Family and friends foster carers being treated unfairly, says Ombudsman

Carers who look after young relatives or the children of friends are being treated unfairly by some local authorities, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) is warning.

In a report issued on Carers’ Rights Day (29 Nov), the LGO highlights the stories of ‘family and friends carers’ receiving unfair treatment, as well as the common issues found in the complaints it handles.

The stories include hundreds of foster carers in a single council who were denied the correct financial support, a grandmother who filed for bankruptcy because she had to give up work, and children being placed at increased risk because councils failed to properly assess the suitability of a family or friend placement.

Since 2009 the LGO has seen a 53 per cent increase in the number of complaints received each year about children’s services.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman said:
“The cases in this report show examples where children and their families, some of whom are very vulnerable and at risk, are being treated unfairly. They highlight the importance of fair treatment so that all children have the best start in life and the best possible support to make their own way and contribute effectively as adults.

“We understand that a third of councils in England are still to publish their policies on family and friends carers, despite successive Education ministers calling for them to do so.

“I hope this report will assist councils in meeting their statutory obligations, and that it helps to initiate a cultural shift to recognise the efforts of all foster carers.”

Across the country, around 145,000 children are cared for by people who are not their parents. Around 7,000 of those live with approved family and friends foster carers as ‘looked after’ children. The remaining children are cared for through informal arrangements, sometimes with support from the local authority if the child is deemed to be ‘in need’.

The law says councils must provide support, such as accommodation and allowances to carers, if the child has the legal status of a ‘looked after’ child. Sometimes there is disagreement between councils and family members about whether the local authority has placed a child with the family, and so is in law a ‘looked after child’, or whether it was a private family arrangement.

Article date: 29 November 2013

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