Councils across England are being reminded about the financial support they must provide to foster carers’ school transport expenses following an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman into Wolverhampton council.
The warning comes after a foster carer complained the council told her the children she was looking after were not eligible for free school transport, despite living further than the statutory walking distance to their schools.
It said the money should come out of their fostering allowance instead, meaning the children had less financial support than other foster children living closer to their schools.
A spokesman for the watchdog said City of Wolverhampton Council initially maintained its policy was correct despite the Ombudsman clarifying its stance in similar reports about other authorities in 2017 and 2018. However, during the investigation, the council eventually accepted the Ombudsman’s findings.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care ombudsman said:
‘We have previously issued two reports about very similar matters, and I wrote to the Association of Directors of Children’s Services to highlight the issue at the time of the 2017 report. The council should therefore have been well aware its policy was flawed.
‘I am pleased the council has since agreed to improve its policies and procedures, and has agreed to look at the cases of other foster carers who have been affected by the policy.
‘I would urge other councils to check their agreements to ensure they are not disadvantaging their foster carers and the children they look after.’
The Ombudsman spokesman said the council has agreed to apologise to the foster carer and reimburse the travel allowance for the period she transported two of her foster children to and from their schools, at the council’s general mileage rate.
The council has also offered to pay the foster carer £500 in addition to the other recommendations and has agreed to review its fostering service terms and conditions, school transport policy and its procedures to ensure Looked After Children, who are ‘eligible’ children, receive the free home to school transport they are entitled to.
It will also write to all its foster carers inviting them to complain to the council if they believe they were wrongly denied free home to school transport for their foster children who were eligible, from August 2017.
It will now ensure foster carers receive clear information about allowances and expenses payable, and how to access them before the child is placed, so they can make informed decisions.
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