The London Borough of Hillingdon is reconsider its plans for the future of a disabled girl in foster care, following a ruling by the Local Government Ombudsman.
The girl, now aged seven, suffers from autism and other learning difficulties. She was removed from her parents five years ago after they were found to have chronically neglected her. Abuse was also suspected. In May 2011, she was settled with a foster family as a formally recognised ‘looked after’ child and she has stayed with them ever since.
The Borough maintained an active search for alternative carers for two years, Family Law Week reports, in spite of the fact that their own advisors recommended that the girl stay with the foster family.
When the search for an alternative family proved unsuccessful the council eventually approached the foster family and asked them to consider becoming ‘special guardians’ to the child. Such arrangements provide family stability for the children concerned but, unlike adoption, do not completely break their legal links to the birth parents. Local authorities no longer have any responsibility for children living with ‘special guardians’.
Her foster carers declined, however, saying they needed the additional support which would only be available if the girl remained a ‘looked after’ child.
As a result, social workers resumed their search for an alternative family, a move which is reported to left the girl stressed and anxious, affecting her emotional wellbeing and causing difficulties at school.
An advocate had been appointed for her. Children’s advocates provide support and advice and represent their interests. The advocate filed a complaint with the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO), saying the authority was not listening to the child or responding to her desire to stay with the foster family.
The LGO agreed with the advocate’s claims, making a series of recommendations which the Borough hasnow agreed to. Hillingdon will reconsider the girl’s options and conduct a ‘looked after child review’ to confirm her status with the family.
The council will also provide training to social workers to try and ensure they properly amend care plans for children where appropriate.
The 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.”
In a similar case, the LGO ruled in June 2013 that Kent County Council had failed to properly care for a teenage boy abandoned by his parents.