Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 30 Jul 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr & Mrs B complain that the Council delayed in making appropriate arrangements for the transition of her child to adult services. I have completed my investigation on the basis that there was fault in the transition process. The Council has agreed to offer a financial remedy to the family.
- The complaint is about how the Council managed a young person’s transition from children’s to adult services. I refer to the young person as Mr D.
- Mr D does not have the capacity to make a complaint to the Ombudsman, so his mother and stepfather have made the complaint on his behalf. I refer to his mother and stepfather as Mr & Mrs B.
- Mr & Mrs B complains that a lack of foresight, monitoring and planning resulted in the Council failing to provide Mr D a suitable long-term placement past his 18th birthday. As a consequence, Mr D still lives at home which has had a negative impact on Mr D and his family.
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. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
- 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)
- Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint; and
- reviewed and considered information received from the Council; and
- considered the relevant legislation; and
- spoke with Mrs B about the complaint.
What I found
What should have happened?
- Where a young person will have continuing needs after age 18, statutory guidance says councils must carry out a transition assessment “when there is significant benefit to the young person or carer in doing so”.
- Where a council is unable to put provision in place by the time a young person reaches 18, it should maintain the provision until its replacement is ready.
- Councils must deal with complaints made by or on behalf of a child or young person under the statutory three-stage procedure laid out in Getting the Best from Complaints 2006. After an initial response, there is an independent investigation at the second stage and a third, panel stage.
- Mr D turned 18 years old in August 2018. He has serious and profound learning disabilities, autism and epilepsy. He displays challenging behaviour and requires constant supervision.
- The Council has worked with Mr D and his family since he was a child. It supported Mr D through its Children Who Are Disabled (CWAD) team which aims to provide a smooth transition for young people with disabilities from children’s to adult social care services. Mr D has a social worker to oversee his provision and monitor his well-being.
- In February 2016, Mr & Mrs B asked the Council to refer Mr D to adult services. Mr & Mrs B hoped that early involvement would support his transition and that upon reaching 18 years old, Mr D would move into a property with other people that have similar care needs. The Council referred Mr D to adult services in October 2016.
- In March 2017, Mr & Mrs B asked the Council to bring Mr D’s transition plans forward, after his challenging behaviour escalated significantly and they found that the family were struggling to manage his needs at home.
- In August 2017, Mr & Mrs B again contacted the Council. They said that they were unable to keep Mr D safe when he became distressed due to his size and strength, and asked the Council to provide suitable accommodation for Mr D.
- In October 2017, Mr D had a 5-day period where he became distressed. During this time both Mr & Mrs B and Mr D suffered injuries and there had been involvement by the police. In October, the Council accommodated Mr D in a local children’s respite unit. He subsequently became a fully looked after child in November, after it was decided he could not return home as Mr & Mrs B could not ensure his safety.
- The Council say that it located Mr D in the children’s respite unit as a temporary measure until suitable accommodation could be found. The Council were aware that Mr D would not be able to stay in the unit past his 18th birthday.
- In July 2018, the Council identified a suitable property through a supported living provider, whom I shall refer to as Provider X. It planned to move Mr D into the property, with two other people he knew and who had similar needs. The property was due to be ready to be occupied in July 2018, prior to Mr D’s 18th birthday.
- Mr D remained in the respite unit. However, there were occasions when the unit became full and Mr D returned home. During these occasions Mr & Mrs B say they struggled to manage him, and on occasions were injured.
- The completion of the property that the Council had planned for Mr D to move into was delayed, from July until mid-September. As this was after Mr D’s 18th birthday he was unable to stay in the respite unit so Mr & Mrs B agreed that Mr D could return home until the property was completed.
- In July, Provider X contacted the Council and said that it would be unable to provide the service for Mr D, due to staff shortages.
- The Council explored other options for Mr D, contacting Provider X and another supported living provider, whom I shall refer to as Provider Z. However, a residential placement could not be agreed due to both providers being unable to provide full staff support. However, both providers did provide day-care support for Mr D, collecting from home in the morning and returning him in the evening.
- Due to ongoing staffing concerns with Provider X, and concerns raised by Mr & Mrs B about the level of care they provided, the Council explored the possibility of using the services of two other providers.
- At the end of August, the Council identified a transitional supported living service operated by Provider Z as a suitable long-term option for Mr D. However, at the time Provider Z did not have the staffing resources to manage Mr D’s needs full time, but said they were committed to rectifying this with a view to accommodating B full time.
- One week before Mr D’s 18th birthday, Mr B complained to the Council. He said that the Council had failed to properly plan and prepare for Mr D’s transition from children’s to adult services. Mr B said that rather than plan for B’s future and anticipate risks, it reacted in a knee jerk way when things had gone wrong.
- Mr B said that his lack of planning had resulted in Mr D being placed in unsuitable accommodation, often at short notice with staff unfamiliar with his complex needs. Mr B said that the temporary nature of this accommodation meant that Mr D would often have to return home when the facility was full.
- Mr B said that the Council had failed to start identifying suitable accommodation for Mr D until July 2018, despite he and Mrs B informing the Council in March 2017, and again in July 2017, that B’s behaviour had deteriorated, and plans needed to be brought forward.
- Mr B said that since becoming a looked after child, B had been assigned four different Independent Reporting Officers (IROs), and that the service provided by them had been poor. Mr B said that IROs had arrived late to some meetings and on one occasion did not attend at all. Mr B said the IROs had not challenged the Council regarding the accommodation arrangements or it’s poor planning, and had not represented Mr D’s views at meetings, with some not even meeting Mr D.
- Mr B said that the uncertainty and constant changes in Mr D’s living arrangements, has caused him great distress and because of his learning disability he has struggled to understand and adapt.
- Mr B said that the matter had also had a negative impact on their other children. He said that the changes in routine leads Mr D to demonstrate challenging behaviour, which distressed his other children. Mr B said that when Mr D returns to the family home, due to a lack of respite care, he and Mrs B need to focus their attention on him, meaning less attention if given to their other children.
- Finally, Mr B said that these matters had a negative impact on both he and Mrs B. He said that it had caused them great distress, leaving them feeling stressed and exhausted. Mr B said that this had impacted their health and his employment.
- The Council upheld nearly all the points raised by Mr B in his complaint, accepting that it failed to adequately plan for Mr D’s transition from children’s to adult services, and that opportunities were missed by IROs to raise questions regarding Mr D’s long term plan.
- The Council accepted that these errors had meant that Mr & Mrs B had to make last minute arrangements for Mr D’s care, placing stress on the family. The Council apologised for this and said that they would be implementing a number of service improvements.
- The Council subsequently identified eight actions that it planned to implement, in order to prevent a similar scenario occurring. These actions included changes to policy, working practices, the implementation of a transition tracker and staff training.
- Since Mr B’s complaint the Council has drawn up action plans for Mr D. In October, a plan was agreed which comprised of a mixture of schooling, after school care and weekend transitional supported living service, supplied by Provider Z, with Mr D staying at the family home overnight six days a week.
- In January 2019, Mr & Mrs B met with the Council to discuss concerns that Provider Z were unable to meet needs and its failure to provide regular respite support at the weekends. Following this meeting the Council created an action plan for Mr D’s care.
- Mr & Mrs B met with this Council again in May 2019, to review the status of B’s care. As a result, a further action plan was created and agreed. The Council have said that they are working to find suitable accommodation for Mr D and have created an ongoing plan which details how it will provide care before and after suitable accommodation is found.
- The Council has accepted that it failed to make appropriate arrangements for Mr D’s transition to adult services in good time. On the balance of probability, had the transitional planning started sooner it may have been possible for the Council to have found a suitable full-time accommodation for Mr D in advance of him becoming 18.
- It has clearly been very difficult to find residential accommodation or support agencies that can meet Mr D’s needs. The key problem appears to have been determining the right option for Mr D and identifying providers who have the capacity to meet Mr D’s needs. This has led to a significant amount of disruption to Mr D which has not only impacted him, but also caused distress to his parents and their other children. This is fault.
- The Council have acknowledged this fault, and have offered an apology to Mr & Mrs B, have introduced a number of service improvements, and have worked to produce a long-term support plan for Mr D. However, having considered the matters raised in this case I consider that it would have also been appropriate to offer a financial remedy to the family.
- Remedying Mr & Mrs B’s injustice is difficult, given they have had to care for their son, who has significant needs, which has clearly impacted them and their other children.
- Where there has been avoidable distress, the Ombudsman’s recommendation to remedy such injustice is symbolic and payments are normally between £300 to £1,000 depending on the severity of the injustice. The Ombudsman will also recommend payments for the impact caused by a failure to provide a service. In this case, I am satisfied that the avoidable distress and impact on the whole family is severe. Having considered these factors I have concluded that a remedy payment of £1000 for distress should be paid to the family, and a further £1650 for the impact caused to the family. This is based on a calculation of £150 per month, for the 11 months since Mr D’s eighteenth birthday.
- The Council’s failure to use the statutory complaints procedure for children and young people when Mr D was under 18 at the point of complaint was fault. However, this did not cause Mr D an injustice as the Council upheld the majority of the complaint, and Mr & Mrs B was subsequently able to come to the Ombudsman. For these reasons, I do not intend to make a formal finding of fault in relation to the Councils complaints handling.
- Finally, I do not propose to recommend the implementation of any service improvements or any recommendations regarding what steps the Council should take regarding securing accommodation for Mr D. This is because the Council appears to have taken reasonable steps towards learning lessons and making improvements to avoid similar issues occurring again, and I am also satisfied that it appears to be taking appropriate steps in securing provision for Mr D.
- The Council has agreed that within one month of the date of my final decision, it will offer to pay Mr & Mrs B, Mr D and their other two children a total of £2,650 for their avoidable distress in this case.
- I have concluded my investigation with a finding of fault causing an injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman