Ombudsman urges councils to ‘learn from mistakes’ as number of children in care rises

Watchdog highlights the experiences of children in the care system and the difficulties they face as the pandemic increases the pressure and strains on children’s services.

In a new report published today (10 December 2020), the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) is sharing cases of children who they say have been ‘let down’ by bad practice in local authority social services.

The LGSCO says a ‘backdrop of increasing numbers of children being brought into the system’ is causing pressures on local authorities with 28% more children were in care in 2019 than there were in 2009, and more children in the care system than at any time since 1985.

The watchdog says that outcomes for looked-after children are ‘concerning’, with care leavers more than three times as likely to be out of education, training or employment (EET). It also says they are more likely to have a special educational need or mental health difficulty than their friends who live with parents.

Cases shared in the report include a young man left not knowing if he was deprived of the chance to say goodbye to his dying mother when he was younger, a teenager returning to her foster home to find her bags packed as she’d turned 18, or the siblings removed without warning from the foster parents who wanted to adopt them.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “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 report shares case studies, learning and best practice guidance for local authorities at every stage of a child’s journey through the system: from children coming into care, creating stability, contact arrangements and eventually leaving care. 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 that whilst some local authorities are striving to ‘get it right for every child’ and are keen to learn and improve, there is 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.”

“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.”

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