A family and friends foster carer who took on three vulnerable children after their mother was unable to care for them, failed to get council support for the arrangement for 6 years.
Following an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), LB Tower Hamlets has been asked to provide the support it should have given from the outset.
The children’s mother, who had drug and alcohol dependency problems, had frequently been in and out of hospital. At those times the children had been sent to live with relatives.
However, following a family crisis, a family friend was asked to take the children to live with her and her own three children in a small three-bedroom council property. The children’s relatives had been unable to take them in.
The single mother, who was only loosely connected to the family, was then left with no support from LB Tower Hamlets and had to buy clothes, beds and other items, as the children had been left with nothing. The oldest two children only stayed for a month, but the youngest – a girl – continues to live with her. Their mother died in 2012.
When a council is involved in some way in a foster placement, but wishes to say it is a private arrangement, officers must make it clear to the person taking on the children that it is a private arrangement. The birth parent will be responsible for financial support. The council should record these discussions. None of this happened in this case.
The council allowed the single mother to take on the children without having conducted any kind of assessment or background check. A later assessment found she was an excellent carer and records show she has made a significant difference to the girl, who is now thriving under her care.
Throughout the past 6 years the foster carer has tried to get the proper support from Tower Hamlets council, but has been repeatedly refused, with the council claiming that it was a private arrangement. At related court proceedings, a judge said there was no evidence it was a private arrangement and added the foster carer’s requests for support from the council had been ‘woefully overlooked’.
The carer also contacted Family Rights Group’s advice service, which explained that she should have been assessed and supported as a local authority foster carer by the local authority from the outset.
The woman finally complained to the LGO about the lack of support from the council and it has found in her favour.
Michael King, Local Government Ombudsman, said:
'The courts set out what should happen in these cases involving family and friends carers in 2007, and we issued a focus report on it in 2013. Despite this we 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.
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. The child was fortunate to have been placed with someone, by accident rather than design, who could provide her with a loving home. We have asked the council to report back to us on what happened to the child’s two older siblings.'
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group,
'It is just luck that this amazing woman has provided this young girl with the love, security and care that she required. However, this is despite rather than because of the actions of the local authority. This was a good Samaritan who herself was impoverished. She did right by three children whom she hardly knew before they came to live with her. Her reward was to be treated appallingly by the very organisation that should have been protecting and promoting the welfare of these children.
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.
We would encourage any kinship carer who feels that they have been similarly badly treated to contact our advice service or read materials on our website www.frg.org.uk.'
To remedy the situation, LB Tower Hamlets has agreed to apologise to the woman and pay her as if she had been a family and friends foster carer for the past 6 years.
It should also pay her other costs associated with initially taking on the three children and the legal advice she obtained.
In future it will ensure that if it believes an arrangement is a private family one, all parties are aware of the nature of the arrangement and from where financial support may come.
The Local Government Ombudsman report is available to download here.