Allegations of Sexual Abuse against Foster Carers
In recent years, historic abuse claims have dominated our front pages and newsfeeds. From the Savile inquiry to the recent focus on abuse in youth football, it is clear that this is one of the crucial criminal justice issues of our day.
Foster carers too have come under increasing scrutiny. Dealing with an allegation of sexual abuse as a foster carer is extremely serious and causes great emotional upheaval. This is why it is vital to obtain high-quality legal advice from the outset, ensuring that if you are accused of foster care abuse, you are able to successfully defend yourself.
How common are allegations against foster carers?
The NSPCC has undertaken substantial research in this area. The research found that there are approximately 450–550 confirmed cases of abuse or neglect in foster care across the UK each year, which represents less than one substantiated allegation per 100 children in foster care across the UK each year.
The charity noted that over three-quarters of all allegations (77–78 per cent), were not substantiated.
The charity, therefore, concludes that:
“although many foster carers may be the subject of allegations, only a tiny proportion of them are involved in confirmed cases of abuse or neglect.”
Of course, allegations of abuse in foster care nevertheless require serious attention. There have been successful prosecutions in this area and it is vitally important that abusive foster carers are identified and prosecuted – to protect vulnerable children and the profession as a whole.
However, this evidence does also show that it is important to ensure that you have excellent legal defence to protect your interests if any unsubstantiated allegations are made.
This is not a new problem. In 2013, the Norfolk Foster Care Association wrote to the Government calling for foster carers to be entitled to a “fair trial” and asking the government to better monitor the way that local authorities deal with allegations. At the time the Association stated that “It is clearly important that this needs to be addressed if responsible people are to be encouraged into fostering, and to continue as foster carers.”
Unfortunately, unsubstantiated allegations still persist. This is why it is essential that if any allegations are made, you have access to the highest quality legal advice
What is involved in investigation and prosecution?
Under the Children Act 1989, section 47, local authorities have a duty to investigate circumstances where a child is considered at risk of significant harm. Investigations will involve the local authority and the police and will explore how best to deal with these allegations.
Interviews under caution may take place in order to gather evidence. Based on the evidence obtained the prosecution will decide whether to refer the allegation to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who will, in turn, decide whether to prosecute.
The relevant legislation in any prosecution is usually the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which regulates sexual offences against children. Foster carers accused of abuse should be aware that specific offences have been created for the abuse of children under the ages of 13, 16 and 18. Different rules apply in each situation.
For example, a child under 13 can never consent to sexual activity as they have no legal capacity. As for offences against children under 18, these offences relate to situations where it may seem that consent has been given but that consent is not relevant because of the nature of the relationship with the abuser. These provisions aim to protect young people aged 16-17 who are vulnerable to being exploited by those they trust.
Need for expert legal advice
It is concerning that there are so many allegations made against foster carers and it is important that you are equipped to respond properly to any unsubstantiated allegations. The reasons behind the number of unsubstantiated allegations made are complex and multi-faceted. Equally, the criminal justice system in this area appears incredibly complex.
What is simple to understand is the need for high-quality legal advice. We defend more suspects held in police custody than any other law firm in England and Wales.
All clients are innocent until proven guilty. We will do everything within the rules to ensure our clients’ best interests are served. We are strategic, forward-thinkers known for outstanding customer service.
Our award winning team are here to support you through the criminal justice process – if you have any questions in this field or need representation, do not hesitate to get in touch.