By Grainne Cuffe, local democracy reporter
A child in Lewisham Council’s care was forced to sleep on the floor after being removed from his long-term foster carer’s home.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has agreed with an independent investigator that the council “made mistakes” in the handling of the situation.
The young person, a looked after child identified as Mr X in the Ombudsman’s report, was removed from his foster carer’s (Mr F) home in April 2018 after Mr F was arrested. Police decided against pressing charges the following year.
Mr X, who had spent many years in Mr F’s care, objected to his removal at the time. The council decided to place Mr X with a family friend (Ms Y) as an “emergency arrangement” while police investigated.
Ms Y was not an approved foster carer and Mr X was forced to sleep on the floor of her home, which was overcrowded.
He complained to the council and eventually took himself off to live with relatives. Mr X then formally complained to the council, which appointed an independent investigator.
The investigator concluded that the council had “demonstrated a level of risk aversion which impacted negatively on Mr X following the arrest of his foster carer”.
He concluded that the risk assessments the council did in August 2018, which supported Mr X’s return to Mr F, “should have been done sooner”.
“Councils are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of their looked after children, and Mr X’s complaint highlights the need for councils to balance risk against the impact of disrupting long-term placements.
“In Mr X’s case, the council was at fault because it failed to carry out assessments, which took account of Mr X’s wishes and feelings as well as the risk posed by Mr F, at the right time,” according to the Ombudsman.
The independent investigator was also critical of the council’s use of an unregistered carer to care for Mr X, “although he recognised the council attempted to comply with Mr X’s wishes”.
He also criticised the council for having an “overly optimistic view” of the speed with which police would conclude their investigation.
The investigator recommended that the council offer Mr X compensation – the council accepted the findings and offered Mr X £1,600, £1,500 for the faults identified, and £100 for the delays in responding to his complaint.
It has also apologised.
However, Mr X was not satisfied with the compensation and complained to the Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman has backed the independent investigator’s findings but deemed the compensation from the council “appropriate”.
According to the Ombudsman’s findings: “Faults by the council had a considerable impact on Mr X between April 2018, when Mr F was arrested, and August 2018 when he returned to Mr F’s care.
“We call this injustice. It is clear this was an incredibly frustrating time for Mr X.
“His long-term foster placement was disrupted; he faced months of uncertainty about when, and even if, he would return to Mr F’s care.
“He spent months living in overcrowded accommodation without space of his own; he missed a holiday he had been looking forward to; and he made his own arrangements to stay with his family.
“His statement of complaint, and the independent investigator’s report, leave me in no doubt about the impact of these events on him.
“It is a tribute to Mr X that he has pursued his complaint with such determination.”
A Lewisham Council spokesperson said: “Looking after children in care is one of the most important things we do as a council, and we take this responsibility extremely seriously.
“In this case the council has accepted the ombudsman findings and offered an apology to Mr X. This incident happened in early 2018 and improving support for children in care continues to be a priority for the council.”
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