Surrey County Council (15 009 004)

Category : Children's care services > Adoption

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 22 Jan 2016

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council was not at fault by refusing to alter a report as Miss X wished and it has also offered to carry out a fresh assessment if she wishes. The report approved Miss X to adopt children and was not responsible for the failure to match with a child.

The complaint

      1. The complainant, whom I shall call Miss X, complains there were faults in the way the Council assessed her as a possible adopter of children between 2010 and 2013 and that it provided an inaccurate report to an adoption panel in April 2013.
      2. She also complains the Council used the inaccurate report for the matching process.
      3. Miss X complains the Council failed to amend that report as promised at an annual review.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated complaints b) and c). I give my reason for not investigating complaint a) at the foot of this statement.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman cannot investigate late complaints unless she decides there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to the Ombudsman about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D)
  2. The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. She must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
  3. If the Ombudsman is satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, she can complete her investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I read Miss X’s complaint and spoke to her on the telephone before making written enquiries of the Council. I considered the Council’s response to those enquiries and the documents it supplied. I had regard to the Council’s duties under regulations issued under the Children Act 1989. I shared a draft of this decision with both parties and invited their comments. I considered the Council’s comments on the draft. I also considered Miss X’s comments and the documents she provided.

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What I found

  1. The Council approved Miss X as a prospective adopter of children in April 2013.
  2. She says the report on which the Council based its approval contained inaccuracies. For example, she says the report wrongly stated she had been a child carer when her father was seriously ill. She also says the report criticised a relationship she had with a widower, seeing it as a result of the wrongly-stated role as a child carer. She says a social worker agreed to amend the report, but that the Council has failed to do so. She says this report has led to her receiving no offers of prospective children.
  3. The Council says many of the points at dispute are matters of opinion rather than fact. It says it offered to amend the report, but could not reach an agreement with Miss X and thus, did not amend it. It says Miss X has specified a narrow range of preference and that this has restricted her opportunities. It also says she has declined a potential match. It has said it is prepared to re-assess her if she wishes it to do so.

Complaint b)

  1. The first issue at hand is whether there are inaccuracies in the report likely to reduce Miss X’s chances of being matched with a child. I read the report carefully. Miss X supplied a document showing all the changes she wanted. She also supplied a copy of the social care record from 1 July 2014 in which the social worker was concerned that the report was “not an honest reflection of [Miss X] however any amendments are not likely to encourage links any faster”. She wanted Miss X to “consider children not strictly in her approval range”.
  2. Another document Miss X supplied, from 21 May 2014, showed the Council was prepared to revise the report. It wanted to do this by reducing its length and lessening the focus on the way the assessment was completed.
  3. It is clear Miss X did not agree with some of the views of the author. And it is equally clear the report could, with agreement, have been amended. However, the Council did not accept all the amendments Miss X wanted. The matters at dispute seem largely matters of professional judgement that I cannot criticise. Moreover, the report reads as a positive endorsement of Miss X as a prospective adopter. But it contains, like most of its kind, some critical comments. Therefore, I cannot say that factual errors alone have led to Miss X not being matched with a child.
  4. Miss X’s range of acceptance is, however, significant. I have seen the form recording her range of acceptance. She sought a single white British girl aged not much older than two years. She sought a child who would have no difficulty with the Christian faith based on the birth parents’ heritage. She was unwilling to consider a child whose birth parents had significant mental health issues, opiate dependent or HIV positive. The correspondence shows she also said she would prefer a child with the same hair colour as her own. Although the documents she supplied show she widened the range to include girls up to four years, this is still a narrow range that would significantly reduce the prospects of a match.
  5. The documents Miss X supplied show she withdrew an interest in a child from another authority. However, the same record also shows the other authority also withdrew. The documents also show Miss X stated she did not wish to foster a child as this would mean giving up work with no guarantee of permanency. This is understandable. I do not therefore find any refusal by Miss X to consider a child was responsible for the failure to achieve a match
  6. However, it follows from the paragraphs above that I cannot say on the balance of probabilities that the Council was at fault by using an inaccurate report for the matching process. And I cannot say the report was responsible for the failure to achieve a match.

Complaint c)

  1. The Council did not agree to amend the report in the way Miss X wanted. While it was happy to make some amendments, it was not obliged to make all the changes she wanted. It has also offered to re-assess Miss X as a potential adopter. I do not find it at fault.

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Final decision

  1. I have not upheld the complaint as the Council has acted without fault.

Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I did not investigate complaint a). Miss X could have brought these matters to the Ombudsman sooner and there is thus no good reason to exercise her discretion to investigate them.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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