Allegations made against foster carers

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					East Lothian Council – Department Education and
Children’s Services

Allegations made against Foster Carers

Information for carers

Introduction
This leaflet gives information and advice to carers who are facing serious allegations.
Everyone has a different approach to the way they look after children. Sometimes we
may disagree about how best to handle issues about the care of children. We can usually
sort things out by holding discussions between the carer, their social worker and other
relevant parties. Sometimes carers might need advice and training, and occasionally we
might approach the Fostering Panel for advice. All carers should have a copy of the
Foster Care Handbook, which sets down how we expect foster carers to look after
children in their care. The Handbook should act as a general guide. However when
serious allegations are made these have to be looked at more formally.

What happens when a serious allegation is made?
Occasionally, there are serious allegations about the care of children in foster care, for
example, allegations of:
    actual abuse
    neglect
    other breaches of the Foster Care Agreement

Serious allegations are rare. There have been about ten involving East Lothian carers in
the last ten years. However, it is important that carers know how serious allegations will
be handled. In cases involving alleged child abuse, we must follow procedures jointly
agreed with colleagues in Police and Health (The Child Protection Guidelines).

Our first consideration is always the safety and welfare of the child. Once an
allegation comes to light, a senior social worker, a senior Police Officer and the Zone
Pediatrician from Health hold a formal discussion, known as the Initial Referral
Discussion. If there is reason to believe that a criminal act may have been committed, the
police then carry out a formal investigation. This nearly always involves a joint
interview with the child, involving a police officer and a social worker, both of whom
will have been specially trained. Sometimes the child will need a medical examination
as part of the investigation and, occasionally, it might be decided to find a different
placement for the child until the investigation has been completed and we are sure the
child will be safe.
We know that the investigation can be very stressful and upsetting for carers. Carers
have a right to know what the investigation can mean for them and what support they
can expect.

What is likely to happen during an investigation?
After the joint interview of the child, the Police will only pursue the matter further if they
have reason to believe that the incident may contain an element of criminality. If they do
not believe there is an element of criminality, the police will not pursue the matter
further. If this is the case, your social worker and line manager will meet with the
Service Manager for Children and Families Resources. They will consider if any further
action is needed.

It is important to note that even when the Police don’t have enough evidence to take any
action, there may still be issues we must address with you. For example, as a Fostering
Agency, we may find inappropriate behaviour towards a child unacceptable, even though
the behaviour is not criminal. And, sometimes just because the Police do not have
enough evidence to prove an offence against a child, it doesn’t mean the offence didn’t
happen. The main reasons for not prosecuting most child abuse cases are because the
evidence either cannot be corroborated or is too unreliable to satisfy the court, for
example, if children are too young or troubled to give reliable evidence.

After the meeting with the Service Manager, we will draw up an action plan. Usually,
this will include your link social worker and their line manager visiting you, as soon as
possible. During the visit they will discuss their concerns, and afterwards report to the
Service Manager. Together they will then consider if they need to make further
enquiries, and whether they need to get the advice of the Fostering Panel. We try to
complete our investigation inside two weeks. However, if we have approached the
Fostering Panel, the process can take longer. Sometimes, we might ask another Fostering
Agency to help us look into the allegations to ensure objectivity.

When serious allegations have been made, the Service Manager has to report to the
Director of Education and Children’s Services to get their agreement to the action we
intend to take.

If the Police suspect that an offence has been committed

If the Police suspect that an offence has been committed, they will make further inquiries.
The Family Protection Unit (FPU) is carrying out most of these enquiries at the moment
and they will usually get involved at the joint interview stage. The FPU is based in
Musselburgh. In cases where the local uniformed police are investigating the complaint,
an FPU officer will coordinate the investigation to ensure that the matter is dealt with as
fast as possible.

If, after the joint interview with the child(ren), it is still felt that an offence has been
committed, the Police will interview other witnesses and relevant parties. They will
normally interview you after seeing everyone else, and the whole investigation can take
several weeks.

Where will interviews happen?

Depending on the circumstances, the Police will interview you at home or sometimes, in
more serious cases, at the Police Station. If you are charged, or if it is likely that a report
will be sent to the Procurator FiscaI it is usual to take:
     your fingerprints
     a DNA sample
     your photograph.

The Police normally tape or video-tape interviews. Detention at a police station is
usually under the terms of Section 14 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995.
This gives the police the power to detain someone without charge for up to six hours,
though you may be released long before this. You have a right to have your solicitor and
one other person notified of your detention, but they cannot attend your interview with
the Police. You have the right to silence.

What happens if the Police interview me?

If the police believe there is evidence that a crime may have been committed, they will
take one of the following courses of action.

     You may not be charged, but the matter may be reported to the procurator fiscal for
      consideration. If you have been interviewed at home you will normally be asked to
      go to the police station for fingerprinting, DNA tests and to have your photograph
      taken.
     You may be cautioned and charged. A report will be sent to the procurator fiscal,
      and you will be summonsed to court once a date has been fixed.
     You may be cautioned and charged and released on bail, pending an early
      appearance in court.
     In very serious cases you may be cautioned and charged and held in custody until
      appearing in court. This will normally be on the next working day.

Once the matter is referred to the Procurator Fiscal, he/she will decide whether there are
grounds for prosecution. This process can take some time, and if the Fiscal decides there
are grounds for prosecution it may be some months before the case comes to court.

If it seems likely that the Procurator Fiscal will take some time to reach a decision, we
will arrange a further meeting involving your link social worker, his/her line manager and
the Service Manager. At this meeting we will decide whether to suspend you or let you
resume fostering. The Head of Service will make the final decision about this.

What about my own children?
If you face a serious allegation about the care of a child you are fostering, we might have
to make inquiries about the care of any other children in the household, including your
own. The Police and a social worker may need to interview these children. In some
cases, we will call a case conference, at which all relevant parties discuss the facts and
reach agreement about what if any action is needed to protect children. You can and
should come to this case conference. After the case conference we may make a referral
to the Reporter to the Children's Panel. Even if the case conference deals only with the
children you foster, you can and should attend.

How can the Children’s Services Department help me?
When carers face serious allegations, their social workers are in a difficult position. If
you are denying the allegations, you really want your social worker to be able to say that
they believe you. While the Police or the Courts are considering matters, social workers
have to stay out of the investigation so as not to prejudice any evidence. So, they won’t
be able to talk to you about the details of the investigation. Your link social worker will
still be able to visit at least once a week. You can phone them between times. They can
give you advice and general support during this difficult time.

If you cannot get hold of your social worker, you can also speak to his/her line manager.
The line manager will come to see you with your link social worker when an allegation is
first made and explain what is likely to happen next.

All foster carers in East Lothian are members of The Fostering Network. Fostering
Network has an advice line for carers, which can be used for independent support.
Fostering Network may also help you with legal assistance if you have to appear in
Court. Full details of these services should be in your Fostering Network Member’s
Pack.

We can also put you in touch with other carers who can give you information and
support. Carers who can offer this service include:

Isobel Ritchie         01875 815971
Janice Stephenson      01875 810035
Sharon Peacock         01875 814124

If you would rather get support from other carers who do not foster for East Lothian
Council, we can try to arrange this for you.

Other information
If the allegation is upheld and it is decided that you cannot foster children, any
entitlement to fees and allowances will cease immediately. If the allegation against you
is serious, and is likely to take some time to investigate, we may feel that you cannot
foster children until the investigations are complete. In this case, we will pay you a
retainer for up to 12 weeks. You can take your entitlement to paid timeout (up to three
weeks) at the end of this retainer period if you wish.

Once the Police or Children’s Services Department (and the Court, if necessary) have
fully investigated and determined the allegation , your link social worker and their Line
Manager will discuss with you whether we need to take any further action. If you still
want to foster after an offence has been proved or if there remain concerns about the care
of the children you looked after, we will have to approach the Fostering Panel. The
Fostering Panel’s Agency Decision Maker will consider the recommendation of the
Panel.

In line with recommendations made following Public Enquiries into the abuse of children
in foster care, we will keep a record of the allegations, even if the allegations have not
been proven. This historical record can be important if further allegations are made. If
you are charged with an offence but not convicted, the charge will appear on an enhanced
check with Disclosure Scotland for an indefinite period.

Once we have dealt with an allegation, and decide that there is no case to answer or no
further action is needed, we are unlikely to refer to the matter repeatedly unless you face
more allegations later on.



RS. Updated 9/06

				
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Description: Allegations made against foster carers