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Social Services, fostering and Data Protection

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Not sure if this is the right forum for this question but I can't find any other suitable for this issue. I'm looking for some advice regarding the data protection act and a bit of a long story but I will try to be as brief as possible. I am a foster carer of a 15 year old boy (B) who has autism, ADHD, and social emotional behavioural problems. I have been his foster carer for over 3 years and it has not been easy, he has temper tantrums like a 2 year old, has trashed my house on several occasions and trashed his room on a regular basis. He has been placed with me on a permanent basis. There has been a lady ® involved via social services who has been brought in to give specialist interventions for some particular problems he has and she has visited regularly with B's social worker. Myself and my adult son and girlfriend who live with us have been very open and honest with her about the difficulties hoping that he will get the help he needs to resolve some of his issues. I have another child in placement who will be leaving soon to return home and there has been suggestions that B, because of his difficulties then becomes a lone placement and that they will pay me for 2 placements so that i don't need another placement and can manage financially.

 

In October the social worker and R visited and while they were here looked at his bedroom. I will admit that the bedroom was awful, he won't keep it clean and tidy and won't let me do it, he has damaged the walls, broken things and collects junk etc. When the social worker suggested to him that she would come round to help him sort it out he totally lost his rag over it, and with me too when I suggested helping him to get it sorted and said no-one is touching his room and if I do anything to his room he will trash mine! He has since been making a bit of an effort to get it tidied up and sorted out a bit under the threat of someone else doing it for him.

 

A couple of weeks ago my supervisor told me the social worker and R were coming round to discuss how we can help B sort his room out. When they arrived R immediately said she had been asked to do a placement report and had brought it to share (absolutely nothing to do with what I thought they were coming for). I was totally shocked and unprepared for this and I had around 45 interrupted minutes (kids coming home from school) to go through a report containing at least 30 pages and tell her all the bits I disagreed with. The report was full of inaccuracies, assumptions, comments taken out of context and inferences. It was very derogatory regarding my family and home and made me out to be a dotty old lady who only cares about the garden, cats and chickens. I am actually a very intelligent, knowledgeable, and experienced carer. Yes my home is a bit tatty and everything is old but it's clean (apart from his bedroom) and it wasn't nearly so tatty before B came and trashed everything, broke furniture etc.

 

I was very aggrieved that I was unprepared and did not have time to go through the report properly and point out all the inaccuracies and unjustified comments, She even got my son's age wrong and his university degree. She said of my garden that the veggies were all in straight rows with no weeds! Well she obviously hadn't looked because my veggies are not in rows and there are plenty of weeds. It said nothing about how B has settled, progressed and developed since coming here and how his temper tantrums have reduced significantly and how he will now talk about things upsetting him rather than throwing things. I felt like giving notice on B there and then but I won't do that to him, as this is the first place he has settled since coming into care - he went through about 6 placements in 2 years due to his behaviour - prior to coming here.

 

Following this meeting I emailed R and told her I was not happy with the report and the fact that I did not have enough time to read it properly and challenge everything that was inaccurate or that I didn't agree with. I also said I was grossly insulted by the fact that she came into my home under the guise of providing specialist interventions for B and then used the information given freely for that purpose to write a report which was derogatory towards my home and family. I asked to revisit the report with her so I could have time to read it properly and give a considered response. That was over two weeks ago and I haven't had a response from her. The social worker, who I copied in did tell me her manager was going to call me but this hasn't happened either.

 

If anyone can advise me I would like to know if I have a case under the Data Protection Act, due to the inaccuracy of the information and also the fact that it was gathered for a different purpose to which it has been put and what I should do about it. This information they now have could be very damaging to my good reputation as a very competent foster carer and could affect me getting other placements in the future. I have looked at the ICO website but it's quite complicated and there seem to be different rules regarding social services. It's also difficult to be very specific about what is wrong with the report as I do not have a copy and am relying on memory and I do not know what has happened since the meeting, whether anything has been corrected (the things I did manage to challenge).

 

Sorry this is a bit long but if anyone has time to ready it I would be grateful for any advice.

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This might be something you need to speak to the Information Commissioner about. Is this report being passed on to others or is it purely an internal document ?

 

Do you have a copy of it ?

 

I am sure others with more knowledge will be able to advise.. I will ask them to look in on you.


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Thank you for your reply. I don't have a copy of it - after the meeting R took it away to make some corrections but there are a lot of things wrong with it that I didn't have time to challenge. If they don't let me see it again and have more time to read it properly and challenge inaccuracies etc I am concerned that it will become final and put on record where anyone in the social services might be able to see it, even if they are not involved with this case. It could affect my currently good reputation as a foster carer and affect my chance of getting future placements. I am a lone and full time foster carer. My family and home have already undergone an intensive 6 month assessment in order for me to become a foster carer and have been deemed a suitable and safe environment to foster children. This report seems to throw a lot of doubt on that.

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Is there a specialist forum for foster carers where you might get some more informed advice?

 

My inclination would be to contact R and the social worker again, in writing, pointint out that you are still waiting for a response and giving them 7 days to provide it before you take your complaint higher - though I'm not sure who that would be too - perhaps the head of social services?


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Do you know what the purpose of the report is?

 

If the report contains 'personal data', and it sounds like it does, the Data Protection Act 1998 says that the council should be keeping that data accurate and up-to-date. In reality, proving that the report is inaccurate might be difficult. The best thing you can do might be to make sure that you have it in writing (for example, an email record) to the council stating that the report is seriously inaccurate and asking for a proper opportunity to point out areas where it is wrong. If they try to rely on the report later for any reason you can then point to the email trail. You can also engage the council's complaints process.

 

The fact that the council told you the visit was conducted for a different purposes than the real purpose is bad practice, but I don't think that by itself is a breach of law.


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