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3.7.5 Allegations against Foster Carers, Prospective Adopters and Adopters

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure applies where allegations are made or suspicions are raised that approved foster carers or approved prospective adopters have caused harm to a child. It should be read in conjunction with the London Safeguarding Children Board's Child Protection Procedures. It also applies where allegations are made by or in relation to a child placed for adoption or a child already adopted and in receipt of adoption support services. It may relate to recent abuse or neglect or historical abuse.

It should be noted that there are separate general procedures for Management of Allegations Against Adults who Work with Children (Southwark Safeguarding Children Board Protocol) for professionals who are not foster carers, prospective adopters or adopters.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was revised in March 2016 to reflect the role of the Advanced Practitioner. It is acknowledged that where foster carers live outside the London Borough of Southwark, a decision may need to be made as to which local authority deals with the allegation, (and this decision needs to be made in a timely way), but where those carers are from Independent Fostering Agencies, these will be enquiries will be made by the authority in which the foster carers are resident. 


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Expectations of Foster Carers
  3. First Considerations on Receipt of an Allegation
  4. Initial Action
  5. Initial Evaluation
  6. The Strategy Meeting
  7. Final Strategy Meeting
  8. Learning Lessons
  9. Children who have been Adopted
  10. Further Sources of Information


1. Introduction

1.1 This information for foster carers and social workers describes the procedures to be followed when there are concerns about standards of care, complaints or Child Protection allegations against Southwark Council’s foster carers. It also explains the support available to foster carers who are the subject of complaints or allegations.
1.2 Any allegation made by a child must be taken seriously and investigated so children and young people are kept safe. However, foster carers do face a risk of being the subject of false allegations and this can be extremely traumatic for those involved and their families. Concerns may be expressed by a child, parent or other professional.
1.3 Working Together to Safeguard Children states that Local Authorities should designate a particular officer, or team of officers (either as part of multi-agency arrangements or otherwise), to be involved in the management and oversight of allegations against people that work with children.
1.4 In Southwark this person is the Practice Group Lead/LADO within the Quality Assurance Service, with the support of the Child Protection Chairs who provide a duty rota and will normally be the first point of contact. For purposes of this guidance this role will be referred to throughout as the Designated Officer.
1.5 The foster carer assessment process will have explored the foster carer’s ability to provide safe care to vulnerable children and young people and promote placement stability. The matching process and placement risk assessment should be completed before all placements are made, an individual ‘safe care plan’ put in place, and the placement agreement meeting established to outline day to day care arrangements as part of the care plan for the child/young person. The child’s placement plan must set out any specific behavioural issues that need to be addressed or approaches to be used.
1.6 Foster carers are expected to protect children from Significant Harm, including abuse, accidents, bullying or negative attitudes, and to operate within a safeguarding culture and ethos.
1.7 It is in everyone’s interest to resolve cases as quickly as possible, consistent with a fair and thorough investigation. Unnecessary delays should be avoided at each stage of the investigation.
1.8 All allegations made against a foster carer must be brought to the attention of the Designated Officer within one working day.
1.9 The impact of complaints and allegations on foster carers and their families should not be underestimated.
1.10 Southwark Children's Services will follow the London Child Protection Procedures. These are based on the statutory guidance contained in Working Together to Safeguard Children and are set out in the Management of Allegations Against Adults who Work with Children (Southwark Safeguarding Children Board Protocol). These procedures include specific requirements when considering allegations against foster carers or prospective adopters.
1.11

In addition, in relation to the Fostering and Adoption Service, it is an expectation of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 and the Adoption National Minimum Standards 2011 that:

  • The Advanced Practitioner (AP) or Fostering/Adoption Practice Group Leads will liaise with the Designated Officer in all cases to which this procedure applies, and will oversee and manage the allegations process in collaboration with the social worker, AP and PGL for the child(ren) in placement;

  • All staff within the Fostering and Adoption Services are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosures and Barring Service.
1.12 Historical allegations by children placed for adoption or already adopted and in receipt of adoption support services should be responded to in the same way as contemporary concerns. It will be important to ascertain if the person about whom the allegation is made is currently working with children and if that is the case, to consider whether the current employer should be informed.


2. Expectations of Foster Carers

2.1 Southwark foster carers are supported to provide a loving home and positive attachment experiences for children who become looked after, in order to build security, trust and self-esteem. Encouraging positive behaviour and helping children manage problematic behaviour is central to the quality of care provided in any foster home. Negative behaviour is managed through building positive relationships with children, understanding the meaning and context of the behaviour, responding with empathy, and working with the child to find ways of behaving which are less problematic for them. 
2.2 Foster Carers, and members of their household, do not use any form of corporal punishment or any measure of control, restraint or discipline which is excessive or unreasonable. Restraint is only used in exceptional circumstances, where the carer has received specialist training in relation to a specific child. It must be proportionate to the situation and the only appropriate means to prevent likely injury to the child or other people, or serious damage to property. It should be applied in a manner consistent with the actions of any good parent (The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Volume 4: Fostering Service.98). Identified risks which may require restraint to keep the child/others safe should be clearly identified and reporting mechanisms agreed as part of the placement plan, which should be regularly reviewed.
2.3

Southwark’s foster carers are also expected to promote a child’s emotional and psychological wellbeing and to avoid the use of demeaning verbal reprimands or personal criticism that undermines self-esteem.


3. First Considerations on a Receipt of an Allegation

3.1

The first consideration is: does the allegation meet the threshold for consideration under procedures for managing allegations against those that work with children. The threshold for this is if the foster carer or prospective adopter has allegedly:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed a child, or may have harmed a child;
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against or related to a child;
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates they may be unsuitable to work with children.

Note: This threshold may be met even if the threshold of Significant Harm is not met.

If the allegation meets one or more of the categories above then:
3.2

The second consideration is: in which local authority does the foster carer or prospective adopter live? 

If the foster carer lives in another authority then that authority must be contacted. It may be agreed that Southwark will nevertheless take responsibility for investigating the allegation, given that the foster carer and the looked after child are both the responsibility of Southwark. (Note: this decision must be taken promptly and in accordance with the Child Protection procedures). Whichever local authority conducts the investigation, it will apply its own safeguarding policy and procedures.

In the case of independent fostering agency carers, the matter will always be referred to, and led by, the local authority where the foster carer lives. Managers from the fostering agency and Southwark’s Access to Resources team (ART) service will be involved in the investigation.

For a prospective adopter the decision regarding which Local Authority investigates may depend on the location of the adoptive home. It may be more likely to be investigated by the Local Authority where the adoptive family lives, but will require the involvement of the Southwark Adoption Service if the child was previously a Looked After Child in Southwark.


4. Initial Action

4.1

If you are aware of an allegation against a foster carer living in Southwark, and you consider that it falls under the above threshold criteria (3.1), the child's social worker and the foster carer’s supervising social worker should initially discuss the matter with their Advanced Practitioners and/or the Practice Group Lead. The AP’s will consider all the available information about the allegation, and whether it meets the threshold for a S47enquiry. If agreed, the AP for the child will contact the Duty Designated officer in the Quality Assurance Unit within one working day and discuss the allegation further. The Duty –Designated Officer will make an evaluation of the allegation and decide what happens next.

If there is not a child in placement when an allegation is made or if the allegation is not made by a child, the AP or PGL in the Fostering Service will liaise with the Designated Officer.
4.2 If you are aware of an allegation against a foster carer or prospective adopter living outside Southwark, and you consider that it falls under the above threshold criteria (paragraph 3.1), then you or the child's social worker should initially make the Practice Group Lead in Fostering aware, who will discuss and advise whether to contact the Duty Designated Officer for the relevant local authority. In this situation you can also contact the Southwark Duty Designated Officer for advice and assistance with contact details.
4.3

If you are aware of an allegation against a foster carer or prospective adopter, regardless of where they are living and have sufficient concern that it fits the threshold criteria, you should discuss it with the Duty Designated Officer - LADO for further advice. You should also inform the designated manager (PGL) within the Fostering or Adoption Service - see paragraph 1.9 and subject to his or her advice:

  • Inform the social workers for any other child in the placement;
  • Inform any other local authority with an interest in the foster placement.
4.4

Children who are adopted and living in Southwark may become subject to Child Protection Procedures. It is essential that whilst all elements of the Pan London Child Protection Procedures are followed as for Children in Need, the "adoption context" of these children is not forgotten. They will have histories from before their placement for adoption and this may have direct relevance to the allegations, especially as post-adoption support services may be in place from either Southwark or the placing local authority.

