Foster Carers Deserve Protection From Malicious Allegations

The plight of teachers who suffer unfounded allegations of abuse from pupils is now relatively well known, although still too little has been done about it. Less well known is that many foster parents are victims too. Many teachers are suspended, often for long periods, and cut off from support networks, before they are reinstated. Foster carers suffer even more. They can lose their income, and the child or children they have been fostering, while complaints are slowly and painfully investigated. The disruption to the children is appalling and the impact on the carers is devastating.

Foster parents voluntarily look after some of the most troubled and difficult children in society, for very low pay. They deserve every possible support. Yet a survey by the Fostering Network has found that a third of foster parents have had unjustified allegations made against them in the past ten years. Only one in five describes the investigation process as “fair”.

Some carers do not even find out that a complaint has been made until they ask the local authority why it is not placing any more children with them. Others cannot get social services to tell them the nature of the allegation. Half of those surveyed said that their cases took more than three months to be processed; one in ten took more than a year.

There is simply no excuse for treating carers in such a shabby fashion or for taking so long to resolve cases. Social services departments expect foster carers to act as professionals, meeting the highest standards of care. Yet the process for upholding those standards is too arbitrary.

Local authorities are right to take allegations seriously. Children with a genuine grievance must know that they will be heard. The shortage of foster homes means that not every home is a good match for the child. But the troubled backgrounds of many fostered children also means that a certain amount of misdirected anger is an occupational hazard.

Allegations can be made by a child, by the child’s family, by a social worker, against not only the carer but also the carer’s relatives. All must be investigated. Some complaints have arisen as a result of remarks made by children who never intended to make an allegation. Yet they can result in the removal by social services of other children who have been happily living with the foster parents for years. The Fostering Network describes one teenager who was taken from his home of ten years for six months while an allegation by a previously fostered child was investigated. He did disastrously in his GCSEs. The emotional damage must have been even worse.

Complex emotional situations must be treated case by case. But it is simply disgraceful that the investigations take so long, that children’s lives are unnecessarily disrupted and that carers are cut off from what is often their only source of income. It is vital that foster carers should continue to receive fees during this period, and that there should be strict time limits for investigations. At the moment, some local authorities are probably delaying decisions because there is no financial incentive for them to accelerate the investigatory process.

False allegations are particularly damaging to foster carers for whom the personal and professional are inextricably linked. They deserve to be treated as professionals, not damned by the system.