Emergency Situations

Guidance for foster carers

How to contact us

When contacting the social work services about an emergency situation during office hours, ask for the child’s social worker or their team leader at the relevant area office, saying it is an emergency.  If both are unavailable ask for the duty social worker or their team leader.  (In due course it is also advisable to inform your supervising social worker of the emergency and your subsequent response).

Outside office hours, contact should be made with the Social Work Emergency Service (SWES) on 01631 566-491 / 01631 569-712.

The child has suddenly become ill or had an accident

Always get medical help first.  Tell the doctor or emergency services that the child is fostered by you, giving also the social worker’s telephone number.  If the child is in need of urgent treatment, the doctor is able to take the decision to treat them.  After this, contact the child’s social worker or if unavailable team leader, or, out of hours, the social work emergency service.

Foster carers need to be alert to the condition of those in their charge, and must be willing to consult health and social work services when a child or young person in their charge appears intoxicated /under the influence of substances.  Information to take into account when children and young people have misused alcohol or substances or appear to be under the influence of some substance is noted below.


In an emergency, it is important not to panic.  If there is any doubt about the condition of the child, contact emergency services and tell them about the child’s symptoms, and if known, the extent of the alcohol they have taken.  In many instances, no emergency action will be required but it will still be important to monitor the child to ensure their safety.  For example, young people who are intoxicated run the risk of choking on their own vomit if they then fall asleep on their backs.  Young people who smoke secretly in their room while intoxicated may start a fire.

Drugs / Solvents

In an emergency, it is important not to panic.  If there is any doubt about the condition of the child, contact emergency services and tell them about the child’s symptoms, and if known, what drugs or solvents they have taken.  On phoning for medical help, follow any guidance given by emergency services.  In relation to the child:

  • If the child is drowsy but conscious, try to keep them awake and alert to prevent them from becoming unconscious.
  • Do not leave them on their own.
  • If they become unconscious, follow the guidance of emergency services.
  • Turn them on their side in the recovery position, so that they do not choke on their vomit.
  • Give any tablets, powders or other substances the child may have used to the ambulance driver.
  • If they ask for water, give sips of lukewarm water only, unless otherwise medically advised.  Move them to a cool place if they are complaining of overheating.  You could also use a cool sponge.  If they are panicky, try and reassure them that you are with them, and everything will be alright.
  • Encourage them to breathe slowly and steadily in time with you.
  • Contact social work as soon as possible.

A wide range of domestic and industrial products, including aerosols, can be deliberately inhaled to produce intoxication.  The effect is sometimes heightened by sniffing inside a plastic bag placed over the head.  With or without a plastic bag, solvent sniffing can cause death.  Foster carers need to be vigilant about the storage of relevant domestic products.

The child dies

Contact emergency services – health and police.  Contact the child’s social worker or if unavailable the team manager, or, out of hours, the social work emergency service.  There are regulations concerning the death of children and young people who are Looked After and social work staff must follow these and will advise of next steps.

The child is in trouble with the police or is suspected of committing an offence

Contact the child’s social worker or if unavailable the team manager, or out of hours, the social work emergency service.  If it is possible for the foster carer to be present when the child is interviewed by police, they may be the most appropriate person to do so.  In some circumstances the child’s social worker, a duty social worker, or a social worker from the social work emergency service will be involved in the interview. 

A parent or someone else wants to remove the child without permission 

The Child’s Plan will specify who can or should have contact with the child, and whether there are any restrictions to someone with parental rights removing them from placement.  No one without parental rights or where there is a legal condition of residence with the foster carer can remove the child and if this is threatened or suggested, social work and / or the police should be called immediately.

Where a parent with full parental rights wishes to remove the child unexpectedly, the foster carer should, if possible, try to negotiate with the person who wants to remove the child, suggesting that he or she can contact the child’s social worker, the duty social worker or the social work emergency service.

The foster carer should make a note of the full name, address, telephone number and relationship of the person to the child.  If the person is still insisting on moving the child, the foster carer should contact the child’s social worker, the duty worker or the social work emergency service.

If the situation is becoming difficult or the foster carer is concerned for the welfare of the child, or anyone in their household, the police should be called by dialling 999 in an emergency or for advice and information you can call 111. 

There is a strong suspicion or disclosure of abuse

When a foster carer suspects abuse of a child (whether due to disclosure of abuse or otherwise), they should contact the child’s social worker, or if unavailable, team manager, or if out of hours, the social work emergency service without delay. 

There is a sudden crisis in the foster care home affecting the placement 

A sudden illness or other emergency may affect the placement.  In such instances the safest possible urgent or temporary arrangement for the child should be made.  Ideally, this should be done in consultation with the child’s social worker and the supervising social worker.  However, there can be occasions when foster carers may have to make their own decision to use a babysitter, another foster carer or a relative until care arrangements can be properly reviewed.  On these occasions, it remains essential that as soon as possible – and at the latest, within twenty-four hours – the foster carer advises social work of the crisis and the arrangements made for the child.

In relation to instances where the child:

  • Does not return home within a reasonable time and / or you do not know where they are
  • Runs away
  • Has not returned home from an unsupervised visit to their family

The child’s social worker or team manager should be notified as soon as possible (or the social work emergency service) and it will be agreed who will do what, such as phoning known contacts and checking possible locations.  Unless there is reason to suggest it is not necessary, the police should also be contacted.  Timescales will be agreed for updating circumstances.

Information required from the foster carer of a missing child for the police will include:

  • Description of the child, what clothes s/he was wearing and a recent photo
  • When last seen and with whom
  • Details of places the young person would likely visit – friends and family members
  • Mobile phone number and contact details of friends and family
  • Do they have any money on their person
  • Any circumstances that would increase the risk to the young person
  • Previous behaviour patterns
  • What was their state of mind
  • Details of any family contact

The local authority has procedures and guidance in relation to instances where children and young people who are looked after away from home are missing.  Social work staff will follow these procedures when contacted by a foster carer in the above noted situations.  These procedures link to Police Scotland’s own procedures – Children and Young People Missing from Local Authority Care.

Holidays / Passports

The person/s with parental rights and responsibilities for any child who is looked after away from home, hold the authorisation for that child to obtain a passport, go on holiday and / or leave the country; consent for this should be sought from them.  This will be done through the child’s social worker.  If a parent cannot be found or is adamant about withholding authorisation then this must be discussed at a Looked After Child Review and / or through a Service Manager’s consultation.  In any event, discussion of this must take place with the child’s social worker well in advance of the proposed holiday. 

Guidance notes for social work services can be found here.

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