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Allegations of abuse in an early years setting - what should you do?

View profile for Rachel Benett
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Coronavirus and children in care or care proceedings

It is every nursery or childminder’s worst nightmare for a child they care for to become unwell or to be injured. It is even more stressful to find yourself involved in investigations about alleged abuse of a child.

In cases of suspected inflicted injury to children, an investigation will be commenced by the local authority children’s services department.

In the preliminary stages, if you have been involved in the care of the child you may be spoken to by the social worker to establish what happened.

If the initial view is that the injury could have taken place whilst the child was in your care, you may find yourself a subject of the investigation. This may impact on your ability to work with children whilst the investigations take place or simply be part of the information gathering process.

When there are serious concerns about a child’s safety in the care of their parents, which is almost always the case with suspected ‘non-accidental injury’, the local authority will issue court proceedings in the Family Court. You may be a witness in such proceedings.

If the court considers that there is a ‘real possibility’ that you caused the injury, you could find yourself involved in the case directly. In these situations, you could be joined to the case as an ‘intervener’. This means that the court could potentially decide that it was you that caused the injury, or that you are within a ‘pool’ of people who may have caused the injury but it is not able to say which person it was.

Involvement in care proceedings in this way can have a huge impact on your life, with implications for not only your work but whether it is considered safe for your own children to remain in your care. It may be, that having considered all of the evidence, the court ultimately determines that you did not cause the injury, but these cases can take months to resolve.

There is also the possibility that you could become involved in a criminal investigation.

How can you be best prepared?

It is important to state here that these cases are rare but it is still important to be prepared in case it does happen.

Ensuring that your insurance covers legal expenses for this situation is strongly advisable. You should also ensure that you document any concerns as they arise and follow your internal safeguarding and recording procedures. This kind of documentation could be disclosed into any care proceedings as evidence, and will be important in explaining your decision-making process as well as confirming factual details.

What should you do if you find yourself involved in this way?

It is very important to take legal advice if you are considered to be a potential perpetrator of abuse to a child.

Our family law solicitors are experienced in helping those who work in early years settings, who have become involved in court proceedings or investigations of this type including being accused of abuse themselves. We understand how an allegation of this kind can impact every part of your life and it is imperative that you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity. Call our team today on 0161 696 6193 to find out more about how we can help you.

A nursery/childminder has a statutory duty to inform Ofsted of any significant events that may impact on the suitability of the registered provision/individual or individuals connected to the registration. This notification must be made as soon as reasonably possible, and no more than 14 days after the incident happened.

If you are unsure as to whether the incident amounts to a significant event, it is imperative that you seek advice immediately, as failure to comply with the time frames without a reasonable excuse is an offence. It is very likely that any incidents involving staff members, or any concerns involving child protection, will be regarded as a significant event.

You should keep in mind that if a serious incident is alleged against significant individuals (for example, the owner or nominated individual) or is alleged to have happened on the premises, Ofsted may take urgent enforcement action to suspend the registration of the provider whilst the investigations are carried out. This could be investigations by LADO and the police. It is important that you seek legal advice at the earliest opportunity, as there are strict timescales involved in appealing enforcement action such as this. At Stephensons we have a specialist regulatory team who are experienced in assisting early years providers who are facing enforcement action by their regulator. To find out more about how they can help call them on 0161 696 6250.