From time to time, those working with children and young people can be subject to complaints made by others.
This guidance is intended to help foster carers understand the way in which complaints will be dealt with. It is also a guide to all those who become involved in complaints against carers so that a consistent approach is applied across Devon.
On receipt of a complaint about a foster carer, the level of seriousness has to be judged. This is decided by the fostering practice manager in consultation with the locality practice manager as necessary.
The seriousness of complaints ranges from minor concerns that require informal discussion, to more serious complaints which need formal consideration and action, and up to serious allegations which fall within the department’s multi-agency child protection procedures.
Accordingly, the outcome of complaints ranges from discussion and advice, to concerns and warnings, and up to de-registration and possible prosecution through the courts.
Those employed or approved to care for other people’s children are in a very trusted and responsible position, and all concerned are duty-bound to thoroughly consider any complaint made, and to deal with the outcome responsibly.
It is in no one’s interest to ‘cover up’ when complaints are raised. The lowest level of intervention required will be used to consider complaints.
Where serious allegations are concerned, the Devon County Child Protection Committee is committed to a policy of openness and honesty in relation to child protection work, as long as this does not obstruct the directorate’s paramount responsibility, which is to protect children and promote their welfare.
These principles of openness and paramount responsibility to the child’s welfare apply to all levels of complaint.
Dealing with concerns
Dealing with concerns is normally an informal process that involves a discussion between the fostering social worker and the carers. The child’s care manager may be involved if appropriate.
At the end of the discussion, the proposed conclusion or resolution will be recorded. This will then be discussed with the fostering practice manager who is responsible for agreeing on a resolution and what action, if any, should be taken. The outcome will be passed on to whoever raised the concerns.
Following the conclusion, suggestions may be made to the carers regarding future practice, and training needs may be identified. Where a resolution has not been possible, for example, if two people have differing opinions, this too will be recorded.
Prevention of incidents is always the best option. Care managers should inform carers of any potential areas of difficulty as part of a risk assessment attached to the child’s care plan.
At an early stage, foster carers should make the child’s care manager aware of behaviour that is challenging, provocative or worrying, and should record their concerns.
Many situations arise as a result of misunderstandings, lack of thought or sensitivity, or lack of knowledge. Carers should be sure that children’s or young people’s care managers pass them information regarding behaviour that could be difficult, or which requires a careful response.
Actions that are innocent may be misinterpreted by a child who has previously experienced some form of abuse, and greater care may need to be taken in terms of what carers say, and in their level of familiarity.
The manner in which carers relate to their own children may not be appropriate in relation to fostered children.
Where more serious complaints are made against carers, a discussion will take place between fostering workers and locality staff as appropriate.
Such complaints could include inappropriate use of sanctions, misuse of allowances, inadequate care of the child, or the foster carer as an individual.
The locality for the child or young person concerned will need to be clear that the complaint is not sufficiently serious that it needs to be dealt with through the child protection procedures.
Once this is clear, the responsibility for managing the complaint rests with the fostering practice manager.
As with concerns, the foster carer should be made aware of complaints as soon as possible, and have the opportunity to respond verbally or in writing or both.
The carer will have an opportunity to discuss the matter with their fostering social worker and the fostering practice manager, and a visit will be arranged for this purpose.
Ideally, all concerned will agree on the outcome and the action that should be taken.
Where the concern is of a more serious nature, the fostering practice manager may need to reflect before deciding on the action to be taken. Where an agreement is not reached, the foster carers have the right to appeal to the fostering group manager.
During the period that information is being gathered following a serious complaint, the fostering practice manager can decide that no further children should be placed with the carers until the matter is concluded.
In situations where the fostering practice manager has been closely involved with the foster carers concerned, it may be appropriate for a practice manager from another area to look into the complaint.
The practice manager will decide how to deal with the matter.
The outcome could be that:
- the matter is not proved, or that the complaint was malicious, and that no further action should be taken
- there are some matters of concern, and the fostering social worker should talk with the carer regarding changes of practice and should identify appropriate training if necessary
- the carers may be warned that a repeat of such behaviour could result in future de-registration
- the carers may be recommended for de-registration
Foster carers will always receive a written outcome that explains why the decision has been made, and what action is to be taken. A copy of this will be kept on the carer’s file.
All Fostering Devon carers have an individual membership with FosterTalk. This offers access to independent support and legal advice for anyone facing allegations, complaints, or with serious concerns.
The Fostering Network has produced an excellent booklet entitled Safer caring that can help carers manage inappropriate behaviour and prepare for or avoid difficult situations.
This can significantly reduce the likelihood of an allegation or complaint being made. Carers should talk to their social worker to obtain a copy.