View 4LSCB Procedures View 4LSCB Procedures
View Portsmouth Children's Homes Procedures Manual View Portsmouth Children's Homes Procedures Manual

6.2.8 Managing Concerns, Complaints & Allegations against Foster Carers, including Historical Allegations

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

As Corporate Parents Portsmouth City Council have the clear duty to ensure that all looked after children receive the best care possible to meet their needs and as such it is responsible to ensure that any concern/complaint/allegation made against a foster carer is investigated in the most appropriate manner in order to safeguard looked after children.

The duty of Children’s Services to conduct Section 47 Child Protection Enquiries when there are concerns about significant harm, applies on the same basis to children who are in foster care as it does to children who live with their own families.

AMENDMENT

In June 2016, this chapter was entirely revised and updated and should be re-read in full.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Scope
  3. Principles
  4. Definitions
  5. Action on Receiving a Concern, Complaint or Allegations About a Foster Carer
  6. Initial Consideration of The Information
  7. Jurisdiction
  8. How to Respond to Concerns, Complaints and Allegations
  9. Responding To Concerns (Level 1)
  10. Responding to a Complaint (Level 2) - Where There are No Safeguarding Issues Noted at the Initial Stage
  11. Responding To An Allegation (Level 3)
  12. Household Review Following An Allegation Or Serious Complaint
  13. The Fostering Panel
  14. Referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service and Ofsted
  15. Investigation of Concerns, Complaints or Allegations Made Against Members of the Foster Carer’s Family or Support Network


1. Introduction

Working Together 2015 states that a clear policy must be in place for dealing with allegations against people who work with children (paid or volunteers) - this includes foster carers.

An allegation in relation to a foster carer or member of their household is where it is alleged or suspected that they have:

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed, or may have harmed a child;
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against, or related to, a child; or
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children.

Working Together 2015 also states that local authorities should have a Designated Officer (LADO) to be involved in the management and oversight of individual cases. The LADO should provide advice and guidance to employers and voluntary organisations, liaising with police and other agencies and monitoring the progress of cases to ensure that they are dealt with as quickly as possible, consistent with a thorough and fair process.

Portsmouth City Council LADO Denise Lingham 023 9243 7648
Out of hours, Contact Emergency Duty Team on 0300 555 1384

Anyone (including all Portsmouth City Council staff and foster carers) must report any allegation or suspicion concerning a foster carer, member of their household, or any other person in a ‘position of trust’ such as a teacher, social worker etc immediately.

Serious complaints and allegations (that meet the criteria above) must be reported directly and immediately to the Fostering Service Leader and relevant child care Service Leader with operational responsibility for the child who is the subject of the allegation (where applicable). The LADO must also be informed immediately. Foster carers must immediately report any allegations or suspicions they become aware of via the child’s social worker, their supervising social worker (duty worker if unavailable or Hants Out of Hours if out of hours).


2. Scope

This procedure relates to all concerns, complaints and allegations made against a Portsmouth City Council foster carer including mainstream, family and friends carers, family link carers or any foster carers residing within Portsmouth who are managed by an independent fostering agency (IFA) or another local authority.

The procedure should be used in relation to historical information relating to current or ex-foster carers. All reported historical allegations should be responded to in the same way as contemporary concerns.

In considering allegations against a foster carer there may be up to three strands of investigation which may be acting in parallel but coordinated by the LADO:

  • A police investigation of a possible criminal offence;
  • Enquiries and assessment by Children’s Services about whether or not a child is in need of protection or services;
  • Consideration by the Fostering Service of a review of the foster carer’s suitability to foster in accordance with the Fostering Services Regulations.

Additionally situations may also run in parallel with an investigation into a complaint made under the:

  • Children’s social services complaints procedure.


3. Principles

A number of principles underpin this guidance.

  • All concerns, complaints or allegations must be taken seriously and investigated;
  • The welfare of the child or young person remains of paramount importance throughout any enquiries; this includes both their safety and their placement stability;
  • Investigations into allegations or suspicions of harm are handled fairly, quickly, and consistently in a way that provides effective protection for the child, and at the same time supports the person who is subject to the allegation;
  • The fullest possible information should be made available to those undertaking enquires by those who have in depth knowledge of the carer and the children concerned;
  • Enquiries should involve a comprehensive approach addressing the carers’ previous history of caring for children, exploring the context in which concerns have arisen and addressing any associated needs of the carer e.g. support and training;
  • Investigations which find no evidence of harm should not become procedures for looking into poor standards of care - these should be dealt with separately in a thorough, fair, timely and consistent manner;
  • All parties should be treated with dignity and respect;
  • Foster carers should be given as much information about the concern, complaint or allegation as possible and as soon as the individual circumstance allows, and given as much information about the process of the investigation and their rights throughout the enquiry, recognising the stressful nature of these procedures. Wherever possible the carer should be given a full opportunity to answer the concerns raised and make representations;
  • Foster carers and their families should have access to support if they are subject to a concern, complaint or allegation. This should include independent information, advice, emotional support, mediation and advocacy where there is an allegation against them or serious concern about their practice or standards of care;
  • A decision to remove a child from their foster placement must be based on an assessment to determine whether their immediate need is for protection or for additional services which will safeguard them and promote his or her welfare in the placement;
  • If foster children are removed and the foster carer suspended from taking new placements fostering allowances and any fees payable to the carer will continue to be paid during the investigation in line with the foster carers finance policy;
  • Investigations should take place at the lowest possible level compatible with the seriousness of the concern, complaint or allegation. The level of response can be increased or decreased as information, assessment, analysis and conclusions allows;
  • It is important to reach a conclusion in all cases, including where there is a failure to cooperate or resignation by the foster carer;
  • If the allegation is substantiated, or there remain significant concerns at the conclusion of the case that the foster carer is not suitable to work with children, consideration should be given to a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service. Where it has been concluded that the person poses a risk of harm to children a referral must be made to the Disclosure and Barring Service;
  • Record keeping is a vital part of the process and a clear, comprehensive and accurate account of the allegation, how this was followed up and resolved, a record of any action taken and the decisions reached and why must be fully recorded on both the child’s and the carer’s file. A clear and comprehensive summary must be provided to the carer once the investigation is concluded. Records will be kept until the person concerned reaches normal retirement age or 10 years if that is longer;
  • Malicious, false, and unsubstantiated allegations will not be referred to in references.
  • Every effort should be made to maintain confidentiality and guard against publicity while any issues are being investigated and assessed. Information should only be shared with other staff on a ‘need to know’ basis;
  • Delay should be minimised. It is expected that 80% of cases will be resolved within one month, 90% within three months and all but the most exceptional cases within 12 months.


4. Definitions

A concern, complaint or allegation is a formal or informal written or oral expression of dissatisfaction or disquiet in relation to the behaviour of, or the care given to a child by a foster carer or member of their household.

In order to distinguish between a concern, complaint or allegation it is important for practitioners to focus on the behaviours and issues and the corresponding seriousness with regard to child protection issues or quality of care provided. Information received about a carer may contain a mix of concerns, complaints and/or allegations. Where the information relates to a child in placement, or there are foster children in placement, it is important that discussion takes place between the relevant child care social worker/s and the fostering social worker and their managers to establish if the matter should be dealt with as a concern, complaint or allegation. If the information relates to the carer and there is no child in placement the Fostering Service Leader will make this decision.

In all cases the decision regarding the level at which the issue should be managed must be ratified by the Fostering Service Leader (or Team Leader when the Service Leader is unavailable) and the reason for this decision recorded on the carer’s file and child care file if applicable. The LADO should be consulted and advice sought if necessary - all allegations (Level 3) must be referred immediately to the LADO.

Concern (Level 1):

Issues related to day-to-day management. For example:

  • Having a child’s hair cut without discussion with parents where this has not been delegated to the carers;
  • Quality or nature of diet, clothing or routine care and low level discipline issues;
  • An accumulation of extremely low level issues that individually have not met the threshold for the complaints and allegations procedure.

Complaint (Level 2):

A formal or informal complaint is made relating to but not limited to:

  • Foster carer’s parenting style and quality of care for example inappropriate discipline;
  • Quality of working with other professionals/practitioners for example failure to adhere to the child’s care plan;
  • Lack of or breach of confidentiality/unsuitable practice with regard to families - for example being discourteous towards parents;
  • An accumulation or worsening of ‘one-off’ or continuing low level concerns about day to day care.

Allegations (Level 3):

Whereby it is alleged that a foster carer has:

  • Behaved in a way that has or may have harmed a child or young person for example, physical, emotional, sexual abuse, grooming or neglect;
  • Committed a criminal offence against/related to a child or young person for example any of the above;
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children for example, but not limited to, viewed pornographic internet sites, consumed excessive alcohol whilst with a child, engaged in domestic violence or other violent activity, is a drug user.


5. Action on Receiving a Concern, Complaint or Allegations About a Foster Carer

Concerns, complaints or an allegation about a foster carer, or a member of the fostering household, may arise from any number of sources for example from a child or an adult linked to a current or historical placement, the child’s social worker, fostering social worker, another foster carer, a member of the public, directly from the police or from another professional such as teacher, health visitor etc.

Such information will be passed either to the child’s social work team (Hampshire Out of Hours if outside of office hours) or the fostering team depending on where the concerns originate and whether or not they relate to the child or the carer. In some cases information may be passed directly to the LADO.

The receiving social worker should inform their Service Leader and their colleague in the other team immediately who will in turn advise their Service Leader. Information regarding historical allegations relating to a child whose case is no longer open to the Department will be routed via the MASH who should consult with the fostering team.

Any staff from any agency who receives a report that a child in a foster home in Portsmouth is suffering or may be at risk of significant harm must report this immediately to the Department in accordance with the respective agencies Child Protection Procedures. This is extended in the case of foster carers to include any information that a carer may have:

  • Behaved in a way that could have harmed a child;
  • Possibly committed a criminal offence against a child;
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children/is unsuitable to work with children.

Equally any issues about the conduct of a foster carer or their family or friends (in contact with the child) should be reported even if there is no apparent risk to the child.


6. Initial Consideration of the Information

Common sense and judgment needs to be applied to managing the information received.

The level of the concern, complaint or allegation and whether or not it is a child protection matter or criminal investigation, can be upgraded, downgraded or discontinued as information, investigation and assessment progresses.

The Service Leader for the child and the Fostering Service Leader should consult with each other and discuss and agree the nature of the concern (Level 1), complaint (Level 2) or allegation (Level 3). The Service Leader for the child in consultation with the LADO will also consider if child protection procedures are required.

The Fostering Service Leader will advise the Head of Looked After Children Service of any allegations or complaints without delay and, where applicable, will notify Ofsted in accordance with Fostering Regulations.

For Concerns (Level 1): the Fostering Service Leader will agree the level following consultation with the child care Service Leader where appropriate.

Complaints (Level 2) and Allegations (Level 3): With regard to these levels the Service Leaders should agree who will consult with the LADO.

The LADO will decide whether the allegation or complaint gives the department reason to believe that any child may have suffered or may be at risk of suffering significant harm. Or that the carer or a member of their household has behaved in a way that:

  • Could have harmed a child;
  • Possibility committed a criminal offence against a child;
  • Behaved towards a child or children in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children.

The LADO’s role is to provide information and guidance and to manage all reported allegations. This includes considering all the relevant concerns and facts, deciding on the next course of action in consultation with others, liaising with the referrer and all relevant parties to monitor the progress of all cases that meet the definition of an allegation or serious concern, ensuring that a named person is keeping the subject of the allegation informed of progress during and after the investigation.

Discussion with the LADO During the initial discussion as much information as possible should be made available by the child care team and fostering team for the LADO’s consideration including but not limited to:

  • Details of the allegation or serious complaint;
  • Any actions already taken;
  • Information about the legal status of the child, the responsible LA for the child, length of time in placement, contact details for key people;
  • Information about other children in placement, including carers own children;
  • Whether the carers are aware of the allegation;
  • Information about the children in the foster home;
  • Information about the carers’ record in fostering including any previous history of concerns, complaints or allegations;
  • Current issues in the placement or foster home;
  • The views of the foster carer where known;
  • The views of the fostering social worker, child’s SW and anyone relevant.

The LADO will consider if the situation does or does not meet the definition of an allegation (Level 3) and will reach a decision with regard to the level at which the matter will be investigated.

All managers and the LADO should confirm their decision regarding the level at which the matter will be investigated within 24 hours and this should be recorded on both the carer’s and the child’s file.

The matter may need to be referred to the police child protection unit. The LADO or Service Leader for the child will liaise with the police in line with CP procedures if appropriate.

Suspension: The Fostering Service Leader should decide in consultation with the LADO if the foster carer should be suspended from taking further placements while a police investigation, enquiry by the department, or any potential review of their approval to foster is taking place. Current placements may remain if discussed and agreed with the LADO. This will be further discussed at any strategy meeting held. Foster carers should not be suspended or children removed from placement automatically or without careful thought.

Resignation: If the carer submits their written resignation the investigation will continue in order to reach conclusions.

Support for Carers: The role of foster carers is a unique and challenging one. They look after some of our most vulnerable children, 24 hours a day, and it is essential that they are properly supported. The way in which concerns, complaints and allegations are handled is an integral aspect of this. The consequences of a false or unsubstantiated complaint or allegation can have a consequence for placement stability and future fostering and therefore sensitivity as well as a thorough approach needs to be employed.

Contact must be maintained with the foster carer by their fostering social worker, or another member of the fostering service if more appropriate, following any concern, complaint or allegation. This is to ensure the carer, and their family members if appropriate, are provided with information and support during the investigation. It will not always be appropriate to discuss the detail of the complaint or allegation if there is an independent investigating social worker involved or a police investigation and the worker must confirm via the LADO when and what can be shared or discussed with the carer. Clear boundaries must be maintained to protect the integrity of any police or Children’s Services investigation. However this should not prevent the fostering social worker offering support as soon as the foster carer is informed they are subject to a concern, complaint or allegation. The fostering service must immediately signpost the foster carer to the full range of support available to them.

This includes:

  • Fosterline - a national information and advice service available to foster carers by telephone, email or post - open 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Contact details are freephone 0800 040 7675, email fosterline@fostering.net PO Box 51566 London SE1 8WJ;
  • Fostering Network membership advice and support - for those foster carers have chosen to take this membership.
  • Foster Talk Independent Fostering Support Service a referral for support will be made by the Supervising Social Worker for all foster carers subject to a serious complaints (Level 2) and all allegations (Level 3). This support can provide carers and members of their household with free:
    • Information and advice about the process;
    • Emotional support;
    • Mediation and /or advocacy.
  • The Law Society can supply a list of local solicitors who are experienced in child care law or criminal law. Lists are available from: The Law Society 113 Chancery Lane London WC2A 1PL or by telephone on 020 7242 1222

Informing those with parental responsibility: Unless there is a clear justification for not doing so, which should be recorded, the presumption is that parents and those with parental responsibility should be informed about the concern, complaint or allegation and the outcome within three working days. This is the responsibility of the child’s social worker. In relation to allegations (Level 3) informing those with parental responsibility will be considered in consultation with the LADO.

Recording: All information, conversations and management decisions should be recorded within the carer's module and profile notes in Swift in line with departmental recording practices, including child protection procedures. A summary should be provided on the child's file in order to be clear of the allegation, the level of investigation, the outcome and if the LADO was involved that they will hold strategy meeting minutes. All recording should provide an audit trail.


7. Jurisdiction

If a Portsmouth child is living in a foster home in another local authority the report will be made to the LADO in that authority, who should liaise with Portsmouth City Council to agree who will take responsibility for the section 47 investigation, whose procedures will be followed and what the reporting back arrangement will be.


8. How to Respond to Concerns, Complaints and Allegations

Minor Issues: For minor issues that arise with regard to day-to-day care by foster carers then these matters, by agreement with the Fostering Service Leader can be dealt with immediately or during regular supervision with the carer but within one month.

This falls outside of the concerns, complaints and allegations procedures but attention to the frequency noted and recorded. Cumulatively they may trigger a concern (Level 1) process.

Practice and development issues will also be followed up via the normal review process, through supervision and post-approval training.

It is not acceptable for concerns raised about a foster carer, by any source that come to the attention of the fostering social worker or child’s social worker, not to be shared and addressed with the carer in an open and transparent manner.


9. Responding To Concerns (Level 1)

Concern: If the issue about day to day care is more serious but still at the lower end of the spectrum and meets the concern criteria then, by agreement with their respective Service Leaders, the child’s social worker and the fostering social worker should, as soon as possible, make a joint visit, to the foster carer to discuss the concern and reach an agreed solution. If the concern does not relate to a child in placement the fostering social worker will visit alone.

The foster carer should be informed of the substance of the concern as soon as possible, and within 48 hours, if they are not already aware of it (unless there are exceptional circumstances which should be recorded).

Outcome: The outcome of the visit will be fully recorded on CCM and Swift (both carer and child files as appropriate). The Fostering Service Leader will decide whether or not the matter can be concluded (usually in consultation with the Service Leader for the child if applicable) and recorded as a team manager decision on CCM and Swift (both carer and child file). The outcome can be reviewed at the next carer’s review or a decision made that a review will be held sooner. Any actions or training identified through any of these processes should be followed up by the fostering social worker and checked in supervision with the carer.

If the social worker/s and their Team/Service Leader/s are not satisfied with the outcome of their joint visit then a recommendation can be made to upgrade the concern (Level 1) to a complaint (Level 2) and follow those procedures.

Unless the complaint has been made anonymously the outcome will be sent in writing by the Fostering Service Leader to whoever raised the concern in accordance with Portsmouth City Council’s children’s social services complaints procedure.

Repeat concerns: a number or pattern of these concerns may result in a requirement to look at them in terms of the next level i.e. a complaint (Level 2). Persistent or repeated low level concerns about day to day care may constitute a real issue with regard to the quality of care, suitability or professionalism shown by the carer. This will be the decision of the fostering and where applicable child care Service Leader.

The Fostering Service Leader should write to the carer to conclude the outcome of the concern investigated advising them of the decisions reached and what action if any is to be taken within ten working days. A copy of the letter will be kept on the carer’s file and sent to the social worker/Service Leader for the child.

The concern, outcome of the investigation and management decision should be recorded on the carer’s chronology, on Swift and noted on the next carer’s review report.


10. Responding to a Complaint (Level 2) - Where There are No Safeguarding Issues Noted at the Initial Stage

Once the decision has been made (following consultation with the LADO if necessary) that the complaint does not at this stage fall within Child Protection/Safeguarding Procedures the responsibility for managing the complaint rests with the Fostering Service Leader. The Fostering Service Leader in consultation with the child care Service Leader/s if applicable will within two working days agree a plan to investigate the matter.

The plan to investigate will usually consist of agreeing who will gather and report back more information from the person who has made the complaint, a joint visit to the carers by the fostering social worker and the child care social worker, if applicable, and gathering information from anyone else who may have relevant information.

Where applicable the complaint must also be dealt with in accordance with Portsmouth City Council’s Children’s Social Care Complaints Procedure.

The Fostering Service Leader must decide in consultation with the child care Service Leader:

  • Who will be involved in the investigation;
  • The process and timescales of the investigation;
  • Who will be informed or interviewed;
  • The carer’s support needs and how support will be provided;
  • Any financial arrangements if the child has left the placement;
  • Decisions and reasons regarding any child in placement;
  • Reporting back process following investigation.

Whilst being rigorous, the process of this investigation needs to be proportionate to the circumstances of the case, as complaints will vary in terms of seriousness and their impact on any child concerned. There is a balance required in terms of safeguarding children, being fair to carers and their families as well as looking at the impact on placement stability. Where the complaint is of a serious nature and may result in escalation to level 3 this should be managed in consultation with the LADO (see Section 11, Responding To An Allegation (Level 3)).

Advising Carers: The foster carers should be informed of the substance of the complaint as soon as possible and within 48 hours (unless there are exceptional circumstances which should be recorded).

Once the investigation and assessment has been completed and the information gathered the investigating social worker/s should provide a report to the Fostering Service Leader and child care Service Leader. The account given by the foster carer and their views must be thoroughly explored.

Outcomes: Where the carer has refused to cooperate, withdrawn from the process or even submitted their resignation it is important that this process is completed and conclusions reached on the information available.

The fostering Service Leader in consultation with the child care Service Leader/s and LADO if applicable will need to reach a judgement about whether or not the complaint is:

  • Substantiated - there is sufficient evidence to prove;
  • Unsubstantiated - there is insufficient evidence to prove or disprove (does not imply guilt or innocence);
  • Malicious - there is clear evidence to prove there has been a deliberate act to deceive and the complaint is entirely false;
  • False - there is sufficient evidence to disprove;
  • Concerns remain and standards of care need to be addressed.

At the conclusion of the investigation the Fostering Service Leader should write to the carer, within 10 working days, outlining the decision and any actions reached. A copy should be placed on the carer’s file as well as on any relevant child’s file.

The Fostering Service Leader will ensure that the complainant is responded to in writing by the most appropriate team (Fostering or child’s) in accordance with Portsmouth City Council’s children’s social services complaints procedure.

Recording: The complaint and outcome should be recorded on the carer’s chronology and on the carer’s Swift record including in the allegations tab in the carers module. The child’s file should contain recording relating to all aspects of the investigation including decisions reached and in line with departmental recording policy.

Review: Once the investigation has concluded a review of the foster carer’s approval should be carried out within 28 days. A review following a complaint should consider the foster carer’s ongoing suitability to foster and the appropriateness of the terms of their approval. The carer’s support and training needs should be fully considered.

The review should be chaired by the Fostering Service Reviewing Social Worker and signed off by the Fostering Service Leader.

Fostering Panel: The matter should then be referred to the fostering panel for consideration. The concluding report of the investigation and the review report should be provided. The carers must be invited to attend panel.


11. Responding To An Allegation (Level 3)

Once it has been agreed that the matter is an allegation (the information raises safeguarding concerns) a multi-agency strategy discussion will take place. The strategy meeting will be organised by the Child's Social Worker where there is one and if there is not then the fostering team will undertake this role. The LADO will liaise with the Fostering Service Leader and the relevant childcare Service Leader regarding whether any action is needed prior to the Strategy Meeting/Discussion in relation to:

  • Immediate protection of children including formally suspending the foster carer in relation to new placements;
  • The need to inform the child’s parents (those with PR) of the nature of the allegation;
  • The need to inform the foster carer that an allegation has been made;
  • The need to inform Ofsted.

The strategy meeting should take place as soon as possible following the first report to the LADO. The immediacy of this will depend on the nature of the allegation. The meeting can be undertaken in person or by phone discussion.

Further strategy meetings may be required to monitor progress and conclude the investigation.

Whilst being rigorous the process of an investigation following an allegation needs to be proportionate to the circumstances of the case as allegations will vary in terms of seriousness and their impact on any child concerned. There is a balance required in terms of safeguarding children, being fair to carers and their families as well as looking at the impact on placement stability.

Strategy Meeting: The LCSB multi-agency child protection procedures on Strategy Meetings should be followed. The strategy discussion will be convened by the LADO and those participating should be sufficiently senior and able, therefore, to contribute to the discussion of available information and to make decisions on behalf of their agencies. The Strategy Meeting/Discussion will usually be chaired by the LADO and the following should be invited to attend the Strategy Meeting/participate in the discussion.

  • Police - CPU;
  • Social worker for the child;
  • Service Leader/Team Leader for the child;
  • Social worker for the foster carer;
  • Service Leader/Team Leader of the fostering service.

Once the LADO strategy meeting has considered what investigations are appropriate and agencies that need to be informed. The Service Leader or Team Leader for the child may chair the rest of the meeting to plan with the police any investigation that needs to be co-ordinated.

The initial Strategy Meeting/Discussion as well as any further meeting will consider whether or not any action is required with respect to;

  • Child Protection;
  • Criminal Investigation;
  • Fostering procedures;
  • Complaints procedures.

The status of each of these processes will need to be reviewed and continued or discontinued at each stage of the process as information becomes available.

The Strategy Meeting/discussion will be used to discuss and consider the following information and issues:

  • Share available information and assess any risks to any children;
  • Agree what action is required immediately to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child, and/or provide interim services and support;
  • Decide whether s47 enquiries should be initiated;
  • Plan how enquiries should be undertaken and by whom;
  • Decide who will carry out what actions, by when and for what purpose;
  • Determine what and how information from the Strategy Discussion will be shared with the child/family and carer, unless such information sharing may place a child at increased risk of significant harm or jeopardise Police investigations into any alleged offence(s);
  • Agree the conduct and timing of any criminal investigation, and determine if legal action is required;
  • Agree a multi-agency assessment of the outcome, from information shared, risks assessed and enquiries undertaken;
  • Agree a date for a review Strategy Meeting/discussion if any actions are agreed.

Those attending the Strategy Meeting should come sufficiently briefed to supply the following information, as applicable to their role, in order to inform decision making:

  • Details of the allegation;
  • Whether or not there is a concurrent child protection investigation;
  • The views of the child if known in relation to the allegation or the placement;
  • Significant information about the child/ren including legal status, length of time in placement, health, education etc;
  • Any previous concerns, complaints or allegations made against the carers or their family/members of the household. Any other relevant information about the carers. A chronology should be available;
  • Other children living in placement and any information and actions in relation to them;
  • Any information relating to any other children the carer may have contact with in any role;
  • Whether or not the carer is aware of the allegation and their views if known;
  • Whether or not the child’s parents or those with parental responsibility are aware of the allegation and their views if known;
  • Whether or not the carer has been given details of support (including independent support) and if they have accessed support.

The meeting will make one of the following decisions:

  • S47 child protection Joint enquiries by Police and Children’s services;
  • Single agency S47 child protection enquiry by any Investigating Agency;
  • No further action on the basis that further information available at the meeting leads to the conclusion that allegation cannot be substantiated, false or malicious. In these circumstances foster carers should be informed verbally and in writing that an allegation has been made and the decision of the Strategy Meeting/Discussion;
  • That no evidence of significant harm has been found but the enquiries have revealed concerns about the standard of care or breach of fostering standards. Where this is the case the matter will be dealt with by the Fostering Service Leader following procedures for a (Level 1) concern or (Level 2) complaint.

