Managing allegations against foster carers and approved kinship carers - How agencies should respond

Managing allegations against foster carers and approved kinship carers provides detailed best practice guidance on how to respond when there are concerns about the safety and well-being of looked after children. It is designed to both help to ensure positive outcomes for looked after children and to minimise stress on foster and kinship carers.

Part 3

Actions where a child protection investigation is indicated

Inter-agency discussions/initial referral discussions

Where the initial discussions identify that a child has suffered significant harm or is at risk of significant harm then inter-agency discussions must take place as soon as possible to progress enquiries and to address the safety of the child. Agencies should follow the local child protection procedures for planning and holding inter-agency discussions prior to decisions about setting up a child protection investigation. This section identifies the specific considerations required where the concern is about a looked-after child placed with foster or approved kinship carers. The designated manager will have a crucial role in progressing an inter-agency planning meeting. This decision should be communicated to the fostering agency decision maker, any local authorities responsible for children placed with the carers and to the Care Inspectorate. Local procedures should indicate which professional is responsible for these notifications.

Arrangements for informing the foster carers/approved kinship carer that a concern raised about them or a member of their family is going to be further investigated should be agreed by the key professionals involved. This would include the police, child's social worker and the supervising social worker for the foster family or approved kinship carer, including workers from Registered Fostering Services, where relevant.

When a decision is made that a child protection response is needed to address the concern, the first inter-agency discussion is likely to lead to a more comprehensive inter-agency planning meeting. The purpose of the first meeting will be to share all available information and to agree an outline plan for carrying out any required investigation. Unless there is an immediate risk to the child, it is preferable to delay decisions about whether or not to remove a child until the planning meeting has taken place. That decision should be based on a systematic and well-informed assessment which identifies and describes the nature of the harm to the child. The assessment must weigh up the risks associated with the child remaining with the foster/ kinship carer against those which would arise if the child were moved and placement stability disrupted. Additionally convening a Child's Plan meeting will ensure that the assessment is as well-informed as possible. The aim of the assessment at every stage is to ensure that children affected by the concern raised are protected but with the least possible disruption to their lives and in a manner that best secures their well-being.

Where the child is a looked-after child accommodated on a voluntary basis, a local authority can decide to move the child to another placement. However if it is assessed that the child needs the protection of a compulsory order, a Child Protection Order should be considered. If the child is subject to a supervision requirement then a hearing will require to be convened to consider the protection of the child and any placement move required. Workers must also inform the Reporter to the Children's Hearings so that a Hearing can be convened to consider the care of the child.

The inter-agency planning meeting should take place within the timescales set out in local procedures but always taking account that any delay is distressing for the young person and the carer. The Planning Meeting should be chaired by senior child protection staff responsible for the investigation. This will be determined by the address of the carers rather than the original home address of the child. Those attending should include police, an appropriate representative from education and health services, senior staff from the fostering agency for the carers and from the local authority responsible for the child or children currently affected by the concern. The social worker and/ or the lead professional for the child and supervising social worker for the family should be present.

The planning meeting should consider the following areas building on the information already collated during the initial discussions:

  • Significant information about the child concerned from the Child's Plan, including previous placements, and information about any previous allegations or complaints made by the child and up to date information on their circumstances;
  • Significant information about the foster carers/approved kinship carers, including the terms of their approval, their record as carers and any past allegations/serious concerns relating to them or members of their families;
  • Whether anything needs to be done immediately to safeguard the well-being of the child or any other children in the foster carer's household or young people placed with the carers as part of an adult placement scheme;
  • The likely impact on any children who may need to be moved from their current placement, how any negative impact might be minimised and arrangements for supporting children after the move;
  • Whether anything needs to be done to safeguard the well-being of other children with whom the foster carer/kinship carer or relevant members of their family have contact e.g. as childminders, youth workers. If the foster carer/ kinship carer is also a childminder then concerns must be notified to the Care Inspectorate who carry responsibility for registration of all childminders. The Care Inspectorate should be consulted about any action needed to protect the other children who are child-minded in the home.
  • What action, if any, needs to be taken in relation to contacting other children previously placed in the foster home;
  • What action, if any, needs to be taken in relation to the carers' own children;
  • Identifying key people and the information to be given to them, including named person, foster carers, adult members of the foster family, approved kinship carers, parents/people with parental responsibility, other local authorities who have children in placement/previously had children in placement; out-of-hours services. (Information to parents or people with parental responsibilities must comply with any non-disclosure order that may be in place when the child is subject to a supervision requirement);
  • Notification to the Reporter if the child is subject to a supervision requirement;
  • Deciding what information is to be given to the looked-after child and by whom, what support/counselling will be provided for them and what will be recorded;
  • Decisions by the fostering service provider regarding any temporary changes concerning the foster carer's terms of approval, pending the completion of the investigation;
  • Arrangements that could be made if someone were to move out of the foster home/approved kinship care home in order to safeguard a placement;
  • The timescale for interviewing key adults and children;
  • Timescale within which the agencies involved, including police, will aim to complete an investigation;
  • Clarification of the role of the supervising worker and the fostering service's ongoing support to the foster carer and their family;
  • Consider the provision of independent support to foster carers/approved kinship carers (and relevant members of their family) and the need for advocacy for any of the children affected by the allegation;
  • Management of any media implications and potential for preserving anonymity for the child and for the foster/kinship carer about whom the concern has been raised.

The Planning Meeting/Initial Referral Discussion will agree the nature and scope of any investigation needed to assess the risks to the child, the measures necessary to protect the child and the action to be taken with the foster or kinship carers in relation to their continuing to provide care to looked-after children during further investigation.

Activities during a Child Protection Investigation

The formal Child Protection Investigation will follow the procedures agreed by the local Child Protection Committee with regular feedback to subsequent Planning Meetings. These meetings should agree what information can be shared with the carers at each stage of the investigation, what cannot be shared and who would be responsible for communicating key information to the foster carers or approved kinship carers. It is important that whoever is appointed to keep carers informed about the progress of the investigation maintains this role until the investigation has been completed. Appropriate information about the progress of any investigation should also be given to the child and their family and the person making the complaint. This may be a task for the child's social worker or senior and/or lead professional. At each stage all participants need to be mindful of the level of anxiety for the looked-after child, the foster or approved kinship carers and their children, and all agencies should work to minimise any delays in the investigation.

The length of time needed to complete investigations will vary widely, but a target timescale should be agreed at the planning meeting. The local Child Protection Committee could agree indicative timescales which are realistic for their area and which reflect the National Guidance for Child Protection.

In situations where enquiries are continuing beyond the agreed timescale and reasons for this are not clear, it will be the responsibility of the fostering service manager to liaise with police and local authority colleagues carrying out the investigation to ascertain the reasons for any delay and discuss possible ways of overcoming them. Unless there are good reasons for withholding the information, carers should be told about these discussions.

Minutes of planning meetings should record decisions and action points on relevant matters described above. Local procedure for notifying key people involved with the child and carers should be followed.

Throughout the range of further investigations, the National Guidance for Child Protection and local procedures should be followed in relation to Child Protection Case Conferences and Core Group meetings.

Concluding a Child Protection Investigation

When a child protection investigation is concluded, those who have contributed to the planning discussions should be informed in line with local procedures as soon as possible, usually within three working days. Fostering agency staff and social workers for the child should be told the reasons for concluding the child protection investigation and advised whether any further inquiries are continuing.

In most instances the outcomes of the investigation will fall into one of the following four categories:

  • Criminal charges will be processed through the criminal justice system and further review of implications for foster/ kinship carer's future in caring for looked-after children will be needed;
  • No criminal offence is being pursued, but concerns continue to exist and further review is needed of the implications of aspects of the carers' practice or conduct;
  • No concerns have been substantiated about the carers' practice, but the investigation has highlighted or resulted in stress between the carer and one or more of the children placed, so the implications of this will need further review;
  • No concerns have been substantiated about the carers' practice or their relationships with the children currently in placement.

The investigation may have uncovered some issues for the child in the placement or in relation to the foster/kinship carer's practice. The child's social worker and/or lead professional and fostering agency must be informed of these, so that any outstanding concerns and issues can be examined further after the conclusion of the child protection investigation.

Notification that an investigation has concluded should be given to the fostering agency decision maker, any local authorities responsible for children placed with the carers and the Care Inspectorate. They should be given reasons for concluding the investigation and brief details of the outcome.

The foster carer/kinship carer and the child and his/her family, where appropriate, should also be notified. Local procedures should indicate who is responsible for conveying this information but agencies should try to provide a person known to and trusted by the child. Notifying birth parents and other people interviewed in the course of the investigation, about the completion of enquiries should be considered, including when they should be notified and what information should be conveyed to them.

Local procedures should also identify the circumstances in which the referral of a foster carer/approved kinship carer or member of the carer's family should be made to the Protection of Vulnerable Groups Vetting and Barring Scheme. The Scheme has responsibility to consider whether factors or actions that have been identified by an investigation may make the person unsuitable to work with children or vulnerable adults. It is important to advise carers that a record of the investigation of an allegation and action taken may be included in future checks for vetting and barring information. There will be instances when the information is passed to the PVG scheme and the PVG Scheme decides to consider whether the carer should be listed as unsuitable for working with children. This creates a high level of anxiety for carers, children and fostering agencies and carers will require sound advice and support to help them to understand the processes.

After the conclusion of the Child Protection Investigation where the outcome is that criminal charges are to be progressed there may delays in final decisions by the Procurator Fiscal service. These are unavoidable but regular information to the foster carers or approved kinship carer can reduce some of the tension and help carers to understand the complex strands of enquiry that may be required and that will require time to resolve.

Fostering agency/Council responsibilities to foster carers/approved kinship carers during an inter-agency child protection investigation

The relationship between fostering agencies and foster carers should be fair and honest. This can be difficult to maintain when a concern is raised about the carer, because strong feelings of fear, anger and guilt can be triggered in both carers and staff. It is the responsibility of fostering agencies to ensure that staff continue to treat carers fairly and honestly in these difficult situations.

Once the foster/kinship carers have been informed that a concern has been raised about the wellbeing of the child in their care the fostering agency should ensure that foster carers/approved kinship carers:

  • are given a copy of the local authority's Child Protection procedure;
  • have access to legal advice and representation;
  • understand the process of the investigation and why it is taking place;
  • as far as possible, know when, where and by whom interviews will be conducted;
  • are informed about any independent support that will be provided;
  • are informed about the financial arrangements the fostering service or local authority will make in relation to allowances/fees if looked-after children are removed or the carer is temporarily suspended from taking further placements.

Agencies must also ensure that foster/kinship carers:

  • know the reasons for the removal of children, if applicable;
  • know what contact, if any, each member of the foster/kinship care family is permitted to have with each child affected by the concern/allegation;
  • understand the current status of their approval as foster carer or approved kinship carer;
  • are assisted in communicating with investigating agencies;
  • are informed on a regular basis of the progress of the investigation, both verbally and in writing;
  • understand that if they resign while the investigation is underway, this will not affect the progress or outcome of the investigation.

If this information has not been fully shared when the carers are first informed about the concern, any remaining information should be provided as quickly as possible and preferably within three working days of the relevant decisions having been made.

While an allegation/concern is being investigated, the supervising social worker should normally have continuing responsibility for communications between the fostering agency and the foster carer. However if the foster carer requests that another member of the fostering agency's staff should fulfil this role, the foster carer's views should be taken into account. The contact with the supervising social worker should continue, even when independent support is also provided.

Where the concern relates to a looked-after child placed with approved kinship carers, support should be provided by a kinship care worker from the local authority or by a worker from a kinship care support agency who is well known to the kinship carer. In some situations there may be only one worker supporting the carer and working with the child and social work managers need to consider if that one worker can fulfil a supportive role to both the child and the kinship carers. Workers from a fostering team could be asked to provide specific support to the kinship carer during an investigation.

Once foster carers/kinship carers have been informed that a concern has been raised, if appropriate, options for safeguarding children without moving them from the placement should be explored with the carers. For example it may be possible for certain member(s) of the foster or kinship care family to live elsewhere while matters are investigated. In such cases all possible assistance should be provided to enable this to happen. In other situations a member of the wider family may be able to provide a safe place for the child.

Decisions about whether carers should have their approval to care temporarily suspended for any children while the concern is investigated will be made in accordance with fostering agency and local authority procedures. These decisions would usually be taken by senior staff within the fostering agency in consultation with senior child protection staff within the local authority in which the carers live. For kinship carers, decisions about them continuing to provide a home to the child should be taken by the senior worker for kinship carers and senior child protection manager. Discussion with the child's worker and/or lead professional will be critical to reach the best decisions.

Foster/kinship carers and any members of the foster/ kinship care family named in the concern should be informed personally and in writing when the child protection investigation has been concluded. Reasons for this decision and what further steps will follow should also be explained. It is suggested that this information should be conveyed within three working days of the relevant decisions having been taken. If applicable, the foster/kinship carers should also be informed in writing of arrangements to continue payments and the provision of independent support. They should also be offered an opportunity to meet with the fostering manager/ senior manager responsible for kinship care in order to clarify the implications of these decisions for the foster/kinship carer family.

Foster carers about whom a concern has been raised should have access to information and advice from an independent source. This should include legal advice.

Foster carer members of the Fostering Network in Scotland can access independent legal advice and support as part of their membership package.

Foster carers who are members of the independent advice service provided by FosterTalk can access a range of services during any investigation.

Kinship carers can access a range of support and advice services from workers within Children 1st who have specific expertise in the issues faced by kinship carers.

Details about these organisations and accessing their services can be found in Appendix 3.

Responsibilities of the fostering agency and local authority social workers to children during an inter-agency investigation

Children and young people should be given as much information as possible about the processes that are being followed and the likely outcomes of different enquiries.

Children and young people should, as far as possible, be given an opportunity to express their views if moving placement is being considered. Their views should be taken into account, giving due consideration to the child or young person's age, maturity and understanding. In some circumstances it may be appropriate to offer children and young people the support of an independent advocate or children's rights worker to help them effectively present their views. This could be a worker from Who Cares? Scotland, an Independent Reviewing Officer who knows the child, or a children's rights worker. These views should be noted and recorded on the Child's Plan.

Where the child is looked-after and placed with approved kinship carers, consideration should be given to the suitability of any other members of the child's wider family to care for the child on a temporary basis. This would include relevant checks of their suitability for an emergency placement. (Looked After Children (Scotland) Regulations 2009, s.11).

Responsibility for discussing these matters with children will usually rest with the social worker for the child/ lead professional and/ or worker for the carers, but it may be helpful to involve someone whom the child knows well and whom the child trusts (e.g. the Lead Professional).

If it is decided that children are to be moved from a placement because of a concern, the reasons for this should be explained carefully to the children, using appropriate methods for communicating with younger children or children with special needs.

Unless they are considered to be at immediate risk, children should be given time to say goodbye to the family of the carers and their friends in the local area. They should also be made aware of what opportunities there will be for maintaining contact with people who have been important to them. Unless there appear to be immediate risks to the child, no major changes, for example to schooling, should be made until the matter has been considered and decided at their next LAC review.

Where children are subject to a supervision requirement then the local Reporter to the Children's Hearing must be informed of any move required and a Children's Hearing review requested and convened. Support should be in place for the child to share their views and concerns at a Children's Hearing.

Children will need support to adjust to any move and opportunities to talk about how this has affected them. They will also need to be kept up to date about the implications for their future care, especially if there is a possibility that they will return to the carers. This would usually be the responsibility of the child's social worker and/ or lead professional.

Irrespective of whether the child raised the concern, children affected by any investigation into a concern should be informed of the outcome of an investigation and given an opportunity to express their views about how this has affected them.

Responsibilities to birth parents of looked-after children involved in
inter-agency investigations

At each stage of the decision making process, consideration should be given to arrangements for informing birth parents that a concern has been raised about the carers looking after their child. In deciding what information and when it should be given to parents, social work staff must take into account their statutory responsibility to involve parents in decisions which affect their children, alongside the child's wishes about what their parents should be told with full consideration given to the child's safety. Where the child is subject to a non-disclosure order from a Children's Hearing then care is essential in deciding what information can be shared with a parent. The worker should consult with the local Reporter to the Children's Hearings about how to proceed.

Care is also needed to ensure that parents who do not have parental responsibilities, particularly if their rights have been removed by a court, are not inappropriately included in the full range of notifications.

Records of initial decision making discussions and planning meetings should indicate what decisions were made in relation to informing birth parents, what information is to be shared, who is responsible for telling the parents and how, (i.e. verbally or in writing). The child's social worker and/ or lead professional will usually carry out this task. Parents should also be informed when an investigation has concluded. In situations where a decision has been taken to delay or limit the information given to parents, reasons for this should be recorded in the minute of the meeting where the decision is taken.


Email: Heather Brown

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