#FamLaw: Essex County Council agrees payouts + review of foster care placement terminations after LGO report

Essex County Council agrees payouts, review of foster care placement terminations after LGO report! ~ Mark Smulian, Local Government Lawyer, Wednesday, 15 March 2017.

Essex County Council social workers moved a vulnerable teenager from her aunt and uncle’s care without warning, and then failed to follow the statutory children’s complaints process, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has said.

The teenager had been living with relatives since she was a child, but after some disagreements contacted social workers to say she no longer wished to do so.

Social workers took her straight from school to new carers, without first considering ways of supporting her current placement, and without telling either her aunt and uncle or the girl that this would happen, the LGO said.

The girl had been assessed as ‘very vulnerable with moderate learning difficulties’, and as lacking a sense of danger with a tendency to go along with strangers without any hesitation.

Social workers did not emphasise the girl’s vulnerability to her new foster family and she absconded from their care, hitching a lift with a stranger back to her aunt and uncle’s house, where she has since chosen to remain.

The family complained to Essex, which took too long to resolve the matter, and so they in turn complained to the LGO.

Essex did not follow the statutory children’s complaints process, caused delay and failed to pay the full financial remedy recommended by an independent investigator during the council’s initial investigation, the Ombudsman said.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King, said: “Social workers have to make difficult decisions when removing vulnerable children from their relatives. Government guidance states that children in immediate risk of significant harm should be removed from the placement, but in this case there was no evidence that threshold had been reached.

“While the young person had needs above that of a typical teenager, the council had no reason to believe the placement could not have continued given the right support. This is borne out by the fact the teenager is still living with her relatives despite being over the age of 18.This fault was compounded by significant failings in how council then handled the family’s complaint.”

Essex has agreed to apologise, pay redress and review all decisions in the past year to terminate foster care placements.

Dick Madden, cabinet member for adults and children, said: “We acknowledge and accept the findings of the Local Government Ombudsman’s report. It is clear that mistakes were made in the way this case was handled.”

He added: “The events described in the report date back to 2011, when the council’s children’s services were under pressure and rated as inadequate.

“Since then, many changes and improvements have been made and we are now rated as good. I am very confident that all the appropriate procedures are now being followed.”

Mark Smulian

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