The Southwark Adoption and Permanence Team should always be contacted in these cases. Files held can only be unsecured by an Adoption Team Manager or the Duty Manager. They may have crucial background information, if the child was placed by Southwark or the adopters were approved by Southwark. If neither is the case they can still offer assistance in terms of their specialist knowledge to both the investigating social workers and as possible supports to the adopters.


5. Initial Evaluation

5.1

There are up to three strands in the consideration of an allegation:

  • A police investigation of a possible criminal offence;
  • Social care enquiries and/or assessment about whether a child is in need of protection or services;
  • Consideration by Southwark Fostering or Adoption Services of whether the foster carer's suitability to foster should be reviewed in accordance with the Fostering/Adoption Services Regulations, or in the case of a child placed for adoption, whether the placement with adopters should still be supported in court if the adoption application has been made) or the child should be removed (if no application has been made) - this will need to take account of the fact that the prospective adopters already share Parental Responsibility from the time when the placement is made.
5.2 Having received the referral, the Duty Designated Officer will first consider whether further details are needed before proceeding to a Strategy Meeting and whether there is sufficient information that establishes the allegation is false or unfounded.
5.3 If the allegation is not demonstrably false and there is cause to suspect that a child is suffering or likely to suffer harm, the Designated Officer should convene a Strategy Meeting as soon as possible but no later than 5 days after the initial evaluation. They should agree who will be invited, see Section 6.5 below. In urgent cases it may be necessary to plan enquiries by way of a Strategy Discussion.
5.4 There may need to be consideration of whether any children need to be moved from the placement while enquiries continue. The managers for the children involved will make this decision in consultation with the Designated Officer and the Practice Group Lead for Fostering. Wherever possible the Independent Reviewing Officer for the child(ren) will be consulted. As an alternative to disrupting the placement where the allegation is not against the main carer, consideration can be given to the alleged perpetrator moving out.
5.5 If a child is placed for adoption, removal can only happen by the Police, under Police Powers of Protection (see Police Protection), through an Emergency Protection Order, or by notice of removal being given to the adopter prior to removal and agreed by the Head of the Adoption Service. Consideration of removal requires specific legal advice which must be taken whenever this situation arises.
5.6 If the allegation is made after the child has left the placement, the same consideration should be made in relation to convening a Strategy Meeting/Discussion. Where an adult who was once a Looked After child makes an allegation against a previous foster carer, this would be primarily a police investigation unless the person against whom the allegation has been made continues to be in a position of trust with children.
5.7 The social worker for the child who is making the allegation is responsible for convening the Strategy Meeting. The Supervising Social Worker will take responsibility for informing OFSTED of the allegation and informing them of the Strategy Meeting. This is done by emailing- enquiries@ofsted.gov.uk. The Designated Officer and Fostering or Adoption Practice Group Lead should be copied into this notice.
5.8 Where the allegation indicates that a criminal offence may have been committed, the police must be consulted. The Designated Officer will take responsibility for immediately informing the police and convening an initial evaluation which will include the police, Southwark fostering and/or adoption service and the social worker and AP for the child.
5.9 If the allegation does not meet the threshold of harm, the Designated Officer will still need to agree any further investigation with the fostering team and be informed of the outcome in writing.
5.10 If the allegation does not meet the threshold set out in Section 3, First Considerations on Receipt of an Allegation, the Duty Designated Officer will confirm in writing to the Fostering or Adoption AP, and child's social worker and AP, the outcome of the initial evaluation outlining the details of the allegation and evidence that shows it should not be considered further under these procedures.
5.11 The Duty Designated Officer will log all referrals and record the outcome even if no further action is taken.
5.12 If an assertion by a child /young person does not meet the criteria to be treated as an allegation but does raise concerns or is considered a complaint and needs further addressing, this will be investigated /addressed under the Standards of Foster Care Guidance.


