Foster parents reveal shortcomings in children’s services in Northamptonshire

CE library picture
CE library picture

A leaked investigation has shown how Northamptonshire County Council failed a vulnerable child through a string of botched visitation sessions with her abusive mother.

A series of reports about a young girl, who was subject to sexual abuse at the hands of her birth mother and members of her birth mother’s family, has been shown to the Chronicle & Echo by the child’s foster parents in order to highlight poor practices at the council in the run-up to its ‘inadequate’ 2013 Ofsted report.

It reveals a social worker lied about processing a passport application for the child, which forced her foster family to cancel its holiday plans. The foster parent told the Chron: “I don’t want any other foster parent to go through what we went through. This council needs to be named and shamed for the way it treated us.”

The girl was taken into social care some time ago. 
Her birth mother was still entitled to regular visitation sessions at a neutral venue every week.

The girl, who was aged only two and was left shy and emaciated because of the treatment by her mother’s family, had to be put into a taxi to go to the venue. But a report from October 2013 revealed that on several occasions, the taxi drivers could not produce identification and no social worker was present to escort her, meaning the vulnerable toddler had to get in a car with a person she had never met.

Often the mother would not turn up, but the girl would not return to the foster parents’ house for several hours. On one occasion she returned ‘soiled’, the report stated, ‘with no explanation’, even though the foster parents had packed a change of clothes.

“We would phone up child protection services and ask ‘where is she?’,” the foster parent said.” Often the answer we got back was ‘we don’t know’. Any reasonable adult would say this can’t be right, but we were told that’s just the way it is.”

A damning independent report into the handling of the girl’s care from July 2014 stated the council had failed to keep the foster parents informed of where she was.

“There are many incidents of very poor communications, some unprofessional behaviour and poor management,” it said.

“The constant changes in staff and the very poor handovers from one social worker to the next has left some matters in a void or simply ignored.”

The foster family said they had still not been compensated fully for the lost holiday and have never received a formal apology for their treatment.

Northamptonshire County Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, Councillor Heather Smith (Con, Oundle), has admitted the authority’s child protection services were ‘on the floor’ at the time of the investigations. “It is only now that I can say the service is improving with a degree of confidence,” she added.

Councillor Smith said she had ‘every sympathy’ with the way the girl’s foster parents were treated. The ‘lack of communication’ described in the independent report, she said, was largely due to a high turnover of agency staff at the time.

She said: “Some would just walk out the door without handing over their cases properly.”

The cabinet member said the council was now focusing on improving its ‘looked-after children’ services and has greatly increased its children’s services workforce, which had reduced the high turnover of social workers.