The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr and Mrs X complain the Council failed to support to them as foster carers and ended the placement without notice, causing them financial loss. The Ombudsman finds the Council failed to provide adequate support and did not properly document its decision making. The Ombudsman recommends the Council provides an apology, pays an amount for distress and takes steps to ensure staff are aware of the Council’s legal obligations.
- Mr and Mrs X complain the Council failed to provide the necessary support and information during the foster placement and ended the placement at short notice. They say they suffered an unexpected loss of income as a result.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- 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)
- 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.
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mr X and I reviewed documents provided by Mr and Mrs X and the Council. I gave Mr and Mrs X and the Council the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision and I considered the comments provided.
What I found
- The Department for Education publishes statutory guidance on the support councils should provide during placements; “Children Act 1989: care planning, placement and case review”.
- The Government also publishes guidance setting out the responsibilities of councils in relation to fostering services; “The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations Vol 4: Fostering Services”.
Information for foster carers
- Fostering services must ensure that the foster carer is given all the information they need about the child to enable them to provide appropriate care. This information must always include the child’s up-to-date care plan and the placement plan.
- A council should ensure every child they look after has a personal education plan (“PEP”) which forms the education component of the child’s overall care plan. The PEP should be available for the first statutory review meeting of the care plan (28 days after entry to care or accommodation).
- The carer should be given a copy of the care plan when it is completed and be clear about their role in implementing it. They also need to know the content of the child’s health plan and PEP and understand their role in implementing these.
Support for foster carers
- A Social Worker must visit within one week of the start of any placement and then at least every six weeks for the first year.
- Visits have a number of purposes, including to:
- support the development of a good relationship between the child and the social worker which will enable the child to share his/her experiences, both positive and negative, within the placement;
- provide an opportunity to talk to the child and to offer reassurance if s/he feels isolated and vulnerable while away from family and friends;
- evaluate and monitor the achievement of actions and outcomes identified in the care and placement plan and to contribute to the review of the plan;
- identify any difficulties which the child or carer may be experiencing, to provide advice on appropriately responding to the child’s behaviour and identify where additional supports and services are needed; and
- monitor contact arrangements, to identify how the child is responding to them and to identify any additional supports carers may need to support positive contact arrangements.
Ending a placement
- When a council proposes to terminate a placement they must carry out a review of the child’s case and ensure the views of all the people concerned have been heard. The review will provide the opportunity to consider what, if any, support and services could be provided which would avoid the need to terminate the placement. If that is not possible the review will provide a forum for considering what would be the most appropriate new placement for the child, taking account of any concerns which have led to the decision to terminate the current placement.
- Children and young people should not move to another placement, unless this is by agreement following a statutory review, it is clearly in the child or young person’s best interests, the decision has taken into account the child or young person’s wishes and feelings, and the move is properly planned. The exception is when remaining in the placement is clearly impractical, or significantly compromises the welfare of others in the household.
- The Council placed two boys with Mr and Mrs X on 5 January 2018. A placement meeting was held in their home on 12 January 2018.
- The Council has provided a copy of a care plan dated 24 January 2018. This records Mr and Mrs X’s views on the plan. The Council says they were given a copy of the plan, but Mr X disputes this.
- The Council says the boys’ School hosted a meeting to discuss the children’s Personal Education Plans on 2 February 2018. The Council says the foster carers attended this meeting and would have been given a copy of the PEP.
- The Council has provided a copy of its social worker case notes (the “Case Notes”). I have only referred to records of relevance to this decision.
- The Case Notes refer to a social worker visit on 21 March 2018. The officer reports “the current placement appears to be meeting the children needs”. She also notes Mrs X criticised Children’s Services in front of the children. There is no record to suggest this was raised with Mr and Mrs X.
- The Case Notes for 2 May 2018 report the social worker has concerns about whether Mr and Mrs X are promoting contact between the children and their parents. There is no record that shows the social worker spoke to Mr and Mrs X about this.
