A council that removed children from a foster placement without showing it had considered their best interests has been criticised by the local government ombudsman.
An investigation found Sandwell council failed to demonstrate it had fully weighed up the options when removing two children, aged six and seven, from their beds 90 minutes after police told the authority their foster carer was going to be arrested.
The serious allegations made against the foster carer, who was the sole carer for the children, were later decided by police to be “unfounded and malicious”, according to the ombudsman’s report into the council’s management of the case.
The minutes of a Position of Trust meeting convened when an allegation is made against a person who works with children and chaired by a local authority designated officer, described Sandwell’s response as “knee-jerk”.
But the ombudsman emphasised the council’s failing was not in removing the children from their home in itself but that it had failed to record any assessment or discussion of the children’s best interests and was unable to produce any evidence it had considered alternative ways of separating them from their carer.
Dr Jane Martin, the local government ombudsman, said: “Essential safeguarding processes are in place not to add time and bureaucracy but to ensure children’s welfare is paramount.
“Clearly councils do not take a decision to urgently remove a child from their home lightly, however they must be able to demonstrate they have thought about all their options and considered the child’s best interests.”
In the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance, councils are required to hold a strategy meeting when taking action to safeguard children. Sandwell did not hold a strategy discussion at any point in its handling of the case.
It also failed to carry out its duties under the National Minimum Standards for foster care services to provide independent support to people subject to allegations.
The foster carer complained he was not advised of his right to independent support or kept informed of the actions and decisions of the council.
He also complained Sandwell failed to return the children to him in the prescribed timescales after it was decided the allegations against him were unfounded.
The council has agreed to apologise to the foster carer and pay him £750. It will also apologise to the children in age-appropriate language and put £500 for each child into their savings accounts for when they leave care.
A copy of the ombudsman report will be placed on their files to help answer any questions they may have when they are older.