The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: the Council accepts it did not provide all the equipment necessary to care for young children Ms F fostered and offered a satisfactory payment. Ms F agreed to take the young children even though she was only approved to foster older children so there was no fault by the Council. The Ombudsman will not investigate Ms F’s complaint about the welfare of the children formerly in her care. There is no fault in the Council’s request Ms F repay the children’s savings.
- Ms F, a former foster carer, complains about the Council’s fostering service. In particular, Ms F complains:
- the Council failed the children in her care;
- the Council placed young children with her even though she was only approved to foster older children;
- the Council did not provide the equipment necessary to care for the young children; and
- the Council has asked her to hand over savings for children she fostered. Ms F says the Council never paid her any money for the children’s savings.
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. 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 have considered:
- information provided by Ms F;
- information provided by the Council.
What I found
- Ms F was a foster carer for the Council between 2017 and 2018.
- Following a standards of care meeting in August 2018 to discuss concerns about Ms F’s care of the children she fostered, the Council’s Fostering Panel met to review her registration as a foster carer. Ms F declined an invitation to attend the Panel and decided she no longer wished to be a foster carer for the Council. The Council ended her registration.
- In November 2018, following her de-registration, Ms F complained to the Council about her experiences as a foster carer. The Council responded to her complaint by letter dated 27 November 2018. Ms F remained dissatisfied and complained again. The Council sent a final response on 11 April 2019.
- The Council explained the young children were placed with Ms F, with her agreement, in an emergency. The children were siblings and two of the three children were younger than the age-group Ms F was approved to foster. The youngest was only with Ms F overnight, and the older children less than a month. The Council thanked Ms F for her willingness to help out in an emergency.
- The Council apologised for:
- an oversight by a social worker which meant Ms F made unnecessary visits to a Police station with another foster child;
- 'occasional lapses in communication’; and
- the fact she was ‘not fully supported in relation to equipment for the emergency placement of the [young] siblings’ placed with her.
- The Council offered a payment of £500. However, the Council said Ms F owed a total of £914 which she should have set aside from her fostering allowance as savings for the children she fostered. The Council said it would offset the £500 it was offering against this amount and asked her to pay the balance of £414.
- Ms F remained dissatisfied and complained to the Ombudsman.
Complaint a) the Council failed the children in Ms F’s care
- Ms F complains the Council failed the children in her care. She says social workers were not interested in doing their job. She alleges the Independent Reviewing Officers were ‘too close to the Council’ and reluctant to act in relation to the children’s welfare. The only specific complaint she made was about the frequent change of social worker for the child she fostered longest.
- The Ombudsman would not normally investigate a complaint from a foster carer about the welfare of a child they no longer foster. This is because there are usually people closer to the child who are in a better position to make the complaint. This may be the child’s current foster carer, their Independent Reviewing Officer or the child themselves. The Children’s Commissioner offers help and advice to children in care.
- In any event, the allegations Ms F makes in relation to the children in her care are not specific enough for the Ombudsman to investigate. I do not dismiss Ms F’s concerns, but they are matters the regulator, Ofsted, is better placed than the Ombudsman to consider when they inspect the service.
Complaint b) the Council placed young children with Ms F
- Ms F complains the Council placed young children with her even though she was only approved to foster older children. The Council placed a group of siblings with Ms F in an emergency. Two of the three children were younger than the age-group Ms F was approved to foster. Ms M agreed to take the children, although her account of the evening the children arrived suggests she was given very little time to think about taking the youngest child once the older children had arrived.
- Ms F agreed to take the children. The Council has recorded its gratitude to Ms F for taking the children in an emergency and enabling the siblings to stay together at what was a traumatic time for them. There was no fault by the Council in placing the children with Ms F, with her agreement, in an emergency.
Complaint c) the Council did not provide the equipment necessary to care for the young children
- Ms F complains she did not have the necessary equipment to care for the young children placed with her. She did not have any equipment for the youngest, a baby, or a suitable bed for the middle child. She says the baby slept on the sofa and the Council provided a foam mattress for the middle child to sleep on the floor. Ms F complains the Council did not provide car seats to enable her to take the oldest child to school, and says the buggy was impractical as it was too far to walk.
- The Council’s policy is to provide foster carers with the equipment they need to care for foster children. Ms F was approved to foster children aged five and over, so she did not have any equipment to care for the youngest of the siblings placed with her. The Council’s policy says it will provide the equipment as quickly as possible but recognises there may be emergency placements where this is not immediately possible. This was the case for Ms F. The baby was only with Ms F overnight, but the middle child was with her for just under a month.
- The Council acknowledged Ms F was ‘not fully supported in relation to equipment for the emergency placement of the [young] siblings’ placed with her and apologised. The Council offered Ms F a payment of £500 for this and the other complaints it upheld. I consider this a suitable remedy. The Council has not actually paid Ms M any money because it says she owes money for the children’s savings. I consider it appropriate for the Council to offset the proposed payment against the debt the Council says Ms M owes. I consider Ms M’s complaint about the children’s savings below.
- Ms F complains the Council used the difficulties she encountered caring for the group of young siblings, and the complaints she made about the lack of equipment, to de-register her. I have seen the minutes of the standards of care meeting and this is not the case. Even if it was, Ms F was invited to attend the Fostering Panel where she could have put forward her views, but she declined the invitation.
Complaint d) the children’s savings
- The Council has asked Ms M to repay £914 which it says is money Ms M should have put aside from her fostering allowance for two of the children’s savings. Ms M says she was never paid any money for the children’s savings.
- It appears from her complaint that Ms F expected the Council to pay a separate allowance to her for the children’s savings. This is not the case. Fostering payments are made of two parts: an allowance to meet the child’s needs (including savings) and a professional fee for the foster carer.
- The Council’s online Fostering Handbook deals with children’s savings. It suggests foster carers save a minimum of £5 per week for each child from the child’s fostering allowance.
- In its response to Ms F’s complaint, the Council explained its policy on fostering allowances sets out the amounts foster carers should set aside from the child’s fostering allowance for savings. The amount ranges from £5 for the youngest children to £15 for the oldest. This is set out in the Council’s fostering payments policy. The Council says records show this was discussed with Ms F.
- Ms M says one of the children did not have a passport so she was unable to open a savings account.
- I am satisfied the Council makes it clear to foster carers the amounts they should save for the children in their care from their fostering allowance. Even if Ms M had been unable to open a savings account for a child, she could have put the money on one side.
- I do not uphold Ms F’s complaint she was never paid any money for the children’s savings.
- I have ended my investigation. The Ombudsman will not investigate Ms F’s complaint the Council failed the children in her care; Ms F agreed to take young children even though she was only approved to foster older children; the Council accepts it did not provide all the equipment necessary to care for the young children and has offered Ms F a payment; and the fostering allowance provided for the children’s savings.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman