Social workers criticised in case where girl was abused by foster carer

A serious case review has said a council did not adequately support a kinship care placement for a six year old girl who was sexually abused

The review highlighted a lack of communication between professionals. Photo: Innovated Captures/Fotolia

A lack of communication between social work teams at a council has been criticised as part of a serious case review into the sexual abuse of a child by her foster parent.

The review also found Croydon council had not provided adequate support to the child’s paternal grandmother which led to a kinship care placement breaking down and the girl having to be moved into foster care.

The review looked at the failings in the case of Claire, a girl who had been known to social services since she was five-months-old. When she was six, she was sexually abused by a member of her household and went into the care of her grandmother.

Below standards

This placement broke down and the review found a contributing factor was that social workers had failed to do a full assessment of the grandmother’s needs and ability to care for a young child. They had not advised her of the financial support available that may have helped her juggled the demands of her job with long hours and childcare responsibilities.

“This practice fell below expected standards and, had the correct level of support been provided, it may have been entirely possible that [the child] could have remained within the care of her extended family,” the review said.

Claire then entered the care of foster carers, who she stayed with for a year until it was discovered she had been sexually abused by the male foster carer and had contracted two sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Lack of cooperation

The SCR found no evidence to indicate the foster carer was likely to sexually abuse Claire, but it criticised a lack of cooperation between Claire’s social worker, and the foster carers’ supervising social worker. Communication was “minimal” and key events going on in the foster carer’s lives were not shared with the child’s social worker.

This included concerns raised during a review of their  registration which revealed  the male foster carer was caring for Claire alone. He had agreed at the start of the placement that would not happen in line with “standard safeguarding practice” with girls in care who had been sexually abused.

“The social worker and the supervising social worker worked in different teams; they had different roles and responsibilities; were managed by different line managers; and used different data recording systems,” the review said.

“Close working relationships between these social workers was therefore difficult to achieve and, whilst there were no structural barriers to achieving a close working relationship, the structures in place did not sufficiently facilitate this relationship.”

Concerning elements about the foster carer’s past were also not analysed during their assessment process, the review said. It added that there were areas of the couple’s life that “posed questions in relation to their honesty”.

Interrogation

The couple had concealed information from their birth children about the man’s previous marriage, which had upset the children when it was revealed.

“The responsible manager picked up on the issues of Mr George’s previous marriage and the fact that his children had not been informed, but apart from this none of these issues were raised by managers, panel members, or by the Agency Decision Maker. Consequently, there was no interrogation of these secrets and dishonesties,” the review added.

The view of the experienced panel members, was that the carers “looked good on paper.”

The serious case review also commented on various issues to do with current common practices to do with fostering assessments and children in care processes.

Competencies

It identified that the assessment of the carers was carried out by an independent social worker who did not have access to guidance or supervision. The manager involved did not identify the absence of any analysis “ as, in line with expected standards, the focus of quality assurance was not on the quality of analysis but on whether the required competencies had been properly covered”.

The decision to not pursue legal proceedings to ensure joint parental responsibility between the authority and Claire’s birth mother, and not have regular child protection conferences, was also questioned.

While the review acknowledged it was common practice to not hold child protection conferences once a child is in local authority care, it stated the assumption that children in care are safe as a blanket approach was “unsafe”.

It said that across the case staff were inexperienced and the decisions of senior managers focused on the “here and now” and did not leave a lot of space for reflective supervision.

“For a number of these practitioners, the advice and guidance they received at critical points in the case, was unhelpful, and for some of them, the advice they received was misguided, this placed practitioners in very difficult, and on occasions compromised, positions and had a direct impact on how Claire was safeguarded.”

Sarah Baker, chair of Croydon’s safeguarding children’s board, expressed “deep sadness” about the events of the case.

“The review found no evidence that anything at the time could have indicated this foster carer was likely to sexually abuse a child in his care. However there are still lessons to be learned and actions were immediately taken to tighten up a variety of processes. Staff have also received additional training and guidance to increase their awareness and understanding. I will ensure the findings from this review are built into our future action plan,” Baker said.

She added that Claire is “doing well” with new foster carers and continues to enjoy the “unconditional support” of her family.

Criticism of the review

CoramBAAF has criticised “factual inaccuracies” about elements of the review which discusses the way the foster carers were assessed.

“The SCR is critical of the fostering assessment format (Form F) designed and distributed by BAAF under license to members. The review focusses on the fact that as a competency-based format it requires practitioners to gather information but does not sufficiently encourage analysis of that information. The SCB fails to recognise or acknowledge that the 2005 version of the form that was used in this particular case was withdrawn some years ago,” Paul Adams, Fostering development consultation at CoramBAAF said.

He added: “The SCR also wrongly states that the form has ‘changed little over the last ten years’. In fact it was very significantly revised in 2014, following an exercise involving a practitioner survey, focus groups, and conversations with a number of academics. This is important because the changes that were implemented in 2014 fully addressed the concerns set out in this SCR.  This newer version of Form F contains specific text boxes throughout the form headed ‘analysis’, thus providing exactly what the SCR suggests is missing.  It also removed the competencies grid that is criticised for being a contributing factor in the lack of analysis. Failure to recognise that Form F was significantly revised in 2014 means that the SCR recommendations about ‘adapting the assessment tool to promote appraisal and analysis’ are outdated.”

It said a number of the review’s recommendations were “impossible” to meaningfully consider as it didn’t reference legal requirements for every local authority to publish a family friends care policy and a nominated manager.

10 Responses to Social workers criticised in case where girl was abused by foster carer

  1. Londonboy January 27, 2017 at 10:50 am #

    This case raises a number of issues that I recognise as being systemic/cultural problems, as the parent of an autistic adolescent who entered the Care system.

    This comment particularly:-
    ‘ The social worker and the supervising social worker worked in different teams; they had different roles and responsibilities; were managed by different line managers; and used different data recording systems,” the review said.

    This comment particularly applies to children with SEND whose diagnoses may be recorded one way by CCG’s/CAHMS, another by Virtual School Heads, another by Disability teams and may or may not be seen as significant in social care terms (believe me it is!) by SW’s.

    I believe that in the case of children with SEND, differences in data recording systems mean that there are holes, here there and everywhere in the systems meant to protect these children.

    It is so scandalous these systemic problems contributed to a situation where Social Care handed a child to an abuser as in this case.

    There is not nearly enough focus on policy makers on making the Care system fit for purpose.

    • Stuart January 27, 2017 at 2:10 pm #

      As a social worker with several decades of experience in fostering & adoption I would like to express complete agreement with your concerns.

      I have seen myself in other cases so much of the problems described in this (very well written) summary of findings and think it should be widely read by everyone with a hand in social work with children. And probably adults too. It seems like anything that could go wrong did do and the case should certainly serve as a warning.

  2. Londonboy January 27, 2017 at 3:13 pm #

    ”She added that Claire is “doing well” with new foster carers and continues to enjoy the “unconditional support” of her family.”

    Is this an attempt to minimise the harm caused to this child by lax care on the part of her Coporate parent..I really hope not.

  3. Emily January 28, 2017 at 8:55 am #

    Sadly the lack of cooperation evident in this case will not be an isolated example. As a previous SSW I always tried to work well with children’s social workers. I attended every review , every multi-agency meeting and always submitted reports where expected. Unfortunately I did not always receive the same support in return and only a few childrens social workers would complete even a short feedback form for the foster carers review which weakens the review and makes it especially difficult to deregister when you have concerns, where is your supporting evidence panel will (rightly) ask.

    Please don’t think I am placing blame on children’s social workers for this, not all were unsupportive and I am certain not all SSW’s send reports for LAC reviews or attend them. We need to look at why this is the case and not attribute blame to one or the other social worker.

    The problem is insidious and starts with the fact that not enough emphasis is placed on the centrality of this relationship as a safeguarding mechanism for the child in placement now and all future placements.

    I always suspected that the need to submit a report to the carers review was not given enough consideration within the LAC team and was not taken into account in terms of the children’s social workers workload. I had a feeling that the reports I did receive were done (often in a rush) by the children’s social worker and were done because they themselves recognised the importance of their contribution.

    I think CoromBAAF were right in their criticism of this SCR. Whilst I have not read the SCR based on what is reported here it doesn’t seem to be the most robust SCR.

    Also I agree that the comment Londonboy made. I’m confident that Clare is not “OK” by a long stretch of the imagination. She has been sexually abused by adults she should be able to trust twice and we all know what this means for children in the longer term.

  4. Faye Gayle January 29, 2017 at 4:15 am #

    – mother and local authority having joint PR was not pursued/ explored. Children subject to care orders share PR with local authority. Did the person writing this review actually practice in social work or frontline ?

  5. Mike Jubb January 30, 2017 at 7:54 am #

    I agree with Londonboy’s reading of the Safeguarding Board’s comments as likely to be seen as pleading exculpatory outcomes , namely that despite “our communications and process failings , everything turned out ok in the end”. Not using the correct forms, which had been overhauling to expressly reflect an analysis of the facts , is such a fundamental error that the glib response of the local authority’s represenatative calls into question her competence to lead and direct safeguarding or avoid further poor decision making locally.

  6. Nora Duckett January 31, 2017 at 8:28 pm #

    “We need to look at why this is the case and not attribute blame to one or the other social worker.” says Emily. It may sound simple, yet deceptively so.
    How do groups, teams , agencies, organisations openly acknowledge and discuss that conflict and poor inter and intra agency communication is inevitable? And this is true in the most favourable of conditions and rife in unfavourable ones like now (under resourced, high case loads, pressure to finalise assessments , close cases, no meaningful engagement/ relationship, vicarious trauma, managerial approaches to supervision etc etc
    And there are so very many Claires “Only 1 in 8 children who are sexually abused are identified by professionals …OCC, 2015) .

  7. Samantha February 1, 2017 at 6:25 am #

    And where was the IRO oversight/scrutiny of the care plan and placement in all of this I ask ……….

  8. Planet Autism February 1, 2017 at 9:44 pm #

    Has anyone ever done a study on the difference in percentage between sexual abuse occurring within a birth family and a foster family? It has to be assumed that it’s more likely in a foster family because they have no blood tie to the child, which will naturally affect their parenting instinct. Add in that there are high payment incentives for people to foster, it is putting children in obvious danger. Removing children from birth families is supposed to be a very last resort “when nothing else will do”. Why is the state damaging so many children? Why, instead of offering families the right support, are children being so readily removed and harmed in the care system? Poor outcomes are a known, there is no excuse.

  9. Rosaline February 2, 2017 at 10:53 pm #

    Londonboy, thank you for your analysis, fully supported.