During the fostering assessment, why are references needed from ex-partners?

safeguarding children fostering assessment

As I have worked with fostering agencies to help them to attract and recruit new foster carers, I have seen that there are some aspects of the carer fostering assessment, which can cause anxiety in applicants. One of these is the requirement to interview former partners.

Feelings of trepidation about this are quite understandable since most of us prefer to leave past relationships in the past as we move on with our lives.

The need to contact former partners of fostering applicants is an essential part of child safeguarding, and here, I will try to explain why.

Some years ago, when recruiting foster carers into a southwest London borough, I recall a fostering social worker explaining to me that how a DBS check is an essential part of the recruitment safeguarding process.

But even so, a ‘clean’ DBS did not necessarily mean that a person had not committed an offence against a child or vulnerable adult, merely that it proved that they had not been caught.

Those who would seek to exploit, and harm children and young people often seek out opportunities to get close to them through professional routes, for example, sports coaches, nursery nurses and staff, personal carers, and more.

It takes a high degree of forethought and calculation to manoeuvre into a role for such a purpose.

A large part of that involves covering tracks, secrecy and deceit, sometimes collaboration with others of a like mind, and the careful polishing of the appearance of being a model citizen, to divert suspicion of wrongdoing if ever a frightened child should speak up.

Indeed, it doesn’t take long at all to find news stories about children and young people placed into foster care and then abused by their carers. In searching for examples for this article, it took me just ten minutes to come up with the following:

‘He robbed me of my childhood’: Brave victim of paedophile foster carer Rex Case speaks out | Southern Daily Echo

‘Foster Parent of the Year’ charged with abuse after children show signs of burns, beating | Daily Telegraph

Foster carer from Northern Ireland who ‘preyed’ on kids is jailed in Australia | Belfast Telegraph

Taoiseach pledges to act on foster care abuse report | IrishExaminer.com

Supervising social workers understand that it can be uncomfortable for you to give permission to make contact with significant others, past and present.

However, in the absence of rock-solid proof of good character, this is next best way of exploring an individual’s history for any issues of concern, and to provide the reassurance needed to continue with a fostering assessment.

Sometimes, a discussion might reveal a history of domestic violence either as perpetrator or victim, which would be of direct relevance to an application and the safeguarding of children placed into foster care. Without it, there may be no other way of obtaining such valuable insight.

A good way to approach this vital part of the fostering selection process is to think about children of our own, or that we care for, and imagine that, were they to be taken into care, and placed with a foster family, how much we would be keen to understand as much as possible about those people beforehand.

The vast majority of approved foster carers, and fostering placements are rigorously safe and secure, and subject to ongoing safeguarding measures, such as unannounced home visits, but we can all agree that checks to ensure no cracks in the process are essential to ensuring that children in care never go on to experience further abuse.

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