Fostering can be truly rewarding, but it is not without its challenges. One of these challenges, is experiencing an allegation. Many children in the looked-after system have been through damaging life experiences. They can sometimes display behaviours which put their foster carers at risk of facing an allegation.
Not every foster carer will experience an allegation against them, and many allegations made are not upheld, but the impact of the investigation into an allegation can leave carers feeling unable to continue fostering.
An allegation is an assertion from any person that a foster carer or member of their household, has behaved in a way that has: a). harmed a child, b). committed a criminal offence against a child or c). behaved towards a child in a way that indicates they are unsuitable to work with children.
Allegations are treated differently from complaints or concerns about poor standards of care and have to be investigated under the local child protection procedure.
The most common sources of allegations against foster carers are children or young people who are fostered, or a member of their birth family. Less common sources include neighbours or other professionals involved with the child.
Reasons for making allegations vary. Young people with experience of the looked after system may make an allegation because they want to be moved. They could be encouraged by a member of their birth family who wishes their child to return home. A situation might arise in the foster household which triggers a foster child’s memory of previous abuse, for example, if a foster carer raises their voice or shouts, this may be a trigger for a child who has experienced abuse that was preceded by shouting. It is also possible that a foster carer may, either out of frustration or anger, behave in an abusive way towards a foster child.
Whatever the reason for an allegation, an allegation will always be taken very seriously, as the safety of children in foster care is paramount.
Allegations primarily impact the foster carers and their household. This includes the child making the allegation, who may be worried about the consequences for themselves or others. Others impacted include the child’s social worker (who will be concerned about the safety of the child and/or the stability of the placement) and also the supervising social worker of the foster carers (who will be concerned about the impact of the allegation on the fostering household). Agency or Local Authority Staff who have direct contact with looked after children may also be subject to an allegation from a foster child or their parent.
Some basic things that foster carers can do to protect themselves, and their households, from allegations include:
If an allegation is made, the experience will not be easy. Anchor aims to ensure that its foster families are supported during an allegation but there will be disruption. Anchor will take all allegations seriously, and ensure that child protection procedures are followed.
If an allegation is made, the person responsible for safe-guarding in Anchor will record the details and consult with the Local Area Designated Officer (LADO) for safe-guarding children. They will also inform the local authority of the child making the allegation (if this is different). The LADO, with a focus on safe-guarding vulnerable children, will advise what the next steps should be. This will usually require further information to be gathered, and a “strategy meeting” may be held to discuss the next steps. Depending on the nature and severity of the allegation, information gathering may be done by the child’s social worker, the police, or an Anchor social worker or manager (but not the foster carer’s supervising social worker due to possible conflicts of interest).
While good practice guidance suggests that foster children should not be removed, in practice the professionals involved may decide that they should be removed while the investigation is going on. Alternatively, it may be proposed that the person who is the subject of the allegation leaves the house while further investigations or alternative arrangements are being made.
The local authority has a legal due to consider the welfare of all children in a household when considering an allegation of abuse. Any child deemed to be at risk of “significant harm” (including birth children, adopted children or children on special guardianship or residence orders) could be removed.
In such circumstances you are advised to seek independent legal advice.
If a foster carer is subject to an allegation, Anchor will provide the following:
Foster carers should attend the following relevant training (in addition to Skills to Foster):
Carers can also access relevant policies and procedures through CHARMS. The following, in alphabetical order, are the most relevant to allegations:
Other sources of information are available on the internet, including:
Fosterline at http://www.fosterline.info/allegations/