An allegation is an accusation that someone has caused harm to a child by physical, sexual or emotional abuse. Anyone in a foster family may be accused of harming a child, including the foster carer’s own children. An allegation may be made by the child, or by someone acting on their behalf.
Why do some looked-after children make allegations?
It’s sometimes difficult to understand or explain why young people in care might say something to accuse their foster carer or someone belonging to the foster family of wrongdoing. And as with most things, every young person is different and will have a different reason for making up an allegation. The most common reason arises out of the child’s belief that if they tell someone that they are being mistreated, they will be able to return home to their parents.
Another cause might be low self-esteem. If a young person has had a number of foster placements, an allegation might be made in order for them to discover whether those responsible for them truly care. Other children might crave attention and will view even negative focus as better than nothing.
Sadly, sometimes an allegation is made because the young person in care has been abused in the past and has kept it a secret. Accusing a foster carer of abuse is a way of bringing this out into the open. And sometimes children who have previously been in emotionally harmful environments misinterpret things which in the past have been precursors to abuse i.e. the offer of a cuddle or a kiss goodnight. Of course, in some rare cases, the allegations against foster carers are found to be true. It is in these instances that the sometimes stressful and emotional investigation process is shown to be worthwhile.
How can I protect myself from allegations?
The simple answer is that it is impossible to fully protect yourself against this eventuality. However, you can, and should, work towards avoiding investigations by taking all the necessary steps that will allow you to minimise risk against allegations. Your fostering service should also help you implement useful strategies that will ensure that you keep you and your family as safe as possible. In situations where there are physical signs of abuse such as bruises or other marks, it is important to consider how these might have been caused. Many children in foster care ‘self-harm’ and scratches or cuts to the wrists and forearms may be a sign of self-abuse. Bruises can be caused by falls or knocks, sports injuries, and fights with other children. Any cuts, scratches or bruises that are noticed on foster children should always be noted by foster carers, then entered into daily records and reported to the child’s social worker.
In situations where there are physical signs of abuse such as bruises or other marks, it is important to consider how these might have been caused. Many children in foster care ‘self-harm’ and scratches or cuts to the wrists and forearms may be a sign of self-abuse. Bruises can be caused by falls or knocks, sports injuries, and fights with other children. Any cuts, scratches or bruises that are noticed on foster children should always be noted by foster carers, then entered into daily records and reported to the child’s social worker.
A plan should be set-up from the start of the young person’s placement. The placement plan will begin by examining the background of the child who will be in your care. This will answer questions such as:
- What was the reason the child came into care?
- Have they been physically or sexually abused in the past?
- Do they have a history of making allegations aimed at their foster carers?
- Do they self-harm? If so, how long for? Is this related to a previous allegation?
- Do they have attachment disorder or any behavioral issues which are likely to impact on the placement?
Ensure all relevant information is recorded in the placement plan, including information which answers further questions such as:
- Does the parent or extended family or friends feel animosity towards you?
- Is there any on-going action in the courts?
- Is everyone happy with the contact arrangement?
- Where will the contact take place?
Following the completion of the placement plan, ensure that there are methods and procedures set in place to deal with any issues that might arise.
Safe caring plan
Every foster home should have a safe caring plan in place whereby the foster carer will be required to:
- Attend all safe caring training offered by the fostering service. (It is vital for both partners to attend this as male carers can be particularly vulnerable to allegations.)
- Have a written agreement about sleeping arrangements, living arrangements, and clothing, etc. These could include: offering hugs appropriately, closing the bathroom door, wearing pyjamas and dressing gowns for bed and respecting personal space.
- Discuss your safe care plan with your supervising social worker and update it regularly.
- Be aware of the issues and worries that the child or young person in your care might have and encourage them to take the time to talk to you about anything that is bothering them.
- Monitor their use of the internet, particularly social networking sites to prevent cyberbullying or grooming. Think about keeping any computers or equipment that allows internet access downstairs where time online can be supervised.
- Keep a record of any concerns you have and speak to your placing or supervising social worker.
Taking these simple precautions and letting your fostering service know that you are taking the safe care seriously will help you in the event that an allegation is made against you.
Why don’t my fostering team and the local authority believe me?
Many foster carers tell us that during an investigation they feel they are treated as though they are ‘guilty until proven innocent’. Although it is difficult, it’s important for foster carers that they try not to think this way. Local authorities and fostering services have a legal duty to ensure that all concerns are listened to and dealt with appropriately.
Each fostering service will have set procedures in place when it comes to dealing with allegations. National Minimum Standards state that foster carers who are under investigation should be provided with support that is independent of their fostering service, to help them through the process. It is also the foster carer’s right to have information in writing about the allegation, the outcome of the investigation and further steps to be taken once it is over.
It is not unusual for foster carers to feel outcast during the investigation process. Some foster carers have told us that their supervising social worker has stopped visiting them or has been told to withdraw support. This can be distressing for foster carers who take this lack of contact to mean that their social worker doesn’t believe them. This is usually not the case. Instead, it is usually due to policies with fostering services that call for supervising social workers to withdraw temporarily in order to avoid any conflicts of interest during the inquiry.
