New report shows allegations process is failing both children in care and foster carers
A report launched today by The Fostering Network shows the urgent need to improve practice around allegation investigations in foster care, as the impact of poor support and lengthy procedures causes foster families high levels of stress, many consider leaving the workforce, and children and young people who need foster care suffer as a result.
The report focuses on the allegations process as experienced by foster carers and is based on the charity’s State of the Nation’s Foster Care 2021 survey, which provides the most comprehensive insight into fostering in the UK. The report was co-created with CASCADE (Children’s Social Care Research and Development Centre) at Cardiff University.
The report finds that 14 per cent of foster carers surveyed said they had experienced at least one allegation in the last two years. The majority of which are deemed unfounded meaning that there is sufficient evidence to disprove the allegation.
According to the survey responses, there is a big gap between national policy and practice with foster carers facing a lack of information, too little support, as well as long, stressful waits for resolutions. Of those foster carers who had experienced an allegation in the last two years:
57 per cent did not receive independent support
59 per cent said they weren’t communicated with enough
55 per cent said that timescales weren’t made clear to them.
As a result, foster carers are experiencing high levels of stress. One foster carer reported that ‘it was a nightmare from start to finish’ and another recalled that they were ‘left in no man’s land, no one takes into account how much stress this puts you under’.
Current practice in dealing with allegations could also result in children in foster care experiencing further disruption to their lives. Of the foster carer respondents who had experienced an allegation in the past two years, 22 per cent reported that children in foster care were removed from their homes during the investigation. In the instances where the children in foster care were removed, 78 per cent of the investigations were deemed unfounded or unsubstantiated.
Following the pressure of such an allegation investigation, some foster carers will no longer commit to caring for new children and others decide to give up fostering altogether. Two-thirds of foster carer respondents considered resigning during their most recent investigation. One foster carer shared that: ‘although we were cleared by the police and went back to panel to be reinstated, we did this only to get our eldest child back. As soon as she is 18 we will resign’.
The impact of badly handled investigations into allegations is increasing the pressure on the fostering system at a time when there is a shortage of foster homes available with the right skills and expertise to care for all the children and young people who need them.
The Fostering Network puts forward a series of recommendations for improving the allegations investigation process, but our key call to governments across the UK is to conduct a ‘deep dive’ into allegation investigations in foster care similar to that completed by the Department for Education in England into allegations against teachers. The review should include analysis of current policies and processes, how they are working in practice and barriers to implementation of national guidance. It should also include the police and other agencies involved in allegation investigations to help develop a deeper understanding. Relevant government departments could look at influencing inspection bodies to complete this work. It is key that this review also looks at children’s experience of the allegations process.
‘Improving the allegations process in foster care is an urgent issue that needs to be tackled across the sector in order to reduce the damaging impact they have on children and foster carers.’ says Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network. ‘Over the next few months, we will be sharing our findings with colleagues across the fostering sector and UK governments, in order to push for these improvements.
‘Foster carers play a vital role in supporting children and young people, and this report highlights yet again the need to treat foster carers as key members of the social care workforce. This includes being paid 52-weeks of the year for their time, skills and expertise providing them with financial security and with respect and support given as standard.
To go through an allegation investigation is incredibly hard on the whole foster family, and we are determined to work with the sector to ensure they get the support they need when they are facing this process.’
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