Social workers moved a vulnerable Essex teenager from her aunt and uncle’s care without any warning, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has said.
The teenager had been living with her relatives since she was a child, spending time with her grandparents at weekends.
Following some disagreements with her relatives, the girl contacted social workers saying she no longer wanted to live with her family. Social workers then made the decision to take the girl straight from school to new carers, without first considering ways of supporting her current placement with her relatives, and without telling either the aunt and uncle or the girl that this would happen.
The girl, who had been assessed as being ‘very vulnerable with moderate learning difficulties’, was described as having a lack of a sense of danger and a tendency to be over familiar, going along with strangers without any hesitation.
Social workers did not emphasise the girl’s vulnerability to her new foster family and she absconded from their care when she was left unsupervised in a local park. The girl hitched a lift from a stranger and made her way back to her aunt and uncle’s house. The teenager also made serious allegations about her new foster carers to the council but these were not properly recorded or investigated.
The teenager returned to live with her family and was allocated a new social worker. After this her relationship with her family improved and she continued to live with them after she turned 18.
The family complained to the council about the way they had been treated. The council investigated their complaint but took too long to resolve the matter so the family complained to the LGO.
The LGO investigation criticised Essex County Council for not following the statutory children’s complaints process and for delay. The council also did not pay the family the full financial remedy recommended by an independent investigator during the council’s initial complaint investigation.
The Ombudsman’s investigation also found fault with the council’s decision to remove the girl from her relatives’ care, and the lack of consideration of other options or support for the family before they removed the girl.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said: “Social workers have to make difficult decisions when removing vulnerable children from their relatives. Government guidance states that children in immediate risk of significant harm should be removed from the placement, but in this case there was no evidence that threshold had been reached.
“While the young person had needs above that of a typical teenager, the council had no reason to believe the placement could not have continued given the right support. This is borne out by the fact the teenager is still living with her relatives despite being over the age of 18.This fault was compounded by significant failings in how council then handled the family’s complaint.”
To remedy the complaint, Essex County Council has agreed to apologise to the teenager, her aunt and uncle and her grandparents. It will also pay financial redress to all parties.
It will also undertake a review of decisions it has made in the past 12 months to terminate foster care placements, to ensure the correct procedures are being followed.