Foster, adoptive, and kinship families may be vulnerable to allegations of abuse. For these families, child welfare authorities and agencies have an obligation to ensure the safety of children for whom they have assumed responsibility. When allegations are made, agencies must keep the child or youth’s best interests in mind and act quickly, fairly, and accurately to investigate and resolve the complaint.
- Agencies should educate all prospective foster, kinship, and adoptive parents about their potential to act in an abusive manner or to be vulnerable to false allegations of abuse. Agencies should train and support families to avoid abusive behavior and keep their children and youth and themselves safe. Training should include appropriate parenting techniques for children who have been abused or neglected.
- Agencies should also encourage all family members to participate in the development of an abuse prevention and safety plan.
- Agencies should inform, in writing, and provide training to all foster, adoptive, and kinship caregivers about the process for investigating allegations as well as the parents’ rights and resources if they should be accused.
- Child welfare agencies, including child protection agencies, have an obligation to provide training on abuse and allegations to all staff as well as to community response agencies, police, schools, medical and mental health professionals, and others who respond to allegations of abuse.
- Agencies must develop a process for handling all allegations of abuse or neglect that includes the following elements.
- The child or youth’s safety and well-being are paramount. The first step must be to assess and ensure the child’s safety and well-being.
- When the child or youth’s well-being can be assured, the child or youth should not be unnecessarily removed from the family. Agencies must carefully contrast the potential long-term harm to the child or youth caused by removal from a family against the risk of harm from suspected abuse or neglect. Whenever possible, agencies must consider alternate safety provisions (such as removing an alleged perpetrator during the investigation while leaving the child or youth with the rest of the family).
- Once the child or youth’s safety has been assured, the foster, kinship, or adoptive parent(s) must be promptly notified in writing about the allegations, the process for investigating the charges, and any opportunities for response from the parent(s).
- The investigation should be timely, careful, impartial, and skilled and should take into account the child or youth’s and family’s unique history. Any agencies involved in the investigation (child protection, the family’s agency, the child or youth’s agency, etc.) should coordinate efforts and communicate roles to the family. To protect the child or youth, investigating agencies should avoid unnecessarily duplicative interviews with them. The entity that conducts an interview with the child or youth should share the results of the interviews with other agencies and departments involved in the investigation whenever necessary.
- The investigating agency should inform the child or youth’s worker of the allegation and ask for relevant information about the child or youth’s past history, especially any specific vulnerabilities or past instances of abuse or alleged abuse of the child or youth. The agency should also notify any other caregivers or providers when necessary to protect the child or youth’s safety and well-being.
- The process should include an avenue for timely appeal through administrative or judicial review.
- When allegations are found to be false, agencies should promptly provide the accused parent(s) and any other notified parties with formal, written acknowledgment of the result of the investigation.
- When allegations are substantiated, foster, adoptive, and kinship parents should be treated as any other abusive or neglectful parent, including listing in the state’s, province’s, or territory’s central registry. When it is in the child’s best interests, foster and kinship parents should have the same opportunities for support and family preservation or reunification as birth and adoptive parents in similar situations.