The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has asked East Riding of Yorkshire Council to apologise to a foster couple after it removed two vulnerable children, they hoped to adopt, from their care.
The couple took on the children after their birth parents were unable to look after them. When they were removed from their parents’ care, the children were described by the judge as ‘to a considerable degree unmanageable’.
The children needed significant therapy and support, but after two years, the couple decided they wanted to adopt the children. They told the council they would need ongoing support with the children to help them progress.
Assessments of the couple by various professionals suggested they were giving the children a stable, caring home life. The council allowed the children to attend the couple’s wedding and take the children on holiday abroad.
However, the council says it started to have concerns about the couple’s ability to look after the children long term given the amount of care they were requesting.
The children were removed from the couple’s care; social workers picked the children up from school without telling the couple of their intentions.
The Ombudsman’s investigation has found numerous faults in the council’s social work practice, including unreasonable delay in starting adoption assessments of the couple, poor record keeping, poor decision making when deciding to remove the children from the couple’s care and poor complaints handling. The council also failed to be transparent with the couple about the concerns it had about them. This denied the couple the chance to challenge the council’s decision through the courts before the children were removed from their care.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said:
“Councils must base key decisions about the welfare of children in their care, on sound, balanced evidence and go through the proper process, which takes into account legal requirements and statutory guidance.
“In this case, vulnerable siblings who had had a chaotic background, were removed from their first taste of a stable family life with a couple who had been clear about wanting to give them a permanent home.
“And, while reports suggest the children are now content in their current placement, we cannot say what effect the sudden removal will have in the long-term.
“I urge East Riding Council to accept the recommendations in my report to ensure crucial decisions such as these are not made in the same way in future.”
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council should apologise to the couple and consider issuing a document stating its reasons for not approving them as prospective adopters, so they can challenge this through an Independent Review Mechanism.
It should also pay them £5,000 for their avoidable distress and a further £500 for their time and trouble in pursuing the complaint.
Additionally, it should place a copy of this report on the couple’s files so that, if they apply to another adoption agency, the new agency will have access to the information in this report.
In recognition of the potential harm caused, the council should set aside £2,000 for each child in a savings account for when older. It should place a copy of this report on their social care files so, when older and, if the children request access to their files, they can see the efforts the couple made to pursue their concerns about the children’s removal as well as their clear wish for the children to have remained with them long term.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. The Ombudsman has recommended the council ensures Independent Reviewing Officers are, in future, actively involved and consulted when there is to be a significant change to a looked after child’s care plan. It should ensure social work staff follow the requirements to hold a ‘looked after’ child review when making significant decisions, unless there is a safeguarding issue requiring immediate removal of a child; and it should report back on its review of foster care procedures and training on record keeping.
Article date: 14 June 2019