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Liverpool City Council (17 020 257)

Category : Children's care services > Friends and family carers

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 29 Mar 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs B complained that the Council failed to approve her and her husband as foster carers in accordance with a care order made in 2006 and as a result failed to offer them adequate support both emotional and practical. The Council has agreed to pay Mrs B £1000 in addition to £7000 previously offered, to provide an explanation as to why they were never approved as foster carers, allow them an opportunity to check the information held on the case records is correct and ensure it takes action to formalise any other long-term unregulated placements.

The complaint

  1. Mrs B complains that Liverpool City Council (the Council):
    • failed to approve her and her husband as foster carers in accordance with the care order made in 2006;
    • failed to regularise her nephew’s status since the care order was made;
    • failed to provide financial support to Mrs B for the entire period she was looking after her nephew;
    • delayed in dealing with her complaint and failed to properly explain what went wrong and the reasons for it; and
    • failed to offer any compensation for the period before January 2014 and failed to provide a proper explanation for this.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. I have written to Mrs B and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments.
  2. 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.

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What I found

  1. Mrs B has been looking after her nephew, C, since 2005, after the Council asked her to step in on an emergency basis. When it became apparent that this was intended to be a longer-term arrangement Mr and Mrs B applied for a residence order. An interim residence order was granted while reports were obtained. But a full residence order was not obtained because, in 2006, the court made a care order in respect of C with a recommendation they be approved as foster carers.
  2. But this has never happened. Mrs B says it went to Panel once but the Panel wanted more information about the interim residence order. She does not think it returned. She says C’s file states they were not approved as foster carers because Mr B was diagnosed with terminal cancer, but this is not accurate. He was not diagnosed until 2009 and the cancer was successfully treated.
  3. C had regular reviews and a series of social workers. But Mr and Mrs B never had their own social worker as they were never approved as foster carers.
  4. The Council says it formally authorised a placement with Mr and Mrs B under the Placement with Parents Regulations 1991 and approved Mr and Mrs B as Regulation 38 carers. This was supported by a care order in 2006.
  5. The Council cannot find a copy of the court order. It has provided a copy of a court document dated 10 May 2007 saying that the Council was now paying foster care allowance to Mr and Mrs B at an appropriate rate and the arrears had been largely discharged. It has also provided the final care plan for court dated 2 February 2007 which says:

“[C] has been residing with Mrs [B] since 30.06.05 and will continue to do so under a Section 31 Care Order. This placement has been authorised by the Team Leader and Principal officer under the Placement with Parents Regulations 1991.”

  1. Mrs B has provided a copy of the court order dated 18 October 2006. It says:

“It being further recorded that the Local Authority shall pay to Mr and Mrs [B] a sum equivalent to the payment of the full foster care allowance at £140 per week dating back to [C’s] placement in their care on 30/06/05…It is further noted that Mr and Mrs [B] will undergo a provisional 38 Foster care Assessment and on approval are entitled to receive such additional payments associated to Foster Carers (ie Birthdays, Christmas, Holidays etc).”

  1. The Council says, following a complaint in 2013, it made a back-payment of around £3500 for age-related increases. The Council confirmed this by letter on 6 January 2014 and directed Mrs B to the Ombudsman if she wished to pursue the complaint further.
  2. In November 2017 Mrs B complained to the Council about the fact she and her husband were never approved as foster carers, lack of clarity about the status of the placement, inaccurate information about them on C’s records and lack of support for them. C was now 18 years old and the Council was making ‘Staying Put’ payments to Mrs B (payments to enable children to remain with their foster carers once they reach adulthood).
  3. After intervention from our office, the Council responded to the complaint in August 2018. It said the Council acknowledged there had been a lack of clarity about Mrs B’s status as a carer for C and offered an apology. It also offered her a backdated payment of the level one professional fee (£30 per week) since January 2014. This was the date the Council started to pay professional fees to family and friends foster carers. The total payment amounted to around £7000.
  4. Mrs B was unhappy with this response and complained to us. We exercised discretion to investigate because we considered it was reasonable for Mrs B to have waited until C was an adult before coming to us because of the insecurity of her position.

Analysis

  1. The Council has allowed C to remain in an unregulated care placement for many years. This was fault. The original placement was on an emergency basis and arrangements under the Placements with Parents Regulations 1991 (replaced by the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010) should only be made for a temporary, time-limited period.
  2. The court recommended in 2006 that Mr and Mrs B should be approved as foster carers and paid the appropriate allowances. It seems the payments were made but the Council never approved Mr and Mrs B as foster carers or formalised the arrangement in any other way.
  3. This caused Mrs B injustice as she never had a supervising social worker and so missed out on emotional support and a person to go to for advice. She may also have missed out on the opportunity to go on courses for foster carers to improve her skills and gain support from other foster carers. An added injustice is the insecurity of the placement and the worry that the Council could end the placement easily if it so wished.
  4. The Council, in either its complaint response or response to our enquiries, has not given any rationale for the placement remaining unregulated for such a long period or any reasons as to why it did not take any action to formalise the arrangements in 2013/14 when Mrs B complained.
  5. I consider the Council has paid allowances as if Mr and Mrs B were foster carers so I cannot conclude they missed out financially. Although there will always be an uncertainty that Mrs B could have undergone training and been eligible for a higher skills payment.

Agreed action

  1. In recognition of the injustice caused to Mr and Mrs B over a prolonged period of time and the uncertainty that remains, I asked the Council, within one month of the date of this decision, to:
    • pay Mrs B £1000 in addition to the £7000 already offered;
    • provide Mrs B with an explanation as to why the Council never approved her and her husband as foster carers;
    • allow an opportunity for Mrs B to check the Council does not hold incorrect information about them on its case files; and
    • check whether it has any other children on unregulated placements for extended periods of time and if so to ensure it takes steps to regularise them.
  2. The Council has agreed to my recommendations.

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Final decision

  1. I consider this is a fair and reasonable way of resolving the complaint and I have completed my investigation on this basis.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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