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7.16 Allegations and Complaints Against Foster Carers

AMENDMENT

In September 2015, Section 18, Independent Fostering Agency Carers was added.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Background Information
  3. Complaints or Allegations against Kent County Council's Foster Carers
  4. What is a complaint against a Foster Carer?
  5. Standards of Care
  6. Allegations of Safeguarding Conduct which fall below the threshold for S47 Child Protection Investigation
  7. Allegations requiring investigation under the Child Protection (S47) threshold
  8. Child Protection Allegations - What Happens?
  9. The Initial Strategy Discussion Meeting - Who Attends and What is Discussed?
  10. Outcome Strategy Discussion
  11. Child Protection Conference
  12. Role of the Fostering Panel
  13. Action on the Conclusion of a Case
  14. Support for Foster Carers who have had Allegations or Serious Complaints made against them
  15. Role of the Supervising Social Worker
  16. Payment of Fostering Fees
  17. Moving On
  18. Independent Fostering Agency Carers
  19. Further Sources of Information


1. Introduction

This information for foster carers and social workers describes the procedures to be followed when concerns about standards of care result in complaints or Child Protection allegations against Kent County Council’s foster carers (See Section 18, Independent Fostering Agency Carers which refers to action to be taken where allegations are made against IFA carers). It also explains the support available to foster carers who are the subject of complaints or allegations.

Although the procedures are separated into allegations involving a child protection/safeguarding issue and complaints that fall below the allegation threshold it is important to realise that an investigation may change from one to the other, according to information obtained as enquiries progress.

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. 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. Stability Core Groups should be used to support placements requiring additional support and any increasing risks identified.

Foster carers should protect children from significant harm, including abuse, accidents, bullying or negative attitudes and operate within a safeguarding culture and ethos.

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.

All allegations made against a foster carer must be brought to the attention of the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) within one working day.

The impact of complaints and allegations on foster carers and their families should not be underestimated.


2. Background Information

Kent County Council’s foster carers are expected to provide a high standard of care for the children they look after. Being able to promote positive behaviour and manage children's behaviour well is central to the quality of care provided in any foster home. Negative behaviour should usually be managed through building positive relationships with children, diffusing difficult situations and avoiding situations escalating.

Foster Carers, and members of their household, are not allowed to use any form of corporal punishment or any measure of control, restraint or discipline which is excessive or unreasonable. Restraint should only be used in exceptional circumstances where it is the only appropriate means to prevent likely injury to the child or other people, or likely serious damage to property, and 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 and regularly reviewed. Team Teach training is available for foster carers. 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.

Kent County Council has a statutory duty to refer concerns that a person has caused harm, or poses a future risk of harm to children to the Disclosure and Barring Service.

Before a referral is made to the DBS, Kent's internal procedures will be followed. The 'Kent and Medway Safeguarding Children Procedures' referred to as 'KMSC Procedures' describes the internal and external processes and thresholds for action in cases where allegations are made against Kent County Council's foster carers (Section 3, Complaints or Child Protection Allegations against Kent County Council's Foster Carers).

These procedures and guidance apply whenever it is alleged that a person who works with children has, in any connection with her/his employment or voluntary 'activity with a child':

  • Behaved in a way that has 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 which indicates that they may pose a risk of harm to children.

Support available to Kent County Council Foster Carers is summarised in Section 14, support for Foster Carers who have had Allegations or Serious Complaints made against them.


3. Complaints or Allegations against Kent County Council's Foster Carers

Any person or worker who is aware of, or receives information, which indicates that a child has suffered, or is at risk of suffering significant harm in a foster placement, must immediately refer their concerns to the Central Duty Team on 03000 411111 (Out of Hours 03000 419191) (this includes allegations of historical abuse where it becomes evident that a disclosure by an adult relates to a foster carer), or if the child's social worker is known to the allocated social worker.

The duty officer/child's social worker/supervisory social worker receiving the referral will inform their line manager The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) who has responsibility for management of allegations against the children's workforce will then be consulted. The LADO will determine (in discussion with the contacting line manager for the child and the foster carer) whether the allegation/complaint is:

  • A referral of Child Protection concern, which requires an Initial Strategy Discussion under S47 of the Children Act (1989) (see below); or
  • A safeguarding allegation which has not crossed the child protection threshold but nonetheless requires investigation by the Fostering Service;
  • A complaint against the carer(s) regarding standards of care, which will be dealt with by the fostering service.

