Council criticised for “injustice” in abuse allegations probe

A Local Government Ombudsman report criticised the council for not interviewing an adoptive mother or her two children who accused a foster carer of abuse

Photo: Rex/Cultura (posed by models)

A council has been criticised for the “injustice” it caused to a family after it failed to interview children who made allegations of abuse against a foster carer.

The Local Government Ombudsman said Dudley council was guilty of “maladministration”, in its report published last week, after the council did not interview an adoptive mother or her two children, who accused their previous foster carer of physically abusing them.

The carer was alleged to have smacked the children, made one wear a nappy meant for a disabled child, and had given them cold baths. The children were four and five-years-old when they were adopted by the mother, known as Miss B.

The mother also complained to the council that personal items of the girls didn’t travel with them, and the council “did not deal with this effectively for eight months after promising Miss B to recover the children’s belongings”, the Ombudsman said.

Potential harm

Dudley council told the Ombudsman it did not pursue the allegations further because the potential harm that could be caused to the children by interviewing them outweighed the evidence the council might obtain.

However, the report found that Dudley council failed to follow its own ‘serious concern’ procedure for when allegations of abuse were made.

“The council did not deal with the allegations properly,” the ombudsman report said. “While we appreciate there was no ongoing risk to the children, it is serious fault for the council to fail to listen properly to allegations from young and vulnerable children.”

Apologise

Dudley council has been asked to apologise to the adoptive mother and agree a plan for how it will interview the children. It was recommended that the council pay the adoptive mother and two children £200 each. It should also review how it investigates allegations, the Ombudsman said.

Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said “the children themselves must be central to the complaint to ensure that their needs are met”.

Responding to the report, Ian Cooper, cabinet member for children’s services at Dudley council, said its handling of the case did not meet its own standards.

Cooper said: “We are currently going through a fundamental and comprehensive restructure in our children’s services directorate to make sure it can meet the challenges facing local government, while at the same time ensuring looked-after children have the best care and support for their start in life. In this case, which dates back to 2012, we have acknowledged the report from the Ombudsman and we will be following up the recommendations made.”

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2 Responses to Council criticised for “injustice” in abuse allegations probe

  1. A Social Worker September 22, 2015 at 8:32 pm #

    Soooo…is the foster carer looking after other children? I wonder if this a genuine over sight or a case of foster carers needs being prioritised over the needs of the children. Some foster carers are amazing, others aren’t and in my experience local authorities are frightened of challenging foster carers for fear of repercussions. Or maybe it’s because they are so desperate for carers they will accept poor standards of care for the most vulnerable children and young people?

  2. Hilary Searing September 24, 2015 at 8:39 am #

    This case is indicative of a more widespread problem of the way that social workers pick up bad practices from the ‘custom and practice’ in their own authority. In this case practice was not informed by the authority’s formal procedures and was open to legal challenge.

    In safeguarding work there is problem with too much informality – because it allows the authority to do whatever it wants to do without making sure this is compliant with formal procedures and the law. Authorities which fail to follow their own procedures should be held to account for this. However, managers tend to shrug this off by claiming that critics have no understanding of the pressures on children’s services.

    Informality can lead to arbitrary decisions which can bring the profession into disrepute. Formal procedures are there to help social workers provide a service that is child-centred and protective of parents’ rights.