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Local authority tried to move vulnerable teen from residential school without her consent

Ombudsman finds ‘undue distress’ caused to 13-year old

The Local Government Ombudsman has determined that social workers at Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council caused undue distress to a vulnerable teenager when they tried to force her to move from the residential school she attended.

The 13-year-old had settled at a school some way from Walsall when the council decided to move the girl – on financial grounds – to a placement closer to home. Despite warnings from the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) and the Office of the Children's Rights Director that the move would be against statutory guidance, the council continued to try to move her at short notice, causing her "serious distress".

The teenager was placed at the residential school in late 2011, but by July 2012 the council's education panel decided to withdraw funding for the placement because it considered the girl not to have special educational needs. However, the council did not hold a care planning meeting with the school, did not take into account the girl's wishes and gave her little notice of the planned move.

The council's records show that between September and December 2012 it told the girl she would be moving on a number of occasions. It was clear the teenager did not want to move and found the prospect distressing. These moves were often given with short notice but never materialised.

By the end of January 2013 the LGO became involved and spoke to the council, warning it that any further action to move the teen might be considered maladministration, but two days later a social worker visited the girl and asked her to sign a written agreement to visit schools and placements.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman said:

"While I appreciate the financial constraints that councils are under in the current economic climate, this in no way gives them licence to ignore their legal obligations.

"The council maintained their path of moving the girl, when numerous parties, including the school, her advocate, my investigator and The Office of the Children's Rights Director strongly advised against it, leaving her distressed and with very little stability in her life.

"I am pleased to see that Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council has agreed to most of my recommendations, and I would urge them to consider how they work with vulnerable children in future."

The LGO has recommended that the council hold £1,000 in trust for the girl for a period of up to three years, to be paid at her advocate's request to cover education, training and leisure expenses.

The council has also agreed to review its policies and procedures for cases where it proposes to end placements to ensure these policies comply fully with statutory guidance relating to care planning and consultation with children who are looked after, their carers and advocates. It has also agreed to arrange training for its social workers to make sure they understand and adhere to the requirements of statutory guidance relating to care planning.

The ombudsman has also recommended that the council apologise to the teenager for failing to progress her complaint or freeze the planned move when asked to do so.

4/10/13