Fostering Investigation: MP attacks CSCI’s handling of foster carers’ child protection concerns

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An MP has questioned the “robustness” of the Commission for Social Care Inspection after it published a report into its handling of complaints by two foster carers containing serious inaccuracies.

James Plaskitt recently told Community Care that he had challenged a CSCI review, published last July. The review covered the CSCI’s, and its predecessor the National Care Standards Commission’s, handling of two child protection complaints in 2002 by the couple – Plaskitt’s constituents – against fostering agency Happen Fostercare.

The couple complained that the agency had used a male support worker about whom there were child protection concerns. They also said that the agency had not addressed their concerns when they discovered that a child placed with them had been involved in incidents of possible concern with other children.

The independent review, published in July 2006, was commissioned after Plaskitt criticised CSCI and the NCSC’s handling of the complaints in a parliamentary debate in 2004.

Plaskitt, MP for Warwick and Leamington, said he later met then CSCI chief inspector David Behan to highlight factual inaccuracies in a draft of the independent review. Some were addressed but others were not (see Were there inaccuracies in the independent review).

He told Community Care that CSCI had been “defensive” and had refused to “take on board” his criticisms.

“They turned the internal review into an attempt to vindicate themselves and turn the onus back on to my constituents,” said Plaskitt.

Plaskitt is calling for the recommendations of the CSCI’s third stage investigation into the carers’ complaints to be fully implemented.

The third stage investigation said Happen’s fitness should be reviewed “as a matter of urgency”, but this didn’t occur due to the further review. He is still pursuing assurances from ministers, including care services minister Ivan Lewis, that the complaints process will be reformed when CSCI’s adult function merges with the Healthcare Commission in 2009.

“I am left with question marks about the robustness of the CSCI,” he said.

Foster carer Ms C added: “We did not, in raising genuine child protection concerns, expect to find ourselves in the position of needing to defend ourselves and our reputations, in general, not just as foster carers, over such a long period of time.”

Timeline: how the case developed over the past five years (back to top)

February 2002: Ms C and Mr C were registered with independent agency Happen Fostercare, then Happen CFS Ltd, when they discovered that a 13-year-boy placed with them for respite care had a known history of being sexually abused and reported incidents of concern involving him and other children.

They contacted the agency because they were concerned that they had not been made aware of child X’s history – they had nine-year-old twins and two young children.

They were also advised by the Fostering Network to make a formal complaint against Northamptonshire Council, which was responsible for the child. The day after the formal complaint against the council was faxed to Happen, the agency produced an “agenda” of concerns about the couple.

The couple agreed to go through the agenda but only with the involvement of an independent person.

March 2002: The carers resigned from the agency, believing the relationship had broken down.

May 2002: They complained to the National Care Standards Commission about the agency including a complaint about one of its support workers.

Northamptonshire Council upheld the carers’ complaint that its social worker had failed to pass on information about the child’s abuse history when she met the carers before the child was placed with them.

The NCSC undertook an investigation into Happen, which concluded that the carers’ complaints could not be upheld.

August 2002: NCSC inspectors complete first investigation and accepts three negative assessments of the carers, two of whom were from people who had never met them.

One of them, Tony Puliafito, then commissioning officer for Warwickshire Council and responsible for assessing and approving Happen Fostercare for his own authority and the West Midlands Care Consortium, was forced to later write to one of the inspectors retracting his statements under instruction from the Local Government Ombudsman.

May 2003: Second investigation starts. It finds that the complaint about the agency was partially substantiated and the complaint about the support worker was substantiated.

The carers pursue the complaint to the third stage.

March 2004: Third inquiry upholds fully the complaints.However, recommendations have not been implemented.

September 2004: Plaskitt criticised CSCI and the NCSC’s handling of the complaints, a point echoed by then children’s minister Margaret Hodge. CSCI then commissioned the internal review.

July 2006: Internal CSCI report published.

Were there inaccuracies in the independent review? (back to top)

Community Care has highlighted inconsistencies in CSCI’s internal review. It states:

1. “The social worker had failed to notify the agency about the history of child x”.

In fact, the council’s review showed it had faxed a referral form to the agency that child X had been abused by an adult male in his neighbourhood. But the agency did not pick up on this and ask the council for more details, as it should have done.

2. “The issue of the employment of a support worker without being police checked showed that checks had been taken out in advance of him starting employment but were not received as being clear until two days after he had started work. This was insufficient to cancel registration.”

Records show that the man, who was subject to child protection investigations, was used by the agency even after it had received a reference from another agency saying it would not reassess him as a foster carer, and admitting he had been involved in incidents that were a cause of concern.

3. “The agency’s employment systems were found to be robust. The inspection took place between 4 and 8 October 2004.”

The agency had in fact been given a low rating in CSCI’s own inspection for ensuring that employees “are suitable to work with children and young people and promote their welfare”, which showed shortfalls.

Responses (back to top)

Commission for Social Care Inspection response

“We believe that the report does not contain serious inaccuracies, although inevitably there will be points that are open to interpretation and personal opinion. James Plaskitt and other interested parties were given the opportunity to comment on a draft copy.

As a result of their contributions, the report was amended where this was clearly required. We have had detailed discussions over a considerable period of time with the foster carer and have repeatedly advised her to refer any claim of maladministration on our part to the parliamentary ombudsman, via her MP, but she has chosen not to do so.”

“We believe the references made in the report to the performance of Happen Fostercare during the period in question are accurate, as evidenced in the inspection reports.”

Happen fostercare legal representative response

“The independent review exonerates our client (Happen Fostercare). Further, David Behan, the then chief inspector of the CSCI, accepted fully the findings of the review in his letter of adjudication. Our client contends that they have been poorly served by the NCSC and CSCI.”

Further information
Commission for Social Care Inspection

Fostering Network

Northamptonshire County Council

Contact the author
Sally Gillen

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