Handling of abuse inquiries leaves foster carers pondering future

Investigations into allegations of abuse by foster parents have been exposed as inconsistent and slow, according to a report. And this could push many carers out of the profession, writes Gordon Carson

A report last week from the Fostering Network highlighted huge problems in the way abuse allegations against foster carers are often investigated.

Of course, some of these allegations are proven and carers are rightly punished. But Martin* and his wife know exactly how things can go wrong.

They had been fostering an 11- year-old boy and his 15-year-old sister, both of whom had learning difficulties, for six years when they were told they were being investigated for abusing the boy.

Martin and his wife were accused of isolating and abusing the boy because they put him on a “naughty step” when he misbehaved. They were told the investigation would take three weeks at most, but in the event it lasted far longer, and they were removed from the local fostering register by a panel without being given a chance to state their case. All their payments were stopped during the investigation.

The outcome was reversed only when the couple’s link worker and fostering manager, disgusted at the panel’s decision, took the case directly to the council’s director of social services, who overturned the ruling.

Although the girl was returned, and still lives with Martin and his wife, they have not seen the boy since. The way the investigation was handled had a massive impact on the family. Martin had a nervous breakdown and was off work for six
months, while his wife became seriously depressed.

Their experience is not unique, if the Fostering Network’s report is to be believed. Its poll of 1,000 carers found that
35 per cent had faced an allegation of abuse, but only one in five of these thought the investigation which followed was fair.

There were also huge variations in the length of investigations, with 50 per cent taking fewer than three months but 9 per cent lasting more than a year.

Fostering Network chief executive Robert Tapsfield says investigations are “inconsistent” and, in many cases, “far too slow”.

Barbara Hutchinson, deputy chief executive of the British Association  for Adoption and Fostering, says it is crucial that investigations are childcentred and carried out swiftly.

She adds that carers should not be penalised financially but the report shows this often happens. Just under half of carers who had children removed during an investigation, 52 of 108, had both their allowance and payment stopped.

Hutchinson says agencies should not automatically remove children from a placement while an investigation is taking place, and should take children’s wishes into account. She warns that many foster carers who leave the profession do so because of  the effects of an allegation of abuse, even if unfounded.

No one could have blamed Martin and his wife for doing just that but, despite their experiences, they vowed to continue fostering. Martin says: “We said that 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.”

Allegations in Foster Care
* Not his real name.

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