Social worker’s error led to mum and son being separated for five years: report

County Hall, Northampton.
County Hall, Northampton.

A Northampton mum was wrongly separated from her adopted child for almost five years after faults in a social worker’s assessment, the Local Government Ombudsman has ruled.

A report published this morning says the child had significant needs and for a long time andthe family shared the boy’s care with foster carers.

The mother had two further children who each had their own medical needs and so at a time of crisis, the mother called on Northamptonshire Social Services for help. However, when that help was not forthcoming the mother, in her desperation, left her son with social services.

Following the end of shared care in 2010, new arrangements were needed.

The report, published this morning, says: “The social worker was told by Northamptonshire County Council’s Childrens’ Services team to consider various options, including another shared care arrangement. “But instead he only considered one option, which was a full-time foster placement away from the mother, whose parenting he saw in a negative light.

“The social worker expected the mother to either accept a foster placement or resume full-time care for the boy. However, he had already admitted that full-time care would not work. He also decided that any contact in the foster placement should be kept to a minimum.”

The closest placement the council could arrange was a journey of more than two hours away. The council resisted the mother’s attempts to move her son closer to the family home, and instead threatened to take care proceedings if she challenged the placement. This left the mother “compelled to accept a foster placement that she found difficult to challenge”.

It was only when the mother exercised her parental rights not to return her son, after a visit before his 18th birthday, giving up her job in the process, that the family were reunited.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman said: “The foster placement was a voluntary agreement with the mother, yet the council acted as if it had taken child protection action against her; this amounted to ‘compulsion in disguise’, and led to serious implications for the family unit.

“This report serves to remind all authorities of the real impact of failing to reach proper decisions and take clear courses of action when faced with a choice of accommodating children or allowing them to remain with their parents.”

A spokesman for the council, which has been ordered to pay the mum £2,250, said: “We apologise for any distress caused to the family.”

“We’ve reminded all social care staff of the importance of ensuring assessments always take into account the wishes and feelings of the child.”