In all cases, deciding whether to deal with an allegation or incident as a Child Protection or safeguarding allegation or as a complaint requires the following considerations:

  1. The nature and severity of any actual harm to the child;
  2. The context in which the alleged harm occurred;
  3. Whether the alleged behaviour of the foster carer was (i) intentional and (ii) has, or is likely to, result in Significant Harm to the child in question or any other child in the household;
  4. Whether the concern relates to direct conduct towards a child or is a more general practice issue.

The suitability and conduct of a foster carer may also be brought into question by their conduct or offending behaviour in their personal life in or outside of the home, including if their own children come to the attention of the statutory agencies due to abuse or neglect.

If there is disagreement about the status of the concern

When there are disagreements about whether or not the concern is one of child protection, this will be resolved through discussion between line managers, the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO), and Head of Practice Improvement or officer.


4. What is a Complaint against a Foster Carer?

A complaint against foster carers might, for example regarding standards of care, may come from a number of sources including the child/young person, parents or family members, professionals and other members of the community.

A complaint may involve a view about the carers approach to the care of a child or the way in which they respond to a child's behaviour, their management of contact arrangements, or day to day issues regarding general fostering practice.

Complaints might be investigated under "Standards of Care" and/or in accordance with the Complaints procedures.


5. Standards of Care

The Fostering Service may have concerns about a foster carer, which may not warrant investigation under the child protection procedures but raise significant concerns about standards of care being provided. Although such concerns would not necessarily cross the threshold for S47 investigation, they may nonetheless constitute an allegation of a safeguarding concern against the carer. Standards of Care might include:

  • An incident of minor physical chastisement resulting in no injury;
  • Inappropriate verbal chastisement;
  • Issues regarding pocket money, general dietary issues, etc;
  • Incidents indicating inadequate supervision such as inadvertently allowing a child access to alcohol, prescribed medication, or unsuitable viewing of "adult" sexual material;
  • Incidents indicating a lack of due care such as inadvertently wrongly administering prescribed medication.

Standards of Care issues should consider previous history of concerns and whether these are significant to an overall picture of risk.

The Fostering Team Manager must be informed of any Standards of Care issues. In a situation where it is unclear whether the matter constitutes a formal allegation against a foster carer (as opposed to a standards of care issue) the Fostering Team Manager should consult the LADO who will discuss and advise on allegation-management threshold and where appropriate for management by the fostering team, an investigation will proceed. Where necessary, an Evaluation Meeting may be called to consider information-sharing, process and focus of investigation.

The plan for enquiry will depend on the nature and seriousness of the concern. Careful consideration should be given on a case by case basis as to whether the investigation should be:

  1. Conducted by the fostering social worker within the parameters of usual foster carer supervision;
  2. Be dealt with by an experienced social worker from the fostering service who is independent of the foster carer; or
  3. Be dealt with by the Fostering Team Manager.

Depending on the nature of the concern, the Fostering Team Manager in consultation with the Service Manager, will decide whether the report needs to be presented to the Fostering Panel which will trigger a review of the foster carer's approval so that they may make a recommendation about their continued suitability.

If the decision is that the report should be presented to the Fostering Panel, this should be at the next available Panel. The report and recommendations should include:

  • The carer's suitability and competence to foster;
  • Matters relevant to the placement of all children currently in the foster carer's household;
  • The placement of other children in the future and any variations in approval;
  • Implications for the registration of the foster carers;
  • Identified training needs and additional support requirements.

It will be the responsibility of the fostering team manager to ensure that appropriate support/advocacy is made available to the foster carers which is independent of any complaint/allegation investigation.

Section 12, Role of the Fostering Panel, explains what happens when a complaint is serious and may result in de-registration.

If a complaint regarding standards of care has been made and concluded, the outcome of the investigation should be shared with the foster carer and recorded on the foster carer's file including:

  • Details of nature and source of allegation/concern;
  • Any other relevant information;
  • Decision reached and reasons for this parties to the decision;
  • If not already aware, how the persons with parental responsibility for the child(ren) are to be informed.

A plan of how standards of care are to be maintained should be put in place, when these will be reviewed and who by.


6. Allegations of Safeguarding conduct which fall below the threshold for S47 Child Protection Investigation

Not all allegations will cross the threshold for child protection investigation under S47 (Children Act 1989). Many will fall below this threshold and will be judged to be allegations of safeguarding conduct which can be investigated internally by the fostering service and the child's social work team.

The Fostering Team Manager/Children and Families Team Manager should consult with the LADO and agree the plan of investigation. Where necessary, an Evaluation Meeting may be called to consider information-sharing, the process and focus of the investigation. The plan for enquiry will depend on the nature and seriousness of the allegation. Careful consideration should be given on a case by case basis as to whether the investigation should be:

  1. Conducted by the fostering social worker allocated to supervise the foster carers;
  2. Be dealt with by an experienced social worker from the fostering service who is independent of the foster carer; or
  3. Be dealt with by a senior social worker/ Fostering Team Manager.

The investigation must work in conjunction with the child's social worker to interview the child. Consideration should be given to the context of the allegation, the placement history, and information on the foster carers. In some circumstances it will be appropriate for the investigation to be delegated to an alternative officer within the service.

Depending on the nature of the concern, the Fostering Team Manager in consultation with the Service Manager will decide whether the report needs to be presented to the Fostering Panel which will trigger a review of the foster carer's approval so that they may make a recommendation about their continued suitability.

Any allegation which is deemed to be substantiated at outcome or where there are remaining considerations of risk or suitability must be taken to panel.

If the decision is that the report should be presented to the Fostering Panel, this should be at the next available Panel. The report and recommendations should include:

  • The carers suitability and competence to foster;
  • Matters relevant to the placement of all children currently in the foster carer's household;
  • The placement of other children in the future and any variations in approval;
  • Implications for the registration of the foster carers;
  • Identified training needs and additional support requirements.

Section 12, Role of the Fostering Panel, explains what happens when a complaint is serious and may result in de-registration.

If an investigation has been made and concluded, the outcome of the investigation should be shared with the foster carer and recorded on the foster carer's file including:

  • Details of nature and source of allegation/concern;
  • Any other relevant information;
  • Decision reached and reasons for this parties to the decision;
  • If not already aware, how the persons with parental responsibility for the child(ren) are to be informed.

A plan to address any recommendations from the investigation should be put in place, when these will be reviewed, and who by.


7. Allegations requiring investigation under the Child Protection (S47) threshold

A referral of Child Protection concern will involve allegations which go BEYOND what would be considered to be a safeguarding allegation/ complaint regarding the care or management of a child in placement, will have crossed the threshold for possible s47 investigation and may constitute a criminal offence in relation to the carer's conduct. See Section 47 Enquiry.

Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 sets out key definitions of what constitutes abuse or neglect. These are also examples of relevant conduct (harm) for children which may be considered in making a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS):

Physical Abuse is a form of significant harm which may involve hitting, shaking, throwing, poisoning, burning or scalding, drowning, suffocating or otherwise causing physical harm to a child. Physical harm may also be caused when a parent or carer fabricates the symptoms of, or deliberately induces, illness in a child.

Emotional abuse is a form of significant harm which involves the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child's emotional development.

It may involve conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person. It may include not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or 'making fun' of what they say or how they communicate.

It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include interactions that are beyond a child's developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction.

It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another. It may involve serious bullying (including cyber bullying), causing children frequently to feel frightened or in danger, or the exploitation or corruption of children.

Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of maltreatment of a child, though it may occur alone.

Sexual abuse is a form of significant harm which involves forcing or enticing a child or young person to take part in sexual activities, not necessarily involving a high level of violence, whether or not the child is aware of what is happening.

The activities may involve physical contact, including assault by penetration (for example, rape or oral sex) or non-penetrative acts such as masturbation, kissing, rubbing and touching outside of clothing. They may also include non-contact activities, such as involving children in looking at, or in the production of, sexual images, watching sexual activities, encouraging children to behave in sexually inappropriate ways, or grooming a child in preparation for abuse (including via the internet).

Sexual abuse is not solely perpetrated by adult males. Women can also commit acts of sexual abuse, as can other children.

Neglect is a form of significant harm which involves the persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs, likely to result in the serious impairment of the child's health or development. Neglect may occur during pregnancy as a result of maternal substance abuse. Once a child is born, neglect may involve a parent or carer failing to:

  • Provide adequate food, clothing and shelter (including exclusion from home or abandonment);
  • Protect a child from physical and emotional harm or danger;
  • Ensure adequate supervision (including the use of inadequate care-givers); or
  • Ensure access to appropriate medical care or treatment.

It may also include neglect of, or unresponsiveness to, a child's basic emotional needs.