While FosterTalk is not there to replace your supervising social worker, we can provide you with all the necessary advice, information, and support that you will need to cope throughout the process. And if your fostering service agrees, FosterTalk can also provide an independent advisor through our foster carers Independent Support Service (FISS).
Will the child be removed from my care?
Good practice guidance suggests that foster children should not be removed. In practice, however, once an allegation has been made, the foster child and any other foster children within the household are likely to be removed pending an investigation. In some circumstances, it may be suggested that the alleged party leave the house until further investigations can take place and arrangements can be made. This would be the most likely course of action if it was suggested that the child and others within the household are at risk.
Will my own children be removed?
When carrying out an investigation into allegations of abuse against a foster child, the local authority has a legal duty to consider the welfare of any other children in the household – including the foster carer’s own children. This includes birth children, adopted children or children on Special Guardianship Orders. If the foster carer’s children are deemed to be at risk of “significant harm” they would be subject to the same safeguarding procedures as any other child in the community. In these circumstances, foster carers are advised to seek independent legal advice.
What happens during an investigation?
Whenever there are concerns of a child protection nature, the Fostering Service has a duty to inform the Children’s Services Team for the area in which the foster carer lives and/or the police. Each Local Authority should have designated a particular officer, or team of officers, whose responsibility it is to deal with allegations against those who work with children. This person is usually called the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO).
Each Local Authority will have a set of Child Protection or Safeguarding Procedures which are published on their website and have established a Local Safeguarding Children Board to oversee the process. For further information please see Working Together to safeguard Children (2015) The LADO or other designated person will convene a strategy meeting of all the relevant professionals and they will discuss the allegation and decide the next steps take.
This may involve an “interview under caution” carried out by the police and a joint interview of the child or children by the police and local authority. Being interviewed by the police can be a distressing and frightening experience for foster carers as until this point they are usually unaware of the nature of the allegation held against them. FosterTalk strongly advises foster carers to have legal representation at their interview under caution, in order to protect their interests. This is not an admission of guilt, but a sensible precaution that will ensure that the foster carer is able to answer the questions put to him/her clearly, calmly and with support.
FosterTalk’s foster carer membership provides legal insurance cover which gives access to legal advice lines 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. FosterTalk also provides the services of a solicitor at the police station for your interview under caution. The legal insurance covers defense costs should the case against you proceed to court. Once the investigation has been concluded, further strategy meetings will be held until an outcome has been agreed. You will then be informed of the outcome and advised on the recommendations of the investigation, together with any actions that have been agreed which you are entitled to have in writing.
Will I be able to continue to foster?
This depends on the outcome of the investigation as well as on the recommendations made at the final strategy meeting and by the fostering panel. After an allegation or serious complaint, your fostering service will carry out a review of your approval and prepare a report to the fostering panel, taking into account any actions and recommendations from the investigation process. You should be given the opportunity to provide verbal and written information for your review and to see the report before it goes to the panel.
You should also be invited to attend the panel whilst your approval is being considered. The Panel will consider all the information available, including the foster carer’s report, which should be factual and to the point. With FosterTalk Membership, we will be able to advise you about the process and talk you through each step. If you have a FISS Advisor, he or she will be able to help you prepare the report and accompany you to the fostering panel.
After the Fostering Panel has made a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker, you will receive a letter advising you of the proposed terms of your approval. You will then have 28 days in which to decide whether or not to accept the terms of this, or to appeal; either back to the fostering panel or to the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM). Please be aware that you can only do one or the other and not both.
Hopefully, you will be re-approved as a foster carer and be in agreement with the terms of your approval. If this is not the case, further advice and support is available through FosterTalk in regards to what can be done. For example, we can advise you with regard to an application to the IRM and if you have a FISS Advisor, he or she will be able to support you through this. Further information about the Independent Review Mechanism and how to ask for your case to be reconsidered can be found below:
The Independent Review Mechanism: England
IRM Contract Manager
Unit 4 Pavilion Business Park Royds
Telephone: 0845 450 3956
Fax: 0845 450 3957
IRM website –the section on fostering includes IRM leaflet which can be downloaded. www.independentreviewmechanism.org.uk
The Independent Review Mechanism – Wales
Contract Manager Independent Review Mechanism Cymru
7 Cleeve House
Telephone: 0845 873 1305
IRM Cymru Website: www.irmcymru.org.uk/~irmcymru/en/fostering
There is no IRM in Scotland. There is no IRM in Northern Ireland.
What happens if the police want to interview me?
The fundamental objective of Foster Carers, Care Agencies, Government bodies, the Police and the Courts is to ensure the welfare of the cared-for child is protected. There are a broad range of requirements and responsibilities to adhere to and resulting processes that will be followed where concerns are raised. It should be stressed that not all matters result in formal intervention by the Police, and indeed those that do, do not automatically progress beyond an initial interview on to formal prosecution.
However, in the event that an issue arises, the following information will help explain how the police will potentially engage with you (in order to establish the facts relating to an allegation) and whether any further action/intervention will be required.
Read ‘what happens if the police want to interview me?‘ for more information.
Have you got any tips for taking looked after children on holiday?
Taking looked after children on holiday can bring challenges and it’s important that foster carers have measures in place to keep themselves and their foster children safe. We have put together some holiday tips here.