The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council was at fault for a seven-month delay in arranging a meeting between Mr and Mrs B and their daughter’s independent reviewing officer, and in providing them with photographs of their daughter from before it placed her for adoption. The Council has agreed to arrange the meeting, provide the photographs and apologise to Mr and Mrs B for the delay.
- The complainants, whom I refer to as Mr and Mrs B, complain about the Council’s actions in relation to their daughter, who was placed for adoption in 2018.
- Mr and Mrs B say the Council put an action plan in place in November 2018 after they made a complaint, but that plan has not been implemented. They say the Council agreed to arrange a meeting between them and their daughter’s independent reviewing officer (IRO), but failed to do so. They say the Council agreed to give them photographs of their daughter from