8. Child Protection Allegations - What Happens?

If the matter is to be considered under the Child Protection process, Specialist Children’s Services must discuss the case with the police at the first opportunity and inform them if a criminal offence may have been committed against a child. This includes allegations of historical abuse where an adult makes a disclosure relating to a foster carer. 

The team manager of the child’s allocated social worker should make an immediate assessment of the level of risk to the child(ren) in placement (and any need to move them prior to the strategy discussion) in consultation with the LADO, investigating social worker, supervising fostering social worker, and child(ren)’s social worker(s) and managers.

The close inter-relationship between local authority registered carers and Specialist Children’s Services and the need to ensure the investigating social worker’s independence should be taken into consideration in the allocation and management of any enquiries/investigation.

It is important to ensure that roles and relationships are sufficiently objective to ensure and be seen to ensure a thorough and fair process, e.g. the person undertaking the enquiries must not be the child’s social worker, or be managed by the person with line responsibility for the child(ren).

Accusations of child abuse are a serious matter, and foster carers who are the subject of such allegations are advised to seek immediate legal advice. The Kent Fostering Service has commissioned FosterTalk, an independent support service for carers. Membership entitle foster carers to:

  • Emotional support, guidance and advice from the FosterTalk Counselling Helpline;
  • Arrest and interview assistance, (where carers are to be interviewed by the police, they are strongly advised to have a solicitor present);
  • Insurance against legal costs due to involvement in a prosecution, civil action etc.

Foster Carers should also access the KSCB procedures and Working Together 2015.

Procedures to be followed in the event of allegations against Foster Carers

There are three separate but related aspects to the procedures. These are:

  • The Child Protection investigation, including consideration of whether a referral should be made to the DBS;
  • Any criminal investigation which may take place;
  • The consideration of the foster carer’s registration with Kent County Council by the Fostering Panel and any other relevant registration or work undertaken. This will take place whenever there is an allegation or a serious concern regardless of the outcome of the investigation.

Careful consideration needs to be given to the stability of children currently in placement. Any decision to remove children should be based on considered judgement of the individual child's needs balanced against presenting risks. Children should not be automatically removed. However, no new foster children will be placed with a family until each of these three processes of the investigation have been completed.

It is recognised that an investigation into allegations of abuse against a foster carer are traumatic and have serious implications for the health and livelihood of a foster family and therefore a conclusion should be reached at the earliest opportunity. It is essential that the Service Manager responsible for the investigation monitors the case and addresses any delay. The Service Manager should liaise with their equivalent (i.e. in the area child originates from or host district). Carers are to be kept informed of the process of the enquiry by their Fostering Social Worker and they should be given an estimated timescale.

Ofsted must also be notified of the instigation and outcome of any child protection enquiries and any serious complaint about an approved foster carer. Consideration and discussion with the LADO should take place in the case of any other allegation/area where unclear (i.e. re notification).


9. The Initial Strategy Discussion Meeting - Who Attends and What is Discussed?

Where allegations of deliberate harm are made or there are concerns that a Kent County Council foster carer may pose a risk to children, a children and families manager from where the children is allocated, should ensure that an Initial Strategy Discussion takes place within 24 hours (this may be by telephone). If emergency action is required immediately, the Strategy Discussion should be convened as soon as possible. The purpose of the Strategy Discussion is to consider the concern or allegation and plan any subsequent enquiries and/or protective action. The Initial Strategy Discussion should involve the following:

  • The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) or nominee;
  • The manager for the allocated social worker team will chair (unless there is a complex situation/conflict of interests, when the Service Manager should chair);
  • The supervising social worker for the foster carer and fostering Team Manager;
  • The child’s social worker and the team leader;
  • The social worker of any other child placed in the household;
  • A representative from the Police Combined Safeguarding team in the area where the foster carer is normally resident or the central referral unit.

And, as appropriate:

  • Area Performance Officer, in complex cases;
  • The local consultant community paediatrician (where a medical examination may be considered);
  • Any other involved professional, (such as a school representative, community paediatrician etc.) who has relevant information to contribute;
  • OfSTED Representation;
  • The Independent Reviewing Officer.

In some circumstances it maybe prudent for the allocated social worker's team manager to liaise with a duty manager in the area where the foster carer lives and seek their assistance in undertaking the investigation. The chair should decide whether to seek legal consultation, including any need to refer to the council’s insurers.

In addition to planning enquiries in accordance with strategy discussion procedures the meeting should consider the following:

  • The allegation and its context;
  • The background, including any other previous allegations made against the carer(s) or their family;
  • The background of the alleged victim, including any previous allegations;
  • Any proposed new placements with the carer will not be made pending the outcome of the enquiry;
  • Removal of child(ren) should not be an automatic course of action - the decision making should be in the context of the best interests of the child(ren) and the information available, balanced against presenting risks. Any decision to remove a child should be agreed by the Service Manager. Consideration should be given and plans made for how "goodbyes" and contact arrangements are to be managed in the event of removal;
  • Other children currently living in the carer’s household, including the foster carers own child, and those previously placed with the carers (including the need for strategy discussions with regard to any of these children) and what information to be given;
  • Any other children the carer may have contact with in other roles e.g. as a child minder or youth worker;
  • The recognition of the carers status, as co-workers and individuals who have a right to be heard;
  • Who will inform the parents/carers of the allegation and provide information and the timing of such actions;
  • The support and information to be provided to the child(ren) in the placement, including the carer’s children e.g. use of advocates;  the role of the supervising social worker and the fostering team and alternative sources of support.  All parties need to understand that the focus for the supervising social worker is the child and that (s)he will be unable to provide unconditional support to the carer (see Section 14 for further information on support to carers, and Section 15 regarding the role of the supervising social worker);
  • Whether to initiate Organised and Complex abuse procedures. See Kent and Medway Safeguarding Children Procedures;
  • The continuation of payments to carers;
  • Consideration of what support should be provided for the foster carers during this process.

The meeting may decide:

  • That there is insufficient information available on which to proceed and that further enquiries need to be made in order to determine what further action is required; who will undertake the enquiries and when they should be completed;
  • That the allegation/concern is not substantiated and no further action will be taken in relation to the referral;
  • No further child protection action will be undertaken; however the concerns remain a safeguarding allegation and will be investigated in line with Section 6 above as an allegation which falls within internal fostering investigation process;
  • That a Child Protection Investigation should be undertaken. This will be managed in accordance with the Kent and Medway Safeguarding Children Procedures. A police officer and a social worker will investigate the allegation and report back to the Strategy Discussion meeting. The investigating social worker, together with a fostering supervising social worker or senior practitioner, will carry out an assessment of the foster family, paying attention to the risks to, and needs of the family, including children who have significant contact with the carers.

During the course of the investigation carers have the right to:

  • Details concerning the nature of the allegations (timing will be dependent upon the police and Specialist Children's Services investigation);
  • Contact details for the relevant managers;
  • A copy of the procedures being followed;
  • A written statement about existing placements;
  • A written statement about financial arrangements;
  • Make a written statement to the fostering team (this may be disclosable in a criminal trial);
  • Diary records should be made available to the investigation;
  • An indication of the timescale for the investigation;
  • Details of independent support and how this may be accessed;
  • Details in writing of all decisions made and actions taken;
  • The strategy meeting must identify those responsible for these actions and the relevant timescales. If evidence has been gathered at this point that relevant conduct has taken place then the LADO will advise referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service and consideration will be given as to who is best placed to make this.


10. Outcome Strategy Discussion

A strategy discussion must be held at the conclusion of an enquiry to:

  • Ensure all information is shared;
  • Confirm all actions agreed in previous strategy discussion(s) have been completed;
  • Agree the conclusion of the enquiry i.e. alleged abuse has taken place (papers may or may not be forwarded to the CPS); that the investigation is not being further pursued under S47, but the investigation requires completion by the fostering agency; that alleged abuse has not been proven but concerns remain (may be standards of care issues that need to be addressed); that the allegation was not founded;
  • Ascertain whether Children in Care will remain, or return to the placement;
  • Identify whether and how to protect any children in the home, including whether an initial child protection conference is required in respect of the foster carers own children;
  • Consider counselling/therapeutic needs of those affected;
  • Identify who will inform the carers of the outcome of the investigation against them, what they will be told, including any further actions outstanding.

The concluding record of the strategy discussion must be authorised by the Service Manager, placed on both the child(ren)'s and carers' files, and within 2 weeks of the meeting sent to the:

  • LADO;
  • Service Manager in the local area.

Where evidence indicates significant concerns about suitability towards continued work with children, the LADO will advise referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service and consideration will be given as to who is best placed to make this.


11. Child Protection Conference

Where the final strategy meeting decides there is a need for a Child Protection Conference this should be held in accordance with KMSC’s procedures. This must take place within 15 working days.

