A council has agreed to pay compensation to a foster carer after an ombudsman investigation found the authority wrongly refused her financial support for six years.
The woman agreed to take in three children in 2010 after their mother, who had drug and alcohol problems, could not care for them. She was only “loosely connected” to the children’s family but Tower Hamlets council repeatedly refused her requests for financial support, claiming the care placement was a private arrangement that it was not involved in.
Council in the wrong
The ombudsman concluded the placement was not private and the council should have paid the woman as a family and friends foster carer.
The investigation found the local authority:
- Failed to explain to the carer that it believed she would be agreeing to a private arrangement that would not qualify for financial support.
- Was wrong to claim it was not involved in the placement given the children were on child protection plans and on the verge of being taken into care.
- Failed to carry out any assessment or background check of the carer before letting the children move. A later assessment was positive of the care she provided.
- Did not consider section 17 entitlements for the children during the period it considered them as being in a private arrangement.
As a result of the investigation the council apologised and agreed to back-pay the carer the funding she would have received over six years of caring for the youngest child. She will also receive payments covering the month she cared for the two older children before they left.
Failed to explain
The children arrived at the placement with no possessions, school uniform, spare clothes or bedding, the ombudsman found. The carer, a single parent who was also caring for her own three children, incurred costs making sure the foster children could get to their school that was some distance away. The result was they had “excellent” attendance, where it had previously been poor.
At the time social workers failed to explain to the woman the council’s view that she would be agreeing to a private fostering arrangement. However, the ombudsman also found the mother of the children could not have consented to a private arrangement given “she was under the influence of a significant amount of alcohol”.
The ombudsman found the council later missed another opportunity to provide the right support. When the carer applied to become the special guardian of the youngest child in 2012, an assessment by the local authority estimated a £950 a month shortfall in her finances.
The carer argued the council should pay her for caring for the child since November 2010 as a family and friends foster carer. However, the local authority rejected the claim and again insisted it was a private arrangement. The carer withdrew her special guardianship request after being dissatisfied with the support package offered by the council.
The ombudsman concluded the council had committed a “significant fault” and caused “significant injustice” through its actions.
Michael King, the Local Government Ombudsman, said: “In this case the council was so involved in what happened it is hard to see how this could have been considered a private arrangement. The mother was not in any condition to consent to the woman taking on the children in the first place, and the final arrangement was made without the mother being present.
“I am pleased that the council has now agreed to our recommendations; however this is a case which could so easily have been resolved sooner.”
A Tower Hamlets council spokesman said: “We fully accept the ombudsman’s findings and we are grateful to the carer for the care she has provided, and continues to provide, to the children involved in this case.
“We have now reviewed our processes to make sure this does not reoccur in similar circumstances. We will shortly be compensating her for the time she cared for the children”.
Cathy Ashley, chief executive of the Family Rights Group, said these cases happen frequently, despite case law and published reports.
“The Local Government Ombudsman are still seeing a disappointing number of cases where councils try to pass on responsibility to somebody else when records clearly show they should be responsible for supporting the children. They are almost a daily feature of calls to our advice service. This is inexcusable. Those who suffer are some of our country’s most vulnerable children and their kinship carers,” Ashley said.