Essex council has agreed to pay £1,800 to a family after its decision to remove a girl from her aunt and uncle’s care without warning caused “considerable distress”.
The teenage girl, who had moderate learning difficulties, had lived with her aunt and uncle since she was a child. She also had respite care provided by her grandparents.
There were difficulties in the home, and she told social workers she was unhappy. The council took the decision to place her with new carers but failed to tell the girl, her aunt and uncle and grandparents until a social worker turned up at her school to remove her, a Local Government Ombudsman investigation found.
The ombudsman said the council had no reason to believe the placement would fail without extra support and there was “no evidence” the girl was at immediate risk of significant harm.
The council’s decision to end the placement instead appeared to be based on concerns over the uncle’s refusal to allow the girl’s social worker into his house, the ombudsman found.
The council told the ombudsman it had problems working with the couple. The uncle would only let her social worker talk to the girl on the doorstep or in the garden as he was concerned over the social worker’s “influence” on his other children.
The council told the ombudsman the uncle was “aggressive and non-cooperative”. The authority also claimed the aunt failed to attend meetings. Both accusations were denied by the pair.
After moving the girl, her social workers did not emphasise her vulnerabilities to her new carers, the investigation found. She absconded from their care when they left her unsupervised in a park, where she hitched a lift from a stranger back to her aunt and uncle’s house.
The girl was eventually returned to her aunt and uncle’s care, where she continued to live past her 18th birthday.
The ombudsman also criticised the council’s handling of the family’s complaint.
It recommended Essex should pay £550 to the girl, £850 to her aunt and uncle and £400 to her grandparents as remedy for the distress caused. The ombudsman also told the council to review decisions about foster care placements it had terminated in the past year to ensure correct procedures were followed.
The council agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendations, and apologised to the family.
Michael King, local government and social care ombudsman, said: “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.”