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Children’s voices should be heard, Local Government Ombudsman urges

Complaint upheld after LA fails to pursue foster children’s allegations

 The statutory children's complaints process ensures young people's voices are heard and councils must ensure they follow it, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has said.

The message comes following an investigation into a complaint against Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council, in which two adopted children made allegations about their former foster carer.

The little girls, who were four and five years old at the time, told their new mother that the foster carer had smacked them, made one wear a nappy meant for a disabled child, and had given them cold baths.

Despite their adoptive mother contacting the council about these allegations, and the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) deciding that the issue should be dealt with as a serious concern, the council did not convene a planning meeting involving all the relevant officers.

Instead, the foster carer was told about the allegations before social workers had the chance to speak to the mother and children. The council decided that no further action should be taken, and social workers recorded the concern as 'unsubstantiated'.

Some months later, after the adoptive mother made the council aware of further allegations, the council held a Position of Trust meeting chaired by an independent reviewing officer to look at whether the council had investigated the allegations properly. That meeting decided any investigation might be traumatic for the children and cast doubt over whether sufficient evidence would be available given the time that had passed.

The adoptive mother tried to take her complaint through the statutory three-stage complaints process, but the council refused to take it through to the second stage. However, government guidance states that the council is obliged to ensure any complaint proceeds through the stages of the procedure if it is what the complainant wants.

Additionally, the mother also complained that the foster carer had not forwarded to her the children's savings, and memory boxes which should have included important photographs and toys. Some items were eventually sent on to the children but many items, including birthday and Christmas photographs, were missing.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

"While I recognise that councils often have difficult judgement calls to make, as I stated in my focus report earlier this year, the statutory children's complaints procedure is not optional and is there to make sure vulnerable young people's voices are being heard. The children themselves must be central to the complaint to ensure that their needs are met.

"I would now urge Dudley council to review its policies and procedures to ensure that it takes complaints from children with the seriousness they deserve."

To remedy the complaint, Dudley council has been asked to apologise to the adoptive mother, and agree a clear plan for how it will interview the children as a matter of urgency.

The council should also remind staff that it must adhere to its managing allegations procedures, and ensure it progresses complaints through the statutory procedures.

It should also review how it investigates allegations so that it has a clear view of how it applies its policy and where it should improve.

The council should also pay the adoptive mother £200 in recognition of the frustration and distress it has caused, and a further £200 to each child in recognition of the distress it caused them by not ensuring the carer passed on their belongings.

The report can be accessed from this page.