Safer Caring Guidelines for Foster Carers


National Minimum Standards for Fostering 2011 - Standard 4

Fostering Services Regulations 2011 - Regulation 12


This chapter was reviewed in December 2020 and updated where required.

1. Policy Statement

Knowsley Fostering Service is committed to providing information and support to Foster Carers so that they can create and maintain an environment that safeguards children and young people.

Standard 4.6 of the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services requires that foster carers are trained in appropriate safer-care practice. These guidelines must be cleared with each child's social worker and be explained clearly and appropriately to the child.

Sometimes allegations of abuse are made against foster carers and, while many such allegations are unfounded, it is a sad fact that some children are abused in foster care. The local authority has a duty to investigate any such allegations, and this would be carried out in accordance with the Allegations Against Foster Carers Procedure.

The experience of having an allegation made is an extremely distressing experience for anyone, and carers are advised to minimise the risk by following a Safer Caring Guidelines for Foster Carers.

2. Policy Information

This policy applies to all foster carers including support carers.

Where children do make unfounded allegations, it is often for one of two reasons:

  • That the child wants to leave to placement for whatever reason, and has realised that making an allegation is a very effective way of achieving this, or that the child wants to hurt the carer, for whatever reason;

  • That the child has previously been abused, and something in the carer's home life has led the child to believe that that abuse is going to be repeated in the foster home, or has actually caused a 'flashback' to the original abuse - something which is an extraordinarily vivid reliving of that experience. The trigger for this can be anything associated with the original abuse, and so can be something very ordinary.

All carers need to follow the Safer Caring Guidelines, both to minimise the risk of an unfounded allegation, and, more importantly, to ensure that the child feels safe with the carer.

This subject is covered as part of the Safer Care and Sexual Health, which is a mandatory component of the preparation training for foster carers. Shared carers and any carers who wish to refresh their memory of the issues are welcome to attend this course at any stage in their fostering career.

Further guidance is available to all carers through the Fostering Network publication "Safer Caring" which is provided to all foster care households on approval at Knowsley Fostering Panel.

Safer caring will be completed for the child(children) in placement, when behaviours or environments change and or on an annual basis.

3. Procedure Details

3.1 Physical Abuse

All carers must make themselves aware of the prohibition on physical punishment in respect of children in foster care, contained in the behaviour Management Policy for Foster Carers. Any allegation of physical punishment by a foster carer will be investigated under Child Protection Procedures, and under Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (see also: Independent Reviewing Officers (IRO) and Child Protection Chairs (CP) Practice Standards - Monitoring of the Child’s Case).

Carers who have children of their own living at home must consider the implications of this for the discipline of their own children. It will be seen as unfair by carer's birth children if they are smacked, and foster children are not. In addition, if a foster child witnesses the carer smack their own child, the fostered child is likely to believe that it is only a matter of time before they are smacked themselves, and this could lead to an unfounded allegation for the reasons given above.

Therefore, we require that foster carers do not discipline any child in their care by any form of physical punishment.

Carers must also ensure that no child hits or bullies another child in their household. For help with tackling this, please discuss with your supervising social worker.

3.2 Sexual Abuse

Many practices which are extremely common in ordinary families across the world, cannot be acceptable within a foster family who are practicing Safe Care. The handouts given to you on the Safe Caring Training will help you to identify your own family practices, and any changes that need to be made.

Each family must develop their own written Safer Caring Rules, which will need to be revised frequently over time, as their family grows up, and must be reviewed with each new placement and at intervals as knowledge of the child grows. These revisions might result in the relaxation of some parts of the policy, as the confidence and trust of the child grows, or may result in the introduction of new safeguards as knowledge of the child's previous experience develops. Safer Caring rules must always be agreed with the fostering social worker and the child's social worker.

It is extremely important that carers know the circumstances in which any abuse of the child has taken place, to ensure that the carer does not inadvertently recreate that circumstance within the foster home, e.g. if a child has been abused in a 'party', or after a game of cards.

Typical Safer Caring rules will include:

  • Each member of the household will wear dressing gowns overnight clothes when not in their own bedrooms;
  • Each member of the household will knock and wait for an answer before entering another person's bedroom;
  • Children in the household do not play in bedrooms together, or do not do so unless the door is open and a carer frequently looks in to ensure all is well;
  • Adults and children do not bath together, and discussion takes place with the child's social worker before young children are bathed together;
  • Jokes and innuendoes of a sexual or racial nature not permitted in the household, nor photographs or videos of nudity or sexual activity;
  • Great caution should be exercised in respect of tickling. In this activity the child is (albeit pleasantly) helpless in the hands of an adult. For any child who has been physically or sexually abused, this can arouse vivid memories and strong emotions. Carers should discuss the issue with the child's social worker and their fostering social worker before any tickling takes place;
  • No 'Play fighting' should take place in foster homes. Again, this produces a situation in which the adult, or older child, exerts power over the other. Strong memories of abuse may well be awakened which neither child nor carer is able to handle. In addition, fostered children often have a great deal of anger inside which may well up in these situations, and the 'play' may get out of everyone's control;
  • If personal care is required support and training should be offered/provided and the nature of the care and how this is expected should be explicit for all to understand.

