Siblings who were abruptly removed from a foster family that wanted to adopt them, a vulnerable teen who was given a tent to live in and a child who was denied the chance to say goodbye to his dying mother all feature in a ‘startling’ report into council decisions about children in care.
The report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman highlights the experiences of children in the care system, and the difficulties they face when councils get things wrong.
Ombudsman Michael King said each case highlighted in this report is a case too many and urged councils to ask themselves if the decisions they make would be good enough for their own children.
‘Each case in this report reflects the real-life experiences of some of the most vulnerable in our society.
‘While these cases reflect a time before the Covid-19 pandemic, we know the system is under even more pressure today. Although the councils’ actions in these cases were disappointing, we want to drive home the importance of learning from mistakes.
‘In doing so this can help avoid repetitions and improve the lives and opportunities for all children in care.
‘I am issuing this report so councils providing children’s services can use the learning and reflect on their procedures and processes. At every turn, I invite them to ask themselves, ‘would this be good enough for my child?”
The ombudsman said statistics around children in care are startling. They’re more likely to have a special educational need or mental health difficulty than their friends who live with parents.
And their outcomes are just as concerning: formerly looked after children are more than three times as likely to be out of education, training or employment once they leave care.
This is all set against a backdrop of increasing numbers of children being brought into the system; 28% more children were in care in 2019 than 2009.
The report shares case studies, learning and best practice guidance for local authorities at every stage of a child’s journey through the system.
It also suggests a range of questions council scrutiny committees can ask to ensure their authorities are providing the best services they can to the children in their care.
Cathy Ashley, chief executive of Family Rights Group said variation in practice across the country results in children not getting key support that could prevent situations escalating into a crisis.
‘The themes in this report reflect the poor practice that is commonly reported by families to our advice service.
‘While some local authorities are striving to get it right for every child and are keen to learn and improve, there is huge variation in practice across the country.
‘This can too often result in children and families not getting key advice or support to prevent problems escalating into a crisis. At times authorities are failing to comply with the law or their own internal procedures, including refusing some young people the help to which they are entitled.
‘This report highlights how poor decisions can be so damaging at a critical moment in the lives of children in care or at risk of care.
‘It is particularly concerning given that more children are now in the care system than at any times since 1985, and the pandemic is increasing the pressure and strains on families and on children’s services.
‘Putting the voices and experiences of children and families at the centre is key to getting this right. We particularly welcome the Ombudsman’s checklist for local authorities which is designed to help each authority give every child the best life chances.’
Responding to the report, cllr Judith Blake, chair of the Local Government Association’s children and young people board, said councils are being pushed to the brink by unprecedented demand and increasing financial pressures
‘Looking after vulnerable children is a top priority for councils, which work extremely hard to ensure that all children in care get the love and support that they need to flourish. This report provides useful guidance to help councils continuously improve to achieve this goal.
‘Unfortunately, many councils are being pushed to the brink by unprecedented demand and increasing financial pressures, with an average of 87 children now taken into care every single day.
‘There has been a 28% increase in the number of children in care over the last decade, during which time councils lost £15bn in core government funding.
‘While councils have increased children’s social care budgets at the expense of other services, this has not been able to keep pace with demand.
‘While the additional investment announced in the Spending Review was helpful, what is urgently needed is a long-term sustainable funding solution that enables councils to protect children at immediate risk of harm while also supporting early intervention to prevent problems escalating in the first place.’
The Department for Education has been contacted for comment.
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