6. The Strategy Meeting

6.1 Wherever possible, a Strategy Meeting should take the form of a meeting. However on occasions a telephone discussion may be justified.
6.2 All Strategy Meetings under these procedures for foster carers or prospective adopters living in Southwark will be chaired by a Child Protection Coordinator or Practice Group Lead from the Quality Assurance Unit fulfilling the role of the Designated Officer.
6.3 The Designated Officer will be independent of any previous involvement with casework or case management.
6.4 Foster carers, prospective adopters and young people will not be invited to Strategy Meeting s as they are considered confidential meetings under child protection procedures. The meetings will consider how and when carers and children are informed of any allegations in recognition of their rights to information as soon as possible, balanced against any duties to safeguard children.
6.5

Possible participants at a Strategy Meeting

  • The child's social worker and line manager;
  • The supervising fostering social worker and line manager or a representative who can represent the service (who will liaise as necessary with the designated senior manager within the Fostering and Adoption Service - see Section 1, Introduction);
  • The adoption social worker who supports the adopters or who made the placement if it is an inter-agency placement and the social worker from the other agency if they approved the adopters;
  • Detective sergeant from the Police Child Abuse Investigation Team;
  • Legal adviser where appropriate;
  • OFSTED;
  • Consultant Paediatrician if appropriate;
  • Complaints officer if the concern has arisen from a complaint;
  • Social worker for any other child in placement;
  • Carelink, or any other person involved with the child who can contribute e.g. teacher, CLA Education adviser, wider family if appropriate.
6.6

(Stage 1) The Strategy Meeting /Discussion should:

  • Consider the allegation in detail, evidence and context of allegation;
  • Consider the allegation in the context of any previous allegations or concerns relevant to the child and/or the foster carer;
  • Consider any relevant historical information about the child or carer that may help to understand the allegation;
  • Consider whether the foster carer or prospective adopter used reasonable force to control or restrain the child if relevant;
  • Decide whether there should be a Child Protection Enquiry and/or police investigation and consider the implications;
  • Consider the safety and welfare of any other children with whom the foster carer or prospective adopter has contact, e.g. other children of the household, relatives, or other children visiting the household;
  • Where it is decided that a child needs to be removed from a foster placement to guarantee safety, an investigation will subsequently be carried out as to the suitability of a foster carer to continue fostering;
  • Where it is considered that safety can only be guaranteed by the removal of a child placed for adoption and where no application has been made for the Adoption Order, removal can only be by the Placing Authority with agreement with the adopters, or if not in agreement by the use of Police Protection or an Emergency Protection Order as adopters have shared Parental Responsibility;
  • Where a child is in an adoptive placement, an application to adopt has been lodged and a child's safety can only be guaranteed by removal, then an application will need to be made to court for the child's removal.
6.7

(Stage 2) If further investigation is needed the Strategy Meeting /Discussion should:

  • Plan enquiries, allocate tasks and set timescales for completion of tasks. Consideration should be given for the need for thoroughness in investigation as well as being completed as quickly as possible. This should normally be completed within 28 days;
  • Ensure that any investigation is sufficiently independent of the carer and those involved with supporting them. The investigation cannot be undertaken by the current supervising social worker and practice manager for that foster carer or adopter;
  • Decide what initial information can be shared with the foster carer by whom and when. This would usually be the supervising fostering social worker or their line manager. The investigating social worker should provide the foster carer with a written account of their interview including the details of the complaint within 48 hours of the interview;
  • Decide what information should be shared with the child and parents of the child by whom and when. If the child is looked after under Section 20 then the parents must be informed of the allegation unless this would prejudice any enquiry or any child's safety. This would usually be done by the child's social worker or line manager;
  • Ensure that arrangements are made to protect the child and any other children who may be at risk including taking emergency action where needed;
  • Consider whether there is any need to suspend the status of the foster carer while the investigation proceeds;
  • Consider what support should be provided to all children who may be affected and who would provide it;
  • Consider what support should be provided to the foster carer or prospective adopter during the investigation and who will provide it. This might include paying a retainer of the fostering fee for a period of up to 16 weeks. Those who arrange the support must inform foster carers/prospective adopters on how they will be supported whilst the investigation is proceeding;

  • Consider what support should be given to others who are affected by the allegation and who would provide it;
  • Agree arrangements for reviewing investigations and monitoring progress by the Designated Officer, having regard to the target timescales;
  • Consider issues for the attention of senior management (e.g. media interest, resource implications);
  • Agree dates for future Strategy Meetings / Discussions. These should be planned to review progress of the investigation, the decisions made at the previous Strategy Meeting and update the questions;
  • Chair to send copies of any Strategy Meetings to OFSTED.


