It’s all lies

In her 15 years as a foster carer Judy Drake never thought it was a job for someone who wanted an easy life. But in the past two years, she has lost 60,000 in income, has nearly lost her home and is 25,000 in debt because of false allegations.

Unusually, it was the local authority for which she fosters that made the allegations against her – allegations which began after she questioned an instruction from the authority about how two of her three foster children were to be treated. She was then said by the council to have claimed that the children had been sexually abused and suffered from various illnesses. It also alleged she had favoured one of the children and had not given balanced views about the two children to their potential adopters.

She has since discovered that some of the files relating to her case have gone missing, some have been rewritten and parts have been deleted. “I’m down as attending meetings I was never at,” she says.

The independent investigation exonerated her but the authority has refused to sign the resulting report. Three months ago she went to the ombudsman.

“My confidence has never been lower,” says the former social services manager. “It’s gradually recovering but it is a slow process. You feel a sense of shame even though you know you have done nothing wrong. You know that files exist on you in which there are lies but you don’t know where they are. This is a small community and people ask where the other children have gone and why.”

Drake, who has adopted one child, adds: “Something like this affects you in every way – your health, stress, relationships, but all the time, for the children’s sake, you have to make out that everything is fine when you just want it to go away. Fifteen years with an exemplary record as a foster carer didn’t help me at all.”

Allegations against foster carers may be made for many reasons. Abuse may have occurred or the allegation may have been made out of malice. A child may misinterpret the actions or intentions of a carer, or might be pressing their social worker to let them return to their birth parents’ home; they may be seeking attention because they feel let down or abused by the care system; or they may be acting in an effort to regain some control over their lives.

The Department for Education and Skills does not keep statistics on the number of allegations, and the figures for foster carers leaving the service do not distinguish those who have been worn down by a false allegation. And although the DfES requires independent fostering agencies to keep records of allegations, there is no such duty on local authorities.

Over the years, however, there have been various estimates about the proportion of foster carers who are subject to allegations. The Utting report stated that allegations were made in 4-5 per cent of foster homes and that most were unproven.(1) Fostering Network has estimated that in Scotland one in three fostering households face an allegation(2), while researcher Ian Sinclair estimates that foster carers have a one in five chance of facing an allegation in a seven-year foster care “lifetime”.(3) Meanwhile, an unpublished study of accused foster families has shown that most allegations were found to be false and that criminal prosecutions were few – it also found that fostering services failed to comply with statutory requirements for most fostering families.(4)
The impact of false allegations on foster carers is often dramatic. Malcolm Phillips, author of the Fostering Network’s report, refers to “collateral damage” to describe what happens when carers’ attitudes to fostering are profoundly affected. Although they may remain committed to foster care they may become more cautious, perhaps by taking in fewer children or changing the age of the children they are willing to take. Some might continue as carers but at the same time discourage friends and relatives from fostering.

Rosie and Mike Rawlins, who have been foster carers for 13 years, are such examples. Fifteen-year-old Tommy, who had had 19 placements, had been with them for five-and-a-half years when he claimed that Rosie hit him repeatedly with an ice hockey stick, although he refused to show bruises. When the police decided not to proceed, and he was no longer with the Rawlinses, he alleged that Mike had thrown eight-year-old Danny, another foster child, against a wall. This was also found to be untrue. Danny remained in the Rawlins’ care throughout the investigation of both allegations.

Rosie Rawlins says: “If Danny was not here, if he hadn’t been with us for so long – three-and-a-half years – we wouldn’t be fostering now. But he’s a lovely boy and we love him to bits, he’s one of ours.

“I felt really let down by the social workers. I should have been offered independent support by the local authority but I was never told this and when I knew it was too late.”

Foster carers are entitled to independent support and the Fostering Network’s advice and mediation service has been purchased by 26 local authorities in England.

Rosie Rawlins adds: “The police sent me a letter to say that no further action would be taken – it was an official wording but the local authority has never written and so I feel I have never been vindicated. I have been left feeling I am guilty. The local authority doesn’t seem to understand; they are there for the children but there’s no one there for you.”

Foster carers are now recognised as part of the children’s workforce. Yet while having a place on the Children’s Workforce Development Council may be a step forward, the protections and rights of the conventional workplace continue to elude them.

(1) W Utting, People Like Us: The Report of the Review of the Safeguards of Children Living Away from Home, Stationery Office, 1997
(2) Fostering Network, Caring for Our Children. Part One: The Foster Carers’ Perspective, Fostering Network, 2005
(3) I Sinclair, Fostering Now. Messages from Research, Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2005
(4) M Phillips, Fostering Can Never Be the Same for Us, Fostering Network, 2005 (unpublished)

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