Laura Sharman 22 October 2015

Councils told to 'weigh up all options' when safeguarding children

Councils have been reminded to consider all the options available when safeguarding vulnerable children to avoid making ‘knee-jerk reactions’.

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has published a report warning councils to weigh up all options and subsequent consequences when taking action to protect children.

The reminder follows an investigation into how Sandwell Council managed an allegation made about a foster carer of two young children. After a foster carer was arrested, social workers woke the children up and removed them from the man’s care. The LGO said there was no evidence the council had a strategy discussion on the best way to remove the children from the man’s care or what other options were available.

The police later said the allegations against the man were unfounded and and considered them to be malicious. The children were returned to their foster home two weeks after the police closed the case.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said: ‘Essential safeguarding processes are in place not to add time and bureaucracy, but to ensure that children’s welfare is paramount.

‘Clearly, councils do not take a decision lightly to urgently remove a child from their home, however they must be able to demonstrate they have thought about all their options and considered the child’s best interests.’

The council has agreed to review its policies in carrying out and recording strategy discussions, and will give staff training on the issue. It will also pay compensation to the foster career and the two children.

Councillor Simon Hackett, Sandwell Council's cabinet member for children's services, said: 'We have a duty to respond in a timely way to make sure vulnerable children are protected. This will always be our top priority.

'We respond on the information available to us at the time, as in this case when we received information from the police. We also have a duty to ensure we have considered all the options and that we have evidenced this correctly.

'We have accepted and are implementing the Ombudsman's recommendations. We have also met with the foster carer after receiving this report.

'We are pleased that the Ombudsman's report acknowledges the council's duty to act promptly in response to child safeguarding risks.'

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