Safeguarding children and young people

Child protection procedures

The Inter-Agency Edinburgh and Lothians Child Protection Procedures describes the duties, roles, and responsibilities of everyone working with children and young people when abuse is suspected or reported. 

Everyone has a responsibility to make sure children and young people are safe and well cared for. If you have a child protection concern about a child or young person in your care, this must be reported immediately to the child’s social worker, or their team leader, or your FBC social worker. If this concern has arisen out of hours, The Emergency Social Work Service (ESWS) should be contacted on 0800 731 6969. They will provide advice, support and guidance.

Social work staff, health and police may investigate these concerns. They will decide this within an initial referral discussion (IRD). During investigation, social workers and police will speak to the child or young person and their family and any other relevant people, e.g. teachers, health visitors or a foster carer. A child or young person may take part within a video recorded interview (VRI) with Police and social work. They will discuss with health staff whether it is necessary for the child to have a medical examination. If so, the child or young person will be examined by a paediatrician to make sure there are no injuries or other problems, e.g. poor growth or infections that require treatment. In some cases, there may be a police doctor present. If there are any injuries, these may be photographed by the police for evidence. The investigation will be carried out in a sensitive manner with the child or young persons’ safety and welfare being the most important consideration. Foster carers may be asked to support children or young people during these processes. 

For a foster carer to understand the safeguarding role they have within a child and young person's life, and the responsibilities and duties placed upon them in carrying these out, an understanding of these procedures is fundamental. Foster carers are often the first to hear, or sometimes see, when abuse has occurred. Due to the relationship held with a child or young person, they may often recall and share their experiences with their foster carer, as their safe adult. 

Responding to a child or young person’s disclosure of abuse

Many children or young people placed with foster carers have suffered serious abuse in the past. Sometimes social workers may suspect that a child or young person has been abused but they have never disclosed any information. It is only when a child or young person feels safe that they start to talk about it. This is often with their foster carer. It is vital that we respond by: 

  • stop what you are doing so that you can take the child or young person aside to have a quiet chat 
  • listen carefully, rather than ask questions or interrupt
  • Do not ask leading questions such as ‘did mummy’s boyfriend hit you?’ Foster carers should be confident is using the four W’s approach.  By asking a child, ‘what happened?”, ‘when did it happen?’, ‘where did this happen?’, ‘who was there?’ demonstrates an ability to ask open questions and support a child or young person. This may not be appropriate to the situation and foster carers equally must know what balance is required.   
  • Showing children and young people that you are taking them seriously and regulating your own emotion is crucial.   
  • tell the child or young person that they are not to blame and that they were brave to speak up 
  • make it clear to the child or young people that this cannot be kept a secret and that the information will need to be passed on to their social worker.  Foster carers do this sensitively, taking the child or young person’s age and stage into account.
  • If you can write down what has been said as soon as possible, using the child or young persons’ exact words, this can be very helpful
  • It is important that foster carers do not attempt to question or interview a child or young person, as if the carer questions the wrong way, they could interfere with the formal process of gathering evidence needed for court proceedings
  • Foster carers must immediately inform the child or young persons’ social worker or their team leader.
  • Foster carers may also find it helpful to discuss the feelings evoked by the disclosure with their FBC social worker.  We understand that listening to children and young people’s experience can be a particular challenge for many reasons. It can have a lasting impact. The supervisory relationship can provide a place to reflect on this.

Child protection case conferences and core groups

The child or young persons’ situation may need to be discussed at a child protection case conference. This is a formal, multi-agency meeting that shares agencies’ risk assessments and identifies necessary actions to protect a child or young person. This meeting also decides whether their name should be placed on the child protection register. The register is a list of children and young people, up to the age of 16 years old, for whom there are identified risks and who require a formal child protection plan. As a foster carer for the child or young person, you will often be invited to attend a child protection case conference and share what information is known to you. 

As a Foster Carer, your contribution to case conferences is very important. Your FBC Social worker will also attend proceedings and can support you within these. Reports will be shared with the child or young person and their parents. The only exception to this is ‘restricted access information’. The chair of the case conference decides whether a report or part of a report will be restricted.  The chair will also decide as to whether a foster carer is invited into the initial discussion, or only the main meeting.  This can be based on third party reporting and restrictions placed on us by other agencies.

Case Conferences usually last between 1½ to 2 hours. Review case conferences are held every six months to review progress and decide whether the child’s name needs to remain on the register. Foster carers may also be invited to become a member of the core professional group that meets more regularly to monitor progress. 

Managing allegations

Allegations may be made about foster carers or members of their family, professionals, or others known to them. Allegations are more serious than a complaint and can include a concern relating to physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, or inadequate care. Safe caring practices that are learnt through preparation and training and those discussed in the supervisory relationship with the FBC social worker and detailed in safe caring family policies, should always be followed. This ensures an agreed team approach to how the child or young person is cared for and demonstrates consideration to any areas which require more sensitivity.  We understand that children and young people can feel unsafe for many reasons, sometimes due to the care they have received, or their experiences in their past. We always take a child or young person's account seriously and look to understand this in a proportionate way, which offers them and your family understanding and support until the matter can be resolved.

If an allegation is made, it will be considered in accordance with the Inter-Agency Child Protection Procedures Edinburgh and the Lothians.  All allegations of abuse about a foster carer are managed by professionals who are appropriately child protection trained, and staff and senior managers of our organisation. Such investigations are uncommon, but some can take considerable time to conclude.  

The council has a duty of care towards foster carers and when an allegation of abuse has been made, foster carers will receive clear advice about the process and timing, though not necessarily about the detail of the investigation. A foster carer’s FBC social worker and their team leader will ensure that they have adequate information about what is happening and potential sources of advice and support, although they will not be able to discuss the detail of the allegation.  

The council provides individual membership of the Fostering Network. This can provide both personal and individual support as well as legal support and, any legal expenses. The Fostering Network has dedicated helplines, as well as valuable publications in their Allegations Signposts in Fostering series. It supports safe caring practices and provides useful information about what is likely to happen if an allegation is made, the investigation, legal procedures and where to get support.    

Decisions about whether a child or young person can remain in placement at this time will be made by a multi-agency assessment. Any decision made will be done so, balanced against the need to minimise distress and disturbance and avoid any risk or harm. If it is decided that the child or young person needs an alternative placement, this can happen immediately without any period of notice. If they are placed on a legal order, a senior manager can agree to the move under urgent necessity. The Children’s Hearing will be notified of the move at the earliest opportunity and notification to The Care Inspectorate will be made. Written notice of the decision and confirmation of the date that the placement ended will be given as soon as possible. 

After completion of any investigation, unless an allegation is deemed completely unfounded, the fostering panel will review all the circumstances and make a recommendation. Whether or not there is foundation for the allegation, the foster carers, their family, and the child or young person involved may need support and counselling after the event, either individually or together. The FBC social worker and the child or young person’s social worker can facilitate this. If the child or young person has moved, a continued relationship between them and their foster carers may or may not be possible dependent on the circumstances. The child or young person’s needs will normally be discussed through a LAAC review. The needs of the foster carer and their family will be discussed with their FBC social worker and their team leader.  

The absence of court proceedings, or a criminal conviction does not necessarily mean that abuse has not occurred. In some instances, even after a full investigation, a serious allegation remains. FBC social workers and their team leaders will be required to submit a carer review report to the fostering panel. Reports will be assessment based and will offer a recommendation to the fostering panel about the appropriateness of a foster carers’ future registration.  The fostering panel will have to consider all the circumstances and recommend if the foster carer should continue to look after children or young people on behalf of the council. This recommendation will be made to the agency decision maker. Foster carers have the right to ask for a review of this decision if they are not in agreement. 

Fostering panels also have a duty when concluding a foster carers registration, to consider if a referral for PVG listings is required to Disclosure Scotland. This is a legal requirement of any organisation where people are carrying out ‘regulated work’ and where information is held in respect of any harmful behaviour that might affect whether the person is allowed to work with children, young people or protected adults. Foster carers will be told if a referral is being made. Disclosure Scotland will then take this matter up with the foster carer.

The child or young person and their family will be told of the outcome of the allegation in a manner suited to their age and understanding. Written information about the outcome will be sent to the parents or guardians of the child or young person and to those whom the allegation was made. This will also be shared with senior managers within our organisation. 

Detailed records will be kept of all allegations, investigations, findings, and outcomes. Information relevant to the foster carer will be retained in their file. Information relevant to the child and young person will be held in their file. Any reference to the foster carer will be held in a restricted access section in this file. 

Complaints about foster carers

Caring for someone else’s child or young person is not easy and fostering can place great demands on a foster carer and their family. Sometimes a complaint may be made against them. For example, a child or young person may complain to their social worker that they are not getting enough pocket money. A member of the child or young person’s family may complain about their clothing, or a neighbour may complain about their car being damaged.

If a complaint is made about a service provided on behalf of the Council, our organisation has a responsibility to investigate it. Depending on the nature of the complaint, there are several ways this may be managed. It may be resolved through a joint meeting with the foster carers’ FBC social worker, the child or young person's social worker and a child’s advocate or it may involve meeting with the FBC social worker and their team leader.

If it has not been possible to conclude this matter satisfactorily, or if the matter is of a more serious nature, an investigator from a different section of our organisation, who is independent from the case, may be appointed. If a formal complaint is made to customer care and complaints, the foster carer will receive clear written advice on the process for dealing with the complaint.  Foster carers may wish to seek advice or support from the Fostering Network. During the inquiry process, foster carers should be informed about the progress of this. At the end of the inquiry, whenever possible, the foster carer should be given feedback. Sometimes, to protect the confidentiality of a third party, information cannot be shared with them.  

Care inspectorate notifications

Any serious incident or accident which involves a child or young person must be reported immediately to their social worker, FBC social worker or team leaders. At times the seriousness will mean that it is necessary to report to the Emergency Social Work Service (ESWS) if out with office hours. A FBC social worker will talk through with the foster carer the various scenarios of when immediate reporting should take place out of hours.

In some circumstances you may be required to fill in a form or to provide information to the child or young person’s social worker or the FBC social worker. They will advise you of the required steps and of the information you should provide. All such incidents will be reported by FBC to the Care Inspectorate and must be done so within 48 hours.

A serious incident includes, although is not limited to, when a child or young person

  • Is in contact with Police due to their behaviour or the behaviour of another towards them.
  • Absconds or goes missing from placement, is reported missing to Police.
  • Is involved in an incident which has had any impact on their welfare.
  • Requires hospital or urgent medical treatment or care.
  • Where an allegation of abuse occurs, or this is suspected.
  • Where a child or young person is suspected or confirmed of having Covid or has an infectious disease which has affected two or more people.
  • Allegation of misconduct by provider or any persons employed in care services.

Matching children or young people with foster carers

All referrals for foster care placements are made to Intake, which is a service within FBC. Once a referral is received by social workers from the Children’s Neighbourhood Practice and Hospital Teams from within The City of Edinburgh Council, then a placement is sought by matching with any available foster carers. Once a foster carer has been identified who can meet the needs of the child or young person, either the foster carer’s own FBC social worker or the intake social worker will telephone the carer for an initial discussion. If both feel the possibility can be explored further, a discussion will be arranged between the foster carer and the child’s social worker. It is essential that foster carers receive full information about the child, including

  • a child or young person’s history
  • information about their needs
  • family background and family time arrangements, including any restrictions or considerations
  • health and educational needs and supports
  • any needs relating to the child or young persons’ ethnicity, religion, language, sexuality, and culture 
  • what care the child or young person needs from a foster carer
  • safe care considerations
  • why the child or young person needs to be looked after away from home
  • the child or young person’s immediate planning considerations and how a foster carer can support these
  • the child or young person’s legal status, any planned changes in legal status and who holds parental responsibilities and who are important people in the child or young person’s life
  • if it is agreed that the placement will go ahead, written information, including a copy of any legal order and consent to medical treatment, will be provided. 

A child’s planning agreement meeting will be held within three working days of any placement being made. In some emergency circumstances there may be very little, or even no, information about the child or young person. In cases like these their social worker will continue to seek information and share it with you whenever it becomes known. 

Safe care family policy

We want children and young people’s lives to be the same as others who experience safe, nurturing, loving families. Our approach to safe care practices recognises the role of the foster carer within a child or young person’s life, and the need to delegate responsibility for day-to-day decisions to them.  We do this by taking a sensible approach, not one which is risk adverse but one which supports children and young people to enjoy life and new experiences. We appreciate foster caring families are diverse and no two are the same. By ensuring all foster carers have a safe caring family policy in place, it means we can do this as we have a shared set of expectations and ones which are based on ongoing discussions where we ensure that we have considered all new relationships, situations, changing needs and levels of support. It is also important that when expectations have been exceeded, foster carers know their own reporting responsibilities, and others they can contact when more support or a greater response is required.

Each caring household will have a written safe care family policy which will reflect the foster carers values in respect of the care that they offer.  Like social workers, it is these shared values that underpin and guide our approach and decision making. A families safe caring policy will highlight what children and young people can expect from them and what in turn they expect from children and young people.  It will demonstrate the sensitivity and consideration that is required when caring for children and young people, this may include private space, how the family come together, and how each member is supported in their own life choices.  It may highlight roles within the family, the humour used, or how they all stay in touch or connected. It will highlight agreed consequences when expectations are repeatedly not met, it will demonstrate their relational approach to childcare and respect the loving relationships which exist or are forming within the home.  It should reflect the underpinning therapeutic practices or trauma informed care and other specific learning.

Each child or young person has different needs and experiences, and each’s developmental progress is in many ways unique to them.  Their inner world is unique, and in order to care for them in a responsive way, which they will interpret as nurturing, then we consider this within each child or young person’s own safe caring policy.  This is a collaborative approach, one which will involve the child’s social worker, perhaps a CAMHS professional or education psychologist. As with a foster carer’s safe care family policy, we consider a range of circumstances and the range of responses which are best suited to the child or young person. These will change and develop over time as the relational working becomes more imbedded and attuned. All responses will be underpinned by a strengths-based approach and not include any punitive methods or messages.

Risk assessments

There will be more occasional times where risks are more specific, where a team response is required, or where a child, young person or foster carers safety is threatened.  This may be due to the young person failing to return after spending an evening with friends, or perhaps a risk which has become known to us.  We use specific risk assessments in such cases, which enables us to identify the risk and the steps we need to take to reduce this.  It may mean that we involve other partner agencies, such as school, or a local Community Police Officer. Often, we share these risk assessments with Emergency Social Work, or other professionals so that we can ensure an agreed response no matter when. 

Risk Management Discussions (RMD)

Some situations are more complex. The RMD forum is chaired by a FBC team leader, with a further two FBC colleagues forming the group. The RMD offers an opportunity for considerations to take place around specific sets of circumstances, patterns of behaviours or situations where risks are present, or harms are likely. They are a forum which encourages the sharing of practice, supports others in carrying out their own duties and responsibilities, and one which provides transparency, scrutiny and robust planning and management in times of uncertainty. RMD can involve foster carers, or they can support FBC colleagues in their own casework.  Strategies or supports can form action points to support situations and Review RMD’s provide an opportunity to review and monitor. RMD’s are scheduled every third Wednesday.

When a child or young person is reported missing

Local authorities, care providers and Police all play a vital role in the prevention of, response to, support and protection of children or young people when they are missing. Looked after and accommodated children who go missing from residential & foster care in Scotland national guidance (2021) is what guides our responses when care experienced children and young people go missing from residential and foster homes. All foster carers should be familiar with this document and understand their own specific roles and responsibilities within it. We understand that care experienced children and young people are particularly vulnerable as they can be targeted and may lack direct support or supervision from close family members. 

This national guidance document provides clear guidance to police officers and relevant police staff to help protect children and young people and minimise the harm that they may experience. It details the distinct roles and responsibilities that will inform how resources respond to help locate a child or young person and to prevent further episodes of them going missing. 

At the centre of this guidance is the safety and protection of the child or young person. It is important to ensure all actions taken are proportionate to the risks of each of them. This guidance emphasises that care planning and appropriate risk assessments are critical and key to ensure the most appropriate actions are taken by all. The guidance asks that decisions are based on clear and recorded assessments and that these are shared by the parties involved.  

Below are the key principles which have informed this national guidance document and are based on shared operational experiences

  • children and young people are amongst the most vulnerable in our society and need a high level of support. They may have suffered from a range of adverse childhood experiences e.g. domestic violence, physical and sexual abuse, parental separation and bereavement.  They may also have experienced family breakdowns and been placed in many care placements
  • those involved in this partnership agreement need to understand the needs and risks of looked after children and young people and promote their wellbeing
  • children and young people can be at a higher risk of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, which includes Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), neglect or involved in other criminality
  • children and young people go missing for a variety of complex and interconnected reasons. Some of which are ‘Pull Factors’ from where they are living, for example being concerned about the wellbeing of family members or friends.  For some it is ‘Push Factors’ such as the feeling that they do not wish to remain in their care environment or feeling unsafe
  • the way we respond when a child or young person goes missing, and when they return, either as a single agency or on a multi-agency basis, will have a significant impact on whether a child or young person is likely to go missing again, therefore we need to get it right.

This national guidance cannot take account of every specific circumstance. However, it does identify actions that incorporate principles of child and young people’s rights and their protection, public safety, collaborative decision-making, statutory responsibility and duties of care. It places a significant responsibility on police officers and others to work effectively together with a shared understanding and ownership, basing decisions on strong professional judgments to keep children, young people and the wider community safe. All responses should be based on a consistent, yet flexible approach, depending on the individual circumstances of a child or young person.

Use of CCTV or electronic monitors when caring for children and young people

We live in a data-driven world and the use of CCTV systems/smart technology in private dwellings has seen a huge increase in recent years. Installing CCTV security cameras within your home can feel protective, but it can also feel intrusive and can have adverse implications for the privacy and dignity of others. CCTV should only be used as a protection of your home, unrelated to any one person within it. The use of CCTV and electronic monitoring would be a measure of control considered excessive or unreasonable where there are other less intrusive behaviour management options.

The City of Edinburgh Council expects all foster carers to promote positive behaviour in children and young people through the care they provide, and to help to manage negative or risk-taking behaviour through building positive relationships rather than relying on punishment and/or surveillance.

Foster carers who are worried about a child or young person in their home, should first raise these concerns with their FBC social worker and child’s social worker. These professionals will explore the concerns and consider alternative options with you.  

Overnight stays for children and young people in foster care

We want children and young people to enjoy the same activities and experiences as their peers. Sleepovers are a part of this for many children and young people.  Whether you are deciding if a friend can stay at the child or young person’s home with them, or they stay at the home of their friends, in most cases, we can make this happen safely, taking several sensible steps and actions expected of any responsible adult. All request for overnight stays should be approved by the child or young persons’ social worker. This may mean that within the child or young person’s friendship circle, decision making can be delegated to the foster carer, rather than on a case-by-case basis.

It is likely that any child or young people’s friends and parents or caregivers are known to their foster carer. This is likely either though community or school links. Foster carers should proactively seek to understand where a child or young person is spending their time and with who. Sometimes we may need to give the decision some more thought, or have a child or young person stay at the foster carers home until we find out more information and are satisfied that sleepover arrangements are safe. We may have to accept at times that we are unable to agree that a household is safe and sleepover arrangements at that home cannot be made. Our practice is guided by getting it right for every child- guidance on overnight stays for looked after and accommodated children (GIRFEC).

The City of Edinburgh Council position in relation to smoking, vapes, or substitutes

It is our expectation that children and young people will live in a smoke free environment. Foster carers who smoke will not be approved to care for a child under two years of age. Any foster carers who do smoke should do out with their home, car or caravan. Foster carers who care for children and young people living with disabilities cannot smoke. The same expectations apply to any family and visitors to the foster carers’ home.

Any young person under 18 years who is in placement should not smoke. Foster carers and social workers should always discourage young people from smoking. Foster carers should not buy cigarettes for any young person in their care, no matter what their age. Young people over the age of 18 may purchase their own cigarettes but should not be allowed to smoke in the foster carers’ home or within the vicinity of children or young people in the household.

Children or young people requiring medication

In all situations where children or young people who require medication to be administered (prescribed or non- prescribed) the FBC social worker will ensure that foster carers have access to a ‘prescribed medication form’.  This should be completed by the foster carer administering the medication. The child’s placement agreement meeting and plan should include all essential details about medical needs and ongoing medical conditions. Whenever a child or young person is prescribed a new course of treatment, the foster carer must record the details as follows

  • the name of the medication
  • the strength (e.g. 25 mg capsules) and dosage (e.g. two capsules to be taken three times daily) 
  • the total number of pills or volume of liquid/ medicine prescribed 
  • the dates and times when the child is given the medication. 
  • the medicines essential guidance
  • when the course of treatment should be finished
  • medicines prescribed for one child should not be given to another 
  • foster carers should be present while the child takes the medicine and record if it is refused
  • medicines no longer required should be safely disposed of, preferably by return to the pharmacist but not in a waste or dust bin 
  • medicines should be kept in a locked cabinet in their original container 
  • dosage should not be exceeded for any prescribed medicine 
  • administration of medicine should be discussed with the child or young person to assist in their understanding of the process 
  • medication should generally only be administered on the advice of a doctor 
  • day-to-day ailments may be treated by foster carers as responsible parents, e.g. cold treatments.

Foster carers who have children or young people living with them who are known to need urgent treatment, e.g. in relation to epilepsy, diabetes, respiratory problems or for severe allergic reactions, must have the relevant training before the placement begins or as soon as possible afterwards if it is an emergency placement. Appropriate consultation with medical personnel should be arranged.  

Where there is a lack of clarity about medication or uncertainty about what may be taken in conjunction with any prescribed medication, you must always consult rather than act on your own initiative. In some situations, parents may have the relevant information, in others it may be necessary to contact a pharmacist, GP or NHS 24, or the child or young persons’ social worker may liaise with relevant personnel. 

Where a child or young person moves from their foster carer this form must be provided to the next person responsible for their care (e.g. short break carer, alternative foster care, kinship carer, residential care and birth family) along with all of their medication which should be labelled and transferred in a sealed container. All foster carers are required to store all medication in a locked box which is not accessible to any child or young person. Discussion with a FBC social worker can discuss the funding arrangements of this if needed.