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OxfordshireChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Complaints, Allegations or Serious Concerns about Standards of Care in Relation to Prospective Adopters or Members of their Household or Children Placed for Adoption or Already Adopted

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. The Welfare of Children in Prospective Adoptive Placements
  3. Allegations against Prospective Adopters - Initial Response
  4. Allegations Regarding Child Protection
  5. Allegations Regarding Standards of Care
  6. Withdrawal of Prospective Adopters during the Course of an Investigation
  7. Support to Prospective Adopters

1. Introduction

This chapter covers complaints or allegations, concerning child care matters, made against prospective adopters and/or members of their household. It also applied where allegations are made or suspicions are raised that a child placed for adoption or an adopted child has suffered or may suffer Significant Harm. It may relate to recent abuse or neglect or it may be an allegation of historical abuse.

It is an expectation of the Adoption National Minimum Standards 2011 that:

  • A senior manager within the Adoption Service is identified to be the designated allegations manager who liaises with the Designated Officer in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process;
  • All staff within the Adoption Service are aware of the requirements of this procedure.

In carrying out the procedure, the statutory guidance in Working Together to Safeguard Children 2015 and the procedure of the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board should also be followed. Please see Allegations against Staff, Carers and Volunteers Procedure in the SCB Procedures Manual.

All allegations against prospective adopters and in relation to a child placed for adoption or an adopted child must be taken seriously. The allegation may not necessarily relate to the child who has been placed in the prospective adoptive home. It may also relate to another child in the family, for example a child in receipt of adoption support services, or any child with whom the prospective adopters have contact. It may relate to recent abuse or neglect or it may be an allegation of historical abuse. In all these scenarios, this procedure will apply.

However, not all will involve Significant Harm and thus they will not all constitute allegations of child abuse as defined in Working Together.

Within the Working Together framework, there may be up to four strands in the consideration of an allegation against a prospective adopter:

  1. A police investigation of a possible criminal offence;
  2. Enquiries and assessment by Children's Social Care about whether a child is in need of protection (under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989) or in need of services (under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989);
  3. The operation of the procedure to review a prospective adopters' approval, and the recommendations/decisions of the Adoption and Permanency Panel and Agency Decision Maker (Adoption), in accordance with the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the Adoption Agencies Regulations 2005 - see Assessment and Approvals of Prospective Adopters Procedure;
  4. A complaint or allegation against a prospective adopter will almost certainly constitute a complaint by or on behalf of a child and must be dealt with under the complaints procedures.

These may be actioned simultaneously depending on the circumstances. For example, the adoption service may decide to put on hold a prospective adopter's approval while a police investigation and/or enquiry by Children's Social Care is underway, and pending a review of the adopter's approval to adopt.

All cases will be referred to the relevant Assessment Team, for an initial consultation.

The Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures set out the process for dealing with those allegations which need a child protection response, i.e. a response under section 47 of the Children Act 1989 - see Section 4, Allegations Regarding Child Protection.

Where allegations are made in relation to prospective adopters, the welfare and safety of all children in the prospective adopters' household, and children with whom the prospective adopters may have contact, must also be considered during any Section 47 Enquiry.

However, if the case does not warrant a child protection response, then staff will follow the procedures for allegations relating to standards of care - see Section 5, Allegations Regarding Standards of Care.

This chapter also provide some guidance in managing the borderline between the two categories.

In all cases, the Service Manager with responsibility for the Adoption Service (who is the designated allegations manager as required by the National Minimum Standards) must be informed promptly of the allegation and will be involved in any subsequent discussion. In the event of serious disagreement, the Service Manager with responsibility for the child and/or the Service Manager with responsibility for Safeguarding and Child Protection should arrange a meeting of the staff concerned in order to resolve the issue.

A checklist at the front of the prospective adopters' Adoption Case File should be completed to record all allegations and complaints, of whatever nature, and their outcome. Service Managers for Safeguarding/Quality Assurance and Adoption will also keep a record.

