Careless: Helping to improve council services to children in care

Independent reviewing officers (IROs) have an important role in ensuring a council keeps to its plans for children in care and that their best interests are promoted.

This report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman highlights findings from complaints about the services given to children in care.

Common Issues – ensuring stability, tom & nikki’s story

Tim and Nikki fostered two particularly vulnerable children when their birth parents were no longer able to look after them. Professionals reported the children made good progress and started to see Tom and Nikki as their permanent carers.

After two years, Tom and Nikki told the council they wished to adopt the children and would need continued support to help with the children’s complex needs. The council agreed
to assess the couple as prospective adopters and apply for a placement order, but it delayed in carrying out these actions.

The council started to have concerns about Tom and Nikki’s ability to care for the children, given the substantial amount of support they were requesting. It also questioned whether the children were making an expected level of progress.

The council decided the children should be removed from Tom and Nikki’s care and not to give them any notice. Social workers collected the children from school and told them Tom and Nikki had gone on holiday.

What we found

We found the council did not follow most of the required care planning procedures in this case. There was no evidence to support the council’s concerns and there was no statutory review meeting. The council did not consult the independent reviewing officer on the plan to remove the children, whose role it is protect the best interests of the children.

By failing to give Tom and Nikki notice of its plan to remove the children, the couple were unable to legally challenge this decision before it happened. We decided on balance, had they been able to, Tom and Nikki would have taken legal action to prevent the children’s removal. It would then have been for the courts to decide their application to adopt and decide what was in the best interests of the children.

In this case, we used our powers to also consider the injustice the children suffered. We found the children would have been harmed by the sudden removal from the home. While, happily, they were found another foster placement which became long term, the way the council acted denied them the chance to voice their own wishes on the matter.

The council agreed to:

Ensure Independent Reviewing Officers are always involved in decisions to significantly change a looked after child’s care plan.

– Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman (2020, p.13-15) ‘Careless: Helping to improve council services to children in care’

Encouraging local accountability – questions for scrutiny

Learning from complaints

> What concerns have independent reviewing officers raised about children in care and are they satisfied that care planning is appropriate and that recommendations, made at their statutory review meetings, are being implemented promptly?
> Is there a robust dispute resolution process to ensure cases are appropriately escalated to senior managers by independent reviewing officers?
> Are the council’s leaflets or website information about how to make complaints clear to children and young people? Are they easily available?
> Are children and young people told about their entitlement to ask for an advocate?
> How many complaints has a council received from children in care (either from them or on their
behalf)? What has been the outcome and the learning from them?

– Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman (2020, p.25) ‘Careless: Helping to improve council services to children in care’

Read full piece at source: Careless: Helping to improve council services to children in care

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