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.
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”.
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.
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.