East Sussex County Council (18 007 726)

Category : Children's care services > Adoption

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 09 Nov 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained that the Council failed to deal properly with her post-adoption support and her complaint about the matter. The Council was at fault in the way it dealt with her complaint. It has agreed to take her complaint to stage 2 of the children’s social care complaints procedure. This is a satisfactory remedy. The Ombudsman has not investigated the complaint about the post-adoption support.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complained that the Council failed to deal properly with her post-adoption support by:
    • failing to provide adequate support;
    • failing to carry out a re-assessment of the support when she asked for one;
    • stopping her adoption allowance prematurely; and
  2. She also complained that the Council refused to allow her to take her complaint about these matters to stage 2 of the statutory children's social care complaints procedure.

What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated the second part of the complaint. I explain at the end of this statement why I have not investigated the first part.

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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. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I discussed the complaint with Ms X and considered the information she provided. I considered the information the Council provided. I shared my draft decision with the Council and the complainant and considered their responses.
  2. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

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What I found

  1. 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 Investigator 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.
  2. The Government has provided statutory guidance for local authorities, Getting the Best from Complaints (‘the Guidance’), on the operation of the complaints procedure. This sets out a list of people eligible to use the complaints procedure and the matters they may complain about. It includes adoptive parents who wish to complain about adoption support services.
  3. The Guidance also says:
    • Where a complaint is accepted at stage 1, the complainant is entitled to pursue the complaint further through the procedure. “The local authority is obliged to ensure that the complaint proceeds to stages 2 and 3 of this procedure, if that is the complainant’s wish.”
    • Local authorities do not need to consider complaints made more than one year after the grounds to make the complaint arose.
    • The time limit can be extended at the local authority’s discretion if it is still possible to consider the complaint effectively and efficiently. The local authority may wish to consider whether it would be unreasonable to expect the complainant to have made a complaint earlier.

What happened

  1. Ms X has an adopted child C, who has complex medical needs. The Council placed C for adoption with Ms X as a baby in 2014. It provided financial support for Ms X through an adoption allowance because of C’s special needs. The Adoption Order was made in 2015.
  2. In November 2017 Ms X made a complaint to the Council under the heading ‘quality of care prior to adoption’. She said when C was in the Council’s care before the adoption, professionals involved in her care failed to ensure C received a diagnosis of additional medical problems despite concerns raised. She said she had later taken her daughter for medical treatment and received a further diagnosis which meant she needed additional medical care.
  3. The Council’s response was that it was the responsibility of medical professionals, rather than social care staff, to recognise her daughter’s health problems.
  4. Ms X made a further complaint in May 2018. She complained that the Council had:
    • failed to respond to concerns about C’s health problems resulting in an inadequate adoption support plan,
    • refused to carry out a reassessment of her financial support on the basis that it was now over three years since the Adoption Order, even though she had made her request before the end of the three-year period.
  5. The Council responded to the complaint in June 2018. It said the responsibility for reassessing Ms X’s adoption support plan had now passed to the council in the area she had moved to, Council 2, as the three-year time limit had passed. It said the Council would now stop paying her the adoption allowance and Council 2 would assess whether she had any financial needs. The Council ended by saying if she wished to discuss the matter further she could contact the Council’s Customer Relations Team.
  6. Ms X was not happy with the response and asked to take her complaint to stage 2 of the complaints process. She asked the Council to confirm it would continue to pay her adoption allowance in the meantime. She said the Council had told her previously the allowance would continue until C turned 18.
  7. After further correspondence, Ms X clarified the issues she wanted the Council to investigate. These were the same issues she had raised in her complaint in May 2018 as well as the more recent decision to end her financial support. She asked again for an independent stage 2 investigation.
  8. The Council responded in July 2018, saying it had considered her request for a stage 2 investigation but decided this would not be appropriate. It said it would not give her the outcome she was looking for. It said most of her complaint related to health issues and she should direct her complaint to the NHS. It said the Council’s position had not changed regarding the adoption support as this was now the responsibility of the council in the area she had moved to.
  9. Ms X provided a detailed reply. She said her understanding was that she was entitled to take her complaint to stage 2 of the children’s social care complaints procedure. She said she was not complaining about the health service but about failure by the Council as C’s corporate parent to act on concerns raised about her health by making an appropriate medical referral. On the question of financial support, Ms X quoted statutory guidance saying that the three-year limitation period does not apply to any financial support agreed before the Adoption Order was made. She confirmed she wanted to progress to stage 2 of the complaints procedure.
  10. The Council replied in August 2018. It directed Ms X to the NHS for the health aspects of her complaint. It repeated its stance that Council 2 would now be responsible for any adoption support. It told Ms X her complaint was out of time under its complaints policy as it was made more than 12 months after the events she was complaining about. The Council said despite this it had made every reasonable attempt to address her concerns. The Council’s decision was that it would not consider her complaint further.

Analysis

  1. Ms X made a complaint about adoption support services which the Council considered at stage 1. I consider that as someone who has adopted a child placed by the Council and who has a complaint about adoption support services, Ms X is eligible to use the statutory complaints procedure.
  2. The Council did not tell her whether it had considered the complaint at stage 1 of the statutory children’s social care complaints procedure or under its own corporate complaints procedure. It did not explain to her that she could ask to go to stage 2. When she asked to take her complaint to stage 2 the Council refused, first on the basis that it could not give her the outcome she wanted and that most of the complaint was outside the Council’s remit as it related to health issues. Later it added a further reason for rejecting her request, that the complaint was made outside the 12-month time limit.
  3. I find that the Council was at fault in the way it responded to Ms X’s complaint. It would not be at fault in refusing to consider a complaint that was outside its remit and it does not have to consider a complaint that is more than 12 months old. But neither of these restrictions applied to the whole of Ms X’s complaint. Her view is that she is not complaining about the actions of medical professionals but about social care staff. The complaints about the request for review of the adoption support plan and the ending of financial support are not outside the 12-month timescale. I consider that having had her complaint considered at stage 1, Ms X was entitled to pursue it to stage 2 of the statutory complaints procedure.
  4. As a result of the Council’s refusal Ms X lost the opportunity to have her complaint considered earlier and had to make a complaint to the Ombudsman.
  5. I put my view to the Council and asked if it would consider progressing the complaint to stage 2 of the statutory complaints procedure. The Council confirmed it agreed to do so and is in the process of identifying an independent Investigating Officer.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed to allow Ms X’s complaint to go to stage 2 of the children’s social care complaints procedure. It will need to consider whether any parts of the complaint are outside its remit because they are about the actions of another body. It will need to decide whether to use its discretion to extend the time limit to cover older events. The Investigating Officer will need to agree a statement of complaint with Ms X. The Council has confirmed it is in the process of appointing an Investigating Officer and Independent Person to carry out the investigation.

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Final decision

  1. I have found that the Council was at fault in the way it responded to Ms X’s complaint. The Council’s agreement to deal with the complaint at stage 2 of the statutory children’s social care complaints procedure is a satisfactory remedy for any injustice caused. I have therefore completed my investigation.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I did not investigate the part of the complaint about adoption support because the Council has agreed to do so.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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