Hillingdon council’s children’s services has been criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) for pursuing alternative carers for a seven-year-old girl currently placed with a foster family, to the detriment of her well-being.
The council has been looking without success for an adoptive family for the girl, who has autism and other developmental difficulties, for two years.
She was removed from her parents at the age of two due to chronic neglect and has been placed with a foster family who are ‘committed to her long-term care’ since May 2011, according to the LGO report.
But the foster family refused to become special guardians, since they felt they needed the extra long-term support they would receive if the girl remained a looked after child.
This refusal led the council to continue looking for an alternative permanent family, against the child’s wishes to stay with her foster family.
The girl’s advocate contacted the LGO, concerned that the council was not acting in her best interests and leaving her in a state of uncertainty that caused her anxiety and was detrimental to her emotional well-being.
Local government ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin said: “While I understand the council’s desire to place the situation with the foster family on a more solid footing, the distress caused to the girl by her very real fear of being pulled out of that caring family environment should have been taken seriously.
“All children deserve a stable family life and for far too long this little girl has been distressed by the uncertainty of not having a permanent home, despite having a foster family who very much wanted to be her long-term carers.”
Following the investigation, the London Borough of Hillingdon has “agreed to reconsider options for the little girl’s future as soon as possible,” the LGO reported: “The council will also review social work practice and provide training as necessary to ensure that in future officers follow the proper process to amend care plans of looked after children.”
The council has confirmed that a Looked after Child review will be carried out and the girl will now stay living with her foster carers.
The LGO recommends a sum of £500 be paid to the foster family to spend on the little girl as they see fit, but the council said they will double this figure in light of the ombudsman’s investigation.
Fran Beasley, chief executive of the London Borough of Hillingdon, said: “We are sorry for the delay that occurred in this case and we have apologised to the child and their carers. We will ensure that they receive any support that may be needed.
“The council has now addressed the issues raised in the report to the satisfaction of the LGO and made improvements to the service to ensure that it is not repeated.”
John Simmonds, director of policy for the British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF) feels it is essential, where children cannot be safely returned to their birth family, for local authorities to ensure they make “well-resourced plans to establish an alternative family life for the child that is secure and loving,” he said.
“The child’s view and experiences must always be part of this. Consideration should always be given to the child’s current placement and their current carers. Moving children is always disruptive and in some cases it is traumatic and damaging if it is not well managed,” he said.