Allegations Against Prospective Adopters and in Relation to Children Placed for Adoption or Already Adopted
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies where allegations are made or suspicions are raised that approved prospective adopters have caused harm to a child. It also applies where allegations are made by or in relation to a child placed for adoption or a child already adopted and in receipt of adoption support services. It may relate to recent abuse or neglect or historical abuse
The procedure should be read in conjunction with the Swindon Safeguarding Partnership Procedures.
AMENDMENTIn November 2023 this chapter was amended in line with revised Keeping Children Safe in Education. New Section 2, The Difference Between an Allegation of Harm and a Concern was added.
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 Multi-Agency Safeguarding Children Procedures.
Allegations or suspicions that a prospective adopter has caused harm to a child or that a child placed for adoption or already adopted and in receipt of adoption support services has suffered harm will be investigated thoroughly, speedily and sensitively under those procedures and will involve open and honest communication with and support to all those affected.
Historical allegations by children placed for adoption or already adopted and in receipt of adoption support services should be responded to in the same way as contemporary concerns. It will be important to ascertain if the person about whom the allegation is made is currently working with children and if that is the case, to consider whether the current employer should be informed.
Clear timescales will be integral to the procedure and those involved must avoid delay unless there is good reason. There will be clarity regarding access to reports and documents relating to the investigation.
Where allegations are made in relation to prospective adopters, the welfare and safety of all children in the prospective adopters' household, and children with whom the prospective adopters may have contact, must also be considered during any Section 47 Enquiry.
In relation to any allegations made, 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, for example, that the termination of a prospective adopter's approval cannot be considered.
2. The Difference Between an Allegation of Harm and a Concern
It might not be clear whether an incident constitutes an 'allegation'. It is important to remember that to be an allegation the alleged incident has to be sufficiently serious as to suggest that harm has or may have been caused to a child/ren or that the alleged behaviour indicates the individual may pose a risk of harm to children (or otherwise meet the criteria above).
Incidents which fall short of the threshold could include an accusation that is made second or third hand and the facts are not clear, or the individual alleged to have done this was not there at the time; or there is confusion about the account.
If it is difficult to determine the level of risk associated with an incident the following should be considered:
- Was the incident a disproportionate or inappropriate response in the context of a challenging situation?
- Where the incident involved an inappropriate response to challenging behaviour, had the adopter had training in managing this?
- Does the adopter that their behaviour was inappropriate and express a wish to behave differently in the future? For example, are they willing to undergo training?
- Does the child or family want to report the incident to the police or would they prefer the matter to be dealt with by the local authority?
- Have similar allegations previously been made against the individual - is there a pattern developing?
Whether an incident constitutes an allegation and hence needs to be dealt with through these procedures, may need to be discussed with the LADO. Keeping Children Safe in Education (KCSIE), Part 4, Section 2 provides guidance for schools and colleges, which may be of wider interest when considering low-level concerns. Legal advice should be sought as necessary.
KCSIE provides that if there is any doubt as to whether the information which has been shared about an adopter/prospective adopter as a low-level concern in fact meets the harm threshold and thus should be treated as an allegation, the LADO should be consulted.
If it falls short of this threshold there may still be a role for the LADO to provide advice and support. Such a consultation process may allow for concerns to be evaluated objectively and to ascertain whether or not similar concerns may have been raised previously but not met the threshold for investigation. Whilst the LADO will only record the details of those allegations which appear to meet the threshold for consideration set out above, a record should be kept of any low level concern that arise in respect of an adopter/prospective adopter.
KCSIE provides that records should be reviewed so that potential patterns of concerning, inappropriate, problematic or concerning behaviour can be identified. Where a pattern of such behaviour is identified, a course of action should be decided upon, either through disciplinary procedures or where a pattern of behaviour moves from a low-level concern to meeting the harm threshold, it should be referred to the LADO. Records must be held securely and comply with the Data Protection Act 2018 and the UK General Data Protection Regulation (UK GDPR).
More detailed guidance and case studies on low-level concerns can be found in Developing and Implementing a Low-level Concerns Policy (Farrer & Co.).
The expectation is that:
- At the time of a child's placement, prospective adopters 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 - see Placement for Adoption Procedure;
- All prospective adopters will receive preparation and guidance to help them provide a safe environment for the child and all members of the adoptive family;
- All prospective adopters will have received information about this procedure.
In addition, in relation to the Adoption Service, it is an expectation of the Adoption National Minimum Standards 2011 that:
- A senior manager within the Adoption Service is identified to be the designated allegations manager who liaises with the LADO in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process;
- All staff within the Adoption Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure
4.1 Initial Action
Any person who receives information or suspects that a child has suffered or is suffering harm in an adoptive placement or during an introduction to an adoptive placement must immediately inform the child's social worker.
On receipt of any such information, the child's social worker must immediately:
- Inform his or her line manager;
- Inform the prospective adopter's link worker and his or her manager;
- Inform the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) and the Designated Senior Manager so that a decision can be made as to whether the matter should be treated as a child protection matter and referred for a Strategy Meeting (see below) or a concern about standards of care, in which case the convening of an urgent Placement Planning Review Meeting - see Placement for Adoption Procedure - or an urgent review of the adoptive placement should be considered - see Adoption Reviews Procedure.
N.B. If there are serious and/or multiple referrals about standards of care, it may still be appropriate to refer the matter for a Strategy Meeting for a full investigation.
The prospective adopter's link worker will:
- Inform the designated allegations manager within the Adoption Service - see Section 2, Introduction; and, in consultation with the designated allegations manager;
- Inform the social workers for any other child in the placement;
- Inform any other local authority with an interest in the adoptive placement;
- Provide support to the prospective adopter.
Where it is appropriate to treat the allegation/suspicion as a child protection concern, the child's social worker will be responsible for initiating the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Children Procedures in relation to the allegation/suspicion, unless the prospective adopter lives in another local authority area, in which case the child's social worker will make a referral to the relevant local authority and that local authority will be responsible for implementing the Swindon Safeguarding Partnership Procedures and inviting the child's social worker and adopters' link worker to the Strategy Meeting.
In either case, a Strategy Meeting will be convened as soon as possible after concerns have been identified and within a maximum of 2 working days of the referral.
Any action to protect the child in question or any other children in need of protection should not be delayed because of the Strategy Meeting.
Prior to the Strategy Meeting, the prospective adopter's link worker should notify the Regulatory Authority of the allegation/suspicion and invite them to be represented at the Strategy Meeting.
NB Where a child who has already been adopted but is still in receipt of adoption support services makes an allegation of abuse, including where the allegation is of historical abuse, this must be referred to the child's social worker/adoption support worker, who will take the action set out below or, as appropriate, make a referral to Children's Social Care Services for the area where the child lives in order that the relevant Safeguarding Children Procedures can be followed.
4.2 Strategy Meeting
The purpose of the meeting will be to plan the investigation of the allegation/suspicion.
The following people will be invited:
- The Local Authority Designated Officer and the Designated Senior Manager;
- The child's social worker and his or her manager;
- The manager of the social work team undertaking the investigation, if different;
- The prospective adopter's link worker (who will liaise as necessary with the designated allegations manager within the Adoption Service - see Section 2, Introduction);
- The Police Child Abuse Investigation Team;
- Any other agency involved with the child or adoptive family;
- A representative of the Regulatory Authority;
- A minute taker;
- The child's Independent Reviewing Officer;
The Strategy Meeting must consider:
- The current allegation and how it is to be investigated;
- Whether there should be a concurrent police investigation;
- Any previous allegations or concerns about the prospective adopters and the outcome of previous investigations;
- Any previous allegations made by the child in question and the outcome of previous investigations;
- The suspension of introductions or whether the child should remain in placement whilst the investigation is carried out;
- The need to call an urgent placement planning review meeting - see Placement for Adoption Procedure - or an urgent review of the adoptive placement - see Adoption Reviews Procedure - and the timing of any such review;.
