Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 09 Feb 2017
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council has agreed to arrange an independent investigation of Miss B’s complaint under the statutory complaints procedure for children’s social care, so I have discontinued my investigation.
- Miss B complained about the Council’s Children’s Services department. This involved:
- Not fulfilling its responsibilities towards her after she a left a secure hospital at the age of 17 in 2012;
- Lack of contact from her social worker between 2012 and 2015;
- Failing to provide support as agreed following her complaint in 2015;
- Not fully responding to her complaints, and not giving her information about the statutory complaints process for children’s social care.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The law sets out a three stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. At stage 2 of this procedure, the Council appoints an independent Investigating Officer and an Independent Person (who is responsible for overseeing the investigation). If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a stage 3 review. The Ombudsman usually expects councils to complete this procedure before it will investigate a complaint, because it may lead to a suitable remedy. However, if complainants are still unhappy, they can then approach the Ombudsman and we will consider if the process was carried out properly.
What I found
- In 2012, Miss B was discharged from a secure hospital, where she had been for one year. She returned to live with her parents but this was intended as a temporary arrangement for six months while the Council helped her to secure suitable accommodation.
- Miss B had a social worker from the Council’s Care Leaver Service whose role was to support her to return to education, access therapeutic support from CAMHS (the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) and apply for housing. However, Miss B says this did not happen and she had very little contact from her social worker, despite trying to get in touch with her many times. She says she had no contact from the Council during 2013-14. Her mental health declined and she did not go back to education or move out of her parents’ home. She later found out her social worker had left the Council.
- In 2015 the Council contacted Miss B and assigned a new social worker. Miss B met her to explain her difficulties and what help she needed. However, according to Miss B, her social worker only visited three times after that and did not provide the help she asked for. She is still out of education and living with her parents.
- In July 2015, Miss B complained to the Children’s Service about the lack of support she had received with her housing, benefits and education since 2012. A team manager met her to discuss her concerns and wrote to her afterwards. He acknowledged the Council had made little progress in helping her to become more independent and return to education but said it had offered some mental health support. He set out what help the Council would provide going forward.
- In August, Miss B contacted the Council and said she was unhappy with this response, giving her reasons. She said she wanted to take her complaint further.
- The same month, a service manager visited Miss B to discuss her complaint in more depth and explained what the Council would do to help her. She also spoke to her on the telephone after this.
- In October, the complaints team asked the manager for feedback. She told them Miss B was happy with the outcome of their discussions and did not want to pursue her complaint.
- However, Miss B says she was not happy and told the Council several times she still wanted to take her complaint further. She says nobody told her about the statutory complaints process and she did not know she could have an independent investigation into her complaint.
- According to the Council’s records, it contacted Miss B in November to ask if she was happy with the outcome of her complaint and did not receive a response. It did not take any further action.
- Miss B says she has had little contact from the Care Leaver Service since 2015 and has still not received the support she needs. Her problems with her housing and education are ongoing. She says this has had a significant impact on her mental health and well-being.
- In November 2016 Miss B complained to the Ombudsman about the service she has received from the Council since 2012.
- The Ombudsman contacted the Council, which said Miss B had not completed its complaints procedure and would be entitled to a stage 2 investigation.
- Miss B decided she would like to take this up. This means her complaint will be investigated by an independent Investigating Officer and Independent Person. They will speak to her about the complaint, look at the Council’s records and interview staff members who have been involved. The Investigating Officer will write a report with findings and recommendations on each area of the complaint, and send it to Miss B and the Council. The Council will need to respond and confirm whether it accepts the findings and recommendations. This should take no more than 65 working days.
- If Miss B is not happy with the Investigating Officer’s report, she can ask the Council to arrange a stage 3 review panel. This involves three independent people looking at the report and listening to Miss B’s views on the findings. The panel members can ask questions of the Investigating Officer, Independent Person, Council officers and Miss B, and decide whether to accept the findings or make further recommendations.
- If, after following this process, Miss B is still not happy, or if the Council does not carry out the recommendations, she can complain to the Ombudsman. She could also decide to approach the Ombudsman after stage 2, if both she and the Council agree this would be more suitable than arranging the review panel.
- The Council has agreed to follow stage 2 of the complaints procedure and will arrange an independent investigation into Miss B’s complaint.
- The Council should have confirmed whether Miss B was happy with the outcome of its stage 1 response and made sure she knew her options under the statutory complaints process.
- The Council has now agreed to investigate Miss B’s complaint at stage 2 of the statutory process. Therefore, I have discontinued my investigation.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman