Ombudsman Says Council Should Pay £40,000 To Child “Deprived Of Family Life”

A young girl (called ‘Natasha’ in the report) was deprived of four years of family life by the failures of Birmingham City Council finds Local Government Ombudsman, Anne Seex.

In her report, issued today (21 March 2007), she says this arose “… as a result of the Council’s incompetence and complete failure to act in any way which promoted her welfare.” She adds, “It failed utterly to carry out its duty.”

The Ombudsman recommends the Council to pay £40,000 compensation to Natasha, and a further £10,000 to her grandparents to recognise that they were deprived of giving their granddaughter the care she deserved, that they suffered stress and anxiety from the treatment by the Council, and that they incurred very considerable expenses in fares and telephone calls trying to sort things out. The Council has agreed to these recommendations.

A solicitor complained on behalf of ‘Natasha Woods’ (not her real name for legal reasons), now 10 years old, that the Council failed to safeguard Natasha’s welfare properly when she was in its care, and failed to comply with a court order to promote contact with members of her family living abroad. Natasha’s grandparents, ‘Dr and Mrs Khan’, also complained that they were prevented from seeing Natasha by the Council’s failure to promote contact, and that the Council delayed unreasonably in assessing them as her prospective carers.

Natasha was two years old when she first came to the notice of the Council, having swallowed her mother’s methadone. By the time she was four, in May 2000, the Council’s initial assessment suggested that she was living in a violent home with at least one drug-using parent. She was made the subject of a care order which placed her in the care of the Council.

The order included very specific instructions about contact with her maternal grandparents – who had looked after her for the previous year – and safeguards that would provide a safety net if the placement with her mother broke down. Yet the Council failed to have any contact with Natasha, to supervise the placement or to comply in any way with the contact order made by the courts for the next 18 months.

The Ombudsman found that the Council:

  • did not comply with the court order to maintain and fund contact between Natasha and her grandparents;
  • did not arrange for social workers to visit Natasha for over 18 months while she was in the Council’s care;
  • failed to assess her grandparents as prospective carers;
  • moved her to foster carers following the breakdown of her placement with her mother instead of contacting her grandparents as the court order required; and
  • sought to prevent her grandmother from caring for her on a visit to England.

The Council has already introduced extensive changes to its systems to ensure appropriate professional practice and active supervision and management of cases involving children and young people. Natasha now lives with her grandparents in the USA.