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Council criticised after removing children from foster family

East Riding of Yorkshire Council has apologised to a foster couple after it removed two vulnerable children, they hoped to adopt, from their care. This follows an adjudication by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman after the couple complained.

In a lengthy report, the Ombudsman said the couple took on the children after their birth parents were unable to look after them. When they were removed from their parents’ care, the children were described by the judge as ‘to a considerable degree unmanageable’.

The Ombudsman’s report continued: “The children needed significant therapy and support, but after two years, the couple decided they wanted to adopt the children. They told the council they would need ongoing support with the children to help them progress.

“Assessments of the couple by various professionals suggested they were giving the children a stable, caring home life. The council allowed the children to attend the couple’s wedding and take the children on holiday abroad.

“However, the council says it started to have concerns about the couple’s ability to look after the children long term given the amount of care they were requesting.”

The Ombudssman said the children were removed from the couple’s care after social workers picked them up from school without telling the couple of their intentions.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found numerous faults in the council’s social work practice, including unreasonable delay in starting adoption assessments of the couple, poor record keeping, poor decision making when deciding to remove the children from the couple’s care and poor complaints handling. The council also failed to be transparent with the couple about the concerns it had about them. This denied the couple the chance to challenge the council’s decision through the courts before the children were removed from their care.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said: “Councils must base key decisions about the welfare of children in their care, on sound, balanced evidence and go through the proper process, which takes into account legal requirements and statutory guidance. 

“In this case, vulnerable siblings who had had a chaotic background, were removed from their first taste of a stable family life with a couple who had been clear about wanting to give them a permanent home.

“And, while reports suggest the children are now content in their current placement, we cannot say what effect the sudden removal will have in the long-term. I urge East Riding Council to accept the recommendations in my report to ensure crucial decisions such as these are not made in the same way in future.”

He said the council should apologise to the couple and consider issuing a document stating its reasons for not approving them as prospective adopters, so they can challenge this through an Independent Review Mechanism.

It should also pay them £5,000 for their avoidable distress and a further £500 for their time and trouble in pursuing the complaint.

Additionally, it should place a copy of this report on the couple’s files so that, if they apply to another adoption agency, the new agency will have access to the information in this report.

In recognition of the potential harm caused, the council should set aside £2,000 for each child in a savings account for when older. It should place a copy of this report on their social care files so, when older and, if the children request access to their files, they can see the efforts the couple made to pursue their concerns about the children’s removal as well as their clear wish for the children to have remained with them long term.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public and has recommended the council ensures Independent Reviewing Officers are, in future, actively involved and consulted when there is to be a significant change to a looked after child’s care plan.

It should also ensure social work staff follow the requirements to hold a ‘looked after’ child review when making significant decisions, unless there is a safeguarding issue requiring immediate removal of a child; and it should report back on its review of foster care procedures and training on record keeping.

In a statement issued to Beverley Fm, East Riding of Yorkshire Council said: “The council has accepted the findings and recommendations of the Ombudsman and has apologised to Mr and Mrs X for those actions in which the council was found to be at fault.  The safeguarding of children in its care is a paramount consideration for the council.  In this case, as in every other, the children’s best interests remained its key priority throughout.” 

It continued: “The council maintains that the decisions made in this case, over four years ago, were right for these children.  However, we fully accept that the decisions were delivered and communicated poorly.  The council has learned important lessons arising from this and has made changes to its practice as a result.”