A Fostering Network report this week highlighted major problems with the way social services investigate allegations of abuse against foster carers.
Here is one man’s account of his experiences of the system.
Martin and his wife had fostered a boy, aged 11, and his sister, 17, both of whom had learning difficulties, for six years when an allegation of abuse was made in July 2003.
Martin says: “We had taken the children away on holiday. We got a phone call from our social worker asking if we could attend a meeting and bring the children.
We turned up at the council offices and then some people came down and said they were ready for us.
One took the children and the other took us – we questioned why we were separated. The children were forcibly taken away and they were screaming and crying.
We sat down with the manager and social worker and were told an allegation had been made. The said they couldn’t tell us what the allegation was.
They said we would be investigated and the children would be taken away. We were not allowed to contact them and they were not to contact us.
We asked how long the investigation would take and they said no longer than three weeks.
We asked to say goodbye to the children. First of all they said no but they finally relented and the children were brought in arm in arm with social workers. They said they didn’t want to go – it was horrendous for the children and for us.
After that we didn’t have any contact for about a week, then I rang every day.
They said it was taking so long because the person who was going to do the investigation was on holiday then was busy.
The children were interviewed and we were finally called to different council offices and were taken into a room by a manager and social worker we had never seen before.
At that point they said perhaps they should have brought paper and a pen. They then left us there with the report into the allegations on the table.
When they came back the social worker said to the manager ‘Shall we tell them what the outcome is?’ I asked how they had an outcome when they hadn’t even investigated it. Then they said the outcome was we had isolated and abused a child.
This was said to be because when the boy had done wrong we put him on the ‘naughty step’. We told him to think about what he had done wrong and come back and tell us.
I don’t consider it to be isolation when he was on a stair at the end of where we were sitting.
We were then told we had to go before the fostering panel.
We walked in there with our link worker and fostering manager and the chair said it was decided we would be deregistered.
They never even asked us one question.
We were offered no independent support. I phoned up the local fostering association and explained to the chair what was going on. His advice was to lie down and take it and we would probably just be suspended.
The fostering manager said she was disgusted about what they had done and between the panel meeting and the appeal the manager and the link worker took our case to the director of social services and he overturned the decision of the panel.
Our daughter was returned three weeks later but the boy never was. They were brother and sister.
It’s still hanging over our heads, we have never been exonerated. As far as we are concerned we are still judged as guilty.
Our daughter is now 18 and was offered semi-independent living but she turned it down. We couldn’t have been that bad if she’s prepared to stay here.
We were never told who made the allegation although it was neither of the children.
I had a nervous breakdown over it and was off work for six months. My wife went into deep depression.
But we said if we gave up fostering there are children out there who need a loving home and it would be selfish if we didn’t carry on.
Social services said the person doing the investigation was busy but that’s keeping people waiting and you feel like a criminal waiting to be done.
Why don’t they use experienced foster carers who can do investigations on the behalf of social workers? Foster carers are experienced. We have had 43 fostered children, and our knowledge of children and experience of life is quite vast.
My opinion of social workers is that everything has to be done by the textbook. But real life is slightly different from that.
Social services don’t listen to the foster carers or the children.