Reasons for diverging from these timescales must be fully recorded together with a plan of action detailing alternative arrangements.

Normally foster carers will be invited to attend the conference. Reasons for exclusions (which are exceptional) are detailed under paragraph 8.6 of the KMSC Procedures.

The social worker must facilitate carer(s) constructive involvement by ensuring in advance of the conference that they are given sufficient information and practical support to make a meaningful contribution including the sharing of their report at least 48 hours beforehand.

The social worker must explain to carers the purpose of the meeting, who will attend, the way in which it will operate, the purpose and meaning of a child protection plan and the complaints process.

Preparation should include consideration of childcare arrangements to enable the attendance of carer(s). Written information should be left with the family regarding conferences, the right to bring a, friend, supporter (including an advocate) or solicitor (in role of supporter), details of any local advice and advocacy services and the conference complaints procedure. Kent has leaflets to support this.

The role of the supporter is to enable the carer to put her/his point of view, not to take an adversarial position or cross-examine participants. The family needs to be aware that the supporter will hear personal information about child(ren), carers and partners.

Matters that will be considered are set out in KMSC Procedures.

A copy of the written record of the conference should be sent within 10 working days of the conference to all those who attended or were invited to attend, including family members (except for any part of the conference from which they were excluded).

When a friend, supporter or solicitor has been involved, the chair should clarify with the carer whether the record should be provided for those individuals.

This conference record and recommendations should include:

  • Matters relevant to the placement of all children currently in the  foster carer’s household;
  • The placement of other children in the future;
  • Implications for the registration of the foster carers;
  • Whether referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service is necessary, and agree who will make the referral;
  • Identified training needs and additional support requirements;
  • Whether police are continuing with criminal enquiries against the foster carer.

The manager responsible for the enquiry must ensure that a letter is sent to parents and carers outlining conclusions made and actions to be taken. A copy of this should be placed on the carer’s file.

The child’s social worker will ensure that the child understands that the allegation has been looked at thoroughly, and share appropriate information about the outcome.

Complaint Procedure - eligibility and process complaints about specified aspects of the Child Protection Conference is set out in KMSC Procedures.


12. Role of the Fostering Panel

The fostering services will re-assess the status of the carers within 28 working days of the conclusion of the enquiry.

The supervising fostering social worker and/or the investigating social worker (as appropriate to be decided in discussion with the Fostering Team Manager) must present a report to the panel for a review of the foster carer's approval following any child protection allegation or serious complaint. Their manager should also attend. The report will address:

  • Findings of the enquiry;
  • Whether a report has been forwarded to the CPS;
  • What, if any, concerns remain;
  • Feelings and experience of the carer;
  • Opinion of the supervising social worker;
  • Any implications for the safer caring agreement;
  • Training issues;
  • Any other issues relevant to an annual review;
  • Other information relevant to the child in placement;
  • Consideration of suitability and possible referral to vetting/barring scheme (DBS).

The report must include an account of the allegations, the investigation and the subsequent recommendations and decisions of the Outcome Strategy Discussion. It will also include information about prior placements, the way these were managed and the circumstances of placement endings, and information about the foster carer's supervision/support and training. The report should include the views of the foster carers regarding the allegation and the ensuing investigation. The report should conclude with the recommendation of the fostering social worker regarding the continued approval of the carer and the terms of approval.

Carers can submit their own written comments to be included with the report.

The panel must consider the following information prior to drawing its conclusions:

  • The review report and recommendations;
  • Any written submission by the carer(s);
  • Minutes from any relevant child protection conference;
  • The record of the concluding strategy discussion.

This process provides the carer with the opportunity to reflect on their experience and consider what action they might wish to take. They must be informed of the panel date and information on the complaints and access to files procedures.

Being the subject of allegations or serious complaints can be a very stressful experience for foster carers and their families. The Kent Fostering Panels therefore give foster carers the choice of whether to attend or not, and will respect carers' wishes and feelings about attendance. If there are concerns about the carer's continuing registration following any child protection or complaint investigations, the carer will be notified. The foster carer will then write to the fostering team manager with their decision about whether they wish to attend the Fostering Panel. The carer may decide to bring a family member or colleague carer along for support on the day. Their supervising fostering social worker and his/her supervisor will always attend, regardless of whether the carer wishes to be there or not.

