Becoming a foster carer is a bold step. There are many challenges. For people who are looking into fostering, it is likely that one of the main concerns they will have will be in the area of allegations. It is a given that because the welfare and safety of children will always be paramount, there will be a great deal of scrutiny and checking. This is simply a reality all foster carers have to face. It is one reason why keeping accurate records is such an important part of the foster carers role. The procedures that relate to the safeguarding of foster children will always be a priority. And that is understandable – it does mean that foster carers can be at risk of having an allegation made against them at some point in their fostering careers. Allegations are more serious in nature than general complaints because they have to be fully investigated within the local child protection procedure.
When an allegation is made against a foster carer, there is a legal requirement for an investigation to be made. The local authority in which the foster carer resides, the fostering service provider and the police will be involved in handling an allegation and the manner in which it is investigated. This is to guarantee the safety of the child or young person concerned. This process is always necessary, but, inevitably, a foster carer in this situation will feel themselves to be under considerable pressure. It is a fact that many allegations may ultimately prove to be unfounded, the effects can leave foster carers unable – or unwilling – to continue caring for children. This can even be the case when an allegation is not upheld. This demonstrates what an emotionally scarring experience it can be for a foster carer when an allegation is made against them. At the current moment in time, some 8,000 new foster families are being sought as the number of children entering the care system continues to rise. Attracting and training people to become foster carers is a lengthy and expensive business. These facts mean that dealing with the effects of allegations on foster carers has to be a priority. The level of support and help provided by a fostering service during the investigation into an allegation and its after effects can make all the difference to a foster carer wanting to continue their career.
The usual types of allegations that are made against carers fall into four main categories: poor care standards, emotional abuse, physical abuse and sexual abuse. Research has been carried out in the past by the prestigious Rees Centre, which looked into the subject of allegations. A pilot study by the centre looked at a number of cases that had been unproven. This revealed that when foster carers were first informed about an allegation made against them, they had insufficient knowledge about how the ensuing enquiry would be conducted and its likely progress. It was also found that training did not adequately cover what foster carers should do if they were the subject of an allegation.
The effects on foster carers
What emerged from the pilot study showed that the effects of allegations on foster families could be severe. These included the break up of families, financial loss and adverse health effects. And to prove the point foster carers involved in the pilot that had faced allegations – which were unproven – stopped fostering straight away or within the period of a year. This important work led to more research being co-funded by the charitable foundation, The Sir Halley Stewart Trust and the organisation Foster Talk. This latest research, whose results were produced in 2016, was again carried out by the Rees Centre for Research into Fostering and Education at Oxford University. In this far larger study around 200 case records were scrutinised and interviews were conducted with foster carers, managers and supervising social workers.
The ensuing report went on to make a number of recommendations to the Department of Education, Ofsted, Association of Directors of Children’s Services and Fostering Service Providers.
Amongst the key findings produced it was established that –
“The main impact on carers and their families of allegations closed as unproven was emotional and financial. Interviews suggested that emotional distress, which was often linked with subsequent health and relationship issues, partly related to the severity of the allegation…but equally by the ensuing treatment. Lack of information about the allegation itself, the investigation process and the support to which they were entitled led to confusion, destruction of confidence and dismay.*
*G. Plumridge and J. Sebba
Preparation is key to helping foster carers
Now this research is available fostering service providers can work to offer greater support to carers both during and in the aftermath of an allegation being made.
It is clear that the issue of allegations and how they are handled must be fully addressed in the training of applicants. It should also form a regular part of the ongoing training of carers. Perhaps because it has been seen as such a disincentive to recruitment generally, it has not been put to the fore. As the downside risks to carers and their careers can be so significant, the issue needs to be properly addressed. This is one strong argument for the further ‘professionalisation’ of the role of the foster carer – something the leading charity, The Fostering Network, has long been calling for.
An allegation is always going to cause distress, but if they can be perceived as a potential risk that all foster carers – almost by virtue of the job they do – may experience, the effects can more easily be managed. If carers are trained to understand allegations can and do happen – and may indeed happen to them – they can adopt a realistic mindset. Understanding something is a possibility and knowing this is a risk all foster carers face, should create a sense of proportionality. This will be reinforced to a greater degree if the entire process is always managed along clear, professional and transparent guidelines. It is worth noting that an allegation; although being made against an individual carer or carers), does impact on the service provider as well. And foster carers are – certainly at Rainbow – regarded as part of a wider team dedicated to safeguarding children’s interests. So this is an issue that should properly be regarded as one of shared responsibility. This way foster carers will not feel so isolated in the process.
Make 2018 the year in which you decide to become a foster carer
This is a landmark year for Rainbow – our twenty-first anniversary is fast approaching in November.
To mark this, we are driving a recruitment campaign to find new carers in London, Birmingham and Manchester. Rainbow Fostering now needs to find people with the determination and resilience to shape; with our support and ongoing training, a great career in fostering.
Our telephone contact numbers are 020 8427 3355 or you can use our National line – 0330 311 2845. There is no obligation – we are looking to have an informative chat with people who are seriously considering fostering.
There is always something happening in the world of fostering:
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Blog is written by Will Saunders: Rainbow Fostering – Content Management/Marketing