3.7.8 Allegations/Complaints Against Foster Carers

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure is supplementary to the West Midlands Safeguarding Children Procedures - see Allegations Against Staff or Volunteers Procedure.

See also the Representations and Complaints Procedure.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was amended in October 2011 to reflect the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 and the National Minimum Standards for Fostering 2011. It is an expectation of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 that:

  • A senior manager within the Fostering Service is identified to be the Designated Person who liaises with the LADO in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process;
  • All staff within the Fostering Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure, including the role of the Disclosure and Barring Service.

WALSALL SAFEGUARDING CHILDREN BOARD

  • Part A relates to Child Protection, where there has been an allegation of Significant Harm;
  • Part B relates to other allegations/complaints against foster carers.

The publication and operation of this procedure will not, in any sense, undermine the rights of service users, including foster carers, to make representations consequent of the Authority’s complaints procedure.

It is intended that the procedures that follow, outline a unified and consistent system for dealing with representations/complaints by service users, or their representatives, in respect of all foster carers who are looking after children on behalf of Walsall M.B.C.

Although the procedures are separated into those involving a child protection issue and those not involving a child protection issues, it is important to realise that an investigation may change from one to the other, according to information obtained.

Foster carers carry out invaluable work on behalf of the Authority; they are particularly vulnerable to allegations and complaints from those people involved in the service. It is therefore required that any investigation be carried out in a sympathetic and supportive manner, not-withstanding the need for thorough investigation and the need to resolve all of the issues raised.

The Family Placement Service monitors the quality of services provided, it is hoped that these procedures, coupled with the willingness of referrers to report any concerns promptly, will enable the service to address matters efficiently and at the point closest to service delivery.

These procedures should be viewed as a positive mechanism in response to the children’s rights and foster carers' rights to expect fair and consistent treatment in an open and transparent way.

The emphasis in these procedures is upon communication, cooperation and mutual agreement between the Family Placement Service and fieldwork staff in attempts to devise a course of action. It is imperative therefore that all staff working with foster carers are aware of this procedure and the need to keep consistent and sequential records of an investigation involving foster carers.


Contents

Part A: Allegations or Suspicions of Significant Harm
1. Part A Introduction
2. Investigation Process 
3. Immediate Protection
4. Strategy Discussion
5. Foster Carers Strategy Meeting
6. Allegations of Child Abuse Against a Foster Carer (flowchart)
Part B: Other Complaints Against Foster Carers
1. Part B Introduction
2. Stage One (Gathering Information)
3. Resolution of a Complaint (Stage One)
4. Strategy Meeting 
5. Stage Two 
6. Complaints Concerning a Foster Carer not Involving a Child Protection Issue (flowchart)
Part C: Complaint From a Foster Carer 
Note 1: Support for Carers During Allegations 
Note 2: Allegations of Child Abuse Against Foster Carers, Cross Boundary Issues
Note 3: Notifications


Part A: Allegations or Suspicions of Significant Harm

1. Introduction

This section of the procedure relates only to allegations of Significant Harm against foster carers, not complaints (for example about standards of care, non- performance or non cooperation with agreed tasks) or any other criminal allegation against foster carers. Procedures for investigation of complaints against foster carers are dealt with under a separate procedure contained within this document at ‘Section B’.

Children in foster homes may be subject to Significant Harm. Such children may have been placed there by Walsall Children's Services,or by another local authority, or by the children of the Foster Carers themselves, or related to the foster family, a family friend, neighbour or stranger. These procedures will also apply to any adult members of the foster carers’ family resident within the household.

In these circumstances, the needs of not only the child who has allegedly been subject to Significant Harm, but all the children in the household must be of first consideration.

The procedure for investigating alleged Significant Harm by a Foster Carer is slightly different from other Child Protection Enquiries in that there is a contractual agreement between the Foster Carers and Walsall MBC which has obligations towards them. Thus, consideration has to be given to supporting them throughout, but this must not affect the thoroughness of the investigation and assessment. The support to foster carers should be offered by some one independent of the Authority (see Note 1: Support for Carers During Allegations).

In all investigations involving foster children, a decision must be made regarding the point at which birth parents are informed of the allegations. This is particularly important if a child is Accommodated under Section 20.

When Walsall foster carers live in another Local Authority, the Local Authority in which they reside must be informed of the allegation. There should be co-operation between the Local Authorities in planning and carrying out the investigation (see Note 2: Allegations of Child Abuse against Foster Carers, Walsall Child Protection Procedures)

When the foster carers of another Local Authority reside in Walsall the same sharing of information and co-operation regarding the investigation should take place (see Note 2: Allegations of Child Abuse against Foster Carers, Walsall Child Protection Procedures).

In all cases, following a serious allegation concerning a Foster Carer, the investigation will be concluded by a Foster Carer Review meeting. This meeting will be independently chaired by the Coordinator (Foster Carer Reviews) and a report submitted to the Fostering Panel. Wherever possible this report will be shared in full with the foster carers who may make their own contribution. There may be instances where “third party” information has to be withheld and this will be indicated in the report. The report must make a clear recommendation to the Fostering Panel. The Fostering Panel will have to consider whether, in the light of a recommendation, the carers should continue to be approved. If the decision is that they should not, they have the right to make representations or refer the matter to an Independent Review (see Fostering Panel Procedures), (see Note 3: Notifications).

The Foster Care Review Meeting must be convened within fourteen days of the concluding Strategy Meeting - see Annual Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure

2. Investigation Process

(All references contained in brackets refer to the Allegations Against Staff or Volunteers Procedure in the West Midlands Safeguarding Children Procedures.

Stage one (gathering Information) 

All complaints and allegations concerning Foster Carers must be reported to the Social Work Team that holds case responsibility for the child(ren) to whom the allegations refer and to the Local Authority Designated Officer.

The supervising social worker will inform the designated senior manager within the Fostering Service.

At this initial stage, upon the receipt of information, the Team Manager for the responsible Team holding the child’s case and the Team Manager FPS will discuss the referral and decide the next course of action.

Most usually the outcome of this discussion will be a decision to obtain further information, and an agreement as to how this is to be achieved and by whom.

It is possible for example, at this early stage that a decision may be made to speak to the child making the allegation in order to determine the most appropriate next course of action. Clearly though, any decision to speak to a child at this stage will need to take account of the child’s age and /or understanding, the nature of the allegation, the possibility of a future Police investigation and the possible need to inform and seek the permission of any person with Parental Responsibility.

The process of gathering information will necessarily involve informing and liaison with responsible social workers and/or their line managers for any other looked after children within the foster placement.

Similarly, consideration will need to be given to any children of the foster carers residing within the foster home.

Following the initial gathering information stage there will usually be three options:

  1. No further Action;
  2. Immediate protection;
  3. The need for a Strategy Discussion/Meeting.

3. Immediate Protection

There may be circumstances where the available information indicates an immediate risk to the life of a child or the immediate likelihood of serious harm. Urgent action should be taken by Children's Services most usually in consultation with the Police and senior managers. Where immediate action has been taken a Strategy Discussion/Meeting should take place as soon as possible to discuss and plan the next steps.

4. Strategy Discussion/Meeting

A Strategy Discussion/Meeting should take place where there is reason to suspect that a child is at risk of Significant Harm, and, on the basis of the available information a Section 47 Enquiry likely to be necessary (see Section 5, Foster Carers Strategy Meeting). This Strategy Discussion/Meeting must take place between Police, the Children’s Team Manager responsible for the child making the allegation and the appropriate Team Manager FPS; it will plan the investigation, which will follow normal Child Protection Procedures (see Strategy Meeting/Discussion Procedure in the West Midlands Safeguarding Children Procedures). Information regarding other children in the foster placement must be available at this point and efforts made to alert the appropriate teams of a planned investigation.

No foster child should be interviewed without consideration with those who have Parental Responsibility.

If, based on the outcome of the interview with the complainant, other children will need to be interviewed; good practice would suggest that the same interview team be used. This would then provide consistency and avoid delay. The foster carers Linkworker has to be an integral part of the planning process as they will usually be the source of the most up to date information regarding the foster carer.

The relevant Children’s Team Managers must consider, on the basis of the information available, what action they will take regarding the continuation of their child’s placement. Any proposal to remove a child should be based on the potential risk to which the child may be vulnerable, balanced against the damage, which may be caused by removing a child in haste. If a child is Accommodated, the views of those with Parental Responsibility must be sought and taken into account.

Any proposals to move a child in these circumstances must have the approval of the appropriate Service Manager.

As with any investigation under the Child Protection Procedures, consideration must be given to the safety of all the children in the household, including the foster carers' own children (if any).

A decision needs to be taken as to the continued use of the foster carers whilst the investigation proceeds. This is the responsibility of the relevant Team Manager FPS in consultation with their line manager.

Should concerns remain following the investigation then a Child Protection Conference should be convened to discuss the foster carers own children, including any other children resident with the foster carer.

Where the investigation either substantiates Significant Harm or where the likelihood of Significant Harm cannot be ruled out, the decision to convene a Foster Carers Strategy Meeting is made by the appropriate Team Manager FPS in consultation with Team Managers. This meeting will consider the need to interview children previously placed with the foster carers and most usually will include the Police.

If the decision is not to convene a Foster Carers Strategy Meeting, good practice would indicate that a foster carer’s review still be held with a subsequent report to the Fostering Panel. However, the discretion to conduct a review in these circumstances will lie with the coordinator and the Team Manager FPS.

If a decision is made not to hold a specific review then a report on the complaint will be included in the next foster carers annual review report to the fostering panel - see Annual Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.

5. Foster Carers Strategy Meeting

The Foster Carers Strategy Meeting will be called within 15 days of the receipt of the referral.

The list of children previously placed must be available to be circulated at the meeting. This needs to include dates of birth, last known address and period in placement. This is the responsibility of the FPS.

The Foster Carers Strategy Meeting will be chaired by a Service Manager and convened and minuted by the FPS. It may involve the following people:

  • Local Authority Designated Officer;
  • Child Protection Nurse;
  • Education Department Representative;
  • Police;
  • Relevant Children’s Team Managers;
  • Relevant Social Workers;
  • FPS Team Manager;
  • FPS Link Worker;
  • Other Local Authority if Foster Carer resides outside Walsall;
  • Solicitor, Chief Executive Department.

Since this meeting may make decisions to interview a number of children, those present should be of sufficient seniority to allocate the necessary resources, in these circumstances the issue of confidentiality must be considered.

The Agenda will be as follows:

  1. Information regarding the investigation;
  2. Any previous allegations/investigations;
  3. identify all children previously in placement;
  4. Arrangements for locating and interviewing these children. The number of children involved may suggest a need for an identified group of workers to carry out this task in order to standardise the process;
  5. Identify who is to co-ordinate the investigation;
  6. Set timescales within which interviews will be completed;
  7. Identify who will support the Foster Carer;
  8. Set date to reconvene.

Any recommendations that have significant resource implications must be approved by a Senior Manager from the appropriate agency.

Children's Services have a duty to continue to investigate even when the Police have withdrawn from the joint investigation. On completion of this process, a foster carer review must be held and a report presented to the Fostering Panel - see Annual Review and Termination of Approval of Foster Carers Procedure.

All attendees of a Strategy Meeting must attend any follow up strategy meetings to evaluate the information and form a joint view to be conveyed to the Fostering Panel.

Minutes of any Strategy Meetings may be included in the foster carer review.

6. Allegations of Child Abuse Against a Foster Carer

Please click here to view flowchart about Allegations of Child Abuse against a Foster Carer.  


Part B: Other Complaints Against Foster Carers

1. Introduction

The time scale for completion at level one is 28 days if the complainant is an adult or 14 days if the complainant is a child.

These procedures relate only to those complaints that do not involve child protection concerns. Most usually these will fall into the categories of standards of care, non-performance or non-cooperation with agreed tasks.

It is possible however that, at any stage of the investigation, issues of a child protection nature may arise. In this case the procedure for Part A: Allegations or suspicions of Significant Harm, must be followed.

2. Stage one (gathering information)

All complaints and allegations concerning foster carers must be reported to the Social Work Team that holds case responsibility for the child(ren) to whom the complaints refer.

At this initial stage, upon the receipt of information, the Team Manager for the responsible Team holding the child’s case and the Team Manager FPS will discuss the referral and decide the next course of action.

Most usually the outcome of this discussion will be a decision to obtain further information, and an agreement as to how this is to be achieved and by whom.

It is possible at this early stage that a decision may be made to speak directly with the complainant.

If the complainant is a child in the foster placement, then consideration must be given to the child’s age/understanding, the nature of the complaint and the possibility that the complaint may at some future stage involve child protection concerns which may lead to a subsequent investigation by the Police, and the possible need to inform and seek the permission of any person with Parental Responsibility.

The process of gathering information will necessarily involve informing and liaison with responsible social worker and/or their line managers for any other Looked After Children within the foster placement.

The foster carers' link worker must be advised and kept informed of developments.

The Team Manager Family Placement Services will decide, based upon the nature of the complaint, whether or not the foster carer should be available for further placements. (See note on support to carers).

3. Resolution of a Complaint (Stage One)

When the respective Team Managers, Social Work Team and FPS, are satisfied that they have all of the available information, then they can decide, in discussion how best to attempt to resolve the complaint.

Clearly, if the complaint is of a relatively minor nature then it will usually be sufficient for a visit to the foster carer either separately or jointly by the child’s care worker and/or the link worker.

The purpose of the visit is to ascertain the foster carers' perspective and, if appropriate, to seek an agreement that may potentially resolve the complaint to the satisfaction of the complainant.

The respective Team Managers will decide how the proposed resolution will be fed back to the complainant.

The outcome of the visit will be added to the existing process recording in the foster carers' file and recorded on the complaints monitoring sheet.

If the complainant remains unhappy with the proposed resolution then they should be advised of their rights to refer their complaint to the Customer Care Team for formal investigation.

Where the complaint is resolved in accordance with the above, it will not be necessary for a dedicated foster carer review to be convened. However, a summary of the complaint must be available for the foster carer annual review.

In all circumstances where the complainant is a child or young person, consideration should be given to the appointment of an independent advocate for the child, for example from the NCH advocacy project.

4. Strategy Meeting (Complaints against a foster carer) (Stage One)

The respective Team Managers may decide to convene a Strategy Meeting if one of the following circumstances apply.

  1. The complaint appears so serious that it may bring into question the possible removal of the child(ren) or the de-registration of a foster carer;
  2. Where there has been non-cooperation on the part of a foster carer in an attempt to reasonably resolve the complaint;
  3. Where there has been other repeat complaints or a pattern of complaints involving the same child or carer;
  4. Where it has not been possible to obtain relevant information and a meeting would assist this;
  5. Complex complaints involving a number of carers or children;
  6. Failure to agree a resolution either between the Team Managers or the foster carers.

The strategy meeting (complaints against foster carers) will be chaired by a Service Manager and will be attended by Authority workers only. The meeting will examine the nature of the complaint and any information available. It will be the responsibility of this meeting to attempt to devise a solution for resolving the issue at this stage.

The Strategy Meeting (Complaints against foster carers) will:

  1. Collect and exchange information;
  2. Co-ordinate any pursuing action;
  3. Look at issues around support of the complainant;
  4. Look at issues around support to the foster carers.

5. Stage Two

Where it has not been possible to resolve a complaint at the pre-formal stage (Stage 1) then the matter will be referred to the formal complaints procedure by means of a written report outlining the nature of the complaint, work already undertaken and explaining why the issues could not previously be resolved.

Following an investigation the inspection unit will report back to the fostering service via the Customer Care Team.

A dedicated foster carer review must be convened following any complaint that has:

  1. Been considered by a strategy meeting (foster carer complaints);

    or

  2. Been subject to investigation by the inspection unit.

The foster carer review will be chaired by the Co-ordinator (foster carer reviews). The review must be held within 28 days of either the concluding strategy meeting or the publication of the inspection report.

The review will be considered by the next meeting of the agency Fostering Panel.

6. Complaints Concerning a Foster Carer Not Involving a Child Protection issue 

Please click here to view flowchart about Complaints concerning a Foster Carer not involving a Child Protection issue


PART C: Complaint From a Foster Carer

Note: In terms of the Performance Monitoring Framework and good practice all complaints should be resolved at stage one within 28 days.

All foster carers will be issued with Walsall M.B.C. information and leaflet ‘Comments, Compliments and Complaints’.

The process and the right of every foster carer to access the “Complaints Procedure” and "Whistleblowing Procedure” will be reinforced at the preparation and training phase of carer recruitment.

Foster carers may however choose to report a concern/complaint to any officer of the council; in all circumstances, it is the responsibility of that officer to ensure that the complaint is notified appropriately and that it is dealt with efficiently and taken seriously.

Most usually Foster Carers will report concerns / complaints to their link social worker or to the child(rens) social worker. Under these circumstances the complaint must be notified to the respective Team Manager, Social Work Team and Family Placement Service.

It will be the responsibility of the Team Managers, in discussion, to initiate appropriate action in order to seek a satisfactory resolution to the complaint.

If the complaint involves a Team Manager then the complaint will be passed to the relevant Service Manager for appropriate action.

If the complaint involves a Service Manager or their line manager then it will be passed directly to the Consumer Relations section for their action.

The need for strategy meetings cannot be ruled out where the complaint is complex and may involve a number of children, staff or carers. In this circumstance the strategy meeting will be chaired by a manager of sufficient seniority and ability to make appropriate recommendations.

Resolutions at this stage will be regarded as a resolution at stage one of the “complaints procedure” and must be confirmed in writing to the complainant, with guidance about what action to take if they remain dissatisfied.

Any failure to achieve a resolution at this stage will require the complaint to be dealt with at the next and subsequent stages of the “complaints procedure”.

A dedicated foster carer review will not be necessary for those complaints that are resolved without recourse to a strategy meeting. However, a summary of the complaint will be required consequent of the complaints monitoring form. A copy of this form must be sent to the Coordinator (foster carer reviews) for inclusion in management information for the agency Fostering Panel.

Those complaints that have been considered with recourse to the strategy meeting process, and / or have been dealt with at stage two/stage three of the complaints procedure, will be subject to a dedicated foster carer review that will be held within 28 days of the concluding strategy meeting or publication of the Inspection Unit report.

It is the responsibility of the Team Manager, Family Placement Service to ensure that the review is called and that the necessary reports are available.

It is essential that the Authority has a clear process in order to ensure that the outcomes from complaints impacts upon the quality of service provision. It is therefore the responsibility of the coordinator (foster carer reviews) to ensure that an analysis of all complaints is made available to the agency foster panel.

NOTE:

Any action in respect of this procedure is suspended in the event of enquiries undertaken in respect of the Council’s Grievance and Disciplinary Procedure.

Note 1: Support for Carers During Allegations

In all of those circumstances involving a serious allegation or complaint the Authority will allocate an independent social worker whose role will be to support the foster carer(s) throughout the process of the investigation. This does not mean that the foster carers established support networks will withdraw. The Link Social Worker may continue to be the first choice for the support needs of the carer(s) if this is the wish of the foster carer(s). 

The following are examples of the different Roles of the Independent Social Worker and the Link Social Worker during allegations.

Independent Social Worker’s/Helpline Role:

  • To provide emotional support to carers and birth children, to allow them to share fears and anxieties both before, during and after investigation;
  • To help communicate and record carer’s point of view;
  • Offer independence withdrawing established support;
  • Access 24 hour counselling helpline;
  • To ensure that carers understand the procedures under which they are being investigated;
  • To keep carers informed about the progress of the investigation and convey information to carers (that has been agreed as appropriate to share) in the strategy meeting;
  • To advise carers of their rights and facilitate access to professional help such as the Fostering Network, legal advice and also the right to information;
  • To agree at the very outset of an allegation/ complaint that carers are properly informed of the process and the outcome of the investigation. Provide the Team Managers and Fostering Support Team with a running record of contacts made during the period, i.e. dates of home visits, telephone calls, contacts with professionals involved etc. to be agreed at the outset.

Link Social Worker Role:

  • To liaise with those involved in the child protection investigation, attend strategy meetings and be involved in strategy discussions;
  • Liaise with the independent social worker about the investigation so that the independent social worker can keep the carer informed about the progress of the investigation;
  • The information shared with the carer will only be what is agreed by the members of the strategy meeting or group;
  • The social workers for any children placed will continue to provide support for them;
  • The link worker will continue to provide support over issues not relating in any way to allegation. This will be of a limited nature whilst an investigation is ongoing.

Note 2: Allegations of Child Abuse against Foster Carers, Cross Boundary Issues

Children who are placed in a Local Authority that is not the looking after or registering authority.

For example:

Child Looked After by Walsall M.B.C. placed with foster carers who reside within another Local Authority but who are approved by Walsall M.B.C.

Foster carers approved by another Local Authority residing in Walsall M.B.C.

Child Looked After by Walsall M.B.C. who is placed with foster carers approved by another Local Authority either living within Walsall M.B.C. or not.

In all of these circumstances the following principle applies:

“The Local Authority in whose the child is found, in circumstances that require emergency action, is responsible for taking that action. If the child is looked after by, or the subject of a Child Protection Plan in another authority, the first authority should consult the authority responsible for the child. Only if the looking after or local authority responsible for the Child Protection Plan explicitly accepts responsibility is the first authority relieved of the responsibility to take emergency action. Such acceptance should be confirmed in writing”.

In principle then, it is the Local Authority where the child resides that has responsibility in those circumstances that require emergency action.

It is the responsibility of the Team Managers, FPS and team to decide who will inform and liaise with any other Local Authority involved in the investigation.

In practice there will be discussion and negotiation dependent upon the prevailing circumstances.

It is essential that Authority’s work together cooperatively to ensure that any agreed mutual responsibilities are understood and confirmed in writing.

See also Allegations Against Staff or Volunteers in the West Midlands Safeguarding Children Procedures.

Note 3: Notifications (Please see schedule 8 of the Fostering Service Regulations 2002, ‘Events and Notifications’.

In those circumstances where the approval of a foster carer has been terminated for misconduct, as the following examples:

  • Stealing money from a child;
  • Colluding with the child over issues which may endanger their welfare;
  • Reasons of suspected or proven child abuse.

The fostering service provider will need to consider whether the foster carer’s name should be referred to the Disclosure and Barring Service for consideration of inclusion in the Children's Barred List. In such cases, the Fostering Panel will be asked to form a view regarding this when making its recommendation regarding termination of approval. 

Similarly, serious complaints against carers are notified to OFSTED and the DCSF where they are regarded as a serious childcare incident - see Notifications of Serious Child Care Incidents Guidance

End