The Trust Contract
Fostering is like free climbing. It’s exciting, it can be really great fun and give you a sense of achievement, BUT it can be risky and requires you to be constantly assessing your ‘route’. You don’t foster for the money, prestige, or thanks. You do it because you care and are motivated to facilitate a child or young person’s development. You welcome the child without reservation and trust that the placement team and local authority social workers are giving you sufficient information to prepare an appropriate care plan, whilst also ensuring that you and your family are ‘tuned in’ to the needs of the child. That trust is an important element of the ‘contract’. You are empowered to safeguard the child, but you need to know that you are being safeguarded by the local authority.
Children are in care for a variety of reasons and unfortunately many have suffered harm, neglect, exploitation, or abuse at the hands of people that they should have been able to trust. The psychological damage that happens when that trust is broken is immeasurable. The child may be frightened, wary, anxious, lonely. Their ‘normality’ will be vastly different to yours, indeed they may feel resentful and ‘lash’ out as a means of self-preservation. They may make an allegation against the one person who is trying to help – you – and that can be a devastating blow to your values and confidence. You may find yourself subject to an ‘investigation’
An allegation, minor or otherwise, will require an investigation – that is a given. Ultimately the local authority has a statutory duty to safeguard a child and that is non-negotiable. No matter how scary the word investigation sounds, it’s simply a process that is designed to gather information that will support, or negate, further action. It is an integral part of the safeguarding process designed to protect all parties. The word investigation creates a nightmare vision of sombre people asking challenging, often intimate questions. You may question yourself; you feel alone. You might feel scared, anxious, resentful perhaps even angry. You feel that trust has been betrayed, that contract broken – you feel maybe how the child does. The SSWs will tell you ‘not to worry’. These words will, I think, fall upon deaf ears.
What The Law Says
When you become a foster carer, you do not relinquish your legal rights as a UK citizen. You are still fully protected by the laws that protect every citizen from harm, accusations and threats. Additionally, you have powerful overarching ‘human’ rights that protect the security and privacy of your family and, in addition, a right to not face ‘a punishment’ without due process. It is not my intention to list the legislation that is relevant to ‘investigations’, rather to highlight some of the more relevant rights you will have. The legal process in the UK and Northern Ireland has inbuilt checks and balances to protect the rights of everyone. Your rights can be interfered with when it is deemed necessary, but it is imperative that those rights are not violated without good reason and due process. Those rights are not designed to hinder any investigation; they are there to ensure barriers are not crossed and rights are not infringed.