Health and Safety in the Home for Foster Carers


Kent would like to thank colleagues in Lancashire for their permission to use material to develop this chapter.


Pet Policy and Guidance for Fostering Households

Dangerous Weapons Policy

This chapter was added to the manual in July 2014.

1. Introduction

This guidance is for staff involved in undertaking the assessment, approval and post approval supervision and training for prospective and approved foster carers and undertaking the health and safety check within their home. Prospective foster carers will need to undertake their own assessment of their home prior to completion of the health and safety checklist by the assessing worker. Approved carers will need to have an updated health and safety check completed at the time of their Annual Review or sooner if there is a significant change within the household or change of accommodation.

2. Policy

The National Minimum Standards for Fostering and Fostering Service Regulations 2011 require fostering services to provide foster homes for children that are warm, adequately furnished and decorated and maintained to a good standard of hygiene.

It is recognised that children placed in foster care may be more at risk of accidents within the home and outdoor spaces as they will be joining a new and possibly unfamiliar household, may have particular needs that make them more vulnerable to accidents and that these will require an appropriate level of supervision at all times.

While accidents can happen risks should be minimised and a Health and Safety Checklist completed for all prospective and approved foster carers and reviewed at least annually.

The Health and Safety Checklist should take into account the carers type and level of approval highlighting the needs of children within that age group. Particular attention should be taken of the individual needs of children being placed/within placement i.e. disability or developmental delay, and any immediate hazards removed before the placement of a child.

Each child over 3 should have their own bedroom. A risk assessment must be completed if bedroom sharing is proposed based on particular individual circumstances and agreed by the relevant Service Manager.

Each foster carer must ensure that they have a written fire safety plan and this should be discussed with every child/young person in placement either permanently or short term respite (including short breaks and day care).

The health and safety assessment of the foster home should form part of the wider assessment and on-going supervision of the family and take account the services Smoking Policy in the home for under 5s; Pet Policy and Guidance for Fostering Households - Dog questionnaire; and Dangerous Weapons Policy.

Foster carers caring for children aged under 5 should not smoke within the home and carers are encouraged to provide a non-smoking environment in the home.

3. Immediate Hazards

Any immediate hazards must be addressed before the placement of a child given their potential to cause immediate harm or injury.

Any recommendations for changes to the home/outdoor spaces should be clearly recorded with a timescale for completion and checked by the worker that they have been completed before a placement is made.

The foster carer should also be made aware of their responsibility to identify any new hazards and take immediate action.

4. Health and Safety Checklist

The Health and Safety Checklist should be used as part of the assessment of prospective foster carers and updated as part of the Annual Review of approved foster carers. The checklist should be signed by the foster carer and fostering worker and ensure the foster home and outside spaces are safe, secure and well maintained.

The Health and Safety Checklist covers the following main areas:

  • General household (including fire safety plan);
  • General safety factors (including carbon monoxide; smoke alarms and window safety);
  • Medical (including first aid certificate and out of reach);
  • Kitchen environment (including storage);
  • Bathroom/toilets;
  • Bedrooms;
  • General safety factors -external (including outdoor buildings; ponds; swimming pools);
  • Parent and Child placements and children under 5 (including cots; duvets; blinds).

The checklist also covers transport (including car insurance/MOT); electrical and gas checks; home and contents insurance; and pet assessment.

5. Support to Foster Carers

Foster Carers will need to undertake First Aid training and consider health and safety as part of their pre-approval and post approval training.

Information on Health and Safety is also contained in the Foster Carer Handbook and useful updates can be found in the Foster Carer Newsletter.

Further guidance on safety in the home can be found on the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA) website, The Child Accident Prevention Trust (CAPT) or the Food Standards Agency.

Appendix 1: Health and Safety Checklist

Click here to view Appendix 1: Health and Safety Checklist

Guidance Notes - Health and Safety Areas

The following notes are designed to provide some information to family placement staff and foster carers regarding health and safety issues.

Further information can be obtained from one of the websites outlined above. 

