Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 15 Feb 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss G says the Council failed to keep her possessions safe in a foster carer placement and when she moved into supported living. There is evidence of fault and the Council will apologise and to reimburse for (or replace) a video camera and watch, which were lost.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Miss G, says the Council failed to ensure her possessions were safe when she moved from foster care into supported living accommodation. She says some of her possessions were lost or stolen during the time of the move as well as when she was in the foster care placement. She did not feel the Council had considered this properly. Miss G’s mother wanted to meet with the foster carers to discuss this further.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
- Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information sent on behalf of Miss G by Miss G’s mother and made enquiries of the Council and looked at its response. I also accessed the Council’s foster carers handbook and information about its complaints process online. I sent Miss G, through her mother, and the Council a copy of this draft decision and took their comments into account before issuing a decision.
What I found
- Miss G moved into foster care because of her family situation at the time. There is nothing in law or guidance to suggest an inventory of children’s possessions should be taken when they move into a placement (and then added to if they receive gifts) although foster carers are generally advised to treat belongings with respect. The Council recognises that having an inventory would have been useful and intends to put such a policy in place. However, there is no evidence of fault that the Council did not make an inventory of Miss G’s belongings at the time she moved into foster care.
- Miss G’s mother says some of Miss G’s belongings went missing while she was in the care placement (she mentions cushions, fleeces and soft toys, for example). Miss G’s mother says the carers should have returned goods to her if Miss G did not want them. There is nothing in the foster carer’s handbook to suggest items should be returned to parents if they are not wanted for any reason. Children and young people can change their minds about things they like and dislike at any given time. They can choose, just as much as a foster carer or parent can choose, what possessions they want and what they don’t.
- The Council is not at fault for failing to return Miss G’s possessions to her mother when Miss G no longer wanted them. However, I note the foster carers, and the Council, say a necklace and teddy bear were returned to Miss G’s mother. This suggests practice is inconsistent, which is fault. The Council says that returning the necklace was ‘well intentioned’ as it this was significant to the family. Nevertheless, this did set an expectation that Miss G’s mother could expect everything to be returned that Miss G no longer wanted. This lack of clarity has caused Miss G’s mother avoidable distress. The Council should apologise and consider the guidance it gives to foster carers, and parents, on this matter.
- If Miss G’s mother alleges the foster carers stole goods from Miss G, which is something the foster carers deny, this is a criminal matter and should be reported to the police. It would be up to the police to decide how to proceed, not the Council or the Ombudsman.
- Once Miss G turned 18, she moved to supported living accommodation. An inventory of her goods was taken when she arrived.
- The foster carers say Miss G did not have certain goods Miss G’s mother was expecting to find on the inventory when she moved out. Miss G’s mother says the foster carers knew where the items were and should have ensured they came with her. This is one person’s word against another’s and I cannot find fault on that basis. The foster carers have said Miss G took a video camera with her to the new placement; she also had a video watch. These do not appear on the inventory. The Council’s view is that both items were lost, which is fault as belongings should be kept safe when children and young people move placements. The Council has agreed to replace the video camera and the video watch or reimburse the money spent on them. The Council should also consider the guidance it gives to foster carers about packing goods to minimise losses. It should give clear advice to parents and young people about what to do if goods do go missing.
- When Miss G’s mother made complaints about what had happened, on behalf of Miss G, the Council talked to her on 10 August, held a meeting with her on 30 August and then wrote to her on 19 September. It treated this as a corporate complaint rather than a children’s services complaint. As it was a complaint from a young person, about foster care, the Council should have treated it as a statutory complaint. This is fault and it caused Miss G’s mother distress as she did not think the Council was taking the complaint seriously. The Council should apologise for this. There is no evidence the Council was not taking the complaint seriously, however.
- Miss G’s mother wants to meet with the foster carers to discuss how and why Miss G’s goods went missing. The Ombudsman tries to put someone back in the position they would have been in if there was no fault. A meeting with the foster carers would not achieve this. It has been made clear that any allegations about theft are for the police.
- For the Council to apologise for the fault identified in this draft decision within a month of my decision, to replace or reimburse for the cost of Miss G’s video camera and video watch, which were lost (within three months of my decision), and to consider changing procedures, including on returning and packing possessions and on what to do if things are lost in transit (within four months of my decision). The Council has agreed that an inventories policy would be particularly useful. It should send me a copy of its policy on inventories for children moving into foster care, and any other policies it amends, when they are completed.
- Fault leading to injustice; remedy agreed.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman