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City council in foster carer dispute after girl’s mother dies

Birmingham City Council considered allowing an 11 year-old girl to be deported during a dispute with her foster carers, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has discovered.

The girl, who was born in the UK, was being looked after by family friends after her mother died as she had no other relatives in the country.

The couple maintained it was not a private arrangement to foster the girl, and they needed the support of the city council as friends and family foster carers. Because of the circumstances of this case, this should have meant the council supported the couple both financially, by paying them the allowances they were due, and practically by providing the support of a supervising social worker.

Because the council held firm it was a private arrangement, the girl was not treated as a looked after child and missed out on the additional support and protections that come with this. This should have included regular reviews of her care plan and appointing an independent reviewing officer to ensure her voice was heard. She also lost contact with her remaining relatives who lived abroad.

The council had a duty to secure legal advice and representation so the girl could make her case to stay in the country. At one point the council suggested telling the carers to go to court if they wanted to continue to care for the child or she would be deported the following month when her leave to remain expired. The council did not act, and so the foster parents had to use money set aside by the girl’s mother in a trust fund to make a successful application for British citizenship.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“A private fostering arrangement can only continue if both the private foster carers and a person who has parental responsibility for the child agree to it. Throughout the time the couple looked after the girl, they were clear the agreement to privately foster the girl only lasted until her mother died.

“The foster carers experienced prolonged frustration at the council’s refusal to consider them as anything other than private foster carers. They have had to deal with the stress of meeting the girl’s needs, securing her residence and citizenship, and pursuing their complaint - all without the support they should have been entitled to.

“The council should have done more to ensure the girl’s needs were met. Her placement living with the couple was at risk, and the council did not do enough to make sure she had the correct legal protection to remain in the country and she lost contact with her only remaining relatives.

“The council should now take the actions I have recommended to ensure friends and family foster carers, and the vulnerable children in their care, are treated properly and in line with the law and guidance.”

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 has agreed to apologise to the girl for not acting sooner to secure her legal status, and address the issues with contact. It should pay her £1,000 for the uncertainty and distress this caused.

It will also apologise to the foster carer and her partner for failing to assess them as friends and family carers and pay them £1,000 for their frustration and stress caused by this.

It will pay the couple the allowances they should have received as friends and family carers and make a payment to the girl’s trust fund to cover the cost of her application for leave to remain and citizenship.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to remind social workers of their responsibility to promote contact between children in private fostering arrangements and their parents; and review all open private fostering cases to ensure it has documented issues highlighted in the report. It will also review open cases of unaccompanied children to ensure it is offering the support outlined in the statutory guidance, especially regarding the child’s immigration status.

Article date: 10 December 2020