2. The Welfare of Children in Prospective Adoptive Placements

Children in prospective adoptive placements are in a vulnerable position, and deserve the highest standards of care and protection. This has been reinforced by reports commissioned by the government (e.g. Working Together to Safeguard Children) and local authorities are expected to ensure high standards for all children who are Looked After. Local authorities have a range of powers and duties to protect children in prospective adoptive placements from harm, whether or not it is considered to constitute child abuse. What is a minor incident for a child who has grown up in relative security may be much more threatening and distressing to a child who has known instability or abuse.

If a child makes an allegation and or wishes to make a complaint under Stage 1 of the complaints procedure, local authorities must provide information about advocacy services and offer to help obtain an advocate. Where a child is Looked After, the Independent Reviewing Officer will ensure that the child is aware of his or her entitlement to advocacy support that is independent and confidential. Leaflets that are age appropriate should be available for all children who require them.

All allegations need to be treated seriously and constitute a Stage 1 Complaint and hence the investigation by social workers needs to comply with the complaints procedure including the timescales outlined in the Complaints Procedure in accordance with the Complaint Regulations (2006).

In some cases of abuse/allegations, the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Safeguarding Children Procedures may need to take precedence over the complaints procedure in the interests of the child's safety.

If a child or other complainant is unhappy with the outcome resulting from a Stage 1 complaint they have the option of proceeding to Stage 2.

Difficult decisions sometimes have to be made about how to handle an investigation in the child's best interests. For example, in deciding whether to remove a child, the need to protect them from possible ill treatment may have to be balanced against the need to avoid abrupt change. In these difficult professional judgements, consideration must be given to the views of those who know the child, and the advice of colleagues. Children must always be listened to carefully before making any decision that affects them.

3. Allegations against Prospective Adopters - Initial Response

Any member of staff dealing with an allegation against a prospective adopter or a member of their household will need to consider whether the issue is one of child protection and consult the designated allegations manager in the Adoption Service for this purpose. The designated allegations manager will consult with the Local Authority Designated Officer as required.

If is the allegations or concern raises child protection issues, Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Procedures will be followed. (NB Where the allegations arises in relation to a child placed with prospective adopters outside Oxfordshire, the LSCB Inter Agency Procedures for the relevant area will apply

If there are no child protection issues, the procedures for Allegations about Standards of Care should be followed.

In both cases, the Complaints Manager will need to be informed of the allegation at the earliest opportunity.

If it subsequently becomes clear that the allegation needs to be handled differently, the decision must be taken by those with operational responsibility for the case on conjunction as necessary with the designated allegations manager in the Adoption Service. In the event of serious doubt or disagreement, the Service Manager with responsibility for the child should arrange an urgent meeting of staff concerned in order to resolve the issue.

4. Allegations Regarding Child Protection

Where it is considered that the issue is one of child protection, the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board's Safeguarding Procedures - Allegations Against Staff, Carers and Volunteers Procedure will apply. This may be in relation to the child placed in the adoptive placement or any other child either in the household or in contact with the prospective adopters. It may relate to recent abuse or neglect or it may be an allegation of historical abuse.

Attention is drawn to:

  1. The need for good communication at all stages between the many members of staff who may be involved. Although adoption staff will not be directly involved in the investigation, they should always be invited to contribute to its planning and the designated allegations manager in the Adoption Service should be notified and consulted as to any future action required;

  2. The duty to apply the same standards in this as in any other Child Protection Assessment. This means that:
    1. Notwithstanding the high standards of care expected of prospective adopters, the threshold of child protection should not be lower than for children in their own families i.e. is there is a likelihood of Significant Harm?
    2. Prospective adopters share Parental Responsibility for the child from the point when the child is placed with them and should be accorded the same rights as natural parents to information about the nature of any allegation and the progress of an investigation, subject only to the need not to prejudice the safety of the child;
    3. If a child is removed, it should be clear whether this is being done for his or her protection or for other reasons to do with the plan for the child (prospective adopters and others with Parental Responsibility should be informed of the reasons);
    4. Prospective adopters must be informed of the financial implications of the allegation in terms of possible changes to their fees and allowances;
    5. Prospective adopters should be advised to seek legal advice;
    6. Prospective adopters must be supported at every stage of the process.

4.1 The Investigation - Referral and Initial Discussion:

Whoever receives an allegation concerning the physical, sexual, or emotional maltreatment of a child by prospective adopters or a member of their household should refer the details immediately to the child's social worker and the Assessment Team where the child resides (i.e. placement address).

  • The Assessment Team worker will inform their line manager;
  • If it is determined that a Child Protection Assessment is necessary, then the Team Manager of the Assessment Team where the child is placed will initiate and supervise the process. The following personnel should be informed as soon as possible by the Assessment Team worker or Team Manager:
    • Service Manager, Safeguarding and Quality Assurance;
    • The Designated Officer for Children's Social Care;
    • The child's social worker, line manager and Service Manager;
    • The prospective adopters' adoption worker and his/her line manager;
    • The designated allegations manager within the Adoption Service;
    • The Service Manager, Placements,
    • The Complaints Manager.
  • Agency checks will be carried out by the Assessment Team worker as per general child protection procedures;
  • The investigating social worker will, if appropriate and always where a crime is suspected, inform the police to request a joint investigation;
  • In situations where the prospective adopter is not aware of the allegation, the decision regarding the timing of notification will be made collectively by the Police, Children's Social Care and the Adoption Service. The prospective adopter will be informed at the earliest opportunity as long as it is consistent with the safety of the child;
  • All relevant details of the allegation and subsequent meetings and contacts must be fully recorded;
  • A Strategy Meeting may be called to determine the type of investigation required. Information about the child and prospective adopter and issues regarding safeguarding will be considered. Decisions about the disclosure of information to key people;
  • The Strategy Meeting should be chaired by the Assessment Team Manager;
  • If the complaint or allegation is serious, the meeting should be chaired by an Independent Chair.

Attendees should include:

  • Assessment Team Manager;
  • Child's social worker;
  • Adoption Team Manager;
  • Prospective adopters' adoption worker and/or Team Manager and/or designated allegations manager from the Adoption Service;
  • The Police;
  • Any other agency involved with the child or prospective adoptive family.

The decisions of the Strategy Meeting will be communicated to the prospective adopter by their adoption worker or Team Manager, who will also ensure the prospective adopter:

  • Is given access to the Oxfordshire Safeguarding Children Board's Inter Agency Safeguarding Procedures;
  • Has access to legal advice;
  • Understands the process of the enquiry and why it is taking place;
  • Knows when, where and by whom interviews will be conducted;
  • Is informed of the independent support that will be provided:
  • Where the prospective adopter is in receipt of financial support, is informed about the financial arrangements to be made if the child is removed from their care;
  • Knows the reasons for the removal of the children, if applicable;
  • Is informed in writing of the current status of their approval to adopt;
  • Is assisted in communicating with investigating agencies;
  • Is informed verbally, and in writing on a regular basis of the progress of the investigation;
  • The Regulatory Authority will be informed of the instigation of any Child Protection Assessment involving a child placed with prospective adopters and kept informed of the progress of the investigation;
  • The Assessment Team worker and Team Manager, in conjunction with the Adoption Team and the social work team responsible for the child, will decide if any immediate action is required to safeguard the child;
  • If it is felt unsafe for a child to remain in the family whilst an investigation is carried out, care must be taken to ensure that the child in question is supported through advocacy. If it is decided at the completion of the investigation that the child should not return to the prospective adopters a disruption meeting should take place;
  • The Team Manager for the Assessment Team will be designated as having a co-coordinating role for the investigation, ensuring good communication between all the professionals involved, and will approve the conclusion of the investigation whether the allegations are substantiated or not.

4.2 Planning the Investigation

In planning the investigation, the following must be considered:

  • The nature of the allegation, its source, credibility and reliability;
  • The knowledge that the agency has of the prospective adopters;
  • The knowledge of the child, including the child's needs and how to inform and support the child through the investigation process; in every case the child will be offered the services of an advocate who will meet with him or her within 5 working days of the allegation being made;
  • The safety of all children in the household, including the prospective adopters' own children;
  • How, when and who will inform the prospective adopters of the allegation and plan for investigation;
  • The need to inform the child's parents of the allegation (discretion over the timing of this may be used - NB even where a child is placed for adoption, the parents retain Parental Responsibility);
  • The need to inform other relevant professionals involved with the child;
  • The need to inform the agency that placed the child (if not Oxfordshire);
  • The need to inform other agencies who use this adoptive placement, or have used it;
  • The need to inform the Regulatory Authority;
  • What support can be offered to the prospective adopters?
  • Whether the matter needs to be reported to the Adoption and Permanency Panel
  • The need for follow up Strategy Meetings.

4.3 Decision Making

A report of the findings of the Child Protection Assessment, identifying any further concerns regarding standards of care, will be written and sent to the prospective adopter before the final Strategy Meeting, with the opportunity for representations. 

Decisions regarding the need for further action, a review or termination of approval will be made within 2 days of this meeting. Where appropriate, a report will be considered by the Adoption and Permanency Panel, including where necessary a recommendation for referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion on the Children's Barred List. Panel will submit a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker.

Where allegations are concluded to be without foundation, all records should be retained but the conclusion must be made explicit on both the child's and prospective adopters' files.

Where allegations prove to be inconclusive, the future of all children in the household and the future status and use of the prospective adopters must be considered.

At whatever point the Child Protection Assessment is concluded, a report should be made to the manager responsible for the Adoption Service which indicates the outcome of the investigation and identifies any outstanding issues concerning standards of care which may need to be dealt with. A copy of this report should be given to the prospective adopter and a summary copy to the Service Manager for Safeguarding and Quality Assurance.

Following an investigation there will be ongoing support offered to the prospective adopter and it is task of the prospective adopters' adoption worker to ensure all those who are supporting the family are aware of the plans.

At the conclusion of the investigation, the child will be invited to take the matter to stage 2 of the complaints procedure if they are unhappy with the outcome. They should also be helped to contact the Regulatory Authority, should they wish to.

4.4 Historical Abuse

Responses to allegations by an adult of abuse experiences as a child must be of as high a standard as a response to current abuse because:

  • There is a significant likelihood that a person who abused a child/ren in the past will have continued and may still be doing so; and
  • Criminal prosecution may be possible if sufficient evidence can be carefully collated.

When an adult discloses childhood abuse, the professional receiving the information should establish if the adult has any knowledge of the alleged abuser's recent or current whereabouts and contact with children. If the alleged abuser's address is known, in view of the potential continuing risk the alleged abuser may pose to children, the professional should make a referral to the relevant Assessment Team for the area where the alleged abuser resides.

If information about the current whereabouts of the alleged abuser has not yet been gathered, the social worker receiving the referral should establish this as a matter of urgency.

The adult who has disclosed should be asked whether they want a police investigation and must be reassured that all reasonable efforts will be made to investigate the alleged abuse. The Adoption Service should support the adult to access therapeutic or other services, as appropriate.

Where an adult alleges abuse in childhood in a different local authority area, the case should be transferred to agencies in the area where the abuse is alleged to have taken place. Parallel enquiries may be needed if the alleged abuser has contact with children elsewhere. The co-ordinating LA Children's Social Care should be the one responsible for the geographical area where the abuse is alleged to have taken place. The responsible police service for investigation will be the one covering the area where the alleged abuse is said to have taken place.

5. Allegations Regarding Standards of Care

This section is concerned with allegations or complaints that prospective adopters have fallen below the high standards expected of them - for instance, in using physical punishment, treating a child unfairly, or in any other way failing to promote the welfare of children for whom they are responsible. This presupposes that a judgement had already been reached that any physical punishment does not constitute abuse and does not require a child protection response on the basis of what is currently known.

5.1 Investigation

Allegations about standards of care should be dealt with jointly by an appropriate adoption worker for the prospective adopters and by the social worker for any child involved, as directed by their respective managers. The Complaints Manager will also be immediately informed.

Where an investigation is necessary, the prospective adopter will receive written notification, including information on:

  • The substance of the allegation;
  • Who will be involved in investigating the allegation;
  • The process and time-scales;
  • Who will be informed or interviewed;
  • The right of the prospective adopter to independent advice and support throughout the process and details of where this can be obtained;
  • Financial arrangements;
  • Decisions about children currently in the placement and reasons for them;
  • Next steps.

