Essex County Council failed to follow proper procedure when it removed a vulnerable teenage girl from her aunt and uncle’s home without notice, the Local Government Ombudsman has declared.
The girl had been living with her relatives since she was very young and also regularly visited her grandparents. She had learning difficulties as a result of which she lacked a realistic sense of danger and tended to be overfamiliar with strangers.
One day she contacted social services and said she no longer wanted to live with her aunt and uncle. As a result, social workers decided to place with her with foster carers immediately after school one day, without forewarning either her or her aunt and uncle. No consideration was given to ways of supporting the family.
The foster carers were not properly informed of the girl’s problems and she later ran away when left unsupervised in a park, hitching a ride back to her aunt and uncle’s house. Subsequently she made serious allegations about the carers but these were not investigated.
This time the teen settled back with her relatives, the situation improved, and she continued living with them past her 18th birthday. Her relatives unsurprisingly complained about the abrupt removal but unsatisfied with the approach taken by the Council, they took their complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).
The LGO concluded that Essex County Council had been overly hasty in the decision to remove the teen in the first place and said that it should have made a greater effort to consider other options. The authority had also not followed procedure in its handling of the complaint and had not paid the family proper compensation.
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King 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.”
The Council has now agreed to apologise to the teen and her family and to pay a proper level of compensation.
Photo by Irene Bonacchi via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.