The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There is no evidence that the Council failed to act in accordance with its safeguarding procedure in the way it investigated the alert, or that it failed to respond to Mr A’s complaint properly.
- Mr A (as I shall call the complainant) complains that the Council did not investigate a safeguarding alert about his disabled daughter properly, and then failed to respond properly to his complaint. He says the way in which the Council has allowed the matter to drift has prevented him from organising a best Interest meeting for his daughter.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the written information provided by the Council and by Mr A. Both the Council and Mr A had an opportunity to comment on an earlier draft of this statement before I reached a final decision.
What I found
Presumption of capacity (every adult must be presumed to have capacity)
Individuals supported to make their own decisions (people must be given all practicable help to make their own decisions)
Unwise decisions (people have the right to make their own decisions)
Best interests (anything done for or on behalf of a person who lacks mental capacity must be done in their best interests)
Least restrictive option (someone making a decision or acting on behalf of a person who lacks capacity must consider whether it is possible to decide or act in a way that would interfere less with the person’s rights and freedoms of action)
- A council must make necessary enquiries if it has reason to think a person may be at risk of abuse or neglect and has needs for care and support which mean he or she cannot protect himself or herself. It must also decide whether it or another person or agency should take any action to protect the person from abuse or risk. (section 42, Care Act 2014)
- The Safeguarding Adults West and North Yorkshire and York Multi-Agency Policy and Procedure says (in respect of investigating possible perpetrators) “The Strategy Discussion or Meeting will need to establish whether and when the person or organisation is informed and when they are informed so as to not undermine the Formal Enquiry process. Such decisions will need to be made on a case-by-case basis and clearly recorded. The most appropriate way of informing the person or organisation of the allegations should be considered. A person alleged to have caused harm should be provided with appropriate support throughout the process to participate and enable their views to be recognised.”
- Mr A’s adult daughter (BA) has a medical condition which causes a mental disorder. Mr A is the court-appointed deputy for BA’s welfare. BA has lived between her home address and a supported living placement for eight years. In 2011 there was a safeguarding investigation about the actions of a member of staff while BA was away on holiday.
- In March 2018 Mr A wrote to complain to the care provider about some aspects of BA’s care in the supported living placement. He said he believed she had “outgrown” the placement and so would be returning home to live full time.
- The care provider notified the Council of their concerns that BA’s liberty was being restricted by her family: the care provider said BA was not allowed to choose her own clothes, have the use of her mobility vehicle (which was kept at home by her parents), or go on holiday with friends from her placement. The care provider also said her family took her to all medical appointments and did not tell staff what had happened. There were concerns that BA’s arrangements were often changed at short notice by her family.
- BA’s social worker telephoned Mr A to let him know what the care provider had said. She emailed him on 29 March to let him know she was awaiting the formal documents from the care provider before she raised an official safeguarding alert. She also said that her team manager who would lead the safeguarding investigation would now take over as BA’s social worker. She suggested a date when they could meet Mr A and BA.
- Mr A asked why the team manager would be taking over. He asked for sight of the safeguarding concerns before any meeting which he said would have to be after 4pm. The social worker arranged a different date and time (after 4pm on 12 April) for the meeting. Mr A asked again, on 6 April, for the details of the safeguarding concerns.
- On 11 April the social worker responded to Mr A to say she had checked with her line manager and it was not the normal procedure to provide information beforehand in a safeguarding investigation. Mr A cancelled the meeting. He said he had a letter from the Council from 2011 (concerning the previous safeguarding alert) which said that “consideration should be given to the amount /nature of information that is given to parents prior to a safeguarding meeting and that he would implement training of all staff regarding such meetings I have not been given any information and that is why I am asking for this written information”. He also said he thought the family home was an unsuitable venue for the meeting.
- The Council arranged two safeguarding meetings with Mr A to discuss the nature of the concerns raised by the care provider. Both meetings started at 4pm. The outcome of the investigation was that of the six allegations made, five were not substantiated. The other allegation – about use of BA’s mobility vehicle – was agreed should be discussed in a best interest meeting.
- Another outcome from the safeguarding investigation was a recommendation that Mr A attend training on the Mental Capacity Act which would assist him in his role as BA’s court-appointed deputy. This arose because of concerns in the safeguarding meetings that Mr A did not fully understand the nuances of assessing mental capacity or making decisions in someone’s best interests. The training would be provided by the Council free of charge. In addition it was recommended that BA might talk to a psychologist as she was unable to talk about her feelings in respect of the placement where she had lived for so long.
- The safeguarding investigation concluded on 18 June 2018.
- Mr A complained to the Council that officers had not followed the correct procedures. He complained about the recommendation for training. He also complained about delays in responses to his questions.
- The Council responded in August. The Council explained the procedure in respect of investigating a possible perpetrator was different in respect of how much information would be given to them before the initial meeting, to avoid compromising the investigation. It said the sharing of sensitive information would only serve to undermine the investigation in these circumstances. It did not uphold the complaint.
- The Council said it was good practice to promote learning about the Mental Capacity Act where a parent acts as deputy. It said the recommendation was made to help Mr A in his role. It did not uphold the complaint.
- Finally the Council acknowledged there had been some delay on the part of the former social worker in responding to Mr A’s requests for information while she sought guidance. It partially upheld this complaint and explained the actions it intended to take to prevent a recurrence.
- Mr A remained dissatisfied and complained to the Ombudsman. He maintained the Council had not followed the procedures it had told him about in 2011. He said the social worker had tried to bully him into a meeting without proper information. He said as a result he had to take time off work to attend meetings. He said he had not been able to hold a Best Interest meeting because the Council had delayed in addressing his concerns.
- There is no evidence that the Council failed to follow the appropriate procedures in the amount of information it shared with Mr A before the safeguarding meetings, or any evidence that the social worker acted incorrectly in not forwarding all the information to Mr A when he requested it.
- It was not fault on the part of the Council to offer training where it saw a need, which was evident in Mr A’s responses to some questions in the safeguarding meetings.
- There was a slight delay before the social worker responded to Mr A’s requests for information. The Council acknowledged that and explained what it intended to do to improve communication. There is no evidence the delay caused any injustice to Mr A, however.
- The Council arranged the meetings for after 4pm as Mr A requested.
- The actions of the Council did not prevent a Best Interest meeting.
- There is no evidence of fault on the part of the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman