Safer Caring in Foster Care
AMENDMENTThis chapter was updated in September 2022 and should be re-read in full.
1. Statutory Framework
Regulation 12 (1) of the Fostering Services Regulations 2011 (FSR 2011) requires fostering service providers to prepare and implement a written policy which is intended to safeguard children placed with foster carers from abuse or neglect and sets out the procedure to be followed in the event of any allegation of abuse or neglect.
Regulation 13 of the FSR 2011 requires that fostering service providers prepare and implement a written policy on acceptable measures of control, restraint and discipline of children placed with foster parents. Standard 3 of the Fostering National Minimum Standards (2011) (FNMS 2011) requires that this policy is made available to children and their families as well as to placing authorities prior to placement.
Standard 3 of the FNMS 2011 requires foster carers to encourage children to take responsibility for their behaviour and help them to learn how to resolve conflict. The approach taken to care by the Fostering Agency is expected to minimise the need for police involvement to deal with challenging behaviour.Standard 4 of the FNMS 2011 requires that foster carers are trained in appropriate safe-care practices including skills to care for children who have been abused (including training specifically on issues affecting disabled children).
2. Safe Caring Guidelines - Developing a Safer Caring Plan
The key emphasis within all the fostering legislation and the Children Act is that the welfare of the children is paramount and that they should feel and be as safe as possible. The purpose and reason for foster placements are to help children and young people who have experienced neglect, abuse and trauma feel safe and help them heal and rediscover the world in a new and positive way. The trauma that a child has experienced in their life will impact upon their attachment relationships, development and functioning.
Safer caring is not about absolute safety which can never be guaranteed, it is about understanding and managing harm and risk, and seeing the positives of risk and how it forms part of enabling children and young people to understand and heal from their experiences.
Working out a Safer Caring Plan for your family including your foster child is not about changing everything that you do. It is about thinking about what parts of your family's behaviour involves risk and working out what you can all do so that safer care becomes part of everyday life. This will have already been covered on the training course.
It will also help you to know how to deal with situations that might seem OK in your own family but are not safe in a foster family, including those situations or activities which may not feel safe to a child or young person. For example, think of possible triggers that might make a child feel unsafe e.g. around food for a child who has experienced neglect, and activities or items that might make a child who has experienced physical abuse feel vulnerable. It is important that everybody that is in the house is aware of the plan and is signed up to it. Regular visitors to the home need to know about the Safer Caring Plan.
The whole family should be involved in agreeing your plan and in reviewing it each year (always if a new child is placed with you and/or when circumstances change). Your Supervising Social Worker can support you with this. When you have completed your Safer Caring Plan you should discuss it with the child's social worker and give a copy to the fostering service. Sometimes you may need to review your Safer Caring Plan because something new happens like a new placement.
The aim is for all those involved to understand what might happen and to avoid the child feeling worried or anxious.
National Minimum Standards
Fostering Services National Minimum Standards (England) 2011:
- Standard 3 - Promoting Positive Behaviour and Relationships.
- Standard 4 - Safeguarding Children.
- Standard 6 - Promoting Good Health and Wellbeing.
Training, Support and Development Standards for Foster Care:
- Standard 2 - Understand your role as a foster carer.
- Standard 6 - Keep children and young people safe from harm.
- Standard 7 - Develop yourself.
Standard 4 of the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services (2011) is of particular importance when considering safer caring as it focuses on safeguarding children. It states:
Children's safety and welfare is promoted in all foster placements. Children are protected from abuse and others forms of significant harm (e.g. sexual or labour exploitation).
Foster carers actively safeguard and promote the welfare of foster children.
Foster carers make positive relationships with children, generate a culture of openness and trust and are aware of and alert to any signs or symptoms that might indicate a child is at risk of harm.
Foster carers encourage children to take appropriate risks as a normal part of growing up. Children are helped to understand how to keep themselves safe, including when outside of the household or when using the internet or social media.
The service implements a proportionate approach to any risk assessment.
Foster carers are trained in appropriate safer-care practice, including skills to care for children who have been abused. For foster carers who offer placements to disabled children, this includes training specifically on issues affecting disabled children.
The fostering service works effectively in partnership with other agencies concerned with child protection, e.g. the responsible authority, schools, hospitals, general practitioners, etc., and does not work in isolation from them.
This policy should also be read in conjunction with other policies which impact upon safer care within the foster home. This includes:
- Health and safety checklist;
- Risk assessment;
- Bedroom sharing over 3 years;
- Pet assessment form;
- Foster carer's handbook;
- Recording policy;
- Delegated authority agreement.
Guidance and Procedures
- All foster carers are provided with a copy of the Fostering Network Safer Caring Book during their assessment process;
- Assessing Social Workers discuss safe care with the prospective foster carer and help them to think about safe care issues for them and their family;
- All fostering households should have a safer care family plan in place prior to being approved (or as soon as possible for those foster carers who are temporary approved). The guidance for completing this is within the Fostering Network Safer Caring Book.
The safer care family plan should be completed and discussed with all family members in an age appropriate way. All household members should sign to agree the safe carer plan considering age, understanding and confidentiality considerations.
- All foster carers undertake safer care training which should be updated every three years. Supervising social workers and Children's Practitioners within the fostering teams will also attend this training;
- Once approved the family safer care plan should be updated when a new child or young person is introduced into the household and if appropriate the young person can be involved in deciding the content of the plan. Safer caring plans should be reviewed annually or when circumstances change. The safer caring plan should also be reviewed for holidays. For respite placements/sleepovers any safer caring considerations should be discussed and clearly recorded in supervision and when this is regular the safer care policy should be updated for that child. The family safe care plan should include the physical environment as well as additional sources of harm there may be for a particular child. This would need to consider the following:
- What is known about the past experiences of the child or young person;
- Age and understanding of the child or young person.
- Foster carers should keep up to date foster carer recordings which should be emailed to their supervising social worker at least monthly (see foster carer handbook and record keeping policy). Reflection on these logs should also be part of supervision and may contribute to the family safer caring plan;
- If a foster carer has any concerns regarding their ability to provide safe care for a particular child or young person or if they feel that they are at risk of an allegation, this should be reported to the supervising social worker and the social worker of the child or young person immediately.
Adults and the Safer Caring Plan
One of the key tasks for foster carers is to provide a safe and secure base for the child or young person to enable the healing process and give a safe base from which risks can be taken. The experience of having a positive adult role model can help improve the chance of them having a positive relationship with adults in the future.
While doing this, foster carers also need to ensure that they and others in their household are kept as safe as possible.
Some Children Looked After / young people may have had negative relationships with adults/adult carers. If there is more than one foster carer in the household, a good start is for all carers to ensure that they get involved from the start in developing their family's Safer Caring Plan. It is really important that all carers consider their role in order to minimize the risk of allegations and help the child feel safe.
Foster carers will be expected to share the caring tasks.
Working out your Safer Caring Plan
The following are the some of the issues which you may need to consider when developing your family's Safer Caring Plan. This is not intended to be an exhaustive or prescriptive list but should help in drawing up your own personalised plan, which should be tailor-made for your family.
You may wish to also think about:
- Each issue from everyone's point of view (the foster child, other children in the household, yourself, visitors, possibly pets etc.);
- Any specific situations when and where areas of conflict might arise;
- Which caregiver is responsible for implementing each aspect of the plan (remember to include outsiders like babysitters);
- Setting times to review the plan, not just annually or when there are significant changes;
- What will happen when you go for a holiday or weekend away?
- What will you do if one or more aspects of the plan aren't working?
The Names you use
Children should call you by your first name.
Discourage the child from calling you 'mummy' or 'daddy' because it causes confusion about their own family. They may choose to do this in some situations, for example around other people, and their wishes should be respected. This can be discussed with your supervising social worker and the child's social worker.
Physical Contact and Showing Affection
You must provide a level of care, including physical contact, which demonstrates warmth, respect and a positive regard for children.
Physical contact should be given in a manner, which is safe, protective and avoids the arousal of sexual expectations, feelings or in any way which reinforces sexual stereotypes.
The following include areas which could involve physical contact and which you might want to include in your Safer Caring Plan:
One of the prime tasks for foster carers is to work with the children to maximise opportunities for forming and benefiting from positive relationships with adults. Nurturing touch helps children and adults to feel good, helps the child to regulate their emotions and builds resilience. It also helps the child to build an attachment to you. Showing affection is a very important part of your caring role and should never be avoided because of the fear of allegations. Carers do not for example have to only give sideways hugs.
Whilst warmth and understanding are essential, everyone needs to know and understand when a relationship is inappropriate. This is not always clear to children who have experienced trauma and abuse, so they will need you to carefully model appropriate familial relationships. Many looked after children have experience of inappropriate relationships prior to coming into care. This may include experienced of being sexually abused, sexually coerced or witnessing inappropriate sexualised behaviour. If touch has meant something other than affection to a child in the past, they might not understand that when you try to show them affection.
Children who have suffered many unexpected losses in adult relationships are likely to be constantly fearful of being abandoned again and therefore may resist getting close to anyone or letting anyone get close to them. For children who are resistant to physical touch it may be appropriate to consider safer ways to gradually help the child feel comfortable, by for example using nurturing touch within play such as Theraplay techniques.
Where appropriate children should be asked first if they would like a kiss, hug, or a cuddle. They need to be taught by a caring adult to say 'no' if they do not want to be touched and what touch is appropriate touch. However, this does also require an element of your own professional judgement. For example, you may ask a young person who appears upset, would you like a cuddle, but if a small child had fallen over and had hurt themselves you may instinctively pick them up.
Families will all have different ways of showing affection and you need to be careful not to impose your way on others. You will need to be aware of your own boundaries and comfort zone, being comfortable in the touch you are offering and keeping it natural. You also need to listen to the child's wishes and feelings.
Listen out when children are playing and check when they go quiet. Encourage children where possible to play in public parts of the home.
You may feel that the child should play with friends at your home particularly during the early days of a placement. This may be more difficult when they are older children. If you are not sure, talk to your Supervising Social Worker. Consider with your supervising social worker if doors should always be kept open when children are together in another room (this may not be appropriate for older teenagers).
- Put in place clear rules that say bullying is not acceptable and what actions will be taken if the foster carers suspect bullying or are told of bullying happening;
- Make it clear to children what is acceptable behaviour;
- Provide opportunities for children to think about the issue of bullying e.g. writing stories or poems or drawing pictures about bullying;
- Have discussions about bullying and why it matters;
- Discuss with your Supervising Social Worker and/ or the Child's Social Worker about their previous experiences and how this may link to their behaviour now;
- Be good role models as foster carers. Children may not have experienced positive relationships before and so may not have learnt how to build healthy relationships. Let the child learn through their relationship with you, showing them the blueprint for how real relationships work, which they can later transfer onto future relationships.
If possible, children should be supported and encouraged to undertake bathing, showers and other intimate care of themselves without relying on carers. If children are too young or are unable to bathe, use the toilet or undertake other hygiene routines, arrangements should be made for carers to assist them. Some children may feel safer having a bath or a shower wearing a swimsuit. Unless otherwise agreed, if at all possible, children should be given intimate care by adults who do not identify as a different gender.
Arrangements for intimate care of young and/or disabled child should be set out in the Placement Plan for each child.
Children who are old enough should be encouraged to wash themselves and should have privacy in the bathroom. It may be possible to sit outside the bathroom, so a child remains safe yet is able to bathe in privacy.
Wherever possible, girls should be supported and encouraged to keep their own supply of sanitary protection without having to request it from carers. There should also be adequate provision for the private disposal of used sanitary protection. Some young people may experience difficult feelings around menstruation and could need additional support with this.
Enuresis and Encopresis
If it is known or suspected that a child is likely to experience enuresis, encopresis or may be prone to smearing it should be discussed openly, but with great sensitivity, with the child if possible, and strategies adopted for managing it; these strategies should be outlined in the child's Placement Plan. Please be mindful of the fact that the review of the plan may be held in the presence of a variety of involved professionals and be mindful of a child or young person's sensitivities when discussing such sensitive issues. It may be appropriate to consult a Continence Nurse or other specialist, who may advise on the most appropriate strategy to adopt. In the absence of such advice, the following should be adopted:
- Talk to the child in private, openly but sympathetically;
- Do not treat it as the fault of the child, or apply any form of sanction;
- Do not require the child to clear up unless agreed as part of the treatment strategy; arrange for the child to be cleaned and remove then wash any soiled bedding and clothes;
- Keep a record;
- Consider making arrangements for the child to have any supper in good time before retiring, and arranging for the child to use the toilet before retiring; also consider arranging for the child to be woken to use the toilet during the night;
- Consider using mattresses or bedding that can withstand soil and speak to your supervising social worker about support with this.
When children become older (for example into teenage years) they should be encouraged, with kind, nurturing support how to strip their bedding and use a washing machine, but carers should still offer to support them with this.
When you go out
You have responsibilities towards the children you are looking after and towards those you ask to baby-sit or look after children. You need to think what you can do to avoid putting everyone at risk.
You should be clear about what your Supervising Social Worker considers are satisfactory arrangements for caring for children when you are out, including when DBS checks are needed. You could make an arrangement with other foster carers.
Travelling by Car
Think about who travels alone in a car with a foster child. It can be a good way of the child having one-to-one contact because it can be easier to talk without any eye contact. However, a child who has, or may have been, abused might feel unsafe alone in a car with an adult.
A safer rule is for foster carers to avoid travelling alone with a foster child. If this cannot be avoided, the child should travel in the back of the car. If there are two carers with a child, it will be safer for the child to be in the front of the car rather than in the back seat with one adult. Once you know the child well you may want to review this situation.
Whilst sitting in the back of the car is the preferred option, some circumstances may mean your policy is adapted to highlight why sitting in the front may be safer for a specific child. For example, if a child is very anxious within the car or suffers from car sickness it may be safer for the child to sit in the front.
Photos, Videos and the Internet
It should be clear in the child's Placement Plan who can sign to agree for the child's photo or video footage being taken in settings such as school.
If photos, videos or the internet have been part of any abuse for the child/young person, you should check the best way forward with the child's social worker.
It is always helpful when you do take photos or videos, to ask the child's permission first and make sure that they get copies and that they know who else will see them and why.
Be sensitive to how children react to having their photo taken. Do not take photos of children having a bath or wearing no clothes.
When the child uses the internet, take an interest in what they do and agree, when, where and how they will use it. Look into some software that filters inappropriate material for children.
Children with Disabilities
Children with a disability may be particularly vulnerable to abuse.
There may be more of a need for intimate personal care. Where a child/young person has a disability or complex health needs, you should speak to the child's social worker for advice.
Foster carers will need to make sure that a child/young person with communication difficulties is able to express their wishes about personal care, and this should also be recorded.
The Way You Dress
It is important for people to dress appropriately when in the house. Make sure that your family, and foster children have suitable nightwear that is modest and not revealing or skimpy; this applies to daywear as well.
The Foster Carers' and Other Family Member's Bedrooms
Some parents like to let young children get into their bed to talk and listen to stories or to be comforted when they are not well. It is one of the dilemmas you face when as a family you are trying to give your own children a normal upbringing whilst wanting to provide a safe environment for the children you foster, however it is never appropriate for a foster child to do this.
Sharing your bed can trigger the memory of abuse and give the wrong messages about what might happen and what is acceptable. This will be more pertinent if there is suspected sexual abuse. It will be safer to provide all children with a time of affection outside your bedroom, telling stories and maybe having a hot drink together.
Your plan should be clear about bedroom rules.
Children over the age of 3 should have their own room but there are exceptional circumstances when children can share - an assessment will need to take place. When this happens, they should have their own space in the room and somewhere to store personal possessions.
Children should not share beds.
It may be decided that you should knock on their bedroom door before going in. Depending on past experiences, some children will feel safer with the door open, some with the door shut. For some children, having the light on will also help them to feel safer.
Some children who have been abused might need their own space so that they learn that they have the right to be safe and private. It is important for them to have somewhere to keep their belongings safe.
Bedtimes are an opportunity for carers to show care and warmth towards the child, striking the balance between rules and safer caring needs to be found for each individual child. The rules are similar to bath time. Consideration should be given to whether the child's previous experiences and preferences mean it might be better for either a carer identifying as a particular gender to carry out this task, or for both joint carers to do it. Carers should leave the door open when putting children to bed.
Education about Relationships, Sex and Sexuality
Relationships and sex education is important for all of us as we grow up. This should also be age appropriate. Children need to be helped to think about what makes a good friend and what makes a bad friend. They need to learn how to avoid situations that might put them at risk of abuse and how to protect themselves and others. Children need to learn how to say 'no'. Carers need to know how to explain the difference between what is and is not acceptable behaviour and how to help children change behaviour that is not right for their age. You may need to say that you are talking to them about relationships and sex to help them deal with situations, feel safer and as part of growing up.
Families will have different approaches to this subject and how children get information about relationships, sex and sexuality and what they are told. You will need to find out from the child's social worker what the family's approach was and the best way of dealing with this, particularly if the child/young person has a different cultural or religious background from your own. You may also want to check out with school/educational setting what they are doing on the subject and when, so you can be prepared, as this may be a trigger for some children.
Providing a safer environment means that other children in the foster home must understand that any sexual activity with a foster child is as unacceptable as with a biological brother or sister.
The most important thing is that the child feels they can come and ask you questions and talk to you about the subject if they are not sure. Foster carers should never share personal details about this subject with the child.
Discuss as a family what routes you will take if a fire starts and practise an evacuation. Think about where keys are kept so everybody knows where they will be for the front and back doors and windows.
It is expected that foster carers caring for children comply with nationally recommended alcohol consumption levels and that children's needs and safety will be met at all times. Carers need to consider what role alcohol plays in their lives currently and how they may need to adapt this to help a child to feel safe in their care. For some children, alcohol use by their caregivers may be a trigger due to past trauma, in which case foster carers may be asked to refrain from drinking alcohol in the presence of the child. Use of alcohol and any child's particular needs/triggers should be covered and be discussed with your social worker.
For children where alcohol is a trigger, in long term placements, when a child has started to feel safe within their foster family, it may be appropriate for carers to model safer alcohol consumption.
Use of cameras in the foster home
See CCTV Policy.
3. Fostering Service Guidance on Preventing and Responding to Bullying
Standard 3 of the Fostering National Minimum Standards 2011 requires fostering services to ensure that carers have positive strategies for effectively supporting children when they encounter discrimination and bullying. This requires that procedures are put in place to recognise, record and address any instance of bullying and to help carers cope with it.
Click the link to access Hertfordshire's guidance for foster carers - CSF4008 Fostering Service Guidance on Preventing and Responding to Bullying.