What happens when allegations are made against a foster carer?
For many foster carers or people thinking about foster caring, having a child make allegations against them is the ultimate nightmare scenario. It can even be enough to put some people off fostering altogether.
It doesn’t need to be.
Foster care agencies and local authorities have long-established procedures to get to the bottom of any allegation that is made, whether it is ultimately substantiated or not.
GOT QUESTIONS?: If you want to know more about becoming a foster carer in London, ask our team here.
The purpose of this article is to help you understand why children sometimes make allegations, what happens when they do, and what support you, as a foster carer, receive if you find yourself in this situation.
Why do foster kids sometimes make allegations?
There are two main reasons foster children sometimes make allegations against a foster carer (aside from an allegation being true, of course).
Sometimes abuse has occurred in the past and the child displaces it
A child who has been abused in the past but is now safe may remember their abuse differently and claim an abuse occurred in a different time or place to when it actually happened.
It’s all linked to brain development.
When a child feels unsafe, they spend a lot more time using their more basic brain (the fight- or-flight part of their brain). But when they’re in a safe place, they can do more higher-level or “executive” brain functioning. That means they can start to process things a bit more.
Children try to block abuse out and when they’re finally in a safe place, like a foster carer’s home, those memories start to resurface. Because their brains are not yet sophisticated, those memories flood back as if they happened today.
So on one level, it’s good news. It means the child feels like they’re in a safe place. On another level, it’s obviously awful having allegations made against you.
Sometimes a child is testing the resilience of their foster carers
The other common type of allegation made against foster carers doesn’t involve past abuse.
Usually, the child will make an allegation to test the foster carer, to test whether a carer is willing to stand by them during the allegation process. They test because they’d rather know immediately if the foster carers aren’t really invested in them. They’re asking “will these adults care enough to work through everything with me, even if it gets tricky? Or will they drop me at the first time of trouble?”
Foster children know the process that happens after an allegation is made, and if they’ve made a false allegation, they almost always retract it as soon as the local authority visits to talk to them.
How common is it for a foster child to make allegations against a carer?
Our main allegations trainer at Lika Family Fostering has more than 35 years’ experience as a foster carer. Of allegations being made against a carer she says “it’s not about if; it’s about when.”
During your foster caring career it is highly likely that an allegation will be made at some point. It doesn’t mean the allegation will be founded, or that it will affect your caring career.
Allegations aren’t noted on your record unless they’re substantiated.
What kinds of accusations are we talking about?
People thinking about becoming foster carers tend to worry they’ll be the subject of a sexual abuse allegation. In fact, usually, allegations are about inappropriate chastisement — smacked bottoms, for example.
During the investigation into an allegation it normally becomes apparent quite quickly if what the child has said is not what happened.
There are several levels of allegation:
This could include the child saying that the carer did not allow them to have sweets or shouted at them once when they were running into the road.
For example, a child being prevented from eating with the family, or being made to wash their soiled bedsheets in the garden.
Where there have been allegations of physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect.
How does the foster care agency generally learn about the allegations?
Usually it’s because the foster carers tell them. They have to report it. But it could be reported through the child’s school. It depends where the child makes the allegation initially.
How are accusations against foster carers treated?
As awful as allegations are for the foster carer, it is important to remember that the children making the claims have sometimes experienced abuse for years without anyone showing them that they are worthwhile any kind of intervention.
So, even if the foster care agency (including your supervising social worker) thinks the allegations are not true, they have to show that child that they are taking them seriously.
It’s the agency’s (and the social worker’s) job to prove they will do anything to listen to the child and to take them seriously. That’s the priority. The child needs to feel safe.
The foster carers, however, need to know their foster care agency and supervising social worker are not assuming what is alleged definitely happened.
What’s the process when allegations are made?
This depends partly on to whom the child makes their initial allegation. If it’s the foster carer, the foster carer must report it to their supervising social worker.
The procedure shown below assumes the allegation has come to the social worker at the foster care agency either from the child directly or via the carer. If the child had made the allegation at school, the initial stages outlined below would be undertaken through the school’s procedures rather than those of the foster care agency.
Here’s what the process looks like:
- The agency takes the initial information but does not start an investigation
- The agency advises the foster carers not to ask the young person any questions, nor to call the school or take any action on their own initiative
- The agency gets in touch with the local authority (or the after-hours service) and starts the formal process. The local authority decides whether there is going to be an investigation or if they’ll send social workers to speak to the child
- If further action is needed (if the allegations appear to have substance) they will start a Section 47 procedure under the Child Protection Act. If that happens:
- The social worker speaks to the Child Abuse Investigation Team and together they make a decision on how to go forward with the investigation
- Then if the police feel there is anything within that investigation that could bring about criminal proceedings, they will become involved in the investigation
- The police and social worker will speak to the child and other individuals involved (foster carers, other children in placement, social workers and so on)
- A strategy meeting will take place with Local Authority Designated Officers (LADOs), a group who deals with allegations against professional people who work with children, and the immediate risk to a child will be discussed.
- Most often a Section 47 is not required if at the point the child is asked about their allegations it becomes it becomes clear that nothing inappropriate happened, and the case is closed.
What’s it like for the foster carer against whom allegations are made?
It can be a very difficult time for a foster carer when allegations are made – in particular because the foster care agency you’ve come to rely on isn’t allowed to share any information with you. They can’t even tell you what the allegation is, only that one has been made, and what the process will be.
That can feel a little bit isolating for the foster carers, so certainly at Lika (we can’t comment on other agencies) we pay for carers to be members of the Fostering Network. The network can give you independent advice and support, while your supervising social worker focuses on the young person.
Do allegations often end placements?
If the claims are substantiated then, obviously, yes, it will end a placement. Fostering agencies are required by law to safeguard the interests of all children placed with them and to protect them from suffering significant harm.
But where false allegations have been made, there is usually no reason to end a placement. The main reason a placement would end is if the foster carer found it too difficult to continue.
What does it take to get over having false allegations made against you?
Coming to terms with a false allegation requires an understanding of the child’s intention. If you feel a child was intentionally trying to ruin your foster caring career, that’s going to be understandably difficult to get over.
But, to be honest, that’s not usually a foster child’s first thought. What’s normally going through a young person’s mind is the trauma they have suffered in the past. They just need to know that this new world that has opened up for them (you, your family and your home) is not going to be abusive and these new people who are looking after them are resilient.
If, as a foster carer, you can say to the child “you’re not going anywhere but this behaviour needs to change — and you and I are going to do that together” then the child will know you’re committed to working with them, even around really horrible and uncomfortable things.
What’s the best advice for foster carers to prepare them for allegations?
One of the key elements to allegations is practicing Safer Care, which is a long list of processes and practical ways to provide optimal care. (It’s things like dressing appropriately at all times, not having strangers come into the home, and recording what your responses have been on any out-of-the-norm situations, for example.)
If you do that, the chances of a false allegation being held up against you are very, very low.
Children who have experienced abuse will probably make an allegation again. The take-home message is, if you practice Safer Care — and if you understand that the intention of a severely traumatised child is just to make sense of their world — then you can work through any false allegations.
Live in South or East London and interested in becoming a foster carer?
Lika recruits foster carers for children in local authority care. We’re recruiting potential foster carers in Croydon as well as South and East London in Hackney, Barking, Dagenham, Lewisham, Redbridge, Ilford and Newham). Lika supports foster carers to develop their skills and knowledge to care appropriately for these children.
If you’re interested in foster care, get in touch.