Thousands of foster carers are welcoming children into their homes without being given the full facts about the childrens past, including whether they were victims of abuse.
More than half of all foster carers in Britain (51 per cent) say that in the past three years they have been given inadequate information about a child in their care, which has put themselves, their own children and even the foster child at risk.
A third of carers said that they were not told about the childs full medical requirements, almost half were not informed about a history of abuse and two thirds said that they were not made aware of a childs general behaviour.
The research was conducted by the Fostering Network, which represents the 43,000 foster carers in Britain, and comes a decade after two court rulings made clear that local authorities could be sued for failing to meet a duty of care towards foster families. Despite this, social workers are routinely failing to pass on all the necessary information despite assurances that they regard foster carers as equal partners in their work.
Robert Tapsfield, the chief executive of the Fostering Network, said that the findings were extremely worrying. The system is clearly failing to provide foster carers with the information and support they need to care for children safely, putting them, their families and the children in their care at risk, he said. It is accepted and agreed that local authorities have a duty of care to foster carers and their families, as well as to children in care. The regulations and standards are not being implemented, despite high-profile court rulings, and this is cause for great concern. Foster carers should be treated as childcare experts and equal members of the childcare workforce. They are professionals and should be recognised, respected and supported as such.
Mr Tapsfield will meet Baroness Morgan of Drefelin, the Childrens Minister, and request that she write to all local authorities to remind them of their legal duty to ensure that all foster carers are fully informed about the children in their care.
Joanna Nicolas, an independent social worker, said that problems were caused by too many placements being made in a hurry once a previous placement had broken down.
Staff were forced to fill in numerous forms, repeating the same basic information, and so did not have enough time to sit down with the new foster carer and explain the potential risks and problems, she said.
Ms Nicolas also believes that too many social workers are confused about their legal duties with regard to sharing information on a child. For many social workers it may appear like a grey area. The law makes clear that in matters of child protection, any data protection and human rights issues are overridden. But if it is a lower-level concern, such as a child in need, social workers do not have the right to share information without parental consent, so a lot of fine judgments have to be made, she said.