Social workers in Essex removed a vulnerable teen from the care of her family ‘without any warning’, ombudsman finds.
Essex County Council has been criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) for placing a teenager with foster carers in response to a complaint without first attempting to address the problems between her and her family.
The teenager had been living with her relatives since she was a child, but she contacted social workers after a disagreement with her aunt and uncle and said she no longer wanted to live with them.
Social workers then took the girl straight from school to new carers, without first considering ways of supporting her current placement with her relatives, and without telling either the aunt and uncle or the girl that this would happen.
The social workers failed to inform the girl’s new foster family that she was assessed as being ‘very vulnerable with moderate learning difficulties’ and had a tendency to trust strangers.
The girl then hitched a ride back to her aunt and uncle’s home and made what the LGO described as ‘serious allegations’ about the foster family. These were not properly recorded or investigated.
The teen’s family — with whom she remained with until over 18 — complained to the council about their treatment but then went to the LGO after Essex County Council took too long to resolve the matter.
The LGO investigation criticised Essex County Council for not following the statutory children’s complaints process and for delay.
The council also did not pay the family the full financial remedy recommended by an independent investigator during the council’s initial complaint investigation.
‘Social workers have to make difficult decisions when removing vulnerable children from their relatives,’ said Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
‘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.’
Responding the LGO’s findings, Cllr Dick Madden, Essex County Council’s cabinet member for adults and children, said: ‘We acknowledge the findings of the Local Government Ombudsman’s report and accept that mistakes were made in the way this case was handled.
‘We apologise for any distress caused and are complying with all of the suggested recommendations.
‘This case dates back to 2011 and a number of changes have been made to our services since then.
‘The best interests of the child are always our primary consideration when terminating foster care placements, and I am confident that appropriate procedures are now being followed.’