Guide: Devon Fostering policy on managing allegations against foster carers

5. Practice Guidance

5.0 When the concern/ allegation/ complaint against foster carers or prospective adopters is observed or reported to a fostering social worker, that worker should make an immediate report to the fostering practice manager (or covering fostering practice manager in their line manager’s absence).  The practice manager should immediately liaise with the practice manager for the child(ren).

It is the responsibility of the child(ren)’s practice manager to contact the LADO to discuss the information and determine whether the matter is to be dealt with under, concern, allegation or complaints process.

5.0.1 Where the concern/allegation/complaint against a foster carer or prospective adopter is observed or reported to a child’s social worker (or that social workers team) that worker (or duty officer) should make an immediate report to their practice manager (or covering practice manager in their line managers absence)

The child’s practice manager will liaise firstly with the fostering practice manager to discuss the issues and gather relevant information re the carers including any history of similar concerns and secondly with the LADO to determine under which process the matter will be dealt with.

5.0.2 If the allegation/concern/complaint is notified to the Emergency Duty Team the worker and or manager should consult with the senior officer on call to agree whether immediate action is required, or whether it is appropriate to refer the issue to the day staff.  The senior officer on call will consult with the relevant practice manager(s) (fostering/adoption/care management) as appropriate in order to inform their decision.

5.03 If the issue is defined as an allegation, the following procedures should be followed. If the issue is defined as a concern, this will be taken forward by the Operations Manager for Fostering and the Practice Manager Fostering and similarly for Adoption. If the matter is defined as a complaint, the Devon County Council complaints procedure should be followed.  If the complainant is a child in care, a referral should be made to ‘Reconstruct ‘(who provide advocacy services) for an advocate to work with the child or young person in pursuing his or her complaint.

5.1 Agenda structure for Strategy Meetings

Note – The strategy process in the Child Protection procedures includes all adults working with children / young people including foster carers. Whilst the procedures will therefore be the same, ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children‘ Appendix 5 indicates additional steps which may be necessary due to the unique environments in which foster carers operate.

The strategy meeting should take place within 72 hours of the receipt of the allegation.

5.1.1 Proposed Agenda

  • Reason for meeting
  • Clarification of the status of the carers and all the children involved and which agencies or Local Authority’s have responsibility for them and whether all relevant agencies have been alerted.
  • Background information on carers; any previous allegations / outcomes etc
  • Background information on child / young person
  • Consideration of other children in the carers’ home; other looked after children / foster carer’s or prospective adopters own children (if appropriate).  Will depend on nature of allegation etc
  • Consideration of carer’s environment if they work with children.  Again this will depend on the nature of the allegation I’m not sure what this means
  • Decide most appropriate way forward; Section 47 investigation / to be dealt with internally by the fostering team / care management team
  • Agree what the parent(s) of the child / young person should be told, by whom, by when
  • Agree whether or not the child (or any other children in the home) should be removed pending the outcome of the investigation (carried out by fostering and care management staff. Please refer to section 4.2 ‘Risk assessments’ on this page)

5.1.2 In preparation for the strategy meeting the Fostering supervising social worker or Adoption social worker should provide a written report regarding known information on the carers.  The social worker for the child(ren) should provide written information on the background of the child(ren), including any special needs, history of entry into the care system, placement history, any previous allegations and the outcomes of same.

5.1.3 If the outcome of the strategy meeting is a Section 47 investigation, the chair of the strategy meeting will:

  • Agree who should be seen, by whom, by when
  • Agree what information will be shared with the foster carers or prospective adopters  following the meeting and who should take on this role
  • Agree a date to reconvene the Strategy Meeting

5.1.4 If the outcome of the strategy meeting is not to pursue a Section 47 investigation, the chair of the strategy meeting will:

  • Agree who will raise the issues to be discussed with the foster carer(s)/prospective adopters
  • Consider whether or not it is necessary to reconvene the Strategy meeting – if not, then the chairperson will agree who will advise the Chair of the meeting, in writing, the outcome of any work undertaken with the carers/prospective adopters
  • Agree timescales for reporting back and for the Outcomes Meeting (to which the carer(s)/prospective adopters are invited)

5.2 Reconvened strategy meeting

  • As a general principle, any planned reconvened strategy meeting should go ahead, even if all the action points of the original plan have not been completed
  • The meeting should provide an update of how the investigation is progressing
  • The meeting should again agree what information should be shared with the foster carer(s)/prospective adopters in terms of an update, and who will communicate this to the carer(s)

If there are difficulties in progressing the investigation, the source of these should be clearly identified and any remedial action planned (including if necessary, reporting delay to senior management within Children and Young People’s services and Police.  Where an investigation takes longer than 8 weeks to complete, the carers’ situation should be referred by the child’s social worker and fostering social worker to the Director of Early Years and Families, for a decision on continuing to pay the carer an allowance.

5.3 Final strategy meeting

  • This is the forum to share the outcome of the investigation
  • The meeting should agree what final feedback should be given to the foster carer(s)/prospective adopter(s) at the Outcomes Meeting
  • Agree what feedback should be given to the child / young person who made the allegation – and who will take responsibility for action planning for the child
  • Agree what feedback should be given to the parent(s) of the child / young person

5.3.1 Following an investigation there are four probable outcomes:

  • Further police action to be taken; file to Crown Prosecution Service etc
  • A clearly unsubstantiated allegation
  • A substantiated allegation which does not warrant further police action but clearly identifies some practice issues for the carer(s)
  • No further police action on the basis that there is lack of evidence; e.g. One person’s word against another

The first two of these outcomes are definite, and the feedback to the foster carers will be able to reflect a clear decision.

In the case of an unsubstantiated allegation which does not warrant police action, but nevertheless identifies some practice issues for the carer, the final strategy meeting could:

  • Identify the learning points for the carer(s) concerned
  • Agree who will undertake this work; timescales and who will advise the Chair, in writing the outcome of the work.

The chair of the meeting will also agree with strategy group members the wording to record the episode both on the carer(s) file and, if necessary, in conjunction with the investigating police officer agree the record which will be forwarded to the Criminal Records Bureau.

The final point probable outcome, where the situation is deemed to be one person’s word against another, is unfortunately a frequent outcome of an investigation and the issue then remains unresolved as a  ‘grey area’.  In these situations the multi-agency group should make a comment regarding their views as to ‘the balance of probability’ in respect of the allegation.  This will assist the process of providing as full and clear feedback to the foster carer(s) as possible.

5.3.2 Outcomes Meeting

Following each allegation investigation, an outcomes meeting will be convened (within 15 days of the final strategy meeting). This meeting will include the foster carers or prospective adopters who were subject to the allegation and will advise all participants of the outcome of the investigation and any action arising from it.  Carers/prospective adopters will be made aware that a report of the investigation and its findings will be prepared for the respective fostering or adoption panel, which they will be able to read in advance of the panel.

5.3.3 Foster or Adoption Panel report and function

The supervising fostering social worker or adoption social worker will prepare a report for the appropriate panel (fostering/adoption).  The purpose of the report is to inform the panel of the investigation and its outcomes and make recommendations regarding future placements and or registration or approval.  The report should follow a similar structure to the agenda for the strategy meeting, namely:

  • Background information on foster carers/prospective adopter; any previous allegations / outcomes etc (including the original Form F or Prospective Adopters Report)
  • Background information on child / young person
  • Report of consideration made in relation to other children in the foster carer/ prospective adopters home; other looked after children / foster carer /prospective adopters’ own children (if appropriate).  Will depend on nature of allegation etc
  • Report of consideration of foster carer / prospective adopter’s employment environment (if they work with children) – again this will depend on the nature of the allegation
  • Record of decisions regarding the  most appropriate way forward; e.g. Section 47
  • Record of agreement made concerning what the parent(s) of the child / young person were told, by whom, by when
  • Record of agreement as to whether or not the child (or any other children in the home) should be removed pending the outcome of the investigation
  • Record of any additional action taken during or following the investigation
  • Recommendations regarding future placements/registration for prospective adopter/foster carer
  • Any other relevant information to assist the panel.

