SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies where allegations are made or suspicions are raised that approved foster carers have caused Significant Harm to a child. It should be read in conjunction with the London Child Protection Procedures, Allegations against staff or volunteers, who work with children.
This chapter was reviewed and updated in March 2017 by Bexley to acknowledge additional points of clarification and guidance throughout.
All children are entitled to the same level and standard of protection from harm including those receiving services from statutory or other agencies. For this reason, enquiries and investigations relating to children in receipt of such services must be dealt with under the London Child Protection Procedures, Allegations against staff or volunteers, who work with children.
Allegations or suspicions that a foster carer has caused Significant Harm to a child will be investigated thoroughly, speedily and sensitively under those procedures and will involve open and honest communication with and support to all those affected.
It is important to note that, although there may be insufficient evidence to support a Police prosecution, this does not mean that action cannot be taken to protect a child nor that the termination of a foster carer's approval cannot be considered.
It should also be noted that it may be necessary to consider during an investigation what action, if any, should be taken with regard to other children with whom foster carers against whom allegations are made have contact, including their own children.
The expectation is that:
- At the time of a child's placement, foster carers will be provided with detailed information as to the child's background and in particular the context of any abusive experiences of and/or previous allegations made by the child;
- All foster carers will receive preparation, training and guidance to help them provide a safe environment for the child and all members of the foster family;
- All foster carers will have received information about this procedure and the London Child Protection Procedures, Allegations against staff or volunteers, who work with children;
- All foster carers will be familiar with and adopt the procedures for recording on a daily basis the progress of children placed with them, including any incidents or complaints, and understand that these procedures have been made to protect all those involved in the child's placement, particularly at times of high stress, and will provide important evidence if an allegation is made.
In addition, in relation to the Fostering Service, it is an expectation of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 that:
- A senior manager within the Fostering Service is identified to be the Designated Person who liaises with the LADO in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process;
- All staff within the Fostering Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosure and Barring Service.
3.1 Initial Action
Any person who receives information or suspects that a child has suffered or is suffering Significant Harm in a foster placement must immediately inform the child's social worker or their manager.
On receipt of any such information, the child's social worker, or their team manager must immediately:
- Inform his or her team manager and district/service manager;
- Inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
- Inform the supervising social worker;
- Refer the matter to the relevant Assessment Team.
The supervising social worker will:
- Inform the designated senior manager within the Fostering Service - see Section 2, Introduction; and, in consultation with the designated senior manager;
- Inform the social workers for any other child in the placement;
- Inform any other local authority with an interest in the foster placement.
The relevant Assessment Team must implement the London Child Protection Procedures, Allegations against staff or volunteers, who work with children in relation to the allegation/suspicion. They will gather relevant background information and convene a Strategy Meeting within 2 working days of the referral.
Other investigative routes may be identified as more appropriate at this stage, for example, the complaints process, and should be considered as an alternative to a Section 47 Enquiry.
At this stage, the Regulatory Authority must be informed of the allegation/suspicion and the supervising social worker's manager must ensure that an invitation is sent to them to be represented at the Strategy Meeting.
In exceptional cases were immediate action may be necessary to safeguard the welfare of the child, the child's social worker and his or her manager may decide to request that a new placement be identified, both for the child/children the allegation pertains to and any other child in placement. This decision must be agreed by the Assistant Director. The Local Authority has a duty to consult all interested parties when making significant decisions regarding a looked after child when relevant and reasonable practical to do so, this includes foster carers, parents, Independent Reviewing Officers and the views of the child. Any decision not to consult with a foster carer must be recorded by the child’s team manager and the fostering service. Please note with Section 47 enquiries in relation to fostering, the threshold is to have “reasonable cause to suspect”, a lower threshold than “reasonable cause to believe”.
3.2 Strategy Meeting
The Strategy Meeting will take place within 2 working days of the referral and will involve a face-to-face meeting. The purpose of the meeting will be to decide if an investigation is necessary and, if so, how it should be carried out. The following people will be invited:
- The manager of the team undertaking the Section 47 Enquiry;
- The child's social worker and his or her manager;
- The Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO);
- The supervising social worker linked to the foster carer, and his or her manager (who will liaise as necessary with the designated senior manager within the Fostering Service);
- The police;
- Any other agency involved with the child or foster family;
- A representative from the Regulatory Authority.
The Strategy Meeting must consider:
- The nature of the allegation, its source and reliability;
- Background information relating to the foster family, how long the family has been known, how many children have been placed there, the family's known strengths and weaknesses, any previous allegations made and any exceptional features about the child and the placement;
- The involvement of other agencies, for example if the child was placed by another local authority;
- The need to inform other agencies who use the foster home;
- Who will notify the Regulatory Authority of the outcome of the meeting, if a representative is not present;
- If necessary, a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion on the Children's Barred List. This should be considered whenever a carer is suspended from their duties;
- The safety of all children in the household including the foster carer's own children and whether any action is necessary to protect the children including the removal of all or any of the children while the investigation is conducted;
- How the needs of any child who has to leave the placement will be met including contact with other children in the placement;
- How and by whom the investigation is to be conducted. (It is important that careful consideration is given to the planning of criteria when a joint investigation is recommended. In situations where the Police or Crown Prosecution Service recommend no further action then the social worker must interview the foster carers about all allegations and concerns. Interview notes must be taken and made available to future meetings and/or the Fostering Panel);
- The time-scales for the investigation (see below) and any contingencies should timescales prove unlikely to be met;
- How the child should be informed of the procedure to be followed and supported through the process;
- Whether the alleged perpetrator/s should be asked to leave the home while the investigation is conducted and confirmation that the Chair will inform the carers of the allegation verbally and then in writing;
- How to inform the child's parents of the allegation;
- How and when to inform the foster carer/s of the allegation;
- Once informed of the decision what support to offer the foster carers; the foster carer/s must be provided advice and support from an agent independent of the fostering service;
- How and when reports on the investigation will be shared with the foster carers and the child or children in the placement;
- Whether further placements should be suspended in the meantime;
- Arrangements for reconvening the Strategy Meeting.
Whether or not the Strategy Meeting considers that the allegation or suspicion has any foundation, the matter should be investigated unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the Regulatory Authority must be notified of the decision and the outcome.
The minutes of the meeting must contain clear action points and clear time-scales for each action. The action points and timescales will be circulated immediately after the meeting. Actions agreed must be recorded and be the responsibility of named individuals.
Copies of the action points and the minutes should be held on the child's and the foster carer's records.
Any decision to take no further action following the Strategy Meeting must be clearly recorded by the decision-maker on the child's and the foster carer's records, and reported to the Regulatory Authority.
3.3 Investigation and Action
In anticipation of the outcome of the investigation being reported to the Fostering Panel, the supervising social worker or his/her manager should contact the Panel Chair to consider whether a special Panel meeting will be required.
The actions agreed at the Strategy Meeting should be implemented by those responsible within the agreed timescales.
Unless there are circumstances when the details or nature of the allegation cannot be shared immediately, the foster carers should be advised of the allegation as agreed at the Strategy Meeting and of the process to be followed in the investigation, including the possibility that an Initial Child Protection Conference may be convened in relation to their own children.
Where considered appropriate by those at the Strategy Meeting, the foster carers should be given the opportunity to respond to the allegations before any final decision is made about necessary action to protect the child and other children in the household. Such protective action may include asking the person against whom the allegation has been made to leave the household while the investigation is conducted.
Any decision to suspend making further placements with the foster carer while the investigation is being conducted should be communicated in writing to the foster carer by the manager of the fostering service.
Those supporting the foster carers must contact the foster carers as soon as practicable after the foster carers are made aware of the allegation, and explain their role to the foster carers. They must make clear their responsibility to report to the local authority, the Police and in some circumstances to the Court if any information relevant to the investigation comes to their attention. They must inform foster carers on how they will be supported and paid whilst they are under investigation.
They should confirm that the foster carers are aware of the following:
- The contents of this procedure and the relevant London Child Protection Procedures, Allegations against staff or volunteers, who work with children;
- The address and contact telephone number of the independent agency identified to provide the foster carers support;
- Information regarding consulting a solicitor;
- Information on insurance arrangements for legal expenses.
If an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, the Conference Chair must be consulted in advance to discuss whether the foster carers should be invited to attend. In any event, the foster carers' views must be obtained for and communicated to the Conference.
The social worker undertaking the investigation will prepare a report on the investigation and a copy will be provided to the foster carers and their representatives.
3.4 Concluding the Investigation
The Strategy Meeting will be reconvened to conclude the investigation. The same people will be invited and the same person will chair the meeting; the foster carers and their representative will be invited to participate as considered appropriate by the Chair.
The purpose of the final Strategy Meeting is to agree on the outcome of the investigation and responsibilities for any further action including reporting on the matter to the Fostering Panel and/or considering whether it may be appropriate to make a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion of the foster carers on the Children's Barred List.
Although this will always be envisaged as the final meeting, should new information come to light further actions may be required thereby necessitating the suspension and rescheduling of the meeting.
The Chair will notify the foster carers (if not in attendance), the child, the parents, other children in the placement and those involved with said children, other relevant agencies and the Regulatory Authority (if they do not attend the meeting) of the recommendations made at the meeting.
A report should be presented to the Fostering Panel in relation to the allegation and the outcome of the investigation. The report may wish to draw to the attention of the Chair of the Fostering Panel certain areas of the foster carer's practice in need of their close consideration. The social worker preparing the report should consult with the Chair of the Fostering Panel who will advise on who should attend the Panel meeting (usually the child's social worker and the supervising social worker for the foster carers) and whether or not a special Panel meeting should be convened.
Prior to Fostering Panel, the foster carers and their representative should have seen, and had time to comment on the report being presented to the Panel. The procedure to be adopted for the Fostering Panel will be the same as for any other foster carer review - see Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.
All relevant documents in relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome, must be retained on the child's and the foster carer's records, a copy of which should be given to the carer.
Consideration should be given to holding a debriefing meeting for all involved as to the impact of the allegations and the investigation, whatever the outcome, and any necessary assistance should be made available as necessary.