Electrical Safety (the ROSPA leaflet” the home safety book” can provide further information) Essential * (With reference to age of child placed/to be placed) Advice
Sockets * All plug sockets not in use should be covered. Sockets should be securely fixed to the wall with no bare wires showing. No scorch marks should be visible. There should be no ordinary electrical sockets in bathrooms. 
Flexes/Cables   Flexes/Cables should be checked visually to see if they are in good condition – no splits, cracks, fraying or signs of wear to reduce the risk of electric shock. Cables should not be run underneath carpets or rugs. (Extension leads should usually be fully unwound before they are used as coiled cables can get hot enough to cause a fire in certain conditions). Any damaged flexes should be replaced. Care should be taken to ensure that flexes and cables have not been positioned where they could cause trips or falls.
Plugs   Plugs should be securely fitted to all appliances. Cables should be secured by the cable grip (usually secured by 2 small screws where the cable enters the plug). Plugs should be clean, free from cracks and breaks to reduce the risk of electric shock. Any cracked plugs should be replaced with new, clean plugs. Pins should be secure and not twisted, bent or wobbly.
Adaptors/plug boards   Be wary of 2 or 3 way socket adapters and plug boards and use them sensibly. It is very easy to overload electrical sockets by using them. Overloaded sockets can cause fires. If they are used, socket covers should be used on any “unused” positions. Don't plug more than 1 item which uses a large amount of electricity into an adapter e.g. fan heater, kettle etc. Use one plug board or adaptor per socket only.
Switches   Electrical switches should be properly secured to the wall. Ensure switches are not cracked and have no evidence of overheating (e.g. scorch marks) to reduce the risk of fire. Bathrooms should have pull cord switches. Any damaged switches should be replaced.
Meter cupboard   Electrical meter cupboards should be lockable or located out of reach if children under the age of 5 are present or visiting. Keys should be kept safely.
Indoor appliances   Portable electrical appliances should be visually checked for obvious damage, exposed circuits, signs of overheating etc. They should be located in a safe place. They should not be used in bathrooms and care should be exercised if they are to be used outside. Unplug at night and when going away. 
Outdoor appliances   RCDs - (safety cut off adapters) should be used when these are used outside, to reduce the risk of electric shock. Children should not be allowed to use lawn mowers etc. Unplug when not in use and keep out of the reach of children.

Slips, Trips and Falls (for further information see the CPAT safety guide leaflet for the relevant age group and the leaflet “making a safer choice – a guide to baby products”)   Advice:
Stair gates * < 5 Stair gates should be fitted in such a way as to prevent children having access to stairs; in practice this may mean at the top of stairs or bedroom doorways – depending on the time of day. Stair gates can also be used to prevent access to other areas, which could be hazardous, e.g. kitchens. Some older children may require stair gates to keep them safe, depending on their needs. Stair gates should be obtained where children under 5 live or visit regularly.
High chairs/buggies * < 3 It is essential for high chairs and buggies to have appropriate restraints. This also applies to any other equipment from which a child could fall. 
Windows * < 7 All windows that can be accessed by children must have restricting locks that prevent the windows being opened to a point where a child can open the window and climb up or fall out. Fit locks where these are missing or ensure children cannot access window openings. Window keys should be kept securely at hand in case of an emergency. 
Bunk beds * < 6 Ensure bunk beds are not used for this age group, as even if children sleep on the bottom bunk they may be tempted to climb the bed stairs or climb to the top bunk and be at risk of falling.
Balconies/Play pens * All balconies must have railings/walls that cannot be climbed/accessed by a child. Play pens must be of a height sufficient to prevent a child climbing over and children must be supervised at all times whilst playing in play pens. Any railings/bars must have a maximum width of 100mm to reduce the risk of choking.
Trailing wires   Care should be taken to ensure that flexes and cables have not been positioned where they could cause trips or falls.
Floor coverings   These should be in good condition. Look out for frayed carpets/torn lino particularly in doorways or on stairs. Rugs should be secured if used on highly polished floors or floors which can become slippery (e.g. kitchens). Wet floors are slippery.
Handrails   All stairs should have a handrail which is securely fastened

Choking hazards (a leaflet “How safe are my children's toys” can be obtained from the Child Accident Prevention Trust) . Advice:
Bedding/pillows/bumpers. The Department of Health has information relating to cot death prevention and a downloadable leaflet: “reduce the risk of cot death”.  * < 1 Pillows must not be used. Sheets and lightweight blankets must be used rather than duvets. Bumpers must not be used. All of these are based on current medical advice relating to safe sleeping for babies. (2003). Please speak to your health visitor if you need additional advice. Ensure the appropriate bedding is available
Cot sides/bed sides/play pens/railings/banisters * any age for cot use Where there are cot or bed sides, play pens, railings or banisters, there should be a maximum gap at any point of 100mm to prevent a child putting his or her head through the gap.
Cords/washing lines/curtain cords   Ensure hanging cords are tied/looped up, away from a child's reach and that rotary driers are not accessible. Any cords/lines should be of a height that children cannot reach, to reduce the risk of choking or strangulation
Small items   Store these out of the reach of children, particularly those aged three and under.
Chest Freezers   These should be kept locked.

Glass safety (the ROSPA leaflet “the home safety book” could provide further information). . Advice:
Low level glass * < 8 All low level glass that a child could fall against/run into must be fitted with either safety glass or safety film. This type of accident can cause serious injury. NB not television sets/goldfish bowls. This advice also extends to glass outside the property, including greenhouses and cold frames. 
Large, low level fish tanks   These can present a risk if low level as a child could climb in, drop small electrical appliances in or be at risk from the type of fish kept there. They should not be accessible to a child.
General household items   These will include ornaments and drinking glasses. These should all be treated with care and not given to children under five. For example drinking glasses can easily break and cause injury and ornaments can splinter and crack. Glass items should be kept out of the reach of younger children.

Safe Storage (the CAPT leaflet “what might poison your child” can provide further information)   Advice:
Medicines * Young children can mistake medication for sweets/drinks. Older children could be tempted to “experiment” or they may accidentally overdose. Ensure all medication is kept in a locked cupboard, which children and young people cannot access.
Flammable materials * Do not store unless absolutely necessary. Where it is necessary to store them they must be stored in a safe place. Flammable materials should never be stored under the stairs. Ensure all flammable materials are kept out of the reach of children under the age of 10. Store them away from heat sources. Any spare gas cylinders should be stored out of doors.
Cleaning materials, chemicals, poisons * < 8 Cleaning materials, chemicals and poisons can look like drinks/food to younger children. Even a small amount can cause a fatality to a young child. Always use original containers and never use soft drink bottles/containers. Ensure all cleaning materials, chemicals, and poisons are locked away and out of the reach of children under 7. 
Sharp knives/scissors   These can easily cause injury if children play with or transport them. Such items should be kept out of the reach of children and ideally locked away. Children need to be supervised when using scissors and younger children (under 7) should use play scissors.
Cigarettes/Lighters Alcohol/Matches   Children like to “copy” adults. Younger children may not know what these items are but might like to investigate. Alcohol and cigarettes can be poisonous to a young child. Older children may wish to “experiment” so it may be wise to keep them away from older children too. Matches of course can be a fire hazard. Try and keep all such items out of the sight and reach of children under the age of 10. 
Shampoos/Cosmetics/razors   Younger children may mistake shampoos/conditioners for drink. They may try to “copy” shaving and see what make up tastes like, or they may accidentally put it in their eyes. It is advisable to lock away such items out of the reach of children under 8 and those children and young people who may not understand what such items are and/or may self-harm. 
Cupboard locks   Children like to “explore” and investigate. If there are hazardous items there they could cause illness or injury. Consider keeping all cupboards containing hazardous items and which can be accessed/reached by children locked.

Food hygiene   Advice:
Cleanliness * This is essential within food storage and preparation areas, to reduce the risk of food poisoning. This will mean that the kitchen and storage areas should be kept tidy and cleaned frequently. This will include ensuring that dish/drying cloths are frequently laundered. Ensure these areas are reasonably tidy and are clean.
'Fridge thermometer (the Food Standards Agency leaflet – “keeping food cool and safe” provides more information   Aim to keep the coldest part of the fridge between 0C and 5C (32F and 41F).
Raw and cooked food/general storage   It is wise to have separate areas/chopping boards/utensils for raw and cooked food. Many food poisoning outbreaks have been traced to contamination of cooked food by raw meat/poultry. All food should be stored in clean and hygienic conditions
Date order   It is advisable to use food by the “use by” dates, as the use by system has been devised to reduce the risk of decaying/mouldy food being eaten. Decaying/mouldy food is a health hazard.
Pet food utensils   To avoid any contamination by household pet food it is wise to use separate utensils for the serving of pets' food than those used for household members. Additionally, pets should not be allowed to lick from plates/utensils used by household members for general hygiene purposes.

Fire/fumes safety   Advice: As a general measure, all members of the household should know how to dial 999, what to say and how to exit the property as quickly and safely as possible.
Smoke alarms (the Child Accident Prevention Trust leaflet “burns and scalds – how safe is your child?” and the ROSPA leaflet “the home safety book” provides more detailed/ further information * Research has shown that survival from household fires increases when there are smoke alarms. They can ensure people are alerted to a fire at an early stage. There should be a smoke alarm on each floor and these should be fitted according to the fixing instructions supplied. Smoke alarms should be tested on a weekly basis and changed annually.
Fire blanket/extinguisher * Many fires start in the kitchen and can quickly spread. A fire extinguisher or fire blanket can help to reduce the effects of a fire at an early stage. There should be a fire blanket (this can be supplied by Social Services if not currently available) or extinguisher in each kitchen.
Exit routes * It is essential that all children and young people could exit safely from the property in the event of a fire, particularly, but not exclusively, at night. Children and young people should not sleep in loft/attic areas unless this issue has been addressed
Appliances * Physical changes to gas appliances can indicate that an appliance is not working properly and there can be a higher risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. It is important to site appliances carefully (away from any inflammable/combustible materials) to reduce the risk of fire. It is illegal for a gas appliance to be fitted or maintained in domestic premises by anyone other than a CORGI registered fitter. All appliances should be monitored for signs of discolouration/flame colour change (particularly where there is orange/yellow pointed flame or flame lifts from the burner). Appliances should be maintained regularly by qualified CORGI registered engineers. Gas safety certificates should be kept for scrutiny if required. If possible, carbon monoxide alarms should be fitted. All heating appliances should be fixed to the wall.
Firearms/guns/ammunition and other items including crossbows and air rifles * In view of the dangerousness of such items it would not normally be acceptable for them to be kept within the foster home. However, it is recognised that there may be some situations that may provide an exception. There are very stringent licensing and certification requirements for most of these items. Any households which contain any of the listed items or any other weapons will necessitate a specific risk assessment. All firearms must be covered by appropriate licenses/certificates. They must be stored in the specified locked cupboard as stipulated for the license/certification. Even if some items do not require licenses or certification they must be stored in a locked cupboard which cannot be accessed by children or young people. Things they have been told not to touch often fascinate children and there are obvious dangers associated with firearms. 
Fireguards * < 5 Younger children can be fascinated by fire. They can also be prone to falling. Fires should therefore be guarded to reduce the risk of burns. The guards should fully cover the fire and be securely fixed
Cookers   Care must be taken with pans on cookers as children may try to reach up for the handles. The cooker needs to be stable so that it cannot wobble and cause items to fall off. Where guards are not fitted it is important that pan handles are always facing inwards and not over a heat source.
Ceiling tiles   Some ceiling tiles are highly flammable (polystyrene). In the case of fire these can quickly ignite and spread a fire. 
Furniture   Furniture such as settees and armchairs which was manufactured after 1988 should be filled with fire retardant foam/material. Older furniture may contain filling which is highly flammable. If furniture is old, consider replacing with newer flame retardant filled items. If this is not possible/feasible ensure all other aspects of fire safety are continually and carefully monitored.
Matches and lighters   These need to be stored safely. 

