Social workers considered allowing girl, 11, to be deported during fostering dispute

Social workers considered allowing an 11-year-old girl at the centre of a fostering dispute to be deported, a report has concluded.

There were several failings in the handling of the child’s care by Birmingham City Council’s child services department, whose responsibilities were taken over by Birmingham Children’s Trust in 2018, the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) said.

The Ombudsman began an investigation following a complaint by the child’s carers and published its findings on Thursday, concluding there had been “injustice” to both the girl and her carers and listing a series of recommendations.

The Trust accepted the findings and has offered its “sincerest apologies” to the child and her carers, referred to in the report as Ms X and her partner.

The report said the child was nine when her mother, who was diagnosed with a terminal illness, approached a children’s centre in 2016 for advice on arranging her daughter’s future care.

Although the youngster was born in the UK, she was not a British citizen and only had leave to remain until 2018.

Her father lived abroad, had little contact with the child, and had been refused permission to enter the UK.

Ms X and her partner initially entered into a private fostering arrangement with the child’s natural mother – to look after the girl.

But the Ombudsman found this agreement ended when the child’s mother died in April 2017 as there was no continuing parental consent.

The report concluded: “From this point, she was an unaccompanied child.

“The council decided the case did not meet the threshold to act to safeguard her but she was vulnerable in several ways.”

The Ombudsman identified a number of faults by social workers, including failing to get legal advice when it knew the child’s leave to remain in the UK was ending.

The report added: “It (the council) discussed using the threat of deportation to coerce Ms X into seeking a court order and allowing the child to have a DNA test.

“This resulted in Ms X having to use significant sums of money from a trust fund left by the child’s mother to resolve her immigration status.”

The Ombudsman said the threat was discussed at a child service’s legal planning meeting.

It was “suggested” Ms X and her partner be told “if they did not allow the DNA testing to go ahead, they needed to seek a private court order to keep the child in their care (or) alternatively, she would be deported when her visa expired the following month.”

“The child was 11 years old at the time,” the report noted, adding it cost £3,000 to apply for her citizenship.

“The situation continued for a further two years with no certainty or long-term plan for the child,” the Ombudsman said.

The LGO recommended payments of £1,000 each be made to the child and the carers, the cost of the citizenship application be reimbursed, and two years’ of allowances be paid to Ms X and her partner.

Michael King, local government ombudsman, said: “The foster carers experienced prolonged frustration at the council’s refusal to consider them as anything other than private foster carers.”

“The council should have done more to ensure the girl’s needs were met,” he added.

“Her placement living with the couple was at risk, and the council did not do enough to make sure she had the correct legal protection to remain in the country and she lost contact with her only remaining relatives.”

A Trust spokesman said: “We are in the process of completing all the immediate recommendations made by the Ombudsman.

“We will continue to support our staff to promote contact between privately fostered children and their parents, and we will commence a review of all open cases of private fostering and cases involving unaccompanied children.”

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