Allegations Against Prospective Adopters and in Relation to Children Placed for Adoption or Already Adopted
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure applies where allegations are made or suspicions are raised that approved prospective adopters have caused or may have caused Significant Harm to a child.
The procedure should be read in conjunction with the Merton Safeguarding Children's Board Procedures.
This chapter was reviewed and updated in May 2017 to reflect the current organisational structure and decision-making.
All children and young people in Merton are entitled to the same level and standard of protection from harm including those receiving services from statutory or other agencies. For this reason, enquiries and investigations relating to children and young people in receipt of such services must be dealt with under the principles, policies and procedures of Merton Safeguarding Children's Board Procedures.
(N.B. Social Workers in the Permanency, Placements and LAC Team are expected to familiarise themselves with the Merton LSCP procedures as appropriate).
Allegations or suspicions that a prospective adopter has caused Significant Harm or that a child placed for adoption or already adopted and in receipt of adoption support services has suffered Significant Harm. Merton will ensure that this is fully investigated sensitively under these procedures and will involve open and honest communication with and support to all those affected.
Historical allegations by children placed for adoption or already adopted and in receipt of adoption support services should be responded to in the same way as a recent allegation/concern. It will be important to ascertain if the person about whom the allegation is made is currently working with and caring for children or Adults at Risk as consideration whether their current employer should be informed will need to be considered by the local authority.
Clear timescales will be integral to the procedure and those involved must avoid delay. There will be clarity regarding access to reports and documents relating to the investigation.
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.
In relation to any allegations made, it is important to note that, although there may be insufficient evidence to support a Police prosecution, this does not mean that action cannot be taken to protect a child nor, for example, that the termination of a prospective adopter's approval cannot be considered.
The expectation is that:
- At the time of a child's placement, prospective adopters will be provided with detailed information as to the child's background and in particular the context of any abusive experiences of and/or previous allegations made by the child - see Placement for Adoption Procedure;
- All prospective adopters will receive preparation and guidance to help them provide a safe environment for the child and all members of the adoptive family;
- All prospective adopters will have received information about this procedure.
In addition, in relation to the Adoption Service, it is an expectation of the Adoption National Minimum Standards 2011 that:
- The relevant Head of Service, LAC, Permanency & Placements will liaise with the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) in all cases to which this procedure applies and manages the allegations process;
- All frontline staff within the Permanency, Placements and LAC service are expected to have a working knowledge of the requirements of this procedure.
Any person who receives information or suspects that a child has suffered or is suffering Significant Harm in an adoptive placement or during an introduction to an adoptive placement must immediately inform the child's social worker.
On receipt of any such information, the allocated social worker must immediately:
- Inform his or her line manager;
- Inform the prospective adopter's social worker and his or her manager;
- Inform the LADO and the relevant Head of Service so that a decision can be made as to whether the matter should be treated as a child protection matter and referred for a Strategy Meeting (see below) or a concern about standards of care, in which case the convening of an urgent Placement Planning Review Meeting - see Placement for Adoption Procedure - or an urgent review of the adoptive placement should be considered - see Adoption Reviews Procedure.
Please Note: If there are serious and/or multiple referrals about standards of care, it will still be appropriate to refer the matter for a Strategy Meeting for a full investigation.
The prospective adopter's link worker will:
- The Adoption Team Manager will then notify their Head of Service and the LADO who deals with allegations - see Section 2, Introduction; and, in consultation with the designated allegations manager;
- Inform the allocated social workers for any other child currently in the placement;
- Inform any other local authority with an interest in the adoptive placement;
- Provide support to the prospective adopter;
- Attend a Strategy Meeting with or instead of the relevant Head of Service; if required.
Where it is appropriate to treat the allegation/suspicion as a child protection concern, the allocated social worker will be responsible for initiating the Merton Safeguarding Children Partnership Inter Agency Procedures. In relation to the allegation/suspicion, unless the prospective adopter lives in another local authority, in which case the allocated social worker will make a same day referral to the relevant local authority. It will then be the responsibility of them implementing their own Local Safeguarding Children Partnership's Procedures and inviting the allocated social worker and adopters' social worker to the Strategy Meeting.
In either case, a Strategy Meeting will be convened as soon as possible after concerns have been identified and within no later than 2 working days of the referral the social work practitioner will be expected to refer to Merton's Safeguarding Procedures.
Any action to protect the child or any other children in need of protection should not be delayed because of a Strategy Meeting.
Prior to the Strategy Meeting, the prospective adopter's link worker should notify the Regulatory Authority of the allegation/suspicion and invite them to be represented at the Strategy Meeting.
Please Note: Where a child who has already been adopted but is still in receipt of adoption support services and they make an allegation of abuse, including where the allegation is of historical abuse. This must be referred to the allocated social worker/adoption support worker, who will take the relevant action, as appropriate, i.e. make a referral to the local authority for the area where the child lives in order that their LSCP procedures can be followed through timely.
The purpose of the meeting will be to plan the investigation of the allegation/suspicion. There is an expectation that a representative from the adoption agency is invited to contribute to this meeting and that Merton Safeguarding Procedures are fully met.The following people should be invited:
- The LADO and the Team Manager;
- The allocated social worker and his or her line manager;
- The Team manager of the social work team undertaking the investigation, if different;
- The prospective adopter's link worker (who will liaise as necessary with the Team Manager, or in their absence the Head of Service, LAC, Permanency and Placements - see Section 2, Introduction);
- The Police Child Abuse Investigation Team;
- Any other agency involved with the child or adoptive family;
- A representative of the Regulatory Authority;
- A minute taker;
- The child's Independent Reviewing Officer.
The Strategy Meeting must consider:
- The current allegation and how it is to be investigated;
- Whether there should be a concurrent police investigation;
- Any previous allegations or concerns about the prospective adopters and the outcome of previous investigations;
- Any previous allegations made by the child in question and the outcome of previous investigations;
- The suspension of introductions or whether the child should remain in placement whilst the investigation is carried out;
- The need to call an urgent placement planning review meeting - see Placement for Adoption Procedure - or an urgent review of the adoptive placement - see Adoption Reviews Procedure - and the timing of any such review;
- The safety and well being of other children living with, or having contact with the prospective adopters;
- A referral to the Independent Safeguarding Authority for inclusion on the Children's Barred List. This should be considered whenever a carer is suspended from their duties;
- Support to be offered to the children in the family during the investigation;
- Who will inform the prospective adopters of this meeting?
- Who will support the prospective adopters through the investigation process?
- Contact and information to be given to the parents of the children concerned; how and when this should be done.
Whether or not the Strategy Meeting considers that the allegation or suspicion has any foundation, the matter should be investigated unless there are exceptional circumstances, and the Regulatory Authority must always be kept informed.
The Chair should complete a decision sheet with clear minutes from all attendees and at the end of the meeting summarising the actions to be taken and the date of the next meeting, if need be. This should also clearly state who is responsible for what actions, record timescales for completion of any agreed actions and reporting/information sharing systems.
Copies of the decision sheet and the minutes should be held on the child's file and Adoption Case Record and the prospective adopter's Adoption Case Record.
Any decision to suspend the approval of the prospective adopter while the investigation is being conducted should be communicated in writing to the prospective adopter by the Team Manager.
Those supporting the prospective adopters must contact the prospective adopters as soon as practicable after they are made aware of the allegation, and explain their role. They must make clear their responsibility to report to the local authority, the Police and in some circumstances to the Court if any information relevant to the investigation comes to their attention.They must provide to the prospective adopters:
- A copy of Merton Safeguarding Children's Board Procedures;
- Advice about consulting a solicitor and obtaining independent support;
- Advice about insurance arrangements for legal expenses.
Where the prospective adopters are in receipt of financial support, they should be informed of any implications for the payment of such support, where placements have been suspended. Prior to any financial support being offered this will be assessed by the Team Manager in consultation with the Head of Service, LAC, Permanency & Placements.
If an Initial Child Protection Conference is convened, the Conference Chair must be consulted in advance to discuss whether the prospective adopters should be invited to attend. In any event, the prospective adopters' views must be obtained for and communicated to the Conference.
A report should be presented to the next available Adoption, Fostering and Permanence Panel. As well as the investigation, the report should address the ability of the approved adopters to help come to terms with past events and to handle future behaviour, and whether the proposed placement or existing placement continues to be suitable. The procedure to be followed will be the same as for reviews of prospective adopters' approval - see Assessment and Approval of Prospective Adopters Procedure.
The allocated social worker has the responsibility of preparing the report and consulting with the Adoption, Fostering & Permanence Panel Administrator, Panel Advisor and the Chair of the Panel who will advise on who should attend the Panel meeting.
This will (usually be the allocated social worker and the prospective adopter's link worker) and a decision to be made whether or not a special Panel meeting will be convened and this will be timetabled for.
Any allegation made against a prospective adopter or a member of the household and how it was dealt with and decisions made should be recorded on the prospective adopters' file. This record must be retained indefinitely after the adoption order is made or if no adoption order is made in accordance with local policy. Adoption support agencies should have written procedures for dealing with allegations of historical abuse which may be made by service users.
All relevant documents in relation to the investigation, whatever the outcome, must be retained on the child's file and the prospective adopter's file, and their respective Adoption Case Records.
Consideration should be given to holding a debriefing meeting for all involved as to the impact of the allegations and the investigation, whatever the outcome, and any necessary assistance should be made available as necessary. These discussions should be recorded and summarised on the child's case files both electronically on the social care information system and a hard copy file, if kept.
Where there needs to be a removal of a child and an application is before the court leave will need to be sought and legal advice needs to be obtained as a matter of priority.In some instances an application for an EPO may need to be made.