A local authority in the West Midlands failed to properly investigate complaints made about a foster carer.
Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council prematurely alerted the carer and then decided to take no further action, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has ruled.
The case concerned two children, aged just four and five, who had been adopted after living with a foster carer. They told their newly acquired family that the carer had hit them and insisted they take baths in cold water. One girl was made to wear a nappy meant for disabled children.
The mother alerted the council and the issue was initially flagged as serious. But the authority then failed to hold a proper planning meeting, spoke to the foster carer before speaking to the adoptive mother or the children, and then categorised the claims as requiring no further action.
The mother also raised concerns about the foster carer allegedly failing to send on savings belonging to the children, as well as number of their personal belongings, photographs and toys.
Later, when the mother pursued her complaints, the council held a further meeting, chaired by an independent reviewing officer, but this concluded that there was insufficient evidence to pursue an investigation and that to do so might traumatise the children.
The mother then attempted to make an official three-stage complaint but Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council had refused to let her take this beyond the first stage.
This refusal had been a breach of procedure, said the LGO, as councils are obliged to pursue complaints through all three stages if the complainant wishes to do so.
LGO Dr Jane Martin explained:
“While I recognise that councils often have difficult judgement calls to make… 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.”
Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council must now review its procedures to ensure that complaints from children are treated “with the seriousness they deserve.”
In addition, she ruled, the council should issue an apology to the adoptive mother and set out clear plans for conducting a belated interview with the two girls.