Criminal Defence for Foster Carers

April 29, 2019

The very nature of the role of a foster carer means that they are susceptible to allegations of abuse by those children in their care. Allegations of neglect or abuse are obviously taken extremely seriously but can have far reaching implications for all parties involved, as well as other family members. There can be many reasons why a child may allege that something has happened that is not necessarily true, including the fact that they are extremely vulnerable and sensitive individuals who may misinterpret innocent actions. Or a claim can be made for malicious reasons or even because the child feels that it could allow them to return to their birth family. It can be difficult for a foster carer to understand what is happening and what the best route is to take when an allegation has been made against them. Although it is not possible to prevent allegations being made, our expert lawyers can advise and support foster carers facing such allegations and guide you through the whole complicated process.

Allegations of Sexual Abuse against Foster Carers

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.

How can allegations against foster carers be defended?

Generally, the allegations are made by the child themselves or a professional on their behalf (such as a teacher or social worker). Allegations of neglect or abuse will be taken very seriously and investigated by a range of individuals from social services, local authorities, the police and the fostering service.

The police can decide to interview a foster carer under caution in relation to an allegation and it essential that they are represented by a specialist solicitor who can guide them through the process. This interview will be vitally important since the CPS will only proceed where there is sufficient evidence. If the police decide that there is enough evidence then they will pass the case onto the CPS. Again, it is essential to get specialist advice since even if the matter is not proceeded with it can still result in a referral to the disclosure and barring service, which could prevent the individual from future work with children. Where an offer of a caution is given it must be considered that this is still an admission of guilt and this can have wide-reaching consequences for a foster carer. Where the CPS decide to prosecute, the foster carer will face a complicated and lengthy process and during this period any foster children will be removed from their care unless the carer has left the family home during this period. It is very important to have expert representation to advise on the complex legal and evidential issues that will arise in these cases.

It is very important in these cases to get expert legal advice right from the start. Often the whole case will come down to one person’s word against the other. One area that can greatly affect the outcome of the case is the provision of a robust defence statement which gives an overview of the defence and can be used to obtain third party documentation (for example, from social services). Our specialist defence lawyers are very experienced in drafting defence statements, obtaining all relevant third-party documentation, interviewing possible witnesses as well as analysing all available evidence. 

Contact our Defence Lawyers (London, Birmingham, Manchester)

If you believe that you have been wrongly convicted (or sentenced) or that one of your friends or family have been so convicted, in relation to a sexual offences case, please contact Stuart on 0808 164 6795 or 0808 169 5980.

Stuart has been in practice since 1987 and has throughout most of that time been involved in defending clients accused of sexual offences, be they against individuals or internet crimes. He has acted for clients who have been charged with sexual assaults, rape, offences against children, making pornographic images and related crimes.  He has a nationwide practice and divides his time between our Manchester and London offices, where he meets with his clients to take instructions and prepares documents.