The panel's recommendations are forwarded, via the panel minutes, to the Agency Decision Maker. If the Decision Maker considers that the Foster Carers' Terms of Approval should remain the same, then the carers will be notified. However, if the proposal is to change the carer's terms or to de-register them then the Decision Maker will make a "qualifying determination". The Carer will be sent a letter and a copy of the information leaflet about the Independent Review Mechanism. Within 28 working days of receiving the letter, the carers must either:

  • Confirm to the Decision Maker that they have accepted the determination; or
  • Request that their case is reconsidered by the Fostering Panel; or
  • Apply to the Independent Review Mechanism for a review of the case.

If the carers choose to have their case reconsidered at the Fostering Panel, they may attend the panel with the worker if they wish.

The Panel will make appropriate recommendations as follows:

  • Immediate re-instatement of carer(s), if approval and use for placements has been suspended;
  • Re-assessment of the carer(s) in relation to the identified concerns;
  • Carer remaining on hold pending the decision of the CPS;
  • Carer choosing to withdraw;
  • Concerns are sufficiently serious to warrant termination of approval.

Recommendations may include changes to the approval of carers, review and/or training recommendations, implications for the Safe Care Plan, or address specific matters within the foster home.

A final recommendation about the carer's registration will be made to the Decision Maker by the Panel.

If the carers choose to request a review by the Independent Reviewing Mechanism once the recommendation has been made, this will be reconsidered by the Agency Decision Maker.

If concerns were sufficiently serious to warrant termination of approval, or the carer chooses to withdraw because termination of approval is likely, then a referral has to be made to the Disclosure and Barring Service. The Disclosure and Barring Service will consider inclusion of the individual on the relevant barred list(s).

A copy of the final outcome will be put on the carer's file.


13. Action on the Conclusion of a Case

The Fostering Team Leader will inform the LADO of the outcome of the allegation including the outcome of the review of the foster carer's approval. An outcome form will be provided for this purpose by the LADO.

If the allegation is substantiated and the person is no longer approved to foster, the LADO will advise on referral to the DBS for consideration of barring and who is best placed to make this referral.

On conclusion of an enquiry into allegations against foster carers within these procedures, an Outcome Meeting will be arranged between representatives from the Fostering Service and the carers to review the investigation, the findings and decisions made, and to inform the carers of any further action.

The foster carers file must record details of any complaints/allegations and the outcome.

The Fostering Team Leader must keep a record of all allegations/complaints against foster carers


14. Support for Foster Carers who have had Allegations or Serious Complaints made against them

Allegations and serious complaints against foster carers will impact differently on foster families according to the:

  • Nature of the allegation or complaint;
  • Potential consequences for the foster carer;
  • Previous experiences of the foster carer;
  • Level of stress or discord within the family;
  • Individual resilience of the family members.

For these reasons a range of support services are provided and it should be for the foster family concerned to decide which levels of support they need. This may change during the process of an investigation into allegations or serious complaints.

The support to foster carers is divided into internal (peer) support or external support, which can be accessed through the fostering team leader.

Peer Support

Foster carers will be offered Peer Support provided by Skill level 2 or 3 foster carers who have been trained in supporting carers subject to allegations and understand their role in terms of peer-mentoring and 'buddy' support.

A list of these mentor carers would be given to carers subject to allegations for them to contact a person of their choice on the list. Choices may be based on a previous knowledge of the mentor or may be based on knowing that the mentor is not part of the carer's own network. Mentor carers who are approached in this way are required to discuss this with their fostering social worker before agreeing to undertake the task.

They will be able to provide the following confidential support within the context of child protection responsibilities:

  • Be available for telephone contact including evenings and weekends;
  • Be willing to meet/visit carers by prior agreement as requested for a time limited period as agreed by the team leader;
  • May attend meetings, including the Fostering Panel to support the carer.

The trained foster carers who provide peer support will be facilitated/co-ordinated by the Fostering Team Manager.

Independent Support - Counselling Support via FosterTalk

The provision of a 24 hour counselling helpline, social work support helpline, legal advice line, and legal expenses insurance cover for foster carers including when they are subject to allegations or serious complaints. The counselling may take place during or after an investigation.

A Counselling Helpline is available 24/7 – 365 days a year providing confidential personal support from trained counsellors.

A Fostering Advisor Helpline is available (9 – 5pm excluding Bank Holidays) made up of a mix of independent social workers and foster carers with fostering experience.

A 24hr Legal Advice Line is available 24/7 – 365 days a year. Legal expenses insurance cover is also provided.