Arrangements required to safeguard a placement, e.g. temporary alternative accommodation for a member of the household, will be considered and assistance provided where possible.

The prospective adopters' adoption worker will ensure that the prospective adopter has access to appropriate independent support and will seek to support him or her throughout the process. (See Section 7, Support to Prospective Adopters)

Full information should be obtained from the complainant and any other relevant person (e.g. child, other children in the household, parents, school, health professionals, previous carers), and the matter fully discussed with the prospective adopters, wherever practicable within five working days. Notes of the discussion with the prospective adopters should be written up within seven days and sent to them for their comments. A full report should then be made to the appropriate managers. If at any time a need for child protection measures is identified, the appropriate referral should be made and the investigation about standards of care should be suspended. 

If the child has made the complaint or allegation it will be investigated under Stage 1 of the complaints procedure. If the child is unhappy about the outcome, they should be invited to follow the complaints procedure/or Stage 2, given the number of Ofsted and our own Complaints Office, who will make an advocate available to them to support them throughout the process, if they so desire.

In every case the child will be offered the services of an advocate who will meet with them within 5 working days of the complaint being made. At the conclusion of the investigation, the child will be invited to take the matter to stage 2 of the complaints procedure if they are unhappy with the outcome. They should also be helped to contact the Regulatory Authority, should they wish to.

Any complaint made by the prospective adopter against the County Council or the family should be investigated thoroughly at the same time in accordance with the Oxfordshire Corporate Complaints Policy.

Where it transpires that a prospective adopter has, for example, smacked the child, there needs to be a full discussion with the prospective adopters' adoption worker and/or the child's social worker as to:

  • The circumstances leading up to this event;
  • Why other strategies were not used;
  • Did the prospective adopters themselves report the incident to staff?;
  • Any training needs;
  • Any support needs;
  • Is this child particularly difficult?
  • What strategies will be used in future?

5.2 Decision Taking 

At the conclusion of an investigation:

  1. All standard of care incidents and investigations are taken seriously. The number of issues that are recorded will be monitored carefully by the Team Managers and discussion will take place with the Service Manager if there are more than 3 recorded incidents involving standards of care;
  2. Those responsible for the welfare of any children involved will need to consider whether any changes need to be made to their plans;
  3. The prospective adopters should be informed clearly in writing and by visit of the outcome of the investigation at this stage, even if further consideration is necessary, i.e. even if it is only an interim response;
  4. The Service Manager needs to consider whether the prospective adopters' approval should be reviewed. The views of the Adoption and Permanency Panel should be sought if appropriate. This decision to refer to Panel will be taken by the Service Manager in consultation with colleagues. Referral to Panel will depend on the extent or frequency, of problems, but if termination is thought to be the appropriate course, a report must be taken back to Panel;
  5. If the matter is considered by the Panel, the prospective adopters should be advised of the outcome of the Panel process in writing and their right of representation and to appeal against the decision made. Any disagreement between Panel and the Agency Decision Maker will be referred to the Head of Service;
  6. A review of a prospective adopter's approval following an allegation or serious concern should normally be completed within 27 working days (10 days for the investigating officer's report, 2 days for the Service Manager's decision whether to refer to Panel, and 15 days for Panel to take place and a decision to be made);
  7. Following a review of a prospective adopter's suitability to adopt as a result of an allegation or serious concern, the adoption service should review the circumstances of the case and the way any investigation was conducted to determine whether there are any improvements to be made in their procedures or practice.

6. Withdrawal of Prospective Adopters during the Course of an Investigation

Withdrawal should not prevent an allegation being followed up and a conclusion should be reached and recorded.

A report will be considered by the Adoption and Permanency Panel, including where necessary a recommendation for referral to the Disclosure and Barring Service for inclusion on the Children's Barred List under the Vetting and Barring Scheme. Panel will submit a recommendation to the Agency Decision Maker.

7. Support to Prospective Adopters

The Department is committed to ensuring that all prospective adopters are properly supported, especially at times when they are under particular pressure. This support may be provided by Departmental staff or by outside services. In any case, it is the responsibility of the Adoption Team to see that the support is there when it is needed. 