Garden/outdoor safety (please refer to the Child Accident Prevention Trust leaflet, “how safe is your garden” for further information)   Advice:
Ponds/water tanks/pools/all features, ornaments and furniture * < 8 All water features can be dangerous. Don't under estimate the danger as someone can drown in two inches of water. Children can quickly run away and are fascinated by water, so they need to be closely supervised at all times where water is around. Water features can contain pools. Paddling pools and buckets should be emptied immediately after filling/use. All ponds/water tanks/pools should be securely covered when not in use and maintained to ensure water does not “pool” on the cover. Alternatively, pools should be appropriately fenced, gated and locked.
Sand pits (There is a ROSPA information sheet “Sand Play in Children's Play Areas” which can be referred to if required * < 5 Sand pits should always be covered when not in use, especially if there are pets which could use the sand pit; a small child could choke if he or she were to fall face down in the sand. Cover sand pits when not being used. The sand should not be too deep as this could increase a risk of suffocation. 
Power tools, e.g. hedge trimmers, electric saws, steamers * Power tools can cause serious injury. They may be difficult/impossible for children to control. They should be kept securely and children under 14 should not normally be allowed to use them. If older children do use them they must be closely supervised at all times. The decision as to whether or not a child can use such tools should be based on his or her abilities and any known risk factors. 
Locks on gates * < 5 Gates leading to the street/road should be kept locked or barred with devices that are out of a child's reach. 
Fencing * < 5 Children can squeeze through fairly small gaps and enter street/road areas where they may be at risk. They may also trap their heads in the fencing. Fencing should be well-maintained and secure, without protruding nails or sharp pieces of wood. Any gaps in fences should be less than 100mm wide. Children should not be able to exit the house or the garden without the knowledge of the carers. 
Poisonous plants Refer to leaflet “How safe is your garden” for further information * < 10 Certain fairly common garden plants are poisonous and potentially fatal. Children may think they are eating a foodstuff or wish to experiment. Berries particularly can be attractive to children. Some plants can be sharp and hurt children. However, many plants can be potentially poisonous, particularly if there are medical conditions. Poisonous plants should not be in the garden. If they already are, they should be removed.
Slides/swings/play equipment * Play equipment should be sited over a soft covered area/soft grassy area and not be placed over flagged or concrete areas, to reduce the risk of injury. All equipment should be securely fastened down. Supervision should be given as age-appropriate. Equipment should carry a BS number whenever possible.
Animal waste/safe area * < 8 Animal waste can be hazardous to children. For example dog waste can cause toxicaris (which can potentially blind). Ensure there is a separate area in the garden/outdoors if dogs excrete there, that is not accessible to children. All animal waste should be cleaned up immediately 
Machinery/vehicle access * Empty cars and machinery can fascinate children and young people. They may try to imitate adults and drive or operate them, risking serious injury. Ensure vehicles are kept locked when not in use and that children cannot gain access to machinery
Drain covers   Large drain covers could be seen as a challenge to children, to open and explore. As the covers are heavy, they could cause serious injury if they fell on fingers or children could become trapped inside. Small drain covers can harbour germs. Large drain covers should be securely fixed and not be able to be lifted by a child. Small drain covers should be kept clean.
Tools    Smaller tools can be a danger in small hands, such as axes, saws and chisels. These need to be securely locked away where children cannot access them.
Sheds/Garages/Outhouses/Workshops etc.   Many items stored in these areas can be hazardous. Ensure such buildings are kept locked and that children cannot access them.
Steps   Handrails should be placed wherever there are steps, to ensure children can steady themselves
Nests/hives   Where there are nests or hives in the garden ensure children and young people cannot access them. Consider having the nests dealt with by the environmental health department to reduce the risk to children if there is swarming. Seek the advice of the environmental health department as required
Barbecues   Barbecues require close supervision and children should never be left unattended near them. Barbecues can remain hot for a long period of time after use and they should be damped down once finished with. Children should not be allowed to light barbecues. Don't leave barbecues unattended and take care after use.

Vehicle safety (please refer to the most recent transport guidance for employees or the Child Accident Prevention Trust leaflet “How Safe is your child in the car?” for further information as required.   Advice:
Driving licence * All drivers transporting children must have a full driving licence.
MOT * An MOT certificate is a recognised measure of vehicle roadworthiness. It is required in law for all vehicles that are more than 3 years old. All vehicles used to transport children and young people should have a current MOT certificate. The certificate should be viewed by the assessor
Insurance * Third party insurance is the minimum legal requirement to ensure children are adequately insured for any accident to them. There should be this level of insurance as a minimum for all drivers, covering all vehicles that are used to transport children and young people. Carers should contact their insurance companies to ensure that they are insured to carry looked after children and young people.
Child seats/seat belts/restraints /booster cushions * Remember that even on short journeys you should always use the appropriate seat/belt etc. Ensure correct seating is used and that the law is complied with. Carers should not carry more children in the car than is legally safe. 
Child locks * where fitted Child locks can be helpful in ensuring children don't attempt to get out of the car/open a car door whilst it is moving. Use child locks when available.
Keys   Don't leave keys in unattended vehicles or leave car keys where inquisitive children can reach them. Keep vehicles locked at all times.
Driveways   Always park with the handbrake fully on. Prior to setting off, always ensure there are no children near the vehicle. 

Household hygiene   Advice:
Hygienically clean * The property should be hygienically clean, to prevent the build up of bacteria. This will be particularly important in the bathroom and kitchen areas. Rubbish should be disposed of to reduce the risk of fire and/or vermin. To minimise the possibility of unpleasant odours, ensure that things which can develop into problems are dealt with in a timely manner, for example wet or dirty bedding, cat litter etc.

Pets   Advice:
Care of Pets   It is expected that normal care of pets such as six-monthly worming of domestic pets will be completed. 
Allergies * Where children have identified allergies to pets (for example in relation to asthma or eczema) care should be taken when children placed in homes, which contain these pets. Medical advice should be taken on how to minimise allergy problems.
Sleeping and feeding arrangements * Pets should not be allowed to sleep on children's beds. They must not be allowed to lick plates or other crockery/ eating utensils as they may have germs, which pass on. Keep pets out of children's' bedrooms wherever possible.
Temperament * Certain breeds of dogs are not suitable within foster homes and these include all breeds classified by the Dangerous Dogs Act (1991). These are Pit Bull terriers and Japanese Tosa. Additionally, the RSPCA have identified Alsatians, Rottweillers, Dobermans (and Pit-Bull terriers) as breeds with a capacity and tendency for aggressions. Any concern about the safety of a particular pet will be addressed, if necessary by appropriate discussion with the RSPCA or other vetinary personnel. There should be consideration of the temperament of family pets. Children should never be left unsupervised with a dog. 
Litter trays  

Where possible, these should be where children cannot access them and away from food preparation areas.

Try and keep these out of kitchens and out of the reach of children

Exotic pets    Whenever there are exotic pets ensure these are kept safely, don't let children handle them unless you are sure that they cannot pass on any disease. Ensure children are supervised at all times when in the vicinity of them. Levels of risk will depend on the ability/attitude of the child/young person in relation to a particular circumstance, together with any known risk factors. 

General   Advice:
Smoking * Care should be taken when children are placed with smokers if they have been diagnosed with asthma. Medical advice should be sought wherever there is doubt.
First Aid container * Each home should have a basic First Aid container. If the carer does not have this item it can be provided by the Children and Young People Directorate.
Plastic bags * < 5 Plastic bags can cause suffocation to children and babies. These should be kept out of reach of children.
Sun protection (The CAPT leaflet “Handle safely” can provide further information if required. * The sun is known to be a potential hazard if sun creams are not used properly. Young skin is particularly vulnerable and all children should be protected from the sun by creams or lotions, head protection and by avoiding midday sun. Keep children out of the sun between 11 am and 3 pm whenever possible. Take care that sun creams and lotions are waterproof when playing in water. Ensure young children wear sun hats. 
Hot water   Hot water from the tap should be monitored so that it cannot cause accidental scalding. It is better to keep the temperature to a maximum of 43 degrees centigrade, setting the thermostat to this maximum. Take care with kettles and consider using coiled leads to prevent flexes hanging down. Also be careful with tablecloths and use table mats where possible.
General “housekeeping”   Storing household items haphazardly and in quantities can present hazards of fire, trips or falls. If rooms are reasonably tidy it is easier to identify potential hazardous items. 
Working from home   Where a foster carer works from home (other than as a foster carer) there should be a risk assessment of any factors, which could affect children. For example, if the business requires regular deliveries to the address there should be an analysis of any additional risk posed by vehicles/visitors to the property.
Outside activities, leisure pursuits   Foster carers have a “duty of care” to children engaging in outside activities and leisure pursuits such as horse riding, abseiling, canoeing, rock climbing and caving. It is important to ensure that any instructors have the required qualifications – certain activities will require the organisation providing them to have a licence from the Adventure Activities Licensing Authority. Make sure that the child's social worker is aware of the proposed activity and has agreed/arranged the suitable agreement for it.