The fostering or adoption panel will then make a recommendation to the agency decision maker who has the final say regarding the future registration and placement details of the foster carer or whether the prospective adopter is still considered suitable to adopt.

In the case of prospective adopters, if the child remains in the carers’ household, the adoption panel should be asked to make a fresh recommendation on whether the child should be adopted by these carers.  The Panel may offer other relevant advice to the local authority.

If the child is no longer living with the prospective adopters their approval must be reviewed by the Adoption social worker and practice manager.  If they consider that the prospective adopters may not be suitable to adopt, and have not withdrawn their application, then the case must be referred to the Adoption Panel for consideration of whether they remain suitable prospective adopters.

Any appeal made subsequently to a panel decision will follow the regular appeals processes laid out for the respective fostering and adoption panels, including the possibility of an application to the Independent Review Mechanism.

5.4 Support for foster carers and prospective adopters facing allegations

National Minimum Standard 22.9 requires fostering agencies to provide independent support to carers during an allegation.

5.4.1 Devon foster carers can access support and information through a number of routes, which workers should actively promote and signpost, namely:

  • Fostering Supervising Social Worker
  • Independent Support Worker
  • Foster Care Handbook
  • Fosterline 0800 040 7675 Confidential advice line commissioned by the DfES and operated by the  Fostering Network, Mondays to Fridays 9am – 5pm (except Bank Holidays), text phone 0800 0407675 and email fosterline@fostering.net
  • Fostering Network Advice and Mediation Service 0800 040 7675 – for situations where more in-depth counselling, support and mediation are required
  • Legal Advice Line – 0870 264 6943  Carers can quote reference STS 14488 for general legal advice 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (See below for insurance policy in relation to legal fees.)
  • Peer guide foster carers
  • See the information sheet for carers.

5.4.2 Independent Support Workers are employed on a sessional basis by the local authority to offer impartial support and guidance to carers facing allegation investigations.  The independent support workers are not part of the fostering service.  See section 3.1.10 of this guide for information regarding roles and responsibilities.

To access an independent support worker, contact the Operations Manager, Fostering.  There is no prescribed limit to the level of support available to carers, but it is anticipated that in an investigation completed within eight weeks, carers may need up to four visits (or accompaniment to meetings/panel) plus telephone calls.  Each individual situation will be reviewed by the Fostering Practice Manager and an agreement reached with the Operations Manager Fostering regarding extending support beyond this.

5.4.3 Support for prospective adopters can be accessed through the adoption team and may include securing independent support through another adoption agency or adoption support agency, Adoption UK etc.

5.5 Insurance for carers who require legal advice

The local authority purchases an insurance policy to facilitate legal advice for carers who are facing an allegation. Information on how to access the expert specialist solicitors available through this policy can be found on the Information sheet for carers

If carers wish to appoint their own solicitor, they can access a list of accredited members of The Law Society’s Children Panel through the Yellow Pages.  In most cases, the fees will be covered by the authority’s insurance policy, subject to a policy excess.

5.6 Payments to carers facing an allegation who have children removed as a result

Where carers are subject to an allegation and a child or children placed with them are removed as a result, the carer will continue to receive the boarding out payments (minus any progression payment) for a period of up to eight weeks.  Should an investigation still be ongoing after the eight week period, the situation will be referred to the Director of Early Years and Families for agreement to continue the payment.

This is intended to ensure that carers do not suffer undue financial hardship as a result of an allegation having been made against them.