These procedures should be followed when allegations of abuse of children placed with approved foster carers are made. It is important to emphasise that the expectations of staff or substitute carers are different from those of birth parents and that while the process of investigation may be similar the range of outcomes is very different. It is important that consideration is given to the specific circumstances of the placement being investigated. One major difference between these procedures and those for investigating allegations of abuse of children in the community is that registration is not included within the process for dealing with allegations of abuse in residential or foster care.
Responsibility for foster carers
The process of any investigation into allegations of abuse of children in foster care will be dependent on the authority or organisation responsible for the foster carers.
The team leader who is responsible for the child will plan and manage the investigation, but must consult with the Co-ordinator (Specialist Services) as to how to proceed. This is in relation to South Ayrshire foster carers, and foster carers who are managed by another local authority, or the voluntary and independent sectors, hereafter referred to as other organisations.
Inter-authority and inter-organisational issues
When an investigation involves more than one authority or organisation the authority receiving the complaint must notify the chief social work officer of any other authority which may be involved. The Co-ordinator (Specialist Services) will decide who should be informed if another organisation is involved.
If a child protection investigation is undertaken in relation to a foster carer, the investigating authority must notify the authority where the foster carer lives and alert them to any concerns regarding birth or related children in the family. The investigating authority must also notify the managing authority or organisation of the resource (if different).
Deciding how to respond
As with any families there may be a range of concerns or complaints which necessitate investigation and intervention. It is important that a clear decision is made at the outset of any investigation about whether child protection procedures are being used by the Co-ordinator, Children Services.
When a child makes an allegation a decision has to be made regarding whether it is in fact an allegation of abuse. If it appears that the child may have suffered or is at risk of suffering significant harm from a foster carer then it should be dealt with as an allegation of abuse.
How to do it
The principles outlined in investigating abuse apply to investigations of allegations of abuse in foster care.
Any action will be determined by a range of factors including:
- the nature of the alleged abuse
- the length of the placement
- whether the placement is permanent or temporary
- the implications of the allegation for other foster children in the placement (past or present)
- the implication for birth children in the placement.
Consideration should be given at an early stage to the appropriateness of continuing with the placement.
As with any other child protection investigation the appropriateness of removing the alleged perpetrator rather than the child should be considered.
Where an investigation of concerns in respect of foster children leads to concerns regarding other children in the household past or present there should be:
- separate recording of concerns
- separate child protection conferences
- clear and separate decisions for each child.
Deciding on how the matter should be investigated and by whom
The decision to investigate using child protection procedures should be made by the Co-ordinator, Children Services responsible for the child. The investigation should ordinarily be undertaken by the social worker for the child and another appropriately experienced member of staff. The practice in terms of undertaking the investigation should follow the procedures for investigations.
Social workers undertaking investigations must have access to all information available to the social work department in respect of :
- the child
- the foster carer.
Where medical examination is deemed appropriate this should be carried out in accordance with the procedures.
Where a foster placement is terminated in the context of a child protection investigation the child must be medically examined before commencing their new placement. This applies irrespective of whether the circumstances of the investigation would in themselves merit a medical examination.
Advising relevant others
The decision to initiate child protection procedures should be conveyed to the foster carer by the investigating social workers, unless it would jeopardise the child’s safety or hamper inquiries.
They should generally be advised of the procedures to be used and the likely timescale.
If the foster carers are managed by South Ayrshire Fostering and Adoption team, then they should be advised of the support available from the Social Work department. This should normally be provided by the fostering and adoption allocated worker who should not be involved in the process of investigating the allegation.
For foster carers who are not managed by South Ayrshire, discussion about support should take place between the Co-ordinator (Specialist Services) and the equivalent manager in the other local authority or organisation.
South Ayrshire foster carers should be advised of the availability of support from independent sources, e.g. The Fostering Network.
Where an investigation is to be undertaken in terms of child protection procedures the Co-ordinator, Children Services responsible for the child must:
- ensure that the child’s birth parents are advised or record in writing the reasons why this is not appropriate.
- liaise with the police in respect of the appropriate level of police involvement
- notify the Authority Reporter.
Role of the family placement and adoption social worker
If the foster carers are managed by another local authority or organisation then it is the responsibility of that local authority or organisation to advise foster carers of their rights, responsibilities and possible consequences if allegations should be substantiated.
For South Ayrshire foster carers
The family placement and adoption social worker should not be directly involved in the investigation of any alleged abuse.
The family placement and adoption social worker should ensure that the carers are fully aware of the procedures to be followed and fully understand the process.
The family placement and adoption social worker should assist the carers to express their views. They should encourage carers to:
- seek independent advice
- seek independent support
- prepare for any interviews
- commit their views in writing.
The family placement and adoption social worker should advise foster carers that a foster carers’ review may take place.
The family placement and adoption social worker should advise the foster carers of the possible implications, should the allegations be substantiated, in terms of a report to the Care Commission, local authority registration and the Disqualified from Working with Children List, as appropriate.
Keeping relevant parties informed
Efforts must be made to keep all relevant parties informed of progress where possible throughout the course of the investigation.
Any actions decided upon as a result of the investigation must be communicated, at the earliest possible opportunity, to the child, his/her family and the foster carers.
Any investigation which is undertaken must use the approved stationery (e.g. CP1) and the process for recording the interview process and the decision making should be as outlined.
For South Ayrshire foster carers, a record of the allegations made, the undertaking of an investigation and the outcome of this should be recorded in the foster carers’ file.
A separate record will be maintained of all allegations made by children in foster care by the keeper of the local child protection register. If the foster carers reside in another authority, then it is the responsibility of the Co-ordinator, Children Services, to ensure that the keeper of the Register for that authority is informed.
Child protection conferences
Although foster carers do not have an automatic right to attend the child protection conference their presence and participation could be very helpful, ensuring that full and accurate information is available. Foster carers should not be invited to the fact finding session of the initial child protection conference but may be invited to attend for the rest of the conference. Consideration should also be given to the attendance of the child, depending on his/her level of maturity and understanding.
Foster carers who attend the whole of the child protection conference should be sent a copy of the minute. Foster carers not in attendance or in part attendance should receive a written summary of the child protection conference including the recommendations. The wording of the summary should be submitted by the chairperson to all other participants for approval along with the minute before being sent to the foster carers.
The only way in which the function of the child protection conference differs when dealing with a child/young person in foster care is that there is no provision for registration of a child/young person in foster care.