7. Final Strategy Meeting

7.1 A Strategy Meeting should be convened at the end of the investigation to come to a conclusion about the allegation. It should make as clear as possible what has been substantiated and what hasn't. It should also consider whether any of the allegations are unfounded.
7.2 The final Strategy Meeting needs to decide what the child will be told about the outcome of their allegation or complaint. Regardless of the outcome it is important young people understand that we take their welfare seriously and want to hear about any concerns they have.
7.3 The final Strategy Meeting Record, completed by the Designated Officer, should function as a report of the outcome of the investigation. This should be completed within 5 working days of the final meeting. A copy must then be forwarded by email to OFSTED - to enquiries@ofsted.gov.uk - by the Designated Officer and a letter needs to be sent to the foster carer informing them of the outcome of the investigation and any necessary action. This will be the responsibility of the Fostering Service, once the Designated Officer has recorded his/her conclusions.
7.4

The final Strategy Meeting may make other recommendations i) about action to be considered by the Fostering and Adoption Service with respect to safeguarding; ii) about an aspect of current practice which may impact on future safeguarding; or iii) making a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion on the Barred Lists.

The latter should only be made in consultation with the Fostering and/or Adoption Practice Group Lead. The Designated Officer will record all outcomes for reporting to the Department for Education.
7.5

Sometimes it is not possible to hold a Strategy Meeting with everyone in the same room in a short space of time and it may be more appropriate for the investigation to conclude by way of Strategy Discussions coordinated by the Designated Officer. If this route is taken the Designated Officer must complete a report of the investigation and discussions, reaching clear evidenced conclusions as far as possible, and forward this to the Fostering and/or Adoption Practice Group Lead within 5 working days.

All final strategy minutes and letters need to be placed on the child's electronic record by QA where the child's residence is in Southwark and by the social worker where the child is living outside Southwark. All information relating to a foster carer needs to be sent to the Supervising Social Worker for uploading.
7.6 Allegations of extreme abuse are rare against foster carers / prospective adopters. Allegations made and then retracted may indicate other problems for the child and /or in the placement as do all allegations made which are proven to be false. Consideration must be given to all the factors impacting on a child's life while in the placement. Such situations may require further exploration by social workers for both the child and the foster carer or prospective adopter but not under the aegis of safeguarding. If it is decided that the placement can continue then this will be subject to the usual reviewing cycle.
7.7 If it is established that an allegation has been deliberately invented, the police should be asked to consider what action may be appropriate.
7.8 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. Any allegation made against a prospective adopter or a member of the household, how it was dealt with and decisions made should be recorded on the prospective adopters' case record and retained for 100 years after the adoption order is made.
7.9 Reports on all child protection allegations and Strategy Meetings are submitted to the Fostering Panel/Adoption Panel as appropriate for their recommendation as to suitability for future fostering.


8. Learning Lessons

At each Strategy Meeting, and the conclusion of the investigation, the Designated Officer should consider, along with the designated PGL’s in the Fostering or Adoption Services, and key professionals involved in the investigation, whether the circumstances of the case identify any lessons learned about how such allegations are managed, in order to prevent a similar event in the future.


9. Children who have been Adopted

Children who are adopted and living in Southwark may be subject to child protection procedures.

Adopted children, for example, may make allegations of historical abuse, i.e. which relate to the period before their adoptive placement.

It is essential that whilst all elements of the London Child Protection Procedures are followed, the "adoption context" of these children is not forgotten. They will have histories from before their placement for adoption, which may have direct relevance to the allegations.

The Southwark Adoption and Permanence Team should always be contacted in these cases. They may have crucial background information, if the child was placed by Southwark or the adopters were approved by Southwark. If neither is the case they can still offer assistance in terms of their specialist knowledge to both the investigating social workers and as possible supports to the adopters.


10. Further Sources of Information

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