It’s time to call out allegations, speak the unspoken truths and weed out the bad practice.
Aren’t they the worst, the truths that no one ever speaks but everyone knows, and allegations against foster carers are no exception.
Now that fostering is in crisis we can no longer ignore the problem, it’s damaging retention, it’s damaging recruitment and worse still it’s damaging children and those who care for them.
As a disclaimer I’d like to make it clear, as with everything, there are examples of exceptionally good practice but equally exceptionally bad, this article is focused on the bad, on the practice we need to eliminate for the sake of fostering.
Child protection is paramount, no one argues with that, least of all me. However, when you peel back the layers of subterfuge in many allegations against foster carers you will see that very few are as a result of actual harm to a child, a huge number are as a result of whistleblowing and other related issues. Research has shown 78% of allegations are unsubstantiated or unfounded, yet leave devastation in their wake, their impact should never be underestimated as carers are left with no voice, scared, powerless, shamed and judged.
You should know, it’s not just the carers that suffer, according to the Fostering Network in instances where the children were removed, those investigations that turned up unfounded or unsubstantiated the children are never or very rarely returned, despite the carer’s innocence and children desperate to go ‘home’. Worst still, the children and carers are then usually barred from any contact with each other, one can only imagine what this does to a traumatised child with attachment issues.
The existing allegation system subjects foster carers to a disciplinary procedure that, when misused, ignores all recognised standards of law and justice, and flagrantly disregards due process and the Human Rights Act.
What’s more, this system doesn’t just affect those who are subject to it, what it does do is keep an entire workforce living in a climate of fear, under constant and intense scrutiny, vulnerable and scared as they spend most days looking over their metaphorical shoulders.
A huge proportion of ‘allegations’ have little to do with actual harm to a child, the big unspoken truth is the number of false allegations, trivial or ludicrous ones, are made in retaliation to whistleblowing, complaints, highlighting failures or lack of support for a child, a foster carer that is too outspoken, advocates too hard for their child, maybe dares to say they are transferring to another fostering service have fallen out with a social worker or made services look inadequate.
The final decision is down to just one individual, not the in-house panel, not the independent appeal panel, no, the final decision is taken by one single person in the fostering services, the ‘agency decision maker’, someone of often questionable independence, one who regularly disregards their own panel and the independent appeal panel recommendations, sometimes you just have to accept it was a forgone conclusion and the panels were mere window dressing.
To put it bluntly the whole system at times feels farcical. If they want rid of you, want to silence you, there is rarely any coming back, even if by some miracle carers have had actual evidence heard and its irrefutable, they will then find themselves de-registered for some other spurious reason such as the two textbook classics ‘you’re too emotional’ or ‘you can’t work with services’.
Carers get put through an emotional wringer of such ferocity their mental health by this stage is in tatters, and to then be de-registered for being ‘over emotional’ by those who perpetrated this emotional state in the first place should shame us all.
What’s more these actions then prevent the foster carer from working for anyone else ever.
What a catastrophic waste of foster carers, resources, time and money when there is an acute shortage of all of them.
By the time the allegation reports and ‘recommendations’ get to the panel they are all tied up with a bow and irrefutably convincing. Full of ‘truths’ painting a one-sided often false picture, false information, misrepresentation and presenting opinion as facts and evidence.
These deeply flawed reports are rarely, mostly never, rectified, despite desperate requests from carers
and their right to rectification under the data protection act.
These investigations are also flawed by ambushed carers lulled into ‘friendly chats’ with no independent witness of their own, chats that are then converted into hard ‘evidence’ and often misrepresented, sometimes fabricated, but with no witness the carers are powerless, they are even intentionally locked out of their online records and encrypted emails so they are unable to obtain the evidence that would refute the allegations.
What’s more, if it feels like an allegation is not going to stick, or the carers are putting up too much of a fight, or there is irrefutable evidence from another source, they just sling more mud at it till it sticks. Mud dredged up from alleged ‘records’ that have never surfaced before, hearsay, ‘opinions’ or care questioned where it was never before, backed up by a team closing ranks and a protectionist system that puts the fostering service before anything else because it can.
It is an utter no-win situation, as carers can never ever be proven innocent, they are guilty until proven guilty. Even those who are ‘lucky’ enough to be re-approved following allegations are scarred by what they have been through and suffer the indignity of more training and are under constant review and inspection for something they know they didn’t do. They end up tarred with the ‘no smoke without fire’ brush, and the utterly unbelievable fact that there is no official outcome other than ‘founded’ ‘unsubstantiated’ or ‘unfounded’, there is no such outcome as ‘false’ or ‘innocent’ or ‘not guilty’ a foster carer can only be guilty, or a little less guilty.
Worse still is the faux ‘independent’ support foisted upon unsuspecting carers by their local authority or agency “don’t worry” they say “if there’s an allegation we provide you with independent support” an ironic and contradictory statement in itself. In reality, it’s far from independent, these support organisations are under a carefully curated contractual obligation, and they’ve been bought and paid for by the fostering service.
They provide a social worker, one that does not ‘take sides’ or ask for evidence, one that is banned from speaking on behalf of the foster carer at the panel, unable to challenge false information or reports, question recommendations or outcomes, and offering no casework, no defence, and the ‘legal’ help many are led to believe they have turns out to be a generic legal helpline similar to those on their house or car insurance, good for boundary disputes in your garden but very definitely not a solicitor or legal team in an allegation as some carers feel they were led to believe.
No, the ‘support’ is mostly just a cup of tea and sympathy.
Surely the Government need to know this I hear you say, well they do get data and statistics, however, this is supplied only by the local authorities, so the majority of allegations are cited as ‘harm to a child’ because the simple truth is they are hardly going to put ‘made a complaint’ or ‘whistleblower’ or ‘tried to transfer’ or ‘too outspoken’.
So what’s going wrong? I don’t think the system was set up to be so flawed or open to such abuse, however, while foster carer’s roles have been professionalised beyond recognition in recent years they now find themselves left impotent and powerless from having a misclassified working status which traps them in a worker/employer relationship with no rights, including no whistleblowing protection. If we are to keep the current system then there should be urgent external accountability and oversight to prevent its misuse, and every carer should be able to access proper representation and defence, opinion must be replaced by evidence and facts, and accusations be independently verified not hearsay.
The good news is that things are now moving, just over a year ago saw the National Union of Professional Foster Carers (NUPFC) entered into the government’s official list of trade unions after a lengthy court battle to prove we were ‘workers’ in order to unionise. In the High Court Lord Justice Underhill decided foster carers were very definitely ‘workers’, a judgement that went uncontested by all those who intervened, including the Local Government Organisation, the Secretary of State for Education and the European Children’s Rights unit.
A growing number of foster carers are now members of the NUPFC and know of its existence, but spreading the word is difficult, the government and fostering department in the DfE claim its a devolved matter and have no access to foster carers to inform them and only a few good fostering services have promoted it, some services claim they have ‘never heard of it’ which I find hard to believe, but then given what you have learned here you can probably see why they would not want to acknowledge that their carers access to a defence, they’ve had it all their own way up until now and would rather keep it like that.
The union and campaigners have begun the process of reform, and change is coming through the government and courts, because the stark truth is this system is not supporting those it should, not the children or those who care for them, the system supports itself.
We now have a sector in crisis, without foster carers, there is no foster care and we need to focus on retention, recruitment, placement stability and outcomes, now is not the time to stick yet another band-aid on it, now is the time for ambition, solutions and hope, there are many of us who have this in abundance, so now is the time to listen.
https://thefosteringnetwork.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-04/State of the Nation Thematic report 2 Allegations_0.pdf
Research has shown 78% of allegations are unsubstantiated, (Biehal, 20141; Sebba & Plumridge,