Managing Concerns, Complaints and Allegations against Foster Carers, including Historical Allegations

The chapter was reviewed in January 2019.

1. Introduction

Swindon Borough Council has the duty to ensure that all looked after children receive the best care possible to meet their needs and it is responsible to ensure that any concern, complaint or 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 Child Protection Enquiries when there are concerns about significant harm applies to children who are in foster care, as it does to children who live with their own families.

Working Together and the South West Child Protection Procedures state that a clear policy must be in place for dealing with allegations against people who work with children (paid or volunteers) including 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 or is unsuitable to work with children.

Working Together to Safeguard Children states that local authorities should have a Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) to be involved in the management and oversight of individual cases. The LADO provides 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, applying a consistent, thorough and fair process.

All staff and 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 or social worker immediately.

See also: Swindon LSCB Allegation Management Guidance.

2. Scope

This procedure relates to all concerns, complaints and allegations made against a Swindon Borough Council approved foster carer or any foster carers residing within Swindon who are managed by an independent fostering agency (IFA) or another local authority.

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

3. Principles

A number of principles underpin this guidance.

  • All concerns, complaints or allegations must be taken seriously and proportionately 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;
  • Enquiries should involve a comprehensive approach addressing the carers' previous history of caring for children, exploring the context in which concerns have arisen;
  • 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;
  • Foster carers and their families should have access to support if they are subject to a concern, complaint or allegation. 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 Arrangements;
  • 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 proven, 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;
  • 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 record within ICS;
  • Where allegations are found to be unproven or unfounded, malicious or false the record will be retained on carer's files;
  • 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.

4. Definitions

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

  • Behaved in a way that has harmed, or may harm, a child: or
  • 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 or is unsuitable to work with children.

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.

In all cases the decision regarding the level at which the issue should be managed must be agreed by the Team Manager in consultation with Assistant Team Manager and the reason for this decision recorded. The LADO should be consulted and advice sought if necessary.

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

See: The Management of Allegations against Carers who work with children - Leaflet no 3 Flowchart (Carers).

Concerns, complaints or an allegation about a foster carer, or a member of the fostering household, may arise from a number of sources; for example from a child or an adult linked to a current or historical placement, the child's social worker or fostering social worker.

Such information will be passed to the Fostering Team. In some cases information may be passed directly to the LADO who should refer the matter to the Fostering Team. An allegation referral form (see Appendix 1: Allegation Management Referral Form) must be completed by the referrer. The receiving social worker should inform the Fostering Team staff from any Independent Fostering Agency who receives a report that a child in a foster home in Swindon is suffering or may be at risk of significant harm. They must also report this immediately to Children's Services in accordance with the respective agency's Child Protection Procedures. Regarding foster carers, this includes 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 or 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. 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 social worker and team manager for the child and the Fostering Team Manager should consult with each other and the LADO and discuss and agree the nature of the concern. They will determine whether the information available indicates child protection concerns and this will determine the route of investigation to be followed.

The Fostering Team Manager will advise the Head of Service Children in Care of any allegations or serious complaints without delay and, where applicable, will notify Ofsted in accordance with Fostering Regulations.

The LADO will advise whether the allegation or serious 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 or is unsuitable to work with children.

The LADO's role is to provide information and guidance and to support 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, keeping the subject of the allegation informed of progress during and after the investigation.

During the initial discussion with the LADO as much information as possible should be made available by the child care team and Fostering Team for the LADO's consideration including:

  • Details of the allegation or serious complaint;
  • Any actions already taken;
  • Information about the legal status of the child, the responsible Local Authority 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 social worker and anyone relevant.

Where child protection concerns are indicated, the matter will need to be referred to the Council's Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH). The LADO or Team Manager for the child will liaise with the police in line with Child Protection procedures, if appropriate.

Specific actions with regard to the foster carers must be considered:

  • Suspension: The Fostering Team Manager should decide in consultation with the LADO if the foster carer should be suspended from taking further placements whilst the investigation takes place. Current children in placement may remain if discussed and agreed with the child's Social Worker or Team Manager and 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 and planning;
  • 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 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.

Following any concern, complaint or allegation, contact must be maintained with the foster carer by their Supervising Social Worker, or another member of the Fostering Service if more appropriate. If appropriate, independent support should be secured. 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 a police investigation and the worker must confirm via the LADO and the Fostering Team Manager when and what can be shared or discussed with the carer. This will have been agreed at the strategy discussion. Clear boundaries must be maintained to protect the integrity of any police or Children's Services investigation. However this should not prevent the Supervising 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:

  • The Swindon Foster Care Association offers support to foster carers as peers and the carer should be informed this support is available and given the contact details of the chair of SFA;
  • Fostering Network membership advice and support – Swindon Fostering Service pays for all Swindon foster carers to have membership of the Fostering Network;
  • 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;
  • In complex/serious cases the services of an Independent Social Worker may be required to support the foster carer;
  • Support from within the Fostering and Adoption Service if it is deemed appropriate by a manager.

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 subsequently the outcome) as soon as possible. This is the responsibility of the child's social worker.

Recording: All information, conversations and management decisions should be recorded on ICS for the child and the carer in line with departmental recording practices, including child protection procedures.

7. Jurisdiction

If a Swindon child is living in a foster home in another local authority, the report will be made to that Local Authority, who should liaise with Wiltshire to agree the arrangements for investigation.

8. How to Respond to Concerns, Complaints and Allegations

With agreement from the Fostering Team Manager, minor issues that arise with regard to day-to-day care by foster carers can be dealt with immediately or during regular supervision directly with the carer. Cumulatively they may constitute a more serious concern that requires investigation.

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

It is not acceptable for concerns raised about a foster carer that come to the attention of the Supervising 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 and Allegations

Following the receipt of the concern or allegation and the discussion between practitioners and managers, a decision will be made about whether there is an indication that there are child protection concerns to be addressed or if the information does not indicate child protection concerns. This determination will lead to one of two routes of consideration. The foster carer should be informed of the concern as soon as possible and not more than 48 hours after the receipt of the information.

Child Protection Concerns

In all cases, the information must be referred to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) where the information will be recorded. A multi-agency strategy discussion will be convened in accordance with Swindon child protection practice and the South West Child Protection Procedures. This will involve key statutory agencies, including the police, and will include the child's social worker. The strategy discussion can be in the form of meeting or can be conducted by phone. The key points to be considered include:

  • Ensuring all key agencies including the police are involved in the discussion;
  • The safety implications for the foster carers' own children;
  • The protection of any other children in placement;
  • Informing the social workers of other children in placement;
  • Consideration of information sharing with the foster carers and the management of risk;
  • Consideration of the timing of the allegation management meeting;
  • Who will undertake the Section 47 enquiry;
  • Determine the process of interview for the child and carers;
  • Determine who is most appropriate to interview the child.

The strategy discussion will determine the nature of the child protection enquiry and any outcomes will be in accord with child protection procedures.

Following the Strategy Meeting and once the outcome of the child protection enquiry is known, an allegation management meeting should be convened and include, as a minimum, the Fostering Team Manager, the Supervising Social Worker and the LADO. More than one meeting may be needed and the purpose is to consider any further action that may be needed to manage the allegation beyond the child protection activity indicated above; this should include a consideration of referral to the appropriate regulatory body e.g. ISA/DBS/HCPC.

There should then be a visit to the foster carer conducted by the Fostering Team Manager and other staff as appropriate which will include a confirmation discussion with the foster carer about the outcome of the child protection enquiry and any action, the allegation management meeting and any action and what will happen next. The outcome of the investigation should be recorded in the appropriate section of the Allegation Referral Form and this will be stored on the carers' ICS record.

Non-Child Protection Concerns

As further information is gathered, should the level of concern or risk increase, consideration should be given to convening a multi-agency child protection strategy discussion, effectively moving the process into that to be followed where there are child protection concerns. This should be done within 24 hours of the receipt of the allegation or the additional information.

Where it is confirmed that the matter continues to be non-child protection in nature, there should be a consideration of the practice issues requiring discussion with the foster carer and their family. The Fostering Team Manager in discussion with the Service Manager and Head of Service, as appropriate, should agree who will carry out the investigation with the foster carers and within 48 hours of the receipt of the allegation they will meet with the carers.

The actual investigation and completion of any identified action should be within ten working days of the receipt of the concern and the outcome should be recorded in the appropriate section of the Allegation Referral Form. There should be a clear indication of whether the allegation was:

  • Unfounded;
  • Not proven;
  • Proven.

After the Investigation

Whichever route of investigation is followed, the outcome and recommendation for what needs to happen next must be shared with the foster carer as soon as possible, preferably through a face to face meeting with the supervising social worker.

There are three reporting options:

  • The report of the outcome of the investigation is sufficiently serious that it requires consideration of further action by Foster Panel at the earliest opportunity. The report should include an assessment of risk and a recommendation for further action that may include de-registration;
  • The report of the outcome includes further action but the matter is not urgent and can be presented to Foster Panel with the next scheduled annual review;
  • The report of the outcome is that no further action is required and can be presented to Foster Panel with the next scheduled annual review.

For each of the above, once panel has considered the matter, the Supervising Social Worker should inform the carer of the outcome as soon as possible and this will be followed by standard communication from panel.

10. The Fostering Panel

As indicated above, following an allegation or consideration of a serious concern the subsequent review 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 Supervising Social Worker must attend the panel as well any investigating social worker/s and the child's social worker where applicable. In situation where the carer may have offered their resignation or have resigned the matter should still be presented to panel to enable it to reach an informed recommendation 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 Discussions;
  • A copy of the concluding letter from the Fostering Team Manager;
  • 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.

11. 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.

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

Sometimes concerns, complaints or allegations 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.

Appendix 1: Allegation Management Referral Form

Click here to view Appendix 1: Allegation Management Referral Form.