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Hillingdon girl likely to stay with foster carers following Ombudsman’s investigation

LGO concerned by lack of stability caused by search for adopters

A disabled Hillingdon girl is now looking forward to a more stable life, following an investigation by the Local Government Ombudsman.~

The seven-year-old was removed from her parents when she was two because of chronic neglect and possible abuse and has been under local authority care ever since as a looked after child. Despite the girl being settled with a foster family committed to her long-term care, London Borough of Hillingdon has pursued a search for alternative carers, even though the council's advisers recommended she stay where she is.

The LGO found that during her time in care the council has spent two years looking for a family to adopt the girl, who has autism and other developmental delays, but none was found. She has been living with her current foster family since May 2011.

The council asked the current foster carers to become special guardians, which would mean a more permanent arrangement, but the family told social workers they would need the extra long-term support they would receive if she remained a looked after child, and declined to become special guardians.

Because of the family's refusal social workers carried on looking for an alternative permanent family, despite all evidence that this was not in her best interest. This uncertainty about her future has caused the girl significant stress and anxiety, damaging her welfare, her emotional wellbeing and her ability to learn.

The girl's advocate contacted the LGO complaining that the council was not listening to the wishes of the girl to stay with her foster family.

Following the LGO's investigation, London Borough of Hillingdon has agreed to reconsider options for the girl's future as soon as possible. It will also arrange a 'Looked after Child review' chaired by the independent reviewing officer to confirm that she will now stay living with her foster carers.

The council will also review social work practice and provide training as necessary to ensure that in future officers follow the proper process to amend care plans of looked after children.

The council will also consider the need for appropriate therapeutic help for the girl to help manage the process and the uncertainty surrounding it and will pay the foster family £500 to spend on her as they consider appropriate to recognise the stress and uncertainty caused to her.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

"I am pleased that London Borough of Hillingdon has agreed to my recommendations, and that the girl can find the stability she craves now that she will be remaining with her foster family.

"All children deserve a stable family life and for far too long this little girl has been distressed by the uncertainty of not having a permanent home, despite having a foster family who very much wanted to be her long-term carers.

"While I understand the council's desire to place the situation with the foster family on a more solid footing, the distress caused to the girl by her very real fear of being pulled out of that caring family environment should have been taken seriously."