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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils Investigation Report

D.6: Responses to abuse

1970–1979

28. In the 1970s, the County had no policy or procedure in place for responding to allegations of sexual abuse against foster carers. The Inquiry has evidence of only three examples of institutional responses to allegations of sexual abuse in foster care, all of which show serious failings by children’s social care:

28.1. Foster carer NO-F106 pleaded guilty to indecent assault of his two nieces, aged 8 and 11, and was given a three-year probation order in October 1976. Two foster children were returned to NO-F106 the following month. For at least two years, foster child NO-A272 and the foster carers were left “without proper monitoring and advice”. NO-A272 subsequently made allegations of sexual abuse in relation to this period.[1]

28.2. F37 alleged she was abused by NO-F235 and told not to speak to social workers. After she ran away in 1974, she told a social worker “how unfair” NO-F235 was. She did not disclose the sexual abuse at the time because she did not think she would be believed.[2] NO-F235 denied the abuse when questioned in 1975 by children’s social care following F37’s later disclosure. No further action was taken.[3] By the time F37 disclosed to the police in 2015, NO-F235 had died.

28.3. In 1978, a “meeting at County Hall” considered allegations that foster carer NO-F234 had sexually abused a child in his care, aged 10, but was inconclusive in light of the foster carer’s denial. The social worker’s view was that “a more searching enquiry could only be destructive” to the foster carers and the complainant. No further girls were to be placed with the foster carers. It was noted that NO-F234 “should in future take care”.[4]

29. In other instances of alleged sexual abuse in foster care during this period, complainants felt unable to disclose. For example, while in the City’s care in 1972, L48 moved to Cheshire with his foster carers where he was sexually abused by his foster carer, NO-F275. L48 felt unable to disclose the abuse as he was not seen alone by a social worker. L48 was then sexually abused by his next foster carer, NO-F276, in 1975. L48 was again unable to disclose the abuse as he was worried he would not be believed and the abuse had made him question his own sexuality.[5]

1980–1989

30. From 1984, there were procedures governing child sexual abuse in foster care within the County.[6] They were not consistently applied:

30.1. In October 1985, NO-F138, a County residential care worker and foster carer, admitted indecently assaulting a foster child, NO-A325, from the age of 14. The abuse had been reported three months earlier, but the allegations were initially regarded as “malicious” by children’s social care. The 1984 multi-agency child abuse procedures were not applied by either the police or children’s social care until NO-F138’s admission, despite three prior opportunities to investigate (including two reports of abuse of another child, NO-A326, in 1984). As a result, children were left at risk of abuse. Following his admission, NO-F138 was dismissed in March 1986 for “a serious violation of trust” and “putting his sexual needs before those of a child entrusted in his care”.[7] Inexplicably, he was given 10 weeks’ notice “in view of the unfortunate background”.[8] An inquiry into this case in 1986, commissioned by Edward Culham, the Director of Social Services, concluded that “no officers who had been involved had got a grip of the situation” and that “close relationships” between senior officers and NO-F138 had “impaired judgements”.[9] In reality, the County’s response was biased in favour of the perpetrator and protection of their own staff. The police only cautioned NO-F138 for his abuse of NO-A325, taking no action in relation to the abuse of NO-A326.[10]

30.2. The police failed to apply the procedures in 1986 when NO-A257, then aged 15, alleged that her foster father NO-F97 had sex with her when she was “half asleep”, leaving money by her bed. She ran away and disclosed the abuse to her social worker. Given NO-A257’s “history of prostitution”, the police considered the abuse as her “plying her trade rather than being harmed”. After “considerable delay”, no further action was taken. Children’s social care noted the delays and raised concerns at the police “ridicule” of NO-A257, recording that “the needs of children rather than [NO-F97’s] must be uppermost in our minds”. NO-F97 and his wife were removed from the list of specialist foster providers, but the couple were still to be considered for short-term placements.[11]

30.3. Procedures were followed when in March 1988 a foster carer (NO-F129) was deregistered and later that year stood trial but was acquitted.[12] He had been charged in late 1987 with the sexual abuse of two foster children. Following the acquittal, Rod Jones (then Principal Assistant – Child Care) gave a statement to the press saying that children’s social care believed the girls and that, notwithstanding the acquittal, they would not be placing any more children with NO-F129.[13]

31. In 1989, a significant case of abuse by a foster carer was prosecuted, leading to an internal report and a considered response from the County. The internal report was prepared for David White, the Director of Social Services, in advance of the trial of Michael Chard. Chard was charged with sexually abusing a child in foster care over several years in the late 1980s. The report identified a number of failures by children’s social care, including:[14]

31.1. Chard was allowed to foster children on his own from 1978, without proper assessment or sufficient scrutiny of his suitability to do so.

31.2. As well as being sexually abused by Chard, one child in his care, NO-A242, was also regularly sexually abused by her respite carer (NO-F88)[15] despite a social worker raising concerns about NO-F88’s behaviour with children’s social care in 1977, and recommending that no further children be placed with him.

David White acknowledged an “increasing need to accept that the sexual abuse of children is a significant problem and that assessment practices and subsequent proceedings will need to be continuously improved.[16] In August 1989, Chard was convicted and sentenced to three years’  imprisonment.[17]

32. Following this investigation and the cases which led to it, children’s social care circulated a memorandum to senior managers in March 1989. Managers were asked to ensure that “there is no doubt in the minds of your senior officers” that child abuse procedures applied to all children in care, with “no exception”.[18] Detailed investigation guidelines relating to abuse in foster care were also prepared.[19] These specified that carers’ registration was to be reviewed after any investigation and, following a case conference, a senior manager would decide whether a placement could continue, whether other children were at risk, or any other necessary action.[20] Training was to be provided to foster carers on how their behaviour might be interpreted by a child, as well as on dealing sensitively with abused children placed with them.[21]

33. Rod Jones also reminded all foster carers of the risks and responsibilities involved in foster care:

“Any person with reason to believe that a child has been abused should bring this to the attention of the Area social worker … In the few occasions when this happens within foster care, the child still gets first consideration … ”[22]

1990–1999

34. Approximately six months after Chard’s conviction, in February 1990, another foster carer, NO-F141, was charged with sexual offences against three foster children. Over 25 years he had fostered 400 children, including a large number of teenage girls who had previously been sexually abused. NO-F141 admitted offences against one child, but denied the others, calling the girls “liars”. The 10 children then placed with NO-F141 were moved.

35. A number of investigations of abuse in adoption or foster families prompted children’s social care[23] to prepare an internal monitoring report (the Davis report).[24] It was widely circulated, including to David White, the Chair of the Social Services Committee (Joan Taylor) and one other councillor.[25] Rod Jones described the extent of abuse in foster care set out in the Davis report as “considerable”.[26] It recorded 10 allegations of sexual abuse between April 1989 and March 1990.[27] Some led to prosecution or deregistration, but in others there was no formal action or the outcome was unknown. While the report noted positive steps taken by children’s social care over the previous 18 months (including a revised policy and procedure guide, training strategies and a monitoring process),[28] it highlighted concerns about what had happened in practice. This included staff dismissing allegations by prejudging the complainant or inappropriately taking the side of the accused foster carer. Recommendations included introducing an improved code of practice on investigation of allegations, increased training of foster carers, and a requirement to have an ongoing and monitored central record of allegations of carer abuse.[29] We have seen no evidence that these recommendations were implemented, other than a brief section on foster care included in the 1992 ACPC Child Protection Procedures.[30]

36. When asked about his views on the level of abuse in foster care at this time, David White (the County’s Director of Social Services from 1989 to 1994) explained that he had had no direct involvement in the day-to-day running of the fostering service.[31] Abuse in foster care was not an area he had focused on because it had not been brought to his attention as frequently as other matters.[32]

37. Rod Jones thought there was a misplaced belief that foster carers were “exceptional carers”; consequently abuse was more likely to remain undetected. Barriers such as shame and threats from perpetrators prevented foster children from disclosing abuse.[33]

38. Similar issues to those identified in the Davis report were raised by the case of Norman Campbell, a residential care worker who was approved as a foster carer in 1987.

38.1. At the time of his approval as a foster carer, concerns were raised by two children’s social care staff about Campbell’s close relationship with NO-A197, a child who he was seeking to foster. These concerns were known by those considering his application. Campbell dismissed the concerns as “racist”. A meeting was held, at which the staff members who had raised the concerns were left feeling “belittled” and “chastised” by the response of children’s social care managers Tony Dewhurst and Paul Bohan.[34] In May 1988, another child (NO-A198) alleged that he had been sexually abused by Campbell. There were no applicable child protection procedures at that time as NO-A198 was regarded as a “child outside the home”.[35]

38.2. Following a police investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service did not prosecute and disciplinary proceedings found NO-A198’s allegations “not proven[36] but both the County’s Child Protection Officer and the police believed NO-A198’s account. Campbell returned to residential social work as deputy officer in charge of a children’s home. The fostering panel relied on a previous positive assessment in deciding that Campbell should be allowed to continue to foster.

38.3. Further children alleged sexual abuse by Campbell in 1990 and in the following year he was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for sexual abuse of three children, including NO-A197.[37] Tony Dewhurst now accepts that he and others had not been “sharp enough” to realise what was happening.[38]

39. David White notified the Social Service Inspectorate (SSI) in 1991 about the Campbell case, drawing attention to the steps that had been taken since and to the fact that guidance on sexual abuse by non-family members was now included in the ACPC procedures.[39] The SSI suggested an enquiry be carried out by an external “consultant”.[40] An internal review was instead undertaken and in July 1992 made numerous recommendations, including that any allegation involving a foster carer should prompt a formal review of both the carer and the placement (noting that this had already become children’s social care policy in the County) as well as more rigorous assessment and approval of foster carers. Echoing the Davis report in 1991, the review recommended a central monitoring system of allegations against foster carers (and children’s social care employees).[41]

40. As at September 1994,[42] the ACPC Child Protection Procedures referred to a “monitoring process for alleged carer abuse”.[43] The system was to be operated by a specific member of staff with details of allegations of abuse against foster carers and the outcome centrally recorded. An annual report was to be supplied to a senior manager detailing “numbers, outcomes and trends in carer abuse”. Despite this, other than the Davis report in 1991 and one monitoring sheet from 1992,[44] we have no evidence of central monitoring of allegations until 2004.[45] Had the model of the Davis report in 1991 been followed, this would likely have increased the understanding of the scale of sexual abuse in foster care, the steps needed to address it and improved the institutional response. Even this would not have been sufficient. There should have been monthly reports on numbers and outcomes to senior managers, councillors and the ACPC, and a system allowing for proper scrutiny of that information.

41. Following the Campbell case, there is evidence that children’s social care was aware of 11 further instances of allegations of sexual abuse in foster care in the County over the next six years.[46] In many of these cases, action was taken by the County in response (such as moving the child or deregistering the foster carer). In one case, however, a foster carer was allowed to return to his employment working with children without further assessment after an investigation could not substantiate the allegations.[47] Only two of the 11 cases led to convictions of foster carers,[48] although children’s social care or the police had serious concerns or thought abuse had occurred in several others.[49] In one case, in which Douglas Vardy was convicted of sexually abusing three foster children, it was identified that one victim, NO-A256, had been removed from her family because of abuse and then been sexually abused in each of her three foster placements.[50]

2000–2009

42. The allegations received during this period primarily concerned non-recent sexual abuse. Under procedures at the time, allegations of non-recent abuse were to be responded to in the same way as contemporary allegations, including prompt referral to social services, discussion with the police if appropriate and a strategy meeting to plan the way forward.[51]

43. Between 2002 and 2006, there were at least seven cases in which allegations of sexual abuse of children by their foster carer were reported to police and investigated but did not lead to conviction.[52] Crown Prosecution Service guidance at the time, which has since been revised, required prosecutors to consider the relevance of previous sexual history[53] or the possible motive for making allegations.[54] In one case where a foster carer was acquitted, one of the complainants had disputed the accuracy of entries in records about him being happy with the alleged perpetrator and this was considered to fatally undermine his credibility.[55]

44. In 2002, NO-F114 and NO-F115 were arrested following allegations relating to sexual abuse in the late 1970s. Two complainants had disclosed the abuse in 1983, but no further action had been taken despite children’s social care at the time believing the allegations. It was noted in 1983:

“Presumably therefore, what [NO-A91] says [NO-F114] did with her is true. It was agreed that neither girl should know about today’s discussion, and that there would be no point in pursuing it further.”[56]

A strategy meeting in 2002 concluded that there was no attempted “cover up” by children’s social care employees who had known of the disclosures at the time. No action was taken against them. The response in 1983 had allowed NO-F114 to continue fostering, exposing children to further risk. Following an initial decision to prosecute in 2002, the case was ultimately discontinued due to “insufficient evidence”.[57] The reasons are unclear.

45. In 2004, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge NO-F191 with sexually abusing her former foster child, NO-A394. The allegations were considered to be “substantially undermined” as NO-A394:

  • had made previous allegations which were referred to children’s social care but did not repeat the allegations when interviewed by the police;[58]
  • admitted sexually abusing other children in the placement;[59] and
  • would likely be accused of making the allegation to seek revenge on NO-F191 for ending contact with him.[60]

Although these features were not uncommon, Sue Matthews (a Senior Crown Prosecutor) said that they would still cause her concern today if she were advising on the case.[61] NO-F191 resigned from fostering following the allegations but children’s social care continued with their own investigations. NO-F191 was deregistered in 2005 following a unanimous recommendation from the fostering panel.[62]

46. In 2003 and 2005, the Crown Prosecution Service concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Raymond Smith for alleged sexual abuse of two fostered children (aged 10 and 13), due to undermining evidence in social services records and from other witnesses.[63] Smith had privately fostered over 100 children during the 1980s before becoming a local authority approved foster carer in the 1990s.[64] He was deregistered as a foster carer by the City in 2004,[65] but no documents are available regarding the response to these allegations. It does not appear that any wider enquiries were carried out by the City at that time,[66] nor was the matter reported to the NCSC as required.[67]

47. In 2014, further allegations of non-recent abuse were made against Raymond Smith. In response, Smith “minimised the allegations” by saying that one complainant “had been 15 years old at the time and that he was a man and enjoyed it”.[68] It also emerged that in 1981, Smith had been found in bed with a 15-year-old boy by his ex-wife.[69] Strategy meetings recorded that “During their tenure as foster carers, allegations were made against Ray Smith by a number of young people of a sexual nature” and “it is uncertain why Mr and Mrs Smith were approved as long-term carers”.[70] This was a serious failure. Ultimately, in 2016, Smith pleaded guilty to indecent assault of a different child (who was not in care) and received a two-year suspended sentence.[71] We have not seen any evidence of the City, as required, notifying their Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) about the case,[72] nor of consideration given by the LSCB as to whether the case should be subject to a serious case review or internal practice review into how Smith had been approved as a foster carer and had remained approved for so long. An independent review should have been carried out.

48. In 2006, NO-A286 again disclosed (having retracted her initial allegations, made in 1988) that she had been abused in the late 1980s by her foster carer, Stephen Noy, who was no longer fostering. A series of strategy meetings concluded that the allegations remained unproven.[73] The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute due to concerns about NO-A286’s credibility, partly on the basis of her poor behaviour as recorded in her social care records.[74] In 2013 another complainant came forward alleging abuse by Noy, who was then charged in respect of both. Noy was convicted and sentenced to 17.5 years’ imprisonment in 2015.[75] Again, we have not seen any evidence that the County notified Ofsted or their LSCB of the case, nor of whether consideration was given to a serious case review or internal practice review by the County’s LSCB. Such a review should, at the very least, have been considered.

49. In 2006, following allegations against foster carer NO-F70 of harassment and child sexual abuse which were not pursued by the IFA responsible for the foster carers,[76] NO-F70 and his wife moved to the Isle of Wight[77] with D6, then aged 10 and in the care of the City (although he had been placed in Yorkshire). Once on the Isle of Wight, D6 was physically, psychologically and sexually abused by NO-F70. Visits by City social workers became sporadic and were regularly cancelled. D6 was eventually removed from the foster placement in 2009, after others made allegations of sexual abuse against NO-F70. There was no investigation by the City into whether D6 had been abused, nor strategy meetings held to consider whether any other children placed with the foster carers might have been abused. D6 disclosed the abuse to Nottinghamshire Police in 2017, who mistakenly thought the abuse had occurred in Yorkshire so passed the case on to that force and ceased contact with D6. Chief Superintendent Robert Griffin commented this was “not good enough”.[78] This is true of the response of both the City and the police.

2010–2018

50. This period is marked by two significant cases in the County – Patrick Gallagher and NO-F77 – each involving sexual abuse of foster children by their foster carers. Both cases led to reviews of practice. Over the same period, there were also a number of other allegations of sexual abuse against foster carers which show problems with the Councils’ institutional responses.

51. Patrick Gallagher and his wife were respite foster carers for the County from the late 1980s.

51.1. In 2006, a child who had been placed with them disclosed to his permanent foster carer that Gallagher made him watch pornography. There was no prosecution but, following a children’s social care investigation, the Gallaghers wrote to children’s social care to say they wanted to resign from fostering. Children’s social care refused to accept the resignation and instead decided to formally deregister the Gallaghers in the same year, following the fostering panel’s recommendation.[79]

51.2. Further allegations emerged in November 2010 following Mrs Gallagher’s death. Patrick Gallagher quickly admitted offences in the face of overwhelming evidence, including video tapes.

51.3. In May 2011, Patrick Gallagher pleaded guilty to 55 sexual offences, including rape, committed against 16 boys between 1998 and 2010.[80] Gallagher received 13 life sentences and was to serve at least 28 years. He abused young boys on an “unprecedented scale” and did “incalculable” damage.[81] None of the abuse was detected over this 12-year period.

51.4. A serious case review was commissioned, written by Peter Maddocks,[82] and published in December 2011.[83] It focused on the seven children who had been in the County’s care when abused by Gallagher, aged between eight and 14 at the time of the abuse. In addition to identifying significant barriers to disclosure faced by the children, key findings included:

  • The initial assessment of the Gallaghers as foster carers was more rigorous than required by the standards of the time, although there would be greater scrutiny now.[84]
  • The Gallaghers were consistently reluctant to undergo training.[85] This would not be accepted now and should not have been accepted at the time, at least not after the introduction of national minimum standards in 2002.[86]
  • In 2006, the police were insufficiently involved and children’s social care proceeded without focusing on the allegations from a child protection perspective, but these failures made no difference to the outcome.[87]
  • In hindsight, there had been a failure to recognise and respond to the potential significance of behaviour exhibited by some children and of Gallagher’s behaviour. Both highlighted the importance of training and the need for specialist social workers and police officers to be involved in discussions about the significance of behaviour displayed by children and adults.[88]
  • Social workers often did not see the children in placement at the Gallaghers.[89] Much of the social work case-recording had focused on the physical environment rather than more complex information such as the child’s views, wishes and feelings.[90]

The serious case review recommended more therapeutic and support services for victims and survivors.[91] Phil Morgan, the County’s Fostering Team Manager for the Mansfield District at the time, thought that children’s social care “got off the hook” with the serious case review. He thought that children’s social care should have acknowledged their failures in safeguarding, fostering and not identifying the abuse at any time over 12 years.[92] We agree.

51.5. Additional complainants came forward after Gallagher’s conviction; he received a police caution as the Crown Prosecution Service decided it was not in the public interest to pursue another prosecution given that he was never going to be released.[93] Chief Superintendent Griffin thought Gallagher should have been charged with those additional offences as it would have made a positive difference for the complainants.[94]

52. NO-F77 and his wife NO-F76 were foster carers from 1988 until 2012, fostering over 30 children in that time.[95]

52.1. In 1995 and 1998 reports of sexual abuse and sexualised behaviour were made to NO-F76 about NO-F77 regarding two children in their care (NO-A203 and NO-A200). NO-F76 passed the allegations to their supervising social worker Mrs Chris Middleton, who failed to take any action in response.[96]

52.2. In 2000, NO-A200 reported to a care worker that he had been sexually abused by NO-F77. This led to a multi-agency investigation. Phil Morgan urged colleagues to keep an “open mind” about whether NO-A200 may have fabricated the allegation, and that four incidents involving NO-F77 and NO-F76 over a long period as foster carers was “not bad going”.[97] Although he told us that he regretted this almost immediately,[98] these phrases, taken together, amounted to inappropriate language for a professional to use in a formal meeting about sexual abuse and indicated a presumption against the child’s truthfulness. Such comments are likely to have prejudiced a proper consideration of NO-A200’s allegation from the outset.[99]

52.3. NO-A200 did not retract his allegation, despite being given the opportunity to “change or retract his story”,[100] but the police took no further action due to concerns about NO-A200’s credibility.

52.4. The strategy meetings concluded that “the allegations cannot be substantiated nor can they be dismissed”.[101] The “differing professional views” as to whether the abuse was likely to have taken place should have been resolved.

52.5. Mrs Middleton felt it would be unfair for NO-F77 and NO-F76 to have to stop fostering,[102] but failed to raise at the strategy meeting that allegations had been made against NO-F77 in 1995 and 1998. She and Mr Morgan concluded they had “no doubt” that NO-F77 did not abuse NO-A200 and in a report for the fostering panel “strongly” recommended they were reapproved as foster carers.[103] Although Kathy Swift, chair of the strategy meetings, expressed “reservations” about NO-F77 and NO-F76 continuing as foster carers in a letter to the fostering panel,[104] the views of Mrs Middleton and Mr Morgan were given precedence over a thorough investigation.[105]

52.6. The fostering panel was convened, with Mr Morgan as a voting member even though this was a conflict of interest given his previous involvement.[106] Mrs Middleton presented the case in favour of NO-F77 and NO-F76’s continued registration, and no one presented the opposing view.[107] The panel agreed unanimously that NO-F77 and NO-F76 should be reapproved. No consideration was given to reassessment of NO-F77’s continued suitability to foster,[108] although the couple were to receive training on “sexual safety”.[109]

52.7. In 2012, NO-F77 was witnessed exposing himself to a five-year-old foster child and another fostered child then disclosed that she had been sexually abused by him. By this time, NO-F77 and NO-F76 had fostered over 30 children. NO-F77 was suspended from fostering by the County and multi-agency strategy and planning meetings were held.[110]

52.8. An internal practice review was carried out in October 2012 and was critical of the County’s response.[111]

  • The supervision of NO-F77 and NO-F76 was undertaken by the same social worker (Mrs Middleton) from 1988 until 2010:

“The relationship … was much too focused on support to the carers and when allegations were made the response was to defend the carers … there was intolerance to receiving information that contradicted accepted and long established beliefs about the competence and capacity of the carers”.[112]

  • Safeguarding procedures should have been invoked on a number of occasions, but the supervision of NO-F77 and NO-F76 by children’s social care was poor.[113]
  • There was a general assumption that once a carer was approved, they would be trusted. This approach presented a “risk of abuse to children”.[114]
  • There was a need for children in care to have access to systems for raising concerns and complaints.

“The strongest measure for safeguarding children is to ensure that every looked after child understands how to raise concerns, is given access and support to talk to people and can have confidence that their concerns will be treated seriously irrespective of their history and background.”[115]

  • Much of the file records concentrated on the difficulties children were presenting to the carers, rather than any challenge to the foster carers or focus on what they were doing.[116]
  • The fostering panel’s decision in 2000 was “flawed and unwise”. The panel were provided with imbalanced information, influenced by the “defensive alliance” supporting NO-F77 and NO-F76.[117]

The report made six recommendations,[118] including to ensure independent oversight of the management of complaints and concerns, and to bring forward proposals for rotating supervision of foster carers. The County considered the feasibility of the latter recommendation in October 2012 and concluded that instead of automatic rotation of supervising social workers, there should be routine consideration of a supervising social worker’s involvement with foster carers.[119]

52.9. The findings of the internal practice review were regarded as “extremely concerning” by senior managers in children’s social care.[120] We would have expected Phil Morgan’s conduct to have been subject to a disciplinary investigation, as should that of Mrs Middleton had she still been employed.

53. The case of NO-F77 illustrated a culture within certain fostering teams that the interests of foster carers outweighed those of the children placed in their care. In NO-F77’s case, it meant that he was allowed to go on to abuse other fostered children.

54. These examples highlighted significant failures in practice. Although it ultimately led to the two foster carers being deregistered and convicted, no action was taken against the supervising children’s social care staff. In response to the Gallagher and NO-F77 cases, in 2012 the County sought to evaluate its approach to its foster care practice by commissioning an external independent audit of 19 cases of allegations against foster carers, of which six cases caused “some concern”.[121] The audit concluded there was a lack of robust management within the fostering service. It also identified cases in which procedures were not followed, recording was inadequate and there were unexplained delays in responding to allegations.

55. Subsequent audits were then carried out into randomly selected foster carer files in January 2013. The audits recorded good adherence to most policies, procedures and national minimum standards, but noted there were some problems with supervision visits and a lack of unannounced visits.[122] Jayne Austin (Fostering Service Manager) responded to the audit reports’ criticisms in a report in May 2013, pointing out what she considered as good practice that was ongoing.[123]

56. In June 2013, NO-F77 and NO-F76 were deregistered following the unanimous recommendation of the fostering panel.[124] The panel noted that had full information been provided in 2000 (for example the allegations in 1995 and 1998) the outcome would have been different at that time. In January 2014, NO-F77 was sentenced to eight months’ imprisonment.[125]

57. In 2016, further allegations against NO-F77 were made, this time by NO-A302.[126] The Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute,[127] but strategy meetings found the allegations substantiated. There was a delay in informing NO-A302 of this due to concern about conflict between the County’s safeguarding process and perceived risks of civil claims.[128]

58. In 2011 and 2012, there were two cases in which the County’s fostering service and fostering panel considered there to be too much risk for them to allow the foster carers to continue fostering. This was different from the approach of the Independent Review Mechanism (IRM) panel, which focused more on the consequences of any decision for the foster carer and whether the allegations could be substantiated.[129]

58.1. In August 2010, allegations of sexual abuse in foster care were made against NO-F165. The police and children’s social care agreed that the allegations were credible, but in December 2010 the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to prosecute. In June 2011, NO-F165 was deregistered following the unanimous recommendation of the fostering panel.[130] In response to NO-F165’s appeal against deregistration, in October 2011, the IRM panel recommended that his approval to foster should continue, having found that the County had disregarded the views of an experienced social worker who knew the carers well and that there were “serious flaws in the child protection investigation”. It concluded that the reason for refusal appeared to have been based on children’s social care’s best interests, rather than their “duty of care” to NO-F165. The IRM panel did not refer to risk, which should have been the primary concern when considering safeguarding.[131] In light of the IRM’s recommendation, the County’s ‘Agency Decision Maker’[132] decided that NO-F165 and his wife were suitable to continue as foster carers, although training and careful supervision were required.[133]

58.2. Following harmful sexual behaviour between two children in different foster families in 2012, the foster carers of the child exhibiting harmful sexual behaviour were deregistered due to their failure to properly assess the risk posed by the child exhibiting harmful sexual behaviour. In 2013, the IRM panel again recommended that the decision be reversed, and that the foster carers be allowed to continue fostering.[134] This recommendation was rejected; the deregistration was upheld on the grounds of flawed management of risk, lack of trust and “serious failure to safeguard both your own looked after child and another looked after child in spite of knowing the risks posed, resulting in serious harm”.[135]

59. Following these cases, there were a number of other allegations of sexual abuse in foster care. The responses showed failures in joint working, including inconsistent approaches to decision-making, cases not being passed by the police to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision, cases not always being referred to the fostering panel, and apparent failures to notify Ofsted or councillors.

59.1. In 2012, NO-A161 disclosed that she was sexually abused by her foster carer, NO-F35. The police considered there was insufficient evidence to pass the case to the Crown Prosecution Service and the multi-agency strategy meetings concluded that the allegation was “unfounded”. NO-F35 was able to continue fostering without the required referral to the fostering panel to assess his continued suitability.[136] Further allegations against NO-F35 were made by NO-A160 in 2014. By this time there were around 10 allegations of sexual abuse against him (including those by NO-A159 in 2007[137]). The police considered the allegations to be unsubstantiated and decided to take no further action without referral to the Crown Prosecution Service. Despite this, the City took a thorough approach to evaluating the risk posed by NO-F35, and commissioned the NSPCC to carry out an independent investigation and risk assessment. This concluded in March 2015 that NO-F35 posed an unacceptable level of sexual risk and should not be allowed to care for vulnerable children.[138] In August 2015, further allegations of sexual abuse against NO-F35 were made by NO-A159 and NO-A163. These allegations were regarded as credible and the Crown Prosecution Service decided to charge NO-F35.[139] In May 2016, the fostering panel unanimously recommended termination of NO-F35’s registration as a foster carer.[140] In 2017, he was acquitted of all charges.

59.2. In May 2015, a child in foster care (NO-A779) with the City disclosed to her teacher that she had been in a sexually abusive relationship with a 27-year-old male when she was aged 15.[141] Her foster mother was aware of the sexually abusive relationship but decided not to report it as she had wanted to deal it with ‘like a “normal” family’. It was decided that the foster carer was suitable to continue as a foster carer, and that it was in NO-A779 and her sister’s best interests to continue in the placement given the need for stability. The matter was never referred, as recommended in the foster carer review, to the fostering panel to consider the carer’s continued approval.[142] This was questioned by the fostering panel following the foster carer’s resignation in January 2017.[143]

59.3. In December 2016, NO-A104 alleged to children’s social care that he had been sexually abused by his former foster mother, NO-F80, in the 1980s.[144] The Crown Prosecution Service received legal advice from external counsel that NO-F80 was unlikely to be convicted, despite the complaint being credible, because NO-A104 had previous convictions, a troubled background, mental health issues and had made a number of allegations. Sue Matthews, the Crown Prosecutor, decided not to charge NO-F80.[145] The County’s subsequent decision that the allegations were unsubstantiated had not, it was said, been influenced by the Crown Prosecution Service decision.[146]

59.4. In September 2017, allegations of sexual abuse were made by a child placed in 2015 against his previous foster carers, NO-F423 and NO-F424.[147] There was an initial failure to hold an emergency strategy meeting and, although contact was made with the police and the complainant was interviewed, children’s social care told the foster carers about the allegations two days before the police saw them. Following a meeting of the fostering panel in May 2018, NO-F423 and NO-F424 were deregistered as foster carers. In February 2019, the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to charge the alleged perpetrators. We have no evidence as to whether the case has been considered for a child safeguarding practice review or if a notifiable incident form was sent to Ofsted. Councillor David Mellen was not formally notified but was told by Alison Michalska during a meeting which was not minuted.[148]

59.5. In December 2017, NO-A626 alleged that he had been sexually abused by his foster carer, NO-F292. The allegations were considered to be unsubstantiated following a multi-agency strategy discussion and a joint police and children’s social care investigation. Notwithstanding this conclusion, in February 2018, the County followed the serious incident notification process by notifying Ofsted, and the fostering panel was to review NO-F292’s approval as a foster carer.[149]

60. The extent of sexual abuse in foster care in the 1970s and 1980s was compounded by poor decison-making in those cases where disclosure had been made. Some known perpetrators were permitted to remain as foster carers and then went on to abuse again. Despite the County’s assessment of the prevalence of sexual abuse for children in foster care in the early 1990s, David White, the Director of Social Services, failed to take any effective action.

References

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