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Family foster carers could be due backdated payments following Ombudsman investigation

Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council has agreed to check whether it has paid friends and family foster carers properly over the past five years, following an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The Ombudsman has asked the council to consider backdating fostering allowances to carers after it received a complaint from the relatives of two vulnerable children who believed they had not been supported properly.

The relatives had taken in the children after the siblings’ parents were unable to look after them. The children were deemed at risk, and were on Child Protection Plans, due to their parents’ problems, and their unsafe living environment.

At the time, the council considered it was a private arrangement between the children's parents and the relatives. This meant the family carers were not provided with appropriate financial assistance and support from the council, and the children missed out on the support to which they were entitled as ‘looked after children’.

The relatives complained to the council in their own right, and also on behalf of another relative who looked after the children. The council’s own investigation found it was at fault. It offered them a significant sum as a token payment for the financial impact of caring for the children, and for the cost of the therapy the children needed. However, it still did not accept it had been responsible for placing the children in their relatives’ care.

The Ombudsman found the council had been actively involved in the case, including involving the Police, and so the relatives should have been entitled to the council’s support.

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

“Children cared for by friends and family foster carers are often some of the most vulnerable in society: so it is vital that those looking after them receive the full support to which they are entitled.

“In this case it is quite clear that had the relatives not taken the children under their wings, they would have needed state care, so the council should have treated their relatives as friends and family foster carers.

“It is to the council’s credit that it has readily accepted my recommendations, and I hope the changes it will now make will ensure relatives’ situations are made clear when they take on the role of foster parents 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 has agreed to apologise to the relatives and calculate what they should have received in family fostering payments between March and July 2017, and also what family fostering allowances they should have received between late October and early December 2017, and between the middle of December 2017 to September 2019.

It should also make a payment of £750 to one set of relatives, and £300 to the other relative for their avoidable distress.

It will also provide £1,000 for each child to be used appropriately to make up for the lack of statutory support, along with legal funding for the relatives to apply for a Special Guardianship Order for the children.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to produce an advice leaflet for carers. It will also check whether other family carers have been similarly disadvantaged and tell the Ombudsman whether it will be willing to backdate those carers’ fostering allowances. It will also exercise discretion to look at historic complaints from families which approach it within 12 months and who are complaining about events from up to five years ago.

Article date: 08 June 2021