The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has warned that carers who look after young relatives, or the children of friends, are being treated unfairly by some local authorities. The warning comes in a new report that highlights cases of ‘family and friends' carers' receiving unfair treatment, as well as the common issues found in the complaints it handles.
In one council cited in the report, hundreds of foster carers were denied the correct financial support and a grandmother had filed for bankruptcy because she had had to give up work. Children were also reportedly placed at increased risk because councils failed to properly assess the suitability of a family or friend placement.
Since 2009 the LGO has seen a 53 per cent increase in the number of complaints received each year about children's services. Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman commented: ‘The cases in this report show examples where children and their families, some of whom are very vulnerable and at risk, are being treated unfairly. They highlight the importance of fair treatment so that all children have the best start in life and the best possible support to make their own way and contribute effectively as adults.'
Councils are supposed to publish their policies on family and friends carers but a third fail to do so.
David Simmonds of the Local Government Association said in response to the report: ‘Supporting children at difficult times in their lives is one of the most important things councils do, and foster care arrangements can help turn around a child's life and help them get back on track. Local support reflects the available resources and the needs of the community. While there is no excuse for poor performance, it is a major challenge for all professionals to support children when their circumstances may be regularly changing and there is variable engagement of extended family members due to reasons of family breakdown, ill health or unemployment.'
In August around 340 carers had their allowances backdated after an investigation by the LGO discovered Liverpool City Council had been underpaying them for years. The investigation found that the council was failing to pay those foster carers who look after children up to four-years-old at the National Minimum Fostering Allowance set by government each year, and also failed to pay the Special Guardianship Allowance at the same rate as its foster carers.