The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs S complained the Council failed to pay appropriate allowances for B (a young person in their care) once she turned eighteen following serious historical allegations of assault against children made against her husband by a previous foster child. The Council was at fault and has been asked to make payments to Mrs S and B.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mrs S, complain that the Council failed to pay fostering allowance or remove a young person living with them under a ‘Staying Put’ arrangement.
- They also complained about the Council’s complaints handling.
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)
- We may investigate matters coming to our attention during an investigation, if we consider that a member of the public who has not complained may have suffered an injustice as a result. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26D and 34E, as amended) In this case, I considered there was injustice to B who was affected by the matter complained of although she did not make a complaint to us. I have suggested the Council provide an appropriate remedy to B in light of this.
- Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government 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 provided to me by Mrs S, including through her representative. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its response. I also made reference to ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children’, 2015, which is statutory guidance that sets out how children and young people should be kept safe. We expect Councils to follow statutory guidance unless they have very good reasons not to. I also refer to ‘Getting the best from complaints’, 2007, which is also statutory guidance setting out how Councils should consider complaints in relation to children. I sent Mrs S and the Council a copy of my draft decision and took their comments into account before issuing my decision.
What I found
- Serious historical allegations of physical and sexual abuse were made about the carers, specifically Mr S, on 29 June 2016. A strategy meeting was held in line with Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2015. A joint investigation with the police was agreed.
- At the time, Mrs S had two young children in placement alongside a 17 year old (B) and an 18 year old (C) who were staying under the ‘Staying Put’ regulations, which allow young people to stay with their carers after the age of 18. The three young children were removed on 3 July because of the potential risk. At that time, the details that could be given to the carers were minimal because it was important for the Council not to jeopardize the police investigation.
- The Council also tried to move B, who had been in the household for eight years, at the same time. It had found another placement for her. B refused to leave. She said she did not want to leave the placement and had no concerns. She said she would only leave if the full details of the allegations could be shared with her, which the Council could not do. C also refused to leave; she was pregnant and it was agreed she could be moved on, in a planned way, once the baby was born. The Council continued to pay to support C. It also paid to support B at this point, as she was not yet 18.
- Two social workers went to Mr and Mrs S’s house in the morning of 7 July and said that Mrs S should be putting pressure on B to move. This appears to have been a highly emotional meeting. Mrs S said she would not tell B to move; B was now pregnant and at college and finding things difficult. Mrs S felt it was up to the Council to tell B she had to leave and to move her and I agree. B considered her placement with Mrs S as ‘home’ and somewhere she felt safe; on the balance of probabilities, it was almost inevitable she would not want to leave of her own free will. It was also practically inevitable that Mrs C could not tell her to move. I have seen photographs showing Mrs S packed up B’s belongings later that day when B was in college. The phone records show Mrs S telephoned the Council to pick up B’s things and move her elsewhere although this must have been very soon after the social workers left (as phone calls are recorded to have been made around 11am that day). B was not moved.
- Even though a director decided she wanted B to move on 10 July, B remained in placement. On 13 July the social worker wrote; ‘I am...mindful of the fact (B) is going to place (herself) at significant risk of harm if she is removed and continues to abscond to return back to (Mr and Mrs S)’. This is an acknowledgement that it would be better for B to stay where she was rather than move her and risk her health.
- On 20 July 2015, the Council was told by Mrs S’s support worker she was unaware of the allegations and timescales and had not received any feedback from the social worker. The social worker noted this and said she was working to achieve what was needed. There was a joint visit informing Mrs S of the nature of the allegations on 24 July. It was confirmed by the Council in writing on 27 August, the Council would not support B’s placement with Mrs S but no effort was made to remove her. It was the Council’s responsibility to keep B safe and the Council had already said B should move; on that basis the Council should have taken steps to find B a placement and remove her from Mr and Mrs S’s care (and if B was resistant; this could have been done in the way Mrs S had tried on 7 July). Mr and Mrs S should not have been encouraged to make ‘an informal arrangement’ to look after B; especially once the director agreed she should be moved out.
- There is nothing further in the Council’s chronology until a telephone call from the Council to Mrs S on 7 September to find out how the police investigation was progressing. The Council had stopped paying for B’s care on 15 August, when she reached the age of 18. Although B was transitioning to Youth Services, given the Council was paying for her support up until she was 18 (suggesting it was relatively happy with the arrangement) this should not have stopped once she reached 18.
- The chronology provided by the Council shows no sense of urgency in removing B. After the telephone call on 7 September there is nothing further on the Council’s chronology until 23 November when the police found images of B on Mr S’s mobile phone. Mrs S asked the Council to remove B on 25 November, which it did.
- The delay in the Council failing to move B from 3 July to 25 November is fault. While the Council was paying for B’s care there was no injustice to B or to Mr and Mrs S from this fault. However, once the Council stopped paying for B’s care from 15 August, there was injustice to B and to Mr and Mrs S. B did not receive the allowances to which she was entitled, which I consider must have caused her distress, and Mr and Mrs S were expected to look after B without any financial support to do so. This caused them distress too. The Council should take steps to reimburse Mr and Mrs S the fee element of B’s ‘Staying Put’ arrangements from the time it stopped the payments until she was removed; and to pay B any allowances she missed over that time.
- Mr and Mrs S believed the Council should have considered their complaints under the statutory procedure. This procedure is set out in ‘Getting the best from complaints’, 2007.
- As their complaint was not made on behalf of B or the young children in their care, it was not appropriate for their complaint to have been considered under the statutory procedure. The Council was entitled to consider their complaint under its corporate complaints procedure. There is no evidence of Council fault.
- For the Council to make appropriate payments to both Mr and Mrs S and to B.
- Fault leading to injustice and a remedy has been agreed.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman