Devon County Council (22 005 782)

Category : Adult care services > Transition from childrens services

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 21 Jun 2023

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complained on behalf of her son, Mr Y. She complained about the adequacy of the Council’s investigation of her complaints regarding the support provided to Mr Y when he became an adult. There was no fault in the way the Council considered the complaint through the statutory children’s complaint procedure. There was delay in the complaints process and the Council should apologise for the uncertainty this caused.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains on behalf of her son, Mr Y. She complains about the adequacy of the Council’s investigation of her complaints regarding the support provided to Mr Y when he became an adult, including a failure to:
    • arrange suitable supported housing;
    • organise appropriate mental health support; and
    • organise practical support to improve his life skills.
  2. Mrs X says the matter has caused her and Mr Y distress, frustration and uncertainty about the provision that he received.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We consider whether there was fault in the way an organisation made its decision. If there was no fault in the decision making, we cannot question the outcome. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  3. When considering complaints, if there is a conflict of evidence, we make findings based on the balance of probabilities. This means that we will weigh up the available relevant evidence and base our findings on what we think was more likely to have happened.
  4. We may investigate complaints made on behalf of someone else if they have given their consent. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26A(1), as amended)
  5. If we are satisfied with an organisation’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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Mrs X and considered information she provided.
  2. I considered the Council’s response to my enquiry letter and the outcome of its investigation under the statutory children’s complaints procedure.
  3. Mrs X and the Council had the opportunity to comment on the draft decision. I considered comments before I made a final decision.

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What I found

Statutory children’s complaints procedure

  1. The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. The accompanying statutory guidance, ‘Getting the Best from Complaints’, explains councils’ responsibilities in more detail.
  2. The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
  3. If a complainant is not happy with a council’s stage one response, they can ask that it is considered at stage two. At this stage of the procedure, councils appoint an investigator and an independent person who is responsible for overseeing the investigation. Councils have up to 65 working days to complete stage two of the process from the date of request.
  4. If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage two investigation, they can ask for a stage three review by an independent panel. The council must hold the panel within 30 days of the date of request, and then issue a final response within 20 days of the panel hearing.
  5. If a council has investigated something under the statutory children’s complaint process, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless we consider the investigation was flawed. However, we may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
  6. The Ombudsman published a focus report in 2015 highlighting common failings in the way councils deal with complaints that are within the remit of the children’s statutory procedure. In 2021 further guidance for practitioners was issued setting out our expectations on how statutory complaints should be handled and managed.

Care leavers

  1. The Children Act 1989 places duties on councils to provide ongoing support for children leaving care. These duties continue until they reach age 21. If the council is helping them with education and training, the duty continues until age 25 or to the end of the agreed training (which can take them beyond their 25th birthday). 
  2. The guidance accompanying the Act says that when young people leave their care placement the council must ensure their new home is suitable for their needs and linked to their wider plans and aspirations. Moving directly from a care placement to living independently is often too big a step for young people. It is therefore good practice for councils to commission semi-independent and independent living options with appropriate support. Complaints under the statutory children’s procedure can be made by young people looked after by a council, those leaving care or their suitable representatives.

What happened


  1. Mr Y was a looked after child in the care of the Council. He became an adult in mid-2020. He moved from a residential care home to a semi-independent placement after he turned 18.
  2. In June 2021, Mrs X wrote to the Council to complain on behalf of Mr Y. She told the Council:
    • she was concerned Mr Y was placed in semi-independent living without appropriate support and assessment;
    • raised concerns about Mr Y’s mental health and the lack of support from the Council; and
    • said the Council had told her Mr Y would stay at his semi-independent placement until he was 21 but was then informed this would be for less than one year.
  3. The Council responded 55 working days later at stage one of its complaints procedure in mid-August 2021. The Council said:
    • it was sorry for the delay in its response;
    • Mr Y had support from a support worker, personal advisor, the Mental Health Crisis Team and his General Practitioner (GP);
    • Mr Y was receiving independent living support and guidance from appropriate services;
    • Mr Y was assessed by an adult social care social worker and offered support. Mr Y decided he did not want additional support at the time;
    • it would evaluate Mr Y’s capacity as part of its ongoing support and assessment;
    • Mr Y has daily support in the semi-independent placement; and
    • there was no evidence supporting Mrs X’s view that she was told Mr Y could stay at the semi-independent placement until he was 21.
  4. Shortly after the Council’s stage one letter, Mrs X was dissatisfied and requested a stage two response. Mrs X said:
    • The stage one complaint was inadequate and inaccurate;
    • Mr Y was placed in semi-independent housing with no support. Mrs X said she does not believe Mr Y was capable of living by himself;
    • the decision made by the social worker that Mr Y could live independently was not clarified and understood by Mrs X;
    • the social worker told Mrs X that Mr Y would stay in the semi-independent housing until he was 21. This then changed and he was told he would move within a year; and
    • she was not kept up to date about key decisions regarding Mr Y.
  5. The Council completed a stage two investigation under the statutory children’s complaint procedure in February 2022. The Council appointed an investigating officer (IO) and an independent person (IP) to oversee the stage two process. Both were separate of the original decision and had no prior involvement with Mr Y. The IO spoke with Mrs X and Mr Y and agreed a statement of complaint. The IO reviewed relevant files and spoke with staff involved with Mr Y at the time. The IO noted delays due to difficulties organising interviews with staff. The IO concluded:
    • the original stage one response was not clear. However, whilst the content of the response was disjointed, it was accurate. This part of the complaint was partially upheld;
    • Mr Y received appropriate support in the semi-independent housing including input from on-site support workers, social workers, and input from other workers. Whilst Mrs X was dissatisfied with the Council’s input around Mr Y’s mental health, the officer found Mr Y had been signposted to relevant support services and offered appropriate support. Therefore, this part of the complaint was not upheld;
    • that relevant documents showed there was no evidence to suggest the Council told Mrs X that Mr Y could live independently. The IO found all Mr Y’s care plans and assessments concluded Mr Y required semi-independent living to support his progress to adulthood. Therefore, the IO did not uphold this part of the complaint.
    • the view that Mr Y would remain at the semi-independent placement until he was 21 was a misunderstanding. All professionals interviewed were of the view that the placement was a steppingstone towards independence and was a temporary measure. This complaint was not upheld; and
    • adult social care social workers did not contact Mrs X and provide her with information about Mr Y, although Mr Y wanted Mrs X involved as part of his support network. This part of the complaint was upheld.
  6. The IO made four recommendations:
    • The Council should issue joint responses from adult social care and children’s services at stage one of the Council’s complaints process where there is a transition from one service to another.
    • Mr Y should be given appropriate support during transition from semi-independent to independent living and given on-going support as and when necessary until he can live independently.
    • Mrs X should be kept informed if Mr Y agrees in writing of all decisions about his future and any further assessments discussed with Mrs X.
    • Apologise to Mrs X for the misunderstanding about how long Mr Y would remain in the semi-independent placement.
  7. The IP agreed with the IO’s recommendations. They concluded the IO’s investigation was thorough and considered all relevant information.
  8. The Council wrote an adjudication letter in March 2022, 136 working days after Mrs X’s stage two request. The Council:
    • accepted the conclusions and recommendations of the IO’s report;
    • apologised for the delay in its response;
    • said its customer service team had reviewed its process to ensure both children’s services and adult social care staff are involved in the complaint response;
    • said it would ensure Mr Y’s eligible social care needs are met, and suitable support provided;
    • told Mrs X that it would provide her with updates about Mr Y and any future assessments with his agreement; and
    • apologised for the misunderstanding about how long Mr Y would remain at the semi-independent placement.
  9. Mrs X continued to remain dissatisfied with the Council’s response and requested a stage three review later that month.
  10. The stage three panel was held in May 2022, 56 working days after the stage three request. The attendees to the panel included the IO, IP, an independent chair, adjudicating officers, a complaints manager, Mr Y’s PA and Mrs X and Mr Y. The bundle of documents that formed the investigation were made available to the panel. Mrs X and Mr Y were able to speak during the panel.
  11. The panel considered each of the five points of complaint. The panel agreed with the IO’s findings in stage two, aside from the final finding about information sharing. The panel decided there was limited evidence to suggest Mrs X was not informed about decisions regarding Mr Y. In addition, as Mr Y had turned 18, the rights to access information had changed. Therefore, the panel changed the outcome to “no finding”. The panel noted Mr Y should be provided with ongoing support he is eligible to, and information should be shared with Mrs X with Mr Y’s consent.
  12. The panel also made three recommendations:
    1. the Council should ensure the role of the permanency and transition team is to lead and coordinate pathway plans for children who have been looked after and should include the range of services provided by adult social services and other agencies. This is to ensure services are provided in a joined up way;
    2. there should be clear communication with parents, carers, and young people about the changes to their rights to be involved in decision making once a young person turns 18. An explicit understanding of the issue of consent and information sharing is necessary.
    3. key information for parents, carers and young people should be provided in a clear written format with the avoidance of professional jargon and should be provided through the pathway planning process.
  13. The Council sent its adjudication letter 16 days after the panel’s findings in early March 2022. The Council apologised for the lack of clarity in its stage one response. It said whilst the stage one response was not factually incorrect, it was disjointed. The Council also said it had reviewed the relevant process and would ensure future complaints were more coordinated between its children’s and adult social care teams. It agreed with the outcome of the panel and said it would:
    • share information about Mr Y with his consent;
    • review its pathway planning process to ensure practitioners understood the importance of information sharing and in future its pathway plans would include information about other services available;
    • ensure all parties would be made aware of the change in consent once a young person turns 18 and the need for a young adults’ consent to be gained in order to share information; and
    • develop a brief guide for parents, carers and young people that is written in clear and accessible language.
  14. Mrs X remained dissatisfied with the Council’s response and brought her complaint to us.
  15. In response to our enquiries the Council said it:
    • met with young people and was developing a new version of its pathway plan document;
    • created a new “Promoting Independence” guidance which is being used by its transitions teams. The document includes which professionals will be responsible during the pathway planning process and how the Council will support a care leaver during the transition to adulthood;
    • followed the pathway planning guidance, with links between its children’s and adults’ teams to ensure a joint approach to transition;
    • updated its “Preparing for Adulthood” guidance document which is provided to young people accessing the Council’s transition services. The document includes “easy read” sections to enable young people to understand what services are available to them;
    • was developing a “quick guide for under 18-year-olds” regarding the mental capacity act which is going to the Council’s governance process in the near future; and
    • continued to support Mr Y and shared information with Mrs X following the panel’s recommendations. It provided a chronology of key actions it had taken.


Complaints process

  1. The Council considered the complaints under the statutory children’s complaints procedure. The Council followed the statutory process in both its stage two investigation and stage three panel. It considered relevant information and sought input from those involved in the support of Mr Y before reaching its conclusion. Therefore, there was no fault in the way the Council considered the complaints made by Mrs X and therefore we did not reinvestigate the complaints ourselves.
  2. Whilst there was no fault in the way the Council considered the complaints, there were several instances of delay:
    • the stage one response was sent after 55 working days when it should have been sent in 20;
    • the stage two response was sent after 136 working days when it should have been sent in 65;
    • the stage three panel was held after 56 working days when it should have been held in 30; and
    • the final adjudication letter was sent after 16 working days when it should have been sent in 15.
  3. The result was a cumulative delay of 133 working days longer than the statutory procedure allows, or 26.6 weeks in total. This is fault. The fault caused Mrs X frustration and Mr Y uncertainty about whether Mr Y was receiving the support he was entitled to. The Council apologised for the delays at stage one and two of the process. These were appropriate actions. However, the Council did not apologise for the delay at stage three. Therefore, there is unresolved injustice to Mrs X and Mr Y because of the delays.

Council compliance with recommendations

  1. Recommendations were made at each stage of the statutory complaints procedure. On balance, the evidence shows the Council complied with most of the panel’s recommendations and made the required changes to its processes and guidance. This included updating guidance documents for its staff and for the public to ensure a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities of services involved with young people transitioning from children’s to adults’ services.
  2. However, there is no evidence the Council changed its processes in line with the stage three panel’s second recommendation. The panel said information about how parents and young people are informed about the change in access to information rights once a young person turns 18 should be clearly communicated, with explicit understanding of the issue of consent to sharing information. The Council agreed to ensure discussions with all parties include the changing nature of rights and responsibilities and the need for young adults’ consent to share information. However, the Council’s guidance documents do not reflect this change. The documents discuss advocacy and best interest decisions, but not about how general rights to access information changes through transition to adulthood.
  3. The purpose of the panel’s service improvement was to ensure parents and young people are made aware that a person with parental responsibility will no longer be automatically entitled to information about the young person once they turn 18, and how consent will be required from the young adult before information is shared to avoid confusion or uncertainty in the future. The Council failed to put the recommendation into action. This is fault. The Council should reconsider the panel’s second recommendation and decide when and how it will ensure parents, carers and young people are informed of this change in rights is communicated during the transition from children’s services.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the final decision, the Council will write to Mrs X and Mr Y and apologise for the frustration and uncertainty it caused by the delay in completing the stage three complaints process.
  2. Within three months of the final decision, the Council will reconsider the stage three panel’s second recommendation about how access to information changes when a young person turns 18, and how the need for consent to access information is communicated to young people and others with parental responsibility. The Council will consider updating its guidance documents to ensure it is clear at what stage of the pathway planning process this will be communicated, and by whom.

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Final decision

  1. I completed my investigation. I found fault and made a recommendation to remedy the injustice caused.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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