Foster couples face tide of false abuse claims

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The Independent Online
MORE than 300 foster couples have needed counselling in the last 12 months after being accused of child abuse.

Children placed in foster care now make allegations of physical and sexual abuse to an extent that was almost unheard of 10 years ago, according to the National Foster Care Association.

In a survey, the association has found that although children's accusations against foster parents have sharply increased, there has been no comparable increase in proven cases. It believes that in a climate where child abuse is being talked about much more, some children are simply aware of the power an allegation can provide.

Greater openness, a succession of high-profile abuse cases, including Cleveland and Orkney, and a number of successful prosecutions of residential home staff for abuse are all thought to have contributed.

"Until the mid-1980s," said Pat Verity, the association's policy and services manager, "we had not received one call about allegations like this. There has been a massive increase and we are now getting more than 300 a year. There are a fair number of children being placed in fostering who will have been abused in the past and may know the power of the accusation. 'Abuse' in a foster home can be simply a smack. One doesn't want to deny children who have been abused, and we do not want another generation of children who keep quiet about the abuse they have suffered. On the other hand, if you as a child are unhappy and being removed from your family, you may know that making allegations is one way of getting back at people."

Some couples had given up fostering after abuse allegations and others were deterred from taking it up, she said.

Out of 177 cases it looked at, the association found only 6 per cent had any foundation. But in 69 per cent of cases, the children were not returned to the families. Foster parents said they were expected to prove their innocence, and complained they were not informed when a child had a record of making allegations.