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11.10.17

LGO scolds county council for disadvantaging foster children in area

Warwickshire County Council has today been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGO) after it was revealed that the families of foster children were having to fund school transport.

The investigation found that foster parents caring for children who attended schools beyond the statutory walking distance had been told by the council that they must pay for school transport out of their fostering allowance, even though the children are actually entitled to free school transport.

This meant that by using the fostering allowance to pay for school transport, children who lived beyond walking distance from their schools received less support than foster children who lived closer to school.

Furthermore, the affected children were being treated differently to children who lived with their birth families and attend schools beyond the statutory walking distance, who would have free transport.

Following the investigation, the Ombudsman has also said that councils across England should “check their approach” and ensure that foster children are not put at a disadvantage compared to other children when it comes to school transport.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, explained why it may be essential for some children who live with foster families to attend a school beyond walking distance: “For many foster children, who have often had a turbulent start in life, councils sometimes decide it is important they maintain the stability of attending the same school regardless of where they are living.

“The children and their sister carers living further away should not be penalised for this.”

The error was identified when a couple complained that the council had given incorrect advice when they had agreed to foster a child.

The couple were told that they would have to drive the child to their school, 4.6 miles away from home, without receiving any mileage allowance, leading to the foster carers to rack up 3,000 miles from the school run alone.

Warwickshire Council has agreed to reimburse the carers for the period that they transported the child to school and to apologise. It will also review its handbooks and policies to ensure its eligible  looked after children receive free school transport.

It will also invite foster carers to complain if they believe they have been similarly affected.

King identified that there are other councils who have take the same approach as Warwickshire, and will be contacting them to make them aware of the Ombudsman’s findings.

He added: “I am pleased that by the end of the investigation Warwickshire Country Council accepted its policy was wrong. I would now urge others to check their own policies as a matter of urgency to ensure they are treating foster carers, and the children they look after, fairly when it comes to school transport.”

A Warwickshire County Council spokesperson told PSE:  "The welfare of our looked after children is one of the main priorities of Warwickshire Country Council and it was never our intention to put any foster children at any disadvantage. 

“The council has always included an element for school transport within foster carers’ allowances and, where the cost of transport is felt to be excessive, there is provision to increase it.

“However, the Ombudsman felt that this did not meet statutory requirements. This council accepts this and is taking appropriate steps to review its policy.”

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