The Local Government Ombudsman has sharply criticised a local authority for its failure properly to support a child abandoned by his parents.
The boy complained to the LGO that Kent County Council had failed to deal with his requests for accommodation and welfare support for a two-year period.
The complainant was made homeless at the age of 16 in February 2011 when his parents left the family home and made no alternative arrangements for his welfare.
The boy was offered alternative foster accommodation at the time by Kent, but he felt – for various reasons – that he could not accept. The council did not offer alternatives to the boy, who then carried on ‘sofa surfing’ with friends and relatives.
The complainant remained with one friend between February and May 2012 and the council agreed to pay the friend’s mother £30 per week. However, the mother was unwilling to provide accommodation to the boy when he became 18.
The boy then became homeless again. However, the relevant local housing authority could not provide him with accommodation because he was not considered in priority need.
An LGO investigation concluded that Kent did not properly assess whether the boy should be a ‘looked after child’ under its care.
It also found that the council should have explained clearly the benefits of being a looked after child. There was no record of this taking place, the investigation found.
Kent has agreed to implement the Ombudsman’s recommendations that it should:
- confirm the complainant as a leaving care child;
- inform the relevant local housing authority;
- assess the boy’s entitlement to services as a leaving care child and provide those services;
- set aside £3,000 for the injustice caused to the boy by the loss of welfare benefits over a two-year period. This should be used in conjunction with the leaving care team to promote his independent living;
- review the implementation of its joint protocol to ensure it is meeting its responsibilities to all homeless young people.
Nigel Ellis, Executive Director for Investigations at the LGO, said: “Because of the fault of the council, this vulnerable person was denied access to key welfare services that he was entitled to and that the council has a duty to provide. I believe that if he was given the right information about the benefits of being under the council’s care, the complainant would have accepted them.”
Jenny Whittle, Kent’s cabinet member for specialist children’s services, said: “Kent County Council is committed to resolving matters to make sure this vulnerable young person is given the help he needs. He has been allocated a social worker and, prior to the LGO report, we have already written to the housing authority to confirm that he should be treated as a care leaver and given the help and benefits of a child in care.
“While we feel the report does not fully reflect the complexities of the case, we do accept that Mr X should have been designated a child in care. We did repeatedly offer him foster care, which he refused, and gave him financial help but we accept that we failed to offer him a wider range of accommodation. Our priority is to make sure this young man gets the support he needs as a care leaver.”
SOURCE: Local Government Lawyer