7.1 Preventative Measures

Supervision, training (pre and post approval) and continuing support and guidance are in place to ensure that prospective adopters are enabled to safeguard children in the placement and minimise the possibility of allegations being made against them. The tasks and risks involved in adoption are made clear in the preparation process. 

7.2 Support in the Event of an Allegation

Every effort is made to establish a fair and honest relationship between the adoption agency and the prospective adopter. The prospective adopter will be informed as quickly as possible of any allegation against them and kept promptly informed of enquiry procedures and timescales, progress and decisions throughout the investigation. They will be given opportunity to answer any allegation against them prior to a decision about their future as adopters. 

Prospective adopters will be provided with ongoing support from their adoption worker and informed of independent sources of advice and support.

Criminal investigation is unlikely in relation to standards of care, but where it occurs in child protection cases, the prospective adopters should be advised to obtain legal advice.

An Evaluation Meeting will be offered to prospective adopters at the conclusion of any investigation, providing them with a forum in which to consider:

  • The impact of the allegation and investigation on the prospective adopters and the family member who was the subject of the allegation/others in the family;
  • The impact of any decision to remove children in placement;
  • The needs of everyone in the prospective adopters' family;
  • The perspective of the adoption agency;
  • Clarification of the prospective adopter's current approval and the need for any review of their approval;
  • How any needs raised by the prospective adopters or identified by the adoption agency will be met.

The Evaluation Meeting should be chaired by the Adoption Manager or Service Manager and attended by the prospective adopters and their adoption worker. A record of the meeting should be sent to all in attendance.

7.3 Independent Sources of Support:

Access to information and advice from an independent source will be made available to prospective adopters immediately following any allegation against them or notification from the adoption agency of a serious concern about their practice or standards of care. 

An independent provider will be commissioned, in consultation with the prospective adopter, and consideration given to support for the prospective adopters' sons and daughters, whether or not the allegation has been made against them. 

Independent support may take many forms and not all will be appropriate in all cases. It may include information and advice, mediation, advocacy, emotional support.

The Advocacy service can be contacted at:

VIVA
(Volunteer Independent Visiting and Advocacy)
Old Place Yard
Bicester
Oxon
OX26 6AU

Telephone: 01869 324389
Email: viva@oxfordshire.gov.uk

Some carers may need private counselling from someone unconnected with the Department. The Service Manager can authorise some funding with a counsellor recognised by the Department.

7.4 Financial Implications for Prospective Adopters 

Any financial support payable to prospective adopters should be made until the Agency Decision Maker has decided to terminate the adopter's approval unless a decision is made by the Agency Decision Maker that they may be terminated sooner.

It is envisaged that all investigations should be completed within 6 months and in most cases within a shorter time frame. In situations where the investigation process is prolonged a review of payments will take place at 6 months, if not before, and decisions made if the payments should continue.

7.5 Role of Prospective Adopter's Adoption Worker

Whether the allegation is of abuse or of poor standards of care, the adoption worker has the prime responsibility for ensuring that prospective adopters are properly supported during and after an investigation, and that they are properly informed, as far as practicable in writing, and their views heard. However, the adoption worker may also have the prime responsibility for investigating allegations where they concern standards of care. Furthermore, any allegation of abuse is likely to raise questions about standards of care. All this has implications for the role:

  1. Support for the prospective adopters is likely to involve some discussion of the substance of the allegations against them and the adoption worker will often begin to form their own view of the situation. This needs to be acknowledged;
  2. The adoption worker may have to represent the views of the prospective adopters to colleagues, as well as maintaining an objective viewpoint of their own. Good supervision will be necessary to avoid the danger of collusion. The involvement of another adoption worker may be a helpful way to deal with this and it should be considered;
  3. Other members of staff may need to offer assistance, and in many cases it will be appropriate to encourage the prospective adopters to use alternative sources of support. (In all cases they should be given the choice).

7.6 Allegation Record Keeping

The following information will be recorded on the prospective adopter's Adoption Case File and a copy given to the prospective adopter:

  • Summary of allegation made;
  • Details of follow up and resolution;
  • Details of action taken and decisions reached.

Records should be kept for 10 years.