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The Impact of Unproven Allegations on Foster Carers

On 31 March 2015, there were 44,625 fostering households in England and 2,420 allegations (58% physical, 19% emotional, 15% neglect and 8% sexual abuse) had been made against carers in the previous 12 months. The legal framework in England for investigating allegations against foster carers is set out in the Children Act 1989, Section 47 which places a duty on local authorities to investigate and make inquiries into the circumstances of children considered to be at risk of ‘significant harm’. The National Minimum Standards for Fostering2 sets out how foster carers should be treated and supported during investigations into allegations including the provision of independent support, information and advice about the process, emotional support and, if needed, mediation between the foster carer and fostering service.

A review of the literature on allegations of abuse funded by the Nuffield Foundation (Biehal and Parry 2010) noted that there was an urgent need for research to assess the problems related to both substantiated and unfounded allegations of maltreatment in foster care. In response to this the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) commissioned Biehal et al. (2014) to undertake research on the extent and nature of confirmed abuse and neglect in foster and residential care. However, no recent published work appears to have been undertaken to explore the treatment of carers or impact on carers of allegations closed as unproven (which includes both unsubstantiated and unfounded).

In 2014, FosterTalk3 commissioned the Rees Centre to undertake a pilot study (Dyson and Sebba 2014) on the impact of allegations in cases that had been closed as unproven. Thirty-seven anonymised records from 2013 were provided by FosterTalk from their membership and seven of these foster carers were interviewed. The pilot found that at the point of being informed about the allegation, carers lacked knowledge about both the way that the enquiry would be conducted and its progress. They stated that the training (safeguarding courses) they had attended focused on allegations of abuse by somebody outside of the carer household, with little discussion of what to do if they were the subject of an allegation. Devastating effects of allegations on foster families emerged including breakup of families, income loss and subsequent deterioration of health. Most of the carers in the pilot, even though these cases were closed as unproven, gave up fostering immediately or within the following year.

FosterTalk commissioned this further study and co-funded it with the Sir Halley Stewart Trust4, a charitable foundation. The findings from that study are the focus of this report.