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Leeds City Council (21 010 306)

Category : Adult care services > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 23 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained about the Council’s actions in passing on information from her daughter’s father, and some comments it made to him. She said these resulted in an inappropriate safeguarding referral and court action which caused her to spend a lot of time in court defending herself. We find the Council was not at fault.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms X, complained about the way the Council dealt with contact between her severely disabled daughter, Miss Y, and the daughter’s father, Mr Z. She says Miss Y’s new social worker allowed Mr Z to use a method of contact which was not agreed with Ms X and told him Ms X was “angry” and “all consumed”. Ms X says contact had long been established by video call. She believes the social worker’s comments led to Mr Z raising safeguarding concerns and taking (unsuccessful) court action against her. Ms X says this also caused her to lose valuable time being caught up in the court action and meant Mr Z has repeatedly produced the social worker’s letter in court.
  2. Ms X would like the Council to apologise and request the letter be retracted from the court. She would also like financial compensation for herself and Miss Y for the time Ms X has spent in court defending herself. Ms X also says there should be proper transition between social workers when there are complicated family matters and severely disabled children. They should also have clear guidelines on facilitating contact and awareness of court orders and past court cases.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated the Council’s actions in dealing with Ms X’s case. The details of the elements I have not investigated are at the end of this statement.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  3. We cannot investigate a complaint if it is about a personnel issue. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5a, paragraph 4, as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information from the Complainant and from the Council.
  2. I sent both parties a copy of my draft decision for comment and took account of the comments I received in response.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Miss Y is severely disabled and for many years her father, Mr Z, has kept in contact with her through video calls.
  2. In early 2021, Mr Z became seriously unwell and was in hospital. Mr Z created voice recordings which his partner, Ms W, sent to the social worker who forwarded them to Ms X. Ms X was unhappy about the voice recordings; she was concerned about Miss Y’s ability to understand this and cope with the change. Ms X told the social worker she should no longer be involved in any updates. The social worker stopped forwarding Ms W’s emails and asked her to contact Ms X directly. Ms W and Mr Z did not wish to contact Ms X directly which is why they had communicated via the social worker. When the social worker wrote to Ms W to advise that she could no longer share information with Ms X, she referred to Ms X as “angry” and “all consumed”.
  3. Ms X complained about the social worker’s actions. She said the social worker was “unprofessional” and caused Miss Y to lose contact with her family. The Council apologised and said the comment was “unhelpful” and that the social worker agreed she should not have made the comment to Ms W. The Council said the social worker had forwarded the voice recordings because the alternative would have been that Miss Y and Ms X would not otherwise have had any contact or updates about Mr Z. The Council decided the social worker had taken these actions with the “best of intentions”. It reallocated Miss Y's case to a senior care manager. The Council also decided the comments had not caused Mr Z’s safeguarding referral and court action.
  4. Ms X has advised me that she referred to Social Work England (SWE) since my draft decision. SWE is the regulatory body for social workers. It is responsible for considering concerns that a registered social worker may have breached professional standards (subject to various criteria). She advises that SWE declined to consider her complaint.

Was there fault which caused injustice?

  1. I found no fault in the Council’s actions passing on information from Mr Z to Ms X. Ms X did not have to share the voice recordings with Miss Y if she thought they would cause distress. This was not a formal facilitation of contact, just passing information under unexpected and difficult circumstances. The alternative would have been a complete lack of information which would have been unsatisfactory.
  2. I also found that, although the Council found the social worker’s comments were unhelpful, it is unlikely they caused Mr Z’s safeguarding and court actions. They were also not responsible for the breakdown in communication between Miss Y and Mr Z. There was no evidence of fault in the way the Council dealt with Ms X’s complaint about this and the apology remedied any injustice this might have caused.
  3. Although Ms X advised that SWE declined to consider her concerns about the social worker’s professionalism, this does not mean I can now consider this. It is not my role to decide about the details of what the social worker should, or should not, have told Mr Z about Ms X, and whether that breached professional boundaries.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and do not uphold Ms X’s complaint.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I did not investigate the elements of Ms X’s complaint that were about the social workers professional judgement. This is because Social Work England is the regulatory body responsible for deciding concerns about social workers breaching professional boundaries. How the Council dealt with the individual social worker is also a personnel matter which I cannot investigate (see paragraph 6).

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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