Pet Policy and Guidance for Fostering Households
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
Kent County Council recognises that pets can form a valuable part of a foster carer's household and can help Children in Care to form positive relationships within the foster family. However, our first and paramount consideration is to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child throughout their stay with a foster family and ensure their needs are prioritised in a safe and nurturing environment. Where applicants keep animals the implications for children will need to be considered as part of the household health and safety assessment.
AMENDMENTIn January 2023, this chapter was reviewed locally and refreshed where required.
1. Dangerous Pets
Kent County Council will not register or approve foster carers who own any breed of dog listed under the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 (amended 1997) or where there is a pet which comes under the Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976.
2. Number of Dogs/Pets in a Foster Home
A risk assessment of all animals will be undertaken and for any household where there are more than two dogs, agreement for an assessment to continue or for an approved carer to continue to foster, must be obtained by the Heads of Fostering. This is because where there are more than two dogs there is the likelihood for a pack instinct to develop which might pose an increased risk to children and two dogs require a great deal of attention and time when looked after appropriately.
Assessments will be required when there is a request to be considered as a prospective foster carer and whenever a new pet is introduced to an existing fostering household.
For prospective applicants the initial recruitment process will consider pet ownership and pet management. Where there is concern e.g. banned breed/dangerous animal as defined in the legislation, applications will not be taken forward.
The Pet Assessment/Dog Ownership Questionnaire should be completed as part of the assessment of prospective applicants. The questionnaires require the pet owner(s) to take responsibility for providing details of why their dog/or pets have the appropriate temperament to accommodate foster children living safely within the family home and is compatible with the fostering task.
Staff should ask for any supporting evidence which can assist with reassurance on pet behaviour and management including their own observations.
Consideration should be given to the impact of any changes in routine to the pet; issues of territory and protective factors in pets towards their owners.
If there is any doubt about the suitability of an animal expert opinion should be sought from a vet or the RSPCA.
The Fostering Service should be informed of a new or first pet, entering the fostering household and the Pet Assessment/Dog Ownership Questionnaire completed.
Any change in circumstances regarding pets should be updated at the next foster carer Annual Review.
No Child in Care should be left alone at any time with a dog or pet until the foster carer is confident that there is a positive relationship between the child and pet to ensure the child's safety. The foster carer must inform the child's social worker they are proposing to do this.
Matching considerations before a child is placed within a foster family must include a risk assessment. This should include the child's attitude/experience of pets, any allergies, and any other risks and the child's capacity to live in a household where there are pets. For example, is the child fearful of dogs; does the child's culture view dogs in a certain light; has the child been known to mistreat animals?
5. Size of Dog/Pets
It is recognised that dogs and other pets can attack children. While the size of a dog is important, especially where vulnerable children are involved, the breed of the dog may indicate the tendency or capacity for aggressiveness. Small dogs may attack, but it is larger dogs that have the strength to maim or kill. Therefore, when assessing a family this should be taken into consideration when making the final recommendation to the Panel.
The Fostering Panel should take into account any dogs or pets when approving a family and address the minimum age of child to be placed. The assessments must include the potential risk posed by a specific animal and the carer's attitude and approach to owning a pet(s).
Foster carers should be asked for any details of dog training/obedience classes undertaken.
6. Working Dogs and Animals in Rural communities
Where prospective foster carers have working dogs i.e. Police dogs/Farm dogs/Sheep dogs, these must be kept in a secure area outside the home where children cannot gain access. The assessing social worker will need to see the area and satisfy themselves that children could not gain access.
A report or letter from the family vet detailing the type of work undertaken by the animal should be referenced and confirmed in the Dog Ownership Questionnaire and included in the presentation to the Panel.
7. Animals/Dogs Kept for Breeding
Households who keep animals for breeding purposes will require individual assessment and not distract from the fostering task. As with working dogs, the assessing social worker will need to be satisfied that the animals are kept in secure, separate areas where children cannot gain access. It is important to note that even the most placid animals can become aggressive when they are protecting their young.
If the foster carer is breeding five dog litters or more the household will need to be formally registered under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999.
8. Health, Safety and Hygiene
It is important to be aware of the health risks that can be associated with pets and all vaccinations should be up to date. Health risks include:
- Cat scratches, bites and litter trays which can cause Toxoplasmosis;
- Toxicara canis, a parasite that lives inside dogs bodies and Campylobacter a bacterial infection;
- Psittacosis, sometimes called Parrot Fever, although relevant to other birds.
Dogs and cats should be wormed and fleaed regularly. Carers should be able to support this with a certificate or letter from their vet and this should be noted on the Pet/Dog Questionnaire and updated at the foster carer Annual Review.
All outside areas should be kept free of fouling. Pets in cages must be kept clean and gloves should be worn when cleaning. Gloves should also be worn when cleaning litter trays.
Where cats are kept, babies should be protected by the use of a net on prams and pushchairs and cat litter trays should be unable to be accessed by crawling babies/toddlers.
Fish tanks/other tanks containing pets should be placed where children cannot gain access.
If chickens are kept, they should be secured appropriately and vet checked.
9. New Pets
If following approval of a carer the family decide to get a dog or other pet, they must consider taking the following actions first:
- Consider carefully what sort of dog/pet would fit approval;
- Seek background information on the dog/pet e.g. age, history etc.
- Seek expert advice on how to handle/manage the pet given the fostering tasks undertaken and the possible behaviour of Children in Care;
- Consult with the Fostering Social Worker once all information is known. The Fostering Social Worker can then take further advice from an expert or refer to Panel for approval/review.
10. Dogs/Pets Currently in Placement
Where existing carers have either more than 2 dogs or a large dog, Fostering Social Workers should visit each carer to look at their approval and registration i.e. if a carer is registered for babies and toddlers but has a large dog, their approval will need to be formally reviewed. Where more than 2 dogs are in the foster home, this too will need to be formally reviewed. It is important to note that by reviewing each case individually, both the needs of the child and addressing the pet within the family will ensure safety for all.
Carer supervision visits should include observations of pets within the home and how they are managed.
The management of visitors to the house should also be explored with attention given to how, for example, contact within the home is managed.
11. Emergency, Remand, Short Break and Respite/Day Care Foster Placements
It is more likely that emergency or remand placements may have any age of child arriving at any time of day or night. It is therefore particularly important that carers who provide this service do not have pets who pose a risk to a particular child i.e. large dogs as it is not known what age/size of child may be placed. If a dog is in the household, a 24-hour settling in period should occur before the child is introduced to the pet.
The introduction of pets to children on day care, respite or short break placements should be risk assessed.
12. Visiting Animals
It is important to note that where foster carers have friends/relatives with pets visiting their house this Policy would apply.
13. Actions in the Event of Injury to a Child by a Pet
If a dog or other pet in the household bites, scratches or in any way injures a fostered child the foster carer must take the following actions immediately:
- Remove the animal from the house;
- Give the child first aid and seek medical advice/attention as soon as possible;
- Notify the Fostering Social Worker or Team Leader;
- Notify the child's Social Worker or Team Leader.
See also Health and Safety Procedure