- The safety and well being of other children living with, or having contact with the prospective adopters;
- 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;
- Support to be offered to the children in the family during the investigation;
- Who will inform the prospective adopters of this meeting?
- Who will support the prospective adopters through the investigation process?
- Contact and information to be given to the parents of the children concerned; how and when this should be done.
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 always be kept informed.
The Chair should complete a decision sheet at the end of the meeting summarising the actions to be taken and the date of the next meeting. This should also clearly state who is responsible for what actions, record timescales for completion of any agreed actions and reporting/information sharing systems.
Copies of the decision sheet and the minutes should be held on the child's file and Adoption Case Record and the prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record.
4.3 Investigation and Action
The actions agreed at the Strategy Meeting should be implemented by those responsible within the agreed timescales.
If the person raising suspicions or making the allegation wishes to remain anonymous, these wishes should be respected.
Unless there are circumstances when the details or nature of the allegation cannot be shared immediately, the prospective adopters 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, subject to the outcome of the investigation.
Depending on the level and nature of any concerns and whether they are immediate, the prospective adopters may 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 the approval of the prospective adopter while the investigation is being conducted should be communicated in writing to the prospective adopter by the Adoptive Service Manager.
Those supporting the prospective adopters must contact the prospective adopters as soon as practicable after they are made aware of the allegation, and explain their role. 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 provide to the prospective adopters:
- A copy of this procedure and the relevant Swindon Safeguarding Partnership Procedures;
- Advice about consulting a solicitor and obtaining independent support;
- Advice about insurance arrangements for legal expenses.
Where the prospective adopters are in receipt of financial support, they should be informed of any implications for the payment of such support, where placements have been suspended.
If an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, the Conference Chair must be consulted in advance to discuss whether the prospective adopters should be invited to attend. In any event, the prospective adopters' views must be obtained for and communicated to the Conference.
4.4 Concluding the Investigation
The Strategy Meeting will usually be reconvened once an investigation has been completed, particularly where no child protection conference is then held. The same people will be invited and the same person will chair the meeting.
The purpose of the reconvened Strategy Meeting is to agree on the outcome of the investigation and responsibilities for any further action, including the need to call an urgent review of the adoptive placement - see Adoption Reviews Procedure and reporting on the matter to the Adoption Panel - and the need to make a referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion of the person on the Children's Barred List.
The meeting should determine who will write to the prospective adopters, informing them of the outcome of the investigation.
The child, the parents, other relevant agencies and the Regulatory Authority (if not in attendance) will also be informed of the decisions made at the meeting. The Chair and the child's social worker will agree the most appropriate way of informing the child and parents, and also who will notify the other agencies and the Regulatory Authority.
A report should be presented to the next available Adoption Panel. As well as the investigation, the report should address the ability of the approved adopters to help come to terms with past events and to handle future behaviour, and whether the proposed placement or placement continues to be suitable. The procedure to be followed will be the same as for reviews of prospective adopter's approval - see Assessment and Approvals of Prospective Adopters Procedure.
The social worker preparing the report should consult with the Panel Adviser to the Adoption Panel and the Chair of the Adoption Panel who will advise on who should attend the Panel meeting (usually the child's social worker and the prospective adopter's link worker) and whether or not a special Panel meeting should be convened.
Any allegation made against a prospective adopter or a member of the household and how it was dealt with and decisions made should be recorded on the prospective adopters' file and retained for 100 years after the adoption order is made or if no adoption order is made in accordance with local policy: adoption support agencies should have written procedures for dealing with allegations of historical abuse which may be made by service users during the course of service provision.
All relevant documents in relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome, must be retained on the child's file and the prospective adopter's file, and their respective Adoption Case Records.
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.