether the child (and any others in the household) needs to move from the placement, or can be safeguarded within it whilst the issue is looked into.

3.1.3 Child Protection Officers

Child Protection Officers (CPO) will chair the strategy meeting called to deal with an allegation.  Advice can be sought from the CPO ahead of the strategy meeting to help determine the route by which an issue should be dealt, i.e. complaint procedure, concern procedure or allegation procedure.  The CPO will chair the meeting in accordance with the practice guidance at Section 5.1 of this guide – ‘Agenda Structure for Strategy Meetings’.

The CPO is responsible for agreeing the strategy meeting plan, and for arranging reconvened meetings as required to maintain the momentum of the investigation or to collate the conclusions of the investigation.

The CPO will (as chair of the strategy meeting) agree a risk management plan in relation to any children of the household, taking account of any protective factors which are, or could be introduced in to the household to minimise disruption to the children. (Note: the preliminary version of this assessment and plan may have already been put in place, depending on the nature and timing of the allegation.) See flowchart .

3.1.4 Carers

The foster carers or prospective adopters who are subject to allegation are likely to require additional support.  The forms that this support may take are described in Section 5.4 of this guide – ‘Support for Foster Carers and Prospective Adopters Facing Allegations’.

Carers facing allegation will be required to co-operate with the plans which emerge from the strategy meeting(s) and with any subsequent investigation.

If a decision is made to remove the child or children in placement as a result of the allegation, the carers will be expected to assist in making this transfer as comfortable as possible for the child or children. The emotional impact on the carer is recognised and full support will be given.

3.1.5 Fostering Service

In relation to foster carers facing allegations, the fostering service (usually the supervising social worker and fostering practice manager) will be responsible for:

  • Assisting in undertaking a risk assessment and (if required) risk management plan regarding the feasibility of the child(ren) remaining in the householdProviding a report for the strategy meeting including background information on the carers (caring history, any previous allegations and their outcomes, current placement information)
  • Arranging additional support for the foster carers (and their sons and daughters if relevant) throughout the process of the investigation
  • Facilitating the updating of the carers involved with information about the progress of the investigation in line with joint agency agreements made at the strategy meetings, or by the chair person and police
  • Ensuring that all carers are aware of sources of support and advice (e.g. legal assistance) when facing an allegation
  • Pursuing any actions agreed in relation to the fostering service by the strategy meeting in relation to any internal management of the issues
  • Participating in a Section 47 enquiry should this be required
  • The fostering supervising social worker will normally retain the role of link between the foster carer and the fostering service – where this is not possible, the fostering practice manager will arrange an alternative temporary worker to fulfil this role

3.1.6 Adoption Team

In relation to prospective adopters with children placed the adoption team will take responsibility for:

  • Assisting in undertaking a risk assessment and (if required) risk management plan regarding the feasibility of the child(ren) remaining in the household
  • Providing a report for the strategy meeting including background information on the prospective adopters (caring history, any previous allegations and their outcomes, information regarding the child(ren) placed)
  • Arranging additional support for the prospective adopters through the process of the investigation
  • Facilitating the updating of the prospective adopters involved with information about the progress of the investigation in line with joint agency agreements made at the strategy meetings, or by the chair person and police
  • Ensuring that all prospective adopters are aware of sources of support and advice (e.g. legal assistance) when facing an allegation
  • Pursuing the actions agreed by the strategy meeting in relation to any internal management of the issues
  • Participating in a Section 47 enquiry should this be required

Approved prospective adopters who have not yet a child placed for adoption with them do not fall under this guidance – any allegation would be dealt with either via the child protection route (if the adopters have other children) or via their employment (if appropriate) or police investigation if criminal activity is alleged. A report of the conclusions and outcome of any investigation must be provided to the Adoption Panel so that they may make a recommendation about whether the prospective adopter is still considered suitable to adopt.

3.1.7 Social Work Teams

The Child’s social worker for the child is responsible for:

  • Collating a report for the strategy meeting outlining the background of the child or young person
  • Contributing to a risk assessment to determine whether the child(ren) of the household are safe to remain, and any risk management plan made as a result
  • Lead a Section 47 enquiry should this be required
  • Pursuing the actions agreed by the strategy meeting in relation to any internal management of the issues
  • Providing the focal point for police and other agencies to share information about the progress of any enquiry and passing this information to the fostering supervising social worker
  • Informing parents of a child or children involved of the allegation and of progress of the investigation as determined by the strategy meeting (or chair of meeting in conjunction with the police)

The Child’s practice manager is responsible for:

  • Liaising with the fostering or adoption practice manager in collating information to enable an assessment risk to children of the household to be carried out
  • Ensuring that the child’s social worker is aware of his or her responsibilities under this guidance, and contributing to the monitoring the progress of the investigation

3.1.8 Police

The police are responsible for:

  • Collating the referral via the Central Referral Unit (Contact Number 0845 6051166), researching any background information and forwarding the referral to the relevant Police Child Abuse Investigation Unit for allocation
  • Providing a police manager to attend the strategy meeting to assess the level at which the issue should be dealt with – see National Guidance from Recommendation 93 of Laming Report
  • Allocating a named police officer to lead any resulting investigation on the next working day following the strategy meeting and sharing this information with the chair of the strategy meeting and the relevant child’s social worker
  • Sharing responsibility with the chair of the strategy meeting to agree what information can be shared with the foster carer or prospective adopter and at what stages of the investigation
  • Explaining the process and requirements of police interviews to any carer who is to be interviewed, including the fact that the interview is likely to be recorded as Criminal Records Bureau information (and will be disclosed at future dates as a result for enhanced disclosure requests)
  • Keeping the chair person of the strategy meeting informed if the investigation is unduly delayed

3.1.9 Emergency Duty Team

The emergency duty team are responsible for:

  • Responding to a report of an allegation against a carer by contacting a senior officer on call to agree whether immediate action is required or whether it is appropriate to refer the matter to the day staff.
  • In cases where it is decided that immediate action is required, to agree a risk management plan with the senior officer in relation to the safety of any children of the household, and to take into account any protective factors which are or which could be introduced to the household to minimise disruption to the children.

3.1.10 Fostering Panel

The fostering panel are responsible for:

  • Monitoring countywide statistical information regarding allegations as prepared by the fostering service manager and contributing to service development based on analysis of this data
  • Considering any post investigation report and making recommendations to the agency decision maker concerning any restrictions/alterations to the carers’ original approval range
  • Recommending reinstatement (or otherwise) –  to the agency decision maker –  of carers whose approval has been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of an investigation

3.1.11 Adoption Panel

The adoption panel are responsible for:

  • Reviewing the case of any prospective adopters about whom concerns are raised prior to any child being placed with them or who have had a child removed from their care, and if necessary making recommendations or offering advice regarding their suitability in general or for particular kinds of children
  • Receiving reports about any prospective adopters with a child placed who experience an allegation, and subsequently considering any learning points emerging from the situation
  • Taking into account any allegation, its investigation and outcome when considering any further application to adopt by a family about whom concerns have been raised.

3.1.12 Independent support workers for carers

Independent support workers for carers facing investigation following allegations are responsible for:

  • Offering a listening ear and signposting carers to sources of support (e.g. legal advice)
  • Acting as a source of information to carers about the process of investigations and the reasons why certain steps must be taken
  • Offering emotional support to carers if required
  • At the request of the chairperson of the strategy meeting(s), updating the carers with agreed information regarding the progress of the investigation
  • Alerting local authority or police colleagues to information provided by the carer which indicates a risk to any child (and informing the carer that such information will be passed on)
  • If required, continuing to offer support to the carers through the process of any reassessment or review of their approval

Prospective adopters requiring support following an allegation will be considered on a case by case basis and an individual support plan devised by the adoption team.

3.1.13 Peer Guides

Peer Guide foster carers are expected to:

  • Model good foster care practice, incorporating anti-discriminatory values and actions and acting in a professional manner consistent with the National Standards and Directorate procedures.
  • To meet all new carers in the local area; to attend local support groups and training and to actively encourage new carers to do likewise.
  • To offer support and general advice to other carers primarily by telephone.  At times particularly in complex and ongoing situations personal visits may be required.  These commitments should not normally take place after 9pm.
  • To offer signposting within one’s areas of expertise and to refer carers to other carers and Directorate staff in the first instance in seeking specific advice.
  • To encourage carers to work with Directorate staff to resolve difficulties with a view to restoring good working relationships.
  • To bring to the attention of the Fostering Service issues of concern about carers’ needs, standards of care, placement issues and service standards, usually via the Foster Care Strategy Group representative.  Also to feed back information regarding strong, positive practice with a view to disseminating this to other carers and staff.
  • To support carers against whom allegations or complaints have been made with particular awareness of one’s own feelings and the risks in not maintaining neutrality.
  • To maintain a log of the demands made for the purposes of informing the future development of this support.  All calls will be recorded, even where carers have simply called to ‘offload’ (no specific details required).  The log will be routinely copied to the Group Manager to contribute to the full service monitoring.