SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
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 West Yorkshire Consortium Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures.
- Practice Guidance
- Carer's Support
- Concluding the Investigation
The Children and Young People Service has the duty to conduct S.47 enquiries (Child Protection Investigations) when there are concerns about significant harm to a child, and this applies on the same basis to children in foster care as it does to children in their own families. Enquiries should consider the safety of any other children living in the household, or who are regular visitors to the household including foster carer's own children.
Allegations made against foster carers should always be considered with the same degree of concern as any other Child Protection referral.
Allegations will be considered through the Child Protection Referral Process and/or the process of Strategy Meetings and enquiries regarding their status and approval as foster carers.
Where a complaint is made regarding a foster carer that does not involve allegations of abuse or concerns about the quality of care, the matter will be dealt with under the Department's Complaints Procedures. In some instances it may be necessary to run Child Protection enquiries and complaints investigations concurrently and this will need to be agreed with a Safeguarding and Family Support Service Manager.
Where allegations of abuse are made against a foster carer, whether contemporary in nature, historical or both, the matter should be referred in the same way as any other concern about possible abuse.
The matter should always be discussed with the police at the first opportunity if a criminal offence may have been committed against a child.
Social workers are required to see children in foster care on their own and away from the foster carer for a proportion of each visit and evidence of this should be recorded on the child's case file and checked by the line manager as part of the supervision process.
Where foster carers are providing care for children who have been abused or, who may have abused others, they have a right to be given full information both in the interests of the child and of the foster family. The placing social worker, under the guidance of their team manager, must ensure this information is shared with the foster carers in the most appropriate way prior to the placement commencing or as soon as such information becomes known.
2. Practice Guidance
Investigations may well have three inter-related but independent strands.
- Child protection enquiries relating to the safety and welfare of any children who are and who may have been involved (including foster carers own children);
- Police investigation into a possible offence;
- Implications for the foster carer's registration status.
It is essential that the information relating to the alleged abuse be applied independently to each of the three strands of possible enquiries/investigation. The fact that a prosecution is not possible does not mean that action in relation to safeguarding children is not necessary or feasible. Each aspect has to be thoroughly assessed in its own right and a definite conclusion reached.
Foster carers should be treated fairly and honestly and they should be provided with support throughout the investigation process, as should the workers who are also involved; they should be informed of the allegations and the enquiries to take place as soon as possible. However, where the allegations are the subject of criminal proceedings, the police and other relevant agencies should always agree jointly when and how to inform the suspect of the allegations.
Foster carers should be helped to understand the concerns expressed and the process being operated and clearly informed of the outcome of any investigation and the implications for their fostering status.
The investigation should be completed as quickly as possible.
Parents of affected children and their current carers, where appropriate, should be given information about the concerns, advised on the processes to be followed, and the outcomes reached. This is the responsibility of each child's named social worker and should be done following discussion with their team manager.
The provision of information and advice must take place in a manner that does not impede the enquiry and investigation.
Investigations into allegations relating to foster carers should involve an independent person, which may be an independent manager within the authority. The decision to involve an independent manager will be made by a Service Manager.
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.
All foster carers will have received information about this procedure and the West Yorkshire Consortium Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures.
All foster carers will be familiar with and will adopt the procedures for recording on a daily basis the progress of children placed with them, including any incidents or complaints, and understand that one of the purposes of such records is 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.
3.1 Allegations against Foster Carers
The worker receiving the allegation will immediately inform the Manager of the Fostering Supervision Team as well as their own line manager and the line manager of the team with responsibility for the child, if different.
The Fostering Team manager will notify the Placements Service Manager, or another Service Manager if unavailable. The Fostering Team Manager will then discuss the situation with the LADO (or representative), a Strategy Meeting will be convened and any urgent action required to safeguard any child/children will be taken.
No further placements should be made from the time the allegations are received until the investigation is completed. The carers will be informed immediately of the position unless doing so would jeopardise the investigation. A decision not to inform the carers must be made by a Service Manager, LADO or the Police.
3.2 Strategy Meeting
The LADO (or representative) will chair the Strategy Meeting.
The Strategy Meeting will be held within five working days unless there is a clear reason to extend the time scales. Any decision to extend the time scales will be agreed by the Safeguarding Service Manager.
The following people will be invited:
- The manager of the team undertaking the Section 47 Enquiry;
- The child's social worker and his or her manager;
- The social worker for another other children in the placement;
- The supervising social worker linked to the foster carer, and his or her manager;
- The police;
- Any other agency involved with the child or foster family;
- A representative from the Regulatory Authority.
The Strategy Meeting must consider:
- The nature of the allegation, its source and reliability;
- 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;
- The involvement of other agencies, for example if the child was placed by another local authority;
- The need to inform other agencies who use the foster home;
- Who will notify the Regulatory Authority of the outcome of the meeting, if a representative is not present;
- A referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion on the Children's Barred List. This should be considered whenever a carer is suspended from their duties;
- 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;
- How the needs of any child who has to leave the placement will be met including contact with other children in the placement;
- 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. 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. Interview notes must be taken and made available to future meetings and/or the Fostering Panel);
- The time-scales for the investigation (see below) and any contingencies should timescales prove unlikely to be met;
- How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
- Whether the alleged perpetrator should be asked to leave the home while the investigation is conducted and confirmation that the Chair will inform the carers of the allegation verbally and then in writing;
- How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
- Once informed of the decision what support to offer the foster carers;
- How reports on the investigation will be shared with the foster carers and the child or children in the placement;
- Whether further placements should be suspended in the meantime;
- Arrangements for reconvening the Strategy Meeting.
Consideration will also be given to:
- Whether the child/ren/young person/s should be removed from the placement during the investigation and if so:
- The arrangements for his/her/their care;
- The protection of any other children;
- The manner in which the foster carers should be informed;
- The way in which and by whom the foster carers will be supported;
- Who else needs to be informed and by whom.
If the child/young person made the allegation to the social worker then the social worker will present the allegation for the Strategy Meeting to consider.
If the allegation was made to another party, the social worker for the child/young person will need to interview the child/young person. This must not take place prior to the Strategy Meeting.
The Strategy Meeting will agree the timescale for the interview. The social worker will then need to inform a re-convened Strategy Meeting of the allegations and recommendations pulled together at that point.
It is the responsibility of the Strategy Meeting to determine who will complete the interview and initial enquiries.
The Chair of the Strategy Meeting is responsible for keeping the Team Manager informed of progress and agreeing the planning and implementation of the investigation and the recommendations made. The Team Manager will be responsible for briefing the Service Manager, as appropriate.
The Team Manager is then responsible for considering the information and making decisions based on the information available about what the outcome will be. This will include referral for a foster care review. The Team Manager will receive copies of the minutes of all the meetings, foster care reviews etc. relating to the investigation.
The foster care review will be held within six (6) weeks of the Strategy Meeting when the initial investigation/assessment is completed.
If a Child Protection Conference is recommended, it is the responsibility of the Fieldwork Team Manager to arrange this.
The Strategy Meeting will recommend whether the carers should be referred to the Disclosure and Barring Service and will liaise with the Service Manager on this issue.
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.
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 immediately report being completed after the initial investigation, should take fifteen (15) working days. The Placements Service Manager will aim to decide what action will be taken within five (5) working days of receipt of the report.
All allegations and concerns about foster carers will be recorded on Care Director by the Fostering Team Social Worker as soon as the allegations/concerns are raised.
The Fostering Social Worker will also give this information to the Administration Manager who will enter it on the database.
This information will be given to the Service Manager every quarter for a report to be compiled for the Placements Management Group.
This information will also form part of the foster carer's statutory review.
It is anticipated the process from referral to the report being completed after the initial investigation, should take fifteen (15) working days. The Placements Service Manager will aim to decide what action will be taken within five (5) working days of receipt of the report.
6. Carer's Support
Once the foster carers are informed that an allegation has been made they will be provided with any necessary information relating to the process of allegations and what support they will receive. The contact details for any initial independent support will be provided and the local authority will fund a maximum of 10 hours face to face support at the appropriate point after an allegation is made against a foster carer or member of the household. This support can be extended at the discretion of the Placements Service Manager.
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 carers are aware of the following:
- The contents of this procedure and the West Yorkshire Consortium Safeguarding and Child Protection Procedures;
- The address and contact telephone number of the independent agency identified to provide the foster carers support;
- Information regarding consulting a solicitor;
- Information on insurance arrangements for legal expenses.
7. Concluding the Investigation
In some cases a Strategy Meeting will need to be reconvened to conclude the investigation. The same people will be invited and the same person will chair the meeting.
The purpose of a 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.
All allegations made against carers will necessitate an early fostering review taking place and the matter being referred back to fostering panel to consider the continued suitability to foster. The foster carer will be invited to attend the fostering panel. 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.