Safer caring – further advice

Children and young people come into care often having been exposed to situations beyond the imagination of most people. They need protection from dangers, as would their peers, but their lives can be more complicated and they might be at risk in ways that others are not. Being able to provide a level of care which meets a child’s needs is a fundamental element in the role of a foster carer. But in doing so, foster carers have to consider the implications for themselves, their birth family and the children in their care.

Managing risk

As foster carers, the key to good, safer caring is to think through the risks involved in different situations, and make considered decisions. Even if the final say in a particular decision does not rest with you, it is important that you have thought the issues through and can contribute your view in discussions with social workers. After all, foster carers are often the people with the best knowledge of the child.

The placement plan should make clear the areas or issues where foster carers have delegated authority to manage risk and take decisions on a day-to-day basis. The safer caring plans for each child should include clearly recorded decisions you have made with social workers about basic routines, behaviour and how personal care will be done and by whom. It should also be regularly reviewed and updated as the child grows up, and as your relationship with the child develops.

Understanding the particular risks facing children in care

Children in care may be particularly vulnerable to certain risks, such as the risk of being bullied at school, the risk of running away, or taking risks online. It is important that foster carers understand the particular risks facing looked after children in general, and the individual child they care for in particular, and build that understanding into the individual safer caring plan for that child. Make sure you get as much information as possible about a child before any placement is made. If a child has been abused, or has a history of making allegations or running away, decisions about how you will handle the risks involved must be clearly identified in the safer caring plan.

Keeping you and your family safe

Keeping your own family safe from complaints or allegations is critically important for all foster carers. House rules offer a measure of protection for everyone. Fostering services produce their own guidance and may make certain requirements standard for all foster carers – like having a rule that no one goes into anyone else’s bedroom, and that dressing gowns are always worn over pyjamas. These requirements may seem strange at first, but they are there to protect everyone involved. They might be relaxed where a child has been in a placement long term, or is preparing to get ready for adoption –this is something you would need to discuss with your fostering service, to ensure all decisions are right for the particular child and circumstances.

Preparing for safer caring

Foster carers can take a number of actions to ensure they are prepared to deliver safer caring.

  • Make sure your knowledge and understanding of safer caring are up to date. Safer caring will be covered partly in the initial training you receive as a foster carer. Make sure you read any guidance provided by your fostering service, and attend any further training your fostering service offers on safer caring and on keeping children safe online.
  • Read The Fostering Network’s book Safer Caring: A New Approach to make sure you have the most up-to-date thinking and guidance in this area
  • Ensure that in addition to the placement plan for each child, a safer caring plan is in place, and regularly updated to reflect the child’s growing maturity and the development of your relationship with them.
  • Make sure you know where you have delegated authority to take decisions on a day-to-day basis, and that this is clear in the placement plan and regularly reviewed. As your relationship with the child develops, and particularly in long-term placements, you might want to seek delegated authority over a wider range of areas and issues.
  • When you take decisions – for example about activities your fostered child can undertake, or what you will allow them to do online – make sure you can show in the records you keep how you thought through and balanced the risks involved in taking the decision. Remember, safer caring is about showing you can manage risk sensibly, rather than trying to avoid all possible risks for the child.
  • Be clear about, and follow your fostering service’s guidance in relation to, safer caring – this may include for example an expectation that people don’t go in one another’s bedrooms or that dressing gowns are always worn over pyjamas.
  • At the same time, when you feel a particular approach or the existing safer caring plan for the child has not got the balance right in relation to managing the risk of a particular issue or activity, think it through and be willing to challenge a decision and to open up discussion with your supervising social worker.

For more advice on safer caring, call our helplines in your country