In recent years foster carers have come under increased scrutiny as sexual abuse generally has risen up the criminal justice agenda. Allegations of abuse by foster carers are extremely serious.
It is clearly important that abusive foster carers are identified and prosecuted so that vulnerable children and the foster care profession are protected. That said, it appears to be that while “many foster carers may be the subject of allegations, only a tiny proportion of them are involved in confirmed cases of abuse or neglect.” (NSPCC).
Unfortunately, it appears that unsubstantiated allegations are not uncommon.
The reasons for allegations against foster carers can vary and the motives can be complex. Sometimes a child may make an allegation believing that this will help them go home. It may be that they are unhappy with their placement or another reason entirely. Unfortunately, children do not always understand the consequences for them and their foster carers when they make false allegations.
Allegations of sexual abuse in foster care obviously require serious attention. Having to deal with an allegation will be extremely emotional and worrying given the potentially very serious consequences if upheld. For these reasons, it is vital to obtain the best advice available from the beginning so that, if you are accused of foster care abuse, you will be able to successfully defend yourself.
What can you expect if investigated?
Under the Children Act 1989, local authorities have a duty to investigate where a child is considered to be at risk of harm and have to respond to allegations including those of sexual abuse.
Prosecutions for sexual abuse are usually undertaken under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. Specific offences apply for the sexual abuse of children under the age of 13, 16 and 18.
An investigation will normally involve both the local authority and the police. The purpose of the investigation is to explore the allegations made and then what to do about them. Interviews under caution will gather evidence and, based on the sufficiency of the evidence, a decision will be made as to whether a referral will be made to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS will then decide whether to prosecute. The decision will be based on whether the evidence provides a realistic prospect of conviction and whether a prosecution is in the public interest.
Marshalling a defence against prosecution
If the CPS does decide to prosecute, it will be important to have expert and experienced representation in this specialised area of the law. The law and often the facts too can be particularly complex. An important aspect in defending allegations is the use of Third-Party Disclosure. This involves obtaining relevant documents from a number of agencies including social services, education departments and medical services which can be critical to a successful defence.
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Just a note to thank you again for the calls, emails and chasing over the last 10-11 months. It’s been a tough year but my wife and I can start looking forward which is a huge relief - S Craig