Task

The counsellor's task is to provide a safe, sensitive, confidential and time-limited environment to facilitate foster carers or their families in coming to terms with the implications (both emotional and practical) of being subjected to investigations into allegations or serious complaints.

Carers must be informed that, if the allegations culminate in court proceedings, witnesses including support workers or friends may be required to give evidence.

Independent Counselling

In exceptional circumstances it may be agreed by the Service Manager to offer face to face counselling from an independent, qualified counsellor.


15. Role of the Supervising Social Worker

The role of the supervising social worker should be to:

  • Be informed of the allegation from the outset;
  • Attend the strategy discussions;
  • Link with investigating social workers about when to make contact with the carer(s);
  • Contact the carer as determined at the strategy discussion;
  • Ensure the carer receives appropriate information and advice;
  • Attend any follow up interview with the carer and her/his family, unless this is judged inappropriate.


16. Payment of Fostering Fees

In recognition of the financial hardship that may be encountered by carers while an allegation or complaint is being investigated, the following protocols apply:

  • When a child is removed from a Kent County Council foster placement, pending the outcome of an investigation, the fee element will continue to be paid to the carer, with 20% uplift until the case is presented to the Fostering Panel, or for a 12 week period if the case has not yet been resolved.  If other placements are put on hold then the fee plus 20% will be paid for one of the other vacancies;
  • When an allegation is made against a carer where there are currently no children in placement, and placements are put on hold, the fee plus 20% uplift will be paid for up to two vacancies until the case is presented to the Fostering Panel, or for a 12 week period, if the case has not yet been resolved.

The same principles apply to Respite Carers, who will be paid pro-rata.

Responsibility for the payment remains with the relevant District(s) connected with the foster carer at the time the allegation or complaint is made.

Fostering teams will prioritise presentation of cases where an allegation has been made, and the case will be heard no later than 28 days from the conclusion of the child protection enquiry.


17. Moving On

The impact of complaints and allegations on foster carers, the children and young people in their care and those that they may be working with should not be underestimated. Consideration should be given to the steps needed to ensure effective partnership working, lessons learned and what needs to happen so that effective working relationships can be established.

Supervision arrangements should also be reviewed and may need to occur more frequently.


18. Independent Fostering Agency Carers

Allegations against IFA foster carers should be investigated under the Allegations against Persons who work with children, Kent & Medway Safeguarding Children Procedures in conjunction with the KSCB Operational Guidelines – Managing Allegations Against Members of the Children’s Workforce. Following consultation with the Team Manager, Service Manager and LADO, action taken/to be taken must be reported to the Head of the Safeguarding Unit, who will inform the Commissioning Manager.

In addition to any investigation taken under safeguarding procedures by the social worker, the process set out in the Safeguarding Concern Flowchart will be followed by the Commissioning Service. The Risk Assessment should be completed for all children in placement, by the social worker/s to ensure the safety of all children placed is subject to scrutiny, and oversight by the responsible Service Manager. A copy of the risk assessment should be sent to the CIC mailbox, and saved on the file of each child or young person in placement.

When notification is received from OFSTED that an IFA provider has been rated inadequate, the OFSTED notifications flowchart will be followed by Commissioning. The Access to Resources Team Manager will request a Risk Assessment for any children/young people in placement from the social worker via email and Liberi. The social worker should discuss with their team manager/Service Manager whether action needs to be taken regarding the placements. A copy of the risk assessment should be sent to the CIC mailbox, and saved on the file of each child or young person in placement.


19. Further Sources of Information

The KMSC describe the processes and thresholds for action in cases where allegations or complaints are made against Kent County Council’s foster carers. Carers who are subject to serious complaints or allegations will be given a copy of this guidance at the time and additional copies are available from the local fostering team.

  • 'Safer Caring Handbook (Fostering Network)' is available from fostering teams and should be read by all foster carers. Kent County Council also provides 'Safer Caring' training for all foster carers;
  • 'Who Do We Trust?: The Abuse of Children Living Away from Home in the United Kingdom', - Andrew Kendrick - Paper presented to the 12th International Congress on Child Abuse and Neglect;
  • "Protecting Children, Supporting Foster Carers" - Department for Education and Skills April 2006;
  • 'Working Together to Safeguard Children' - 2015;
  • Fostering Network has produced a booklet 'Allegations against Foster Carers' containing comprehensive advice which can be obtained at Central Books;
  • The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations, Volume 4: Fostering Services;
  • National Minimum Standards: Fostering 2011.

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