Countering Bullying within Foster Care Placements
This chapter was added to the manual in September 2017.
"Bullying can be defined as deliberately hurtful behaviour, usually repeated over a period of time, where it is difficult for those bullied to defend themselves. It can take many forms, but the three main types are:
- Physical (e.g. hitting, kicking, theft);
- Verbal (e.g. racist or homophobic remarks, threats, name-calling);
- Emotional (e.g. isolating and individual from the activities and social acceptance of their peer group).
Standard 3.6 of the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services (2011) states: "Foster carers have positive strategies for effectively supporting children where they encounter discrimination or bullying wherever this occurs".
Children who are looked after are particularly vulnerable to bullying and as Corporate Parents, local authorities have a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children who are looked after. This policy reflects the paramount need to keep children safe whilst offering guidance for social workers and foster carers to protect a child who may be being bullied.
2. Policy Statement
As a Corporate Parent, the Local Authority aims to protect and safeguard all children in its care. Any allegations of incidents of bullying will be taken seriously.
All staff working in the Local Authority's Fostering service, and all foster carers, must be aware of the potential that exists for bullying to occur to children for whom they are responsible, or in their care.
Foster carers receive training to identify and deal with bullying of the children they care for and are expected to work with the child's social worker and their school where necessary to ensure that the child they are looking after is safe
Carers will be expected to provide an environment where bullying is positively discouraged and where an incidence of bullying has been alleged to actively safeguard the well being of the target. They should identify any situations that potentially increase the risk of bullying and take action to minimise risks.
In particular, Central Bedfordshire Children's Services will take allegations or concerns of bullying within any foster care placement, by the children of foster carers or other foster children or by the foster carers very seriously. Where allegations are made about a foster carer bullying a child, this will be dealt with as part of the 'LSCB Procedures for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people who are placed away from home with foster carers'.
For each allegation of bullying, carers and fostering social workers will need to exercise their judgement as to the most appropriate way of dealing with that situation. They will be expected to utilise their knowledge of individual children in assessing how best to approach an incident. Consultation between the child's social worker, foster carer and in some cases with the Team Manager will help in this decision. Consideration will be given to the appropriateness of instigation of a Child Protection Strategy Meeting or S47 enquiry.
All incidents of bullying must be recorded by foster carers identifying any known triggers, the details of the incident, and the outcome.
We will whenever possible ensure that children are given access to befrienders, advocates or independent visitors. Information should also be given about the Children's Rights Service, and confidential telephone help-lines such as ChildLine and how they can access any of these services. Children also have the right to involve the Police and to make an official complaint through the Central Bedfordshire Council's Comments, Compliments and Complaints procedures.
The Child's Social Worker must ensure there is a way that the child or young person can report bullying and that they are aware of how they can do this.
The child's social worker must regularly remind children that any form of bullying will not be tolerated.
Children have the right to Stay Safe.
The Local Authorities believe that every child in foster care has a right to enjoy a safe, secure and stimulating environment where they can be helped to reach their maximum potential.
Children have the right to live, play and to learn in environments with a non-bullying ethos.
4. Procedures Encouraging Children to Report Bullying
The Placement Planning Meeting/ LAC review/visits is an ideal time for the child's social worker to discuss the issue of bullying and ways that children can keep themselves safe. One of these ways is through reporting to a responsible adult they can trust such as the carer, a teacher or their social worker. However, if the child feels that they cannot approach any of these, they should be encouraged to identify people who they feel they can talk to and make a note of these on the Safe Care Plan.
Children should always be encouraged to report bullying, particularly if the focus of it is due to a disability, their race, religion or sexual orientation. Sometimes they may find it very difficult or embarrassing to report that they are being bullied about something over which they have no control. Additional care and support must be given to them particularly as it is about their identity. In some cases, particularly physical or emotional bullying, it may be necessary to offer counselling and support to the child to address identity issues.
5. Reporting Bullying
If the bullying is taking place in school the carers and child's social worker will work closely with the school and where appropriate liaise with the anti-bullying co-ordinator to identify the best way to address the situation. If it is felt that the school is not addressing the issues, this should be reported to the Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator within the School Improvement Team.
If the bullying takes place within the foster placement (e.g. another child who is in the same placement or a child of the foster carer), the carer should discuss this with the fostering social worker and with the child's social worker (or social workers where one looked after child is being bullied by another).
If the child reports bullying to the Foster Carer or to their Social Worker, they must be given the opportunity to explain what has happened and to explain any concerns they have.
For minor incidents it may be appropriate for the child's social worker to speak with the child and then identify who is the most appropriate person to speak to the perpetrator with a view to preventing re-occurrence. Within the placement, this may well be the foster carer.
Where the situation appears more serious consideration should be given to whether the child is suffering from or likely to suffer significant harm. In these cases the Local Safeguarding Children Board Safeguarding Procedures must be followed and if necessary a Strategy Meeting should be considered (see below).
For each incident of bullying an action plan must be implemented, which addresses the individual circumstances of the bullying, any additional support required for the target and any additional work for the perpetrator.
In cases of serious incidents the Child's Social Worker, the Fostering Social Worker and their Team Managers should decide if it is safe for the fostering placement to continue as it is and whether immediate changes are required to safeguard the welfare of the child and any other children who may be at risk.
Social workers must plan their intervention regarding bullying to meet the individual needs of the child; one-to-one sessions may address specific incidents, whilst group sessions or partnership with the Youth Offending Team or anti-bullying co-ordinator may highlight general behaviour which children may not perceive as bullying, but is distressing to the targeted child. Social workers and carers may also access training regarding bullying, strategies et cetera from the Anti-Bullying Co-ordinator.
6. Strategy Discussions
Following a serious allegation of bullying made to a social worker, the social worker must immediately bring it to the attention of their Team Manager who will decide whether a strategy discussion should be undertaken.
Where a child is being bullied and a notification is made that the child is or is likely to suffer significant harm a strategy discussion must always be held (preferably with the police where there may be imminent danger). An example therefore of the types of allegation that would warrant a strategy discussion may include:
- Allegations of bullying which are racially motivated;
- Allegations of bullying where the child fears for his or her immediate safety;
- Allegations, actual or threatened, of physical violence towards a child;
- Allegations which are accompanied by signs of emotional harm being suffered by the child, e.g. significant weight loss, loss of sleep, recurrent nightmares, self harm, withdrawn, talk of suicide, fear of going to the place where the bullying has taken place;
- Allegations of bullying by an adult such as the birth parent during contact or the foster carer.
The strategy discussion will determine whether a multi-agency Strategy meeting is needed and whether urgent action is needed to safeguard the child. The Strategy Meeting will agree what action is needed to address the bullying and to update the Care Plan and Keep Safe Plans to reflect any actions or interventions that may be required to keep the child safe.
In the event that a child is the subject of bullying by a parent during the course of contact and there is a plan to consider the child's return to that parent's care, consideration should also be given as to whether the threshold for a child protection conference has been met.
Where the allegation of bullying relates to the actions of a foster carer, this would be dealt with as part of the 'Procedures for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people who are living away from home (2008)'.
Consideration should be given as to whether the alleged bullying should be reported under 'Hate Crime' initiatives as appropriate.
Where a child has been bullied it is important that it is raised within the review to ensure that there are no further incidents and that there is a plan in place to prevent further occurrences.
8. Explaining the Outcomes
It is important to let the child know what the outcome of his/her statements about being bullied. This demonstrates that their concerns were taken seriously. It may be done by the foster carer a teacher or by the child's social worker or in some cases it may be necessary for someone independent to do this. However, this should be properly co-ordinated and it should be noted within the action plan who has the responsibility for sharing the outcomes with the child rather than everyone repeating this role.
9. How this Policy will be put into Practice
Children's Services will ensure that all staff and carers and looked after children are aware of the Countering Bullying Policy and that children are informed in a manner appropriate to their individual needs.
The Looked After Children pack and the Foster Carers Manual clearly give the message that bullying will not be tolerated.
Logged incidents of bullying of Looked After Children should be recorded by the appropriate child care social work team and reported to the appropriate Head of Service on a monthly basis. In turn the Head of Service will present a report to the Stay Safe sub-group of the appropriate Children's Trust.
10. Outcomes of this Policy
Children are protected from bullying, and are helped to stay safe.
Children are given a way to report bullying where they know that their concerns will be taken seriously and dealt with sensitively.
11. Legislation and Guidance
- National Minimum Standards for Fostering services (DHSC, 2011);
- Foster Carers Manual;
- ChildLine: www.childline.org.uk, 0800 11 11;
- Procedures for safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people who are placed away from home with foster carers (BCC, 2008).