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Councils 'failing carers': watchdog

People who take in the vulnerable children of relatives and friends are being failed by some local councils - and even left bankrupt because of a lack of support, a watchdog has warned.

The Local Government Ombudsman published a catalogue of cases of unfair treatment of carers - as well as youngsters themselves being left at risk of abuse in unsuitable homes.

Complaints related to children's services have risen by 53% since 2009, it said, calling for a "cultural shift" in town halls.

Around 145,000 children in England are cared for by people other than their parents, the report said.

All but around 7,000 of those are informal arrangements where the authorities are only liable to provide financial and other support if the child is considered "in need".

In a series of examples highlighted in the Ombudsman's report, that help was refused or limited despite the carer having been directly involved by the council in the first place.

One authority ignored several years of pleas for assistance from one grandmother, who had been encouraged to take in her six-year-old grandson when his mother failed to collect him from school.

She was eventually declared bankrupt but received a £45,000 payout after the Ombudsman found the council's actions had been "unlawful and unfair" and failed to recognise it would otherwise have had to take the boy into care.

A separate probe found that not only was an aunt being illegally paid less than a council's own foster carers but that they themselves - 340 of them - were being paid less than the national minimum.

And one 15-year-old girl was suspected to have ended up being sexually abused by the ex-partner of a friend of her dead mother with whom she was allowed to live by the council despite no checks being carried out.

The Ombudsman, Jane Martin, 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."

Sam Smethers, chief executive of Grandparents Plus, said: "We welcome the Local Government Ombudsman's intervention on this issue.

"Often these carers are struggling alone without financial or practical support they need. They need a fairer deal and we hope that this report may be the beginning of making that a reality."


From Belfast Telegraph