Establish a positive ethos that is respectful of feelings and choices:

  • Wherever possible, offering the child a choice, if a situation arises in which they may be alone with one carer, e.g. 'Do you want to come to the supermarket with Sue or would you rather stay at home with Mick?'. This enables the child to keep themselves safe if they are anxious for any reason;
  • Support all children, fostered and birth, in expressing their wishes and feelings;
  • Do not be discouraged from physical contact with children such as hugs and cuddles
  • These are important! However you should ensure that these are always appropriate to the adult/child relationship, and gently correct any inappropriate contact from the child by saying something like 'We don't hug/kiss like that in our family' and giving the child an appropriate contact. This needs to be child - led.
Remember to Record
  • Record any unusual reaction of the child or any incident which could be open to misinterpretation, and share with your fostering social worker and the child's social worker.

3.3 Intimate Care

Foster carers and Support Carers should follow these guidelines (Support Carers are particularly likely to find themselves providing intimate care to children beyond the usual age for independence in these matters, so these guidelines are especially important).

A risk assessment should be undertaken in all cases where intimate care is required.

This should be done with the fostering social worker. In the case of shared care with the child's parent and case manager.

  • Treat every child with dignity and respect and ensure privacy appropriate to the child's age and situation.
    Privacy is an important issue. Most intimate care tasks, such as bathing a child or changing a nappy, are carried out by a carer alone with the child or young person. This is entirely appropriate and is encouraged;
  • Involve the child as far as possible in their own intimate care.
    Try to avoid doing things for a child that she/he can do alone, and if the child is able to help, encourage them to do so. Support the child in doing all they can for themselves. If a child is fully dependent on you, talk to them about what you are doing and give them choices whenever possible;
  • Be responsive to the child's reactions and make sure that intimate care is as consistent as possible.
    You will have the opportunity to talk to parents or previous carers and learn from them how they undertake intimate care tasks. Whenever possible you should also check things out with the child, e.g.:
    • Is it OK to do it this way?
    • Can you wash there?
    • How does mummy do this?
    • Do you usually use a flannel to wash there?
    • Does that feel comfortable?
  • Don't allow yourself to be rushed into taking on intimate tasks.
    If you feel unsure about how to do something, ask the child's parents or previous carers to tell you how they did it. If you are still unclear, talk to your social worker, who will look into ways of getting training and support you in delaying taking on responsibility for these tasks until you feel confident about doing so;
  • If, during the intimate care of a child:
    • You accidentally hurt them; or
    • The child seems unusually sore or tender in the genital area; or
    • The child appears to be sexually aroused by your actions; or
    • The child misunderstands or misinterprets something; or
    • The child has a very emotional reaction without apparent cause.

    IMPORTANT: let your social worker know about the incident immediately and make a detailed recording of it. Some of these might be a cause for concern about the child, or a parent might misconstrue something you have done.
  • Encourage the child to have a positive image of their own body
    Confident, assertive children who feel that their bodies belong to them are less vulnerable to sexual abuse. As well as basics like privacy, the approach you take to the child's intimate care can convey lots of messages to them about what their body is "worth". Your attitude to the child's intimate care is very important. Keeping in mind the child's age, routine care should be enjoyable, relaxed and fun. Playing games with the child and cuddling as part of the care are all important, but the child also has the right to say no.

3.4 Puberty and the Facts of Life

Generally children and young people in foster care will receive sex education from their school and family. Sometimes, however, foster carers may need to deal with the matter or may be asked by the child/young person's parents to help. Foster carers are also permitted to respond to the child's questions and requests for assistance. It may be helpful to bear the following points in mind.

In addition to the biological facts, sex education, even when explaining things to a child at an early age, should consider issues of:

  • Morals;
  • Culture;
  • Caring relationships;
  • Sexuality;
  • Genuine affection;
  • Respect and Love;
  • Ethics;
  • The law;
  • Responsibility towards themselves and others.

Different cultures and families will have their own set of standards and rules about sex. For some, sex and the workings of the body are very private and discussion is taboo. Sometimes children who have been told that it is wrong to touch, or to talk about sex become confused. Other cultures and families prefer a more open approach, seeing sex as a part of everyday life. However, when openness becomes permissiveness, problems occur.

  • Some children may need extra help to understand about the meaning of relationships;
  • Children who have been sexually abused will need particular help to understand and accept any form of sex education. In fact, a child might disclose that she/he has been sexually abused during such a discussion. Carers should always ask for professional help if this occurs and make detailed reports to provide to their social worker;
  • Different words may have different meanings to different families. It will help if carers can find out what the child knows and what words his/her previous carers used;
  • Children need to know about life cycles, reproduction and puberty, and to understand about the changes that take place to their bodies. They also need to know about the gradual lead up to these changes. The Family Planning Association has very good leaflets available which also answer many of the questions a child may ask;
  • If the child does ask questions, foster carers need to be prepared and to be honest, truthful and frank in their answers. The carer may have to tell the child several times about the facts of life etc. as the child may forget or may not fully understand the first time;
  • The foster carer should always advise, and when possible invite, the parents to any discussion/explanation about sex with the child. It will help the parents recognise the child's needs;
  • Finding the right opportunity to talk to the child is very important. If a child starts making sexual innuendoes or masturbating, then this could lead foster carers into a discussion about sex;
  • If a child starts asking questions relating to sex or reproduction, this is obviously a natural time to begin. Privacy and confidentiality are essential. Using the right word is also important. Some children get very embarrassed if explicit words or pictures are used;
  • A child may be very naive or very knowledgeable. Whatever the case, the carer needs to be well prepared beforehand. They should also be willing to say "I don't know, but I can find out" if necessary;
  • Further training on this subject is recommended for all carers;
  • The supervising social worker has access to a dedicated Children Looked After nurse and will consult where required to enable carers have all of the possible information and advise.