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City council in foster carer dispute after girl’s mother dies

Birmingham City Council considered allowing an 11-year-old girl to be deported during a dispute with her foster carers, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has discovered.

The girl, who was born in the UK, was being looked after by a couple, who were family friends, after her mother died as she had no other relatives in the country.

The couple maintained it was not a private arrangement to foster the girl, and they needed the support of the city council as friends and family foster carers. Because of the circumstances of this case, this should have meant the council supported the couple both financially, by paying them the allowances they were due, and practically by providing the support of a supervising social worker.

Because the council held firm that it was a private arrangement, the girl was not treated as a looked after child and missed out on the additional support and protections that come with this. This should have included regular reviews of her care plan and appointing an independent reviewing officer to ensure her voice was heard. She also lost contact with her remaining relatives who lived abroad.

The council had a duty to secure legal advice and representation so the girl could make her case to stay in the country. At one point the council suggested telling the carers to go to court if they wanted to continue to care for the child or she would be deported the following month when her leave to remain expired. The council did not act, and so the foster parents had to use money set aside by the girl's mother in a trust fund to make a successful application for British citizenship.

In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the girl for not acting sooner to secure her legal status, and address the issues with contact. It should pay her £1,000 for the uncertainty and distress this caused. It will also apologise to the foster carer and her partner for failing to assess them as friends and family carers and pay them £1,000 for their frustration and stress caused by this. It will pay the couple the allowances they should have received as friends and family carers and make a payment to the girl's trust fund to cover the cost of her application for leave to remain and citizenship.

The council has also agreed to remind social workers of their responsibility to promote contact between children in private fostering arrangements and their parents; and review all open private fostering cases to ensure it has documented issues highlighted in the report. It will also review open cases of unaccompanied children to ensure it is offering the support outlined in the statutory guidance, especially regarding the child's immigration status.

For the full report, click here and then click on the link at the top right of the opened page.