A council has agreed to pay a woman £7,500 after the local government watchdog found it left her exposed to significant harm while in its care and failed to sufficiently consider her human rights.
Lewisham council failed to immediately remove Miss X from the placements where she had reported abuse, and could not show that it carried out appropriate investigations after she alleged abuse by her foster carers, said the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
This meant there was a lack of evidence for it to address any continued risk of significant harm to the foster carers’ own children or any other children placed with them.
When Miss X then complained about her treatment, including regarding a lack of support she received as a care leaver, Lewisham did not take her concerns seriously, and impeded internal investigations into her complaints.
‘Avoidable harm and distress’
In recommending a payout far in excess of the watchdog’s usual £1,000 maximum, for the “avoidable” harm and distress caused to Miss X, ombudsman Michael King said: “My investigation found London Borough of Lewisham failed in its role as this woman’s corporate parent to keep her safe, provide her with the minimum of ‘good enough’ parenting, and prevent her being exposed to further significant harm while placed in its care.
“And instead of being open and transparent, both with my investigator and those tasked with its own internal investigation, it sought to impede the process by withholding the full body of evidence it holds. This has left the young woman distressed not only by what happened to her, but also by being denied closure without knowing the outcome.”
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Lewisham council has accepted the report’s findings and the ombudsman’s other recommendations to apologise to Miss X for its failings and:
- Provide her with the outcome of its investigation into her former foster carers, together with details of any other action taken relating to the foster carers’ continued approval and any child protection enquiries carried out in response to her allegations.
- Review its approach to information sharing in the statutory complaints procedure.
- Provide the ombudsman with an action plan detailing how and when it intends to complete recommendations made in the council’s own complaint report.
King added: “It is important the council uses this case as a chance to learn. So I welcome it agreeing to my recommendations to improve its processes, which should benefit all looked after children in the borough.”
In 2010, Miss X was in a children’s home when she reported to the council that she had been raped (by the cousin of another resident) and physically assaulted by another resident.
Then in 2013, Miss X reported to the council the foster carers had been emotionally abusive to her for several years. Miss X also reported incidents she had witnessed of the foster carers physically abusing their birth children.
And while living in a residential unit in August 2015, Miss X told the council about a safeguarding incident involving a male staff member.
In 2018, Miss X made a complaint to the council, which appointed an investigating officer to look into her treatment by the local authority.
The investigating officer found the council had been slow to act in ensuring Miss X did not remain in the children’s home in 2010 where she suffered significant harm and was at risk of continued harm.
The investigation found the council should not have waited until October 2013 to move Miss X from her foster placement when she had reported significant and serious safeguarding incidents to it in July 2013.
And it found the council had not told Miss X the outcome of its local authority designated officer (LADO) investigations into her foster carers in 2013 and the residential unit employee in 2015.
The ombudsman judged that the investigating officer’s findings were sound and added that the council failed to provide “clear and full information” about the LADO referrals and impeded its internal investigation.
It also found that the council did not pay due regard to Miss X’s human rights. The report found her absolute right to freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment was engaged when the council failed to follow child protection procedures following the incidents in 2010, 2013 and 2015.
‘Trajectory of improvement’
The council acknowledged that there were “a number of shortcomings in the quality of services” delivered by its social care department and in its response to the woman’s complaint.
“A comprehensive plan to drive up standards has been in place in Lewisham Children’s Social Care since 2018 and we are seeing a positive trajectory of improvement,” said Chris Barnham, cabinet member for children’s services.
“We are committed to continually improving our services for children in care, and the learning from this report has informed our improvement planning.
“We have apologised unreservedly to the complainant and have shared with them the reports requested by the ombudsman.”