Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole (BCP) Council has agreed to check whether it has paid friends and family foster carers properly over the past five years, following an investigation by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman has asked the council to consider backdating fostering allowances to carers after it received a complaint from the relatives of two vulnerable children who believed they had not been supported properly.
The relatives had taken in the children after the siblings' parents were unable to look after them. The children were deemed at risk, and were on Child Protection Plans, due to their parents' problems, and their unsafe living environment.
At the time, the council considered it was a private arrangement between the children's parents and the relatives. This meant the family carers were not provided with appropriate financial assistance and support from the council, and the children missed out on the support to which they were entitled as 'looked after children', the Ombudsman found.
The relatives complained to the council in their own right, and also on behalf of another relative who looked after the children. The council's ensuing investigation of itself found it was at fault. It offered them £20,498 as payment for the financial impact of caring for the children, and for the cost of the therapy the children needed. However, it still did not accept it had been responsible for placing the children in their relatives' care.
The Ombudsman found the council had been actively involved in the case, including involving the Police, and so the relatives should have been entitled to the council's support.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said that children cared for by friends and family foster carers "are often some of the most vulnerable in society: so it is vital that those looking after them receive the full support to which they are entitled".
He added: "In this case it is quite clear that had the relatives not taken the children under their wings, they would have needed state care, so the council should have treated their relatives as friends and family foster carers.
"It is to the council's credit that it has readily accepted my recommendations, and I hope the changes it will now make will ensure relatives' situations are made clear when they take on the role of foster parents in future."
In light of the findings, the council agreed to apologise to the relatives and calculate what they should have received in family fostering payments between March and July 2017, and also what family fostering allowances they should have received between late October and early December 2017, and between the middle of December 2017 to September 2019.
It should also make a payment of £750 to one set of relatives and £300 to the other relative for their avoidable distress.
On behalf of BCP Council, corporate Director Elaine Redding said: "We accept the conclusions of the investigation undertaken by the Ombudsman and had already undertaken many of the actions set out in the report published today.
"On behalf of BCP Council I offer an unreserved apology to the family in this case and we have written to them making clear we will be addressing the issues as outlined in the report."