The Local Government Ombudsman has sharply criticised a council that tried to force a vulnerable 13-year-old girl to move from the residential school she attended.
The Ombudsman said Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council had caused the girl “serious distress” when it continued to pursue the move, despite having received warnings from the LGO and the Office of the Children’s Rights Director that the action would be against statutory guidance.
Walsall wanted to move the girl, ‘Miss N’, from the out-of-area placement, where she had been placed in late 2011, on financial grounds.
According to a report issued by the Ombudsman, the council’s education panel decided to withdraw funding for the placement because it considered that Miss N did not have special educational needs.
In the summer of 2012 it therefore took an initial decision to move her at short notice.
“This was without proper planning and in contravention of the requirements of statutory guidance to take account of her views and those of other interested parties,” the LGO said.
“[The council] then provided her with a series of short-term extensions to her placement. Although it apologised for its actions, it later continued to take active steps to move Miss N. These involved an attempt by a social worker to get her to sign an agreement to move even after the Ombudsman and the Office of the Children’s Rights Director alerted it to the requirement of statutory guidance that it should freeze the planned move while it considered Miss N’s complaint. Miss N later agreed to move.”
Recording a finding of maladministration causing injustice, the LGO recommended that Walsall:
- hold £1,000 in trust for Miss N for up to three years, “to be paid at her advocate’s request to fund such education, training or leisure expenses the advocate deems appropriate in consultation with Miss N”;
- review its policies and procedures for cases where it proposes to end placements “to ensure these policies comply fully with statutory guidance relating to care planning and consultation with children who are looked-after, their carers and advocates”; and
- arrange training for social workers “to ensure they understand and adhere to the requirements of statutory guidance relating to care planning and consultation with children who are looked-after, their carers and advocates where it is proposed to end placements”.
The Ombudsman also told Walsall to apologise to Miss N over its failure to progress her complaint or freeze the planned move when asked to do so by her advocate, the Ombudsman and the Office of the Children’s Rights Director; and a social worker’s attempt to get her to sign an agreement to move.
The council has accepted the recommendations.
Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman said: “While I appreciate the financial constraints that councils are under in the current economic climate, this in no way gives them licence to ignore their legal obligations.
“The council maintained their path of moving the girl, when numerous parties, including the school, her advocate, my investigator and The Office of the Children’s Rights Director strongly advised against it, leaving her distressed and with very little stability in her life.
“I am pleased to see that Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council has agreed to most of my recommendations, and I would urge them to consider how they work with vulnerable children in future.”