- On 14 May 2018 Mr X emailed the social worker to say one of the boys had soiled items in his bedroom. He said if this happened again he would have to terminate the placement in the interests of his grandchildren. He also expressed difficulty in managing the behaviour of one of the boys, and asked the social worker for assistance. The Case Notes show this concerned the social worker. A manager intended to speak to Mr X about his insight and use of language. There is no record of this discussion.
- The Council has provided a copy of a risk assessment dated 17 May 2018. This shows the Council is concerned Mr and Mrs X “may not be as insightful or nurturing as the boys need”, and it is therefore looking for alternative long term therapeutic carers.
- The Case Notes of 22 May 2018 record concerns about the language used by Mr X in his email of 14 May 2018 and concerns that Mr and Mrs X are not promoting contact. The Council decides it needs to consider a change of placement. There is no record to show the Council discussed its concerns with Mr and Mrs X or carried out a statutory review.
- Following a visit on 6 June 2018, the support worker records concerns that Mr X may not be helping the boys to establish relationships with professionals. There is no record that shows the social worker spoke to Mr and Mrs X about this.
- On 8 June 2018 the social worker records concerns that Mr and Mrs X are not supporting the boys’ relationship with professionals or helping make them feel at ease during visits. There is no record that shows the social worker spoke to Mr and Mrs X about this.
- Mr and Mrs X say on 6 July 2018 the social worker told them the Council intended to move the boys to another placement because it was concerned they could not meet the boys’ emotional needs.
- On 12 July 2018 Mr X complained to the Council about the services provided. He said the social worker had told them the decision to look for therapeutic care for the boys. But said she could not identify any specific areas where they needed to improve to be able to meet the boys’ long term emotional needs. He said the boys wanted to stay with them and they wanted to continue to care for them.
- On 19 July 2018 the social worker discussed an 8 week plan with Mr and Mrs X. This set out practical actions Mr and Mrs X could take in three areas, which were:
- to promote and encourage contact between the boys and their family;
- to promote a positive view of children’s services and;
- to not share information about the boys with third parties.
- The Council’s records show it had concerns about Mr and Mrs X from 21 March 2018 and decided to look for therapeutic carers from 17 May 2018. However, there is a lack of evidence to show the Council discussed their concerns with Mr and Mrs X.
- There is a lack of evidence to show the Council provided advice to Mr and Mrs X on appropriately responding to the children’s behaviour and identifying where additional supports and services were needed. There is also a lack of evidence the Council identified any additional supports Mr and Mrs X may have needed to support positive contact arrangements until Mr X complained in July 2018.
- In light of the above I find the Council failed to provide adequate information and support to Mr and Mrs X. This amounts to fault. Because of this, Mr and Mrs X could not understand why the Council had decided to move the children, causing them avoidable frustration and distress.
- It is not clear when exactly the Council decided to move the boys as a decision appears to have been made on 17 May 2018, then in July 2018, then again following events on 21 August 2018. The Council has not clearly documented its decision making process or demonstrated it made the decision following a statutory review and taking account of the children’s wishes. I find this amounts to fault. I cannot say the Council would have reached a different decision but for these faults. However, I find Mr and Mrs X suffered avoidable stress and uncertainty about whether the boys would stay with them.
- The Council says Mr and Mrs X were given copies of the care plan but they deny this. Where it is one word against the other I cannot say what happened. But, as the plan records Mr and Mrs X’s views I am satisfied on balance that they saw and discussed the plan.
- I have not seen any evidence to show Mr and Mrs X requested copies of other documents that were not then provided, except for their request for a chronology. The Council says it did not provide this as it had concerns about Mr and Mrs X sharing information with the boys. I cannot question the Council’s professional judgement and therefore I find no fault in this regard.
- To remedy the injustice set out above I recommend the Council carry out the following actions within one month of the date of my decision:
- Provide Mr and Mrs X with a written apology for failing to provide adequate information and support to them as foster carers;
- Pay Mr and Mrs X £150 for avoidable distress and uncertainty;
- Take steps to ensure its staff are aware of the Council’s obligations in relation to supporting foster carers and ending a placement.
- I find the Council failed to provide adequate support to Mr and Mrs X as foster carers and failed to properly document its decision making. The Council has accepted my recommendations and therefore I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman