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Ombudsman criticises council after agency failed to follow statutory guidance when assessing prospective adopter

City of Wolverhampton Council has agreed to ensure its adoption recruitment procedure adheres to statutory guidance after an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found a woman was wrongly screened out of the adoption process.

The Ombudsman expressed concern that other councils may be using the same procedures that do not follow statutory guidance after the adoption agency being used by the council claimed their practices were common.

The woman's complaint about how she was assessed and rejected for adoption by an agency acting on the council's behalf led to the investigation.

The Ombudsman found the agency carried out an initial assessment of the woman before she applied to become an adopter, predetermining the success of the application. This came after the woman enquired with the agency about adopting after attending one of its information sessions.

Statutory guidance states assessments should be made only after people have formally applied to adopt.

During the Ombudsman's investigation, the agency claimed its method was 'routine and common practice' and that the Department for Education (DfE) was 'fully aware and supportive of the approach' it was taking.

However, the Ombudsman said it found this information misleading and the agency later admitted the DfE had not, in fact, sanctioned the practice.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: "Because the council used the agency's initial visit to assess the woman's circumstances, she lost the opportunity to discuss her interest to adopt.

"During the investigation the council told us that its recruitment procedure is routine and considered best practice, and is common among other local authorities.

"I am concerned therefore that other local authorities may be following this route, and would urge them to check their own procedures to ensure they meet statutory guidance."

The Ombudsman recommended Wolverhampton review its adoption recruitment procedure to ensure it adheres to the DfE's 2013 statutory guidance on adoption.

Emma Bennett, the City of Wolverhampton Council's Director of Children's Services, said the council had accepted the decision by the Ombudsman and confirmed that the agency had revised its adoption recruitment procedures.

"The council has also apologised to the complainant," she added.

Adam Carey

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