If further enquiries under Section 47 are agreed as necessary the meeting will agree:

  • The Terms of Reference of the enquiries, clear timescales and the scope of the enquiries (these need to be clearly recorded);
  • How/whether the parents of the child or young person should be informed about the outcome of the Strategy Meeting/Discussion;
  • How the carer will be informed of the outcome of the Strategy Meeting/Discussion, how and who will advise them during the process of these enquiries;
  • Whether the child who is the subject of the enquiries should remain in the placement pending the outcome of the enquiry (this should include consideration of the safety of all children in the placement including the foster carer’s own children);
  • If foster children are removed and the foster carer suspended from taking new placements fostering allowances and any fees payable to the carer will continue to be paid during the investigation in line with the foster carers finance policy.

Advising Foster Carers: With due regard to any police advice the foster carer should be informed of the substance of the allegation as soon as possible and within 48 hours (unless there are exceptional circumstances which should be recorded). The foster carer should receive the following information:

  • The substance of the allegation;
  • Who will be involved in the investigation;
  • The process and timescales of the investigation;
  • Who will be informed or interviewed;
  • Details of support available including the right to independent support, legal advice and representation and how this can be obtained;
  • Know the reasons for the removal of children if applicable;
  • Any financial arrangements if the child has been removed;
  • The current status of their approval as foster carers;
  • How to communicate with the fostering service during the investigation.

The foster carer should be informed by their supervising social worker or Fostering Service/Team Leader verbally and in writing on a regular basis of the progress of the investigation.

Where a carer has refused to cooperate, withdrawn from the process or even tendered their resignation it is important that this process is completed and conclusions reached on the information available. Resignations should not prevent an allegation from being followed up.

The Section 47 Enquiry: The scope of these enquiries will have been outlined at the Strategy Meeting/Discussion. Enquiries should be thorough and should involve ascertaining information about the children previously placed with the foster carer. The nominated investigation managers identified at the Strategy Discussion are responsible for co-ordinating all aspects of these enquiries. Where the child is accommodated under Section 20 the parents of the child should give consent to the child being interviewed and medically examined. Where the child is subject to a Care Order parents should be encouraged to give consent wherever possible but interviews and medical examination can go ahead without this consent. The investigating officer(s) will decide what action to take with regard to the foster carer via the fostering panel process depending on the nature and severity of the allegation, and depending on whether a criminal prosecution seems likely.

Police Investigation: The point at which the child/ren or foster carer are interviewed by social workers will be dependent on any police or joint investigation. It may need to wait until a police investigation has been discontinued or if there is a criminal prosecution this may not be possible and the feedback may need to be from the police and the report to the Strategy Meeting will need to reflect this and other information gathered as part of the enquiry.

If the outcome of the Section 47 Enquiries is that a child/children are at ongoing risk of significant harm if they remain with the foster carer s/he will be removed from this placement immediately.

A recommendation to the Head of Looked after Children Service should be made where it is considered immediate suspension of the fostering approval should take place pending the next meeting of the Fostering Panel.

Review Strategy Meeting/s: Review Strategy Meetings will be held until an outcome is reached. The Review Strategy Meeting will review actions identified in the initial Strategy Discussion and will usually be chaired by the LADO who chaired the initial Strategy Meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to review actions identified in the Strategy Meeting and agree further action

Outcome: Once the investigation and assessment has been completed and the information gathered the investigating social workers should provide a report to the Strategy Meeting to conclude the investigation. The foster carer’s account and views must be thoroughly explored.

The LADO will need to reach a judgement:

  • The allegation is regarded as substantiated and evidenced;
  • The allegation is unsubstantiated;
  • The allegation is false;
  • The allegation is malicious.

At the conclusion of the investigation a clear and comprehensive written summary of the allegation, including details of how the allegation was followed up and resolved, a record of any action taken and the decisions reached must be provided to the foster carer within 10 working days. A copy should be placed on the carer’s file as well as on any relevant child’s file.

Where the allegation is unsubstantiated but concerns remain, or standards of care need to be addressed, these issues should be dealt with separately by the Fostering Service Leader as a (Level 1) concern or (Level 2) complaint.

Household Review: Once the investigation has concluded a review of the carer’s approval should be undertaken within 28 days. A criminal investigation should not delay this process. A report of the enquiry, its outcomes and any recommendations made at the Strategy Review Meeting should be prepared by the foster carers’ social worker. A copy must be given to the foster carer, Head of Looked After Children Service and the review chair. The review will be chaired by the Fostering Service Reviewing Social Worker or another appropriate person chosen by the Fostering Service Leader, who will provide a report of the meeting.

Fostering Panel: The matter should then be referred to the fostering panel for consideration. The report of the enquiry and its outcomes prepared by the foster carer’s social worker should be presented to the Fostering Panel along with the review report. A copy of this report which will include the outcome from the Strategy Review Meeting should also be given to the Head of Looked After Children's Services and the foster carer concerned.

The carer must be invited to the Panel.

Recording: The allegation and outcome should be recorded on the foster carer’s chronology and on the carer’s file. The child’s file should contain recording which summarises the investigation including decisions reached.

Referral to OFSTED: The Fostering Service Leader in consultation with Head of Looked After Children Service will complete a referral to OFSTED in line with The Fostering Service Regulations 2011.


12. Household Review Following an Allegation or Complaint

The review should address:

  • The nature of the allegation or complaint;
  • Findings of the enquiry including whether or not a report has been forwarded to the crown prosecution service;
  • What if any concerns remain;
  • The views and experience of the carer;
  • A chronology;
  • Views of the fostering social worker and recommendation regarding suitability to foster and terms of approval;
  • Any implications for the safer caring agreement;
  • Training issues;
  • Any other information relevant to the carer or the child in placement.

The recommendations from the review must be confirmed in writing to the carer along with a copy of the review report. The possible outcomes and recommendations are:

  • The carer choosing to resign (will still need to go to panel);
  • Immediate re-instatement of the carer, if approval and use had been suspended;
  • Future identified training or development needs;
  • Reconsideration of the terms and range of approval;
  • Re-assessment of the carer in relation to the identified concerns;
  • The carer remaining on hold pending the decision of the CPS;
  • The concerns are sufficiently serious to warrant termination of approval regardless of whether there is a CPS decision to prosecute.


13. The Fostering Panel

Following an allegation (Level 3) or a serious complaint (Level 2) and the subsequent review the matter must be referred to the fostering panel.

The carer must be invited to panel and it is reasonable to expect the carer to attend if they wish to continue fostering. The fostering social worker must attend the panel as well any investigating social worker/s and the child’s social worker where applicable. It would be good practice for the Fostering Service Leader to attend if the recommendation is de-registration.

In the situation where the carer may have offered their resignation or have resigned the matter should still be presented to panel to enable it to note the carer's resignation, reach an informed view of the agency's recommendation following review and record their decision making.

Prior to reaching any conclusions the panel must consider the following:

  • Report of the investigation;
  • Review report and recommendations;
  • Views of any childcare social worker involved;
  • Chronology;
  • Any written representation by the carer;
  • Any views of the child where appropriate;
  • Any minutes from a relevant child protection conference;
  • Minutes and decisions from the Strategy Meetings;
  • A copy of the concluding letter from the Fostering Service Leader;
  • Any other relevant paperwork.

The panel should make recommendations in line with the requirements of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011. The possible recommendations are:

  • The carer remains suitable to foster and the terms of the approval (which may be changed);
  • The carer is not regarded as suitable to continue fostering;
  • They may also have a view on a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service.


14. Referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service and Ofsted

The fostering agency has a statutory duty to refer any carer to the Disclosure and Barring Service where it has been concluded that the person poses a risk of harm to children. This is on the basis that the foster carer may have been de-registered due to misconduct that has harmed a child, or put a child at risk of harm or if they have resigned in circumstances that may have reached the same conclusion.

Ofsted must be informed of any serious incident in line with the Fostering Regulations 2011.


15. Investigation of Concerns, Complaints or Allegations Made Against Members of the Foster Carer’s Family or Support Network

On occasions concerns (Level 1), complaints (Level 2) or allegations (Level 3) will be made against members of the foster carer’s immediate household or extended family. This can be extremely difficult for foster carers if they have had no knowledge and so need to be supported through this process however the needs of the foster child and any other children need to be prioritised.

Social workers need to assess whether or not there was any role by the carer either directly, or indirectly, for example by omission or commission and therefore a failure to protect. This will equally be the case if there is a significant family friend involved.

In any investigation against a family member, or where relevant any member of the carer’s support network, the procedures above apply and should be followed.

End