Incidents of physical and sexual abuse not properly investigated due to council faults

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said a council failed to keep a former looked-after child safe while she was in its care.

22/06/21

Incidents of physical and sexual abuse not properly investigated due to council faults

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) has criticized the London Borough of Lewisham after it exposed a former looked-after child to “significant harm” and failed to look into her concerns properly when she made allegations of abuse.

The woman complained to the Ombudsman that the council did not properly investigate when she made allegations of significant and repeated incidents of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse while she was a child in foster care and council-run residential units.

She told the Ombudsman she was left homeless at one point while in the council’s care, was not provided with adequate support when she left care and was never told of the outcome of the investigation into her allegations.

The council said it did investigate the allegations, but the Ombudsman found that those investigating were not provided with all the records they needed to complete the investigation. It said at first the council refused access, and then made it difficult for investigating staff to view the records – often only giving them redacted versions.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found a number of faults with the way the council handled the woman’s case, including not telling her the outcomes of referrals following some of the incidents she reported, and not providing it with information about the outcome of the investigation into the woman’s foster carers.

The council also failed to complete a standards of care review and child protection enquiries following allegations made about the foster carers, meaning there was a lack of evidence for it to address or act on to mitigate any continued risk of significant harm to the foster carers’ own children or any other children placed with them.

The Ombudsman also found the council failed to act on the recommendations made and did not offer an appropriate remedy for the “significant injustice” caused by its faults. It also did not act on its delays in its processes and “failed to have sufficient regard for the woman’s human rights.”

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said the council failed in its role as a corporate parent to keep the looked-after child safe.

“My investigation found London Borough of Lewisham failed in its role as this woman’s corporate parent to keep her safe, provide her with the minimum of ‘good enough’ parenting, and prevent her being exposed to further significant harm while placed in its care.

“And instead of being open and transparent, both with my investigator and those tasked with its own internal investigation, it sought to impede the process by withholding the full body of evidence it holds. This has left the young woman distressed not only by what happened to her, but also by being denied closure without knowing the outcome.

“It is important the council uses this case as a chance to learn.”

The council has agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendations to pay the woman £7,500 for the avoidable distress and harm she was caused. It has also agreed to provide her with the outcome of the investigation into her former foster carers, together with details of any other action taken following her allegations relating to the foster carers’ continued approval and child protection enquiries where this relates to her.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve children’s and adult social care services.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to review its approach to information sharing in the statutory children’s complaints procedure and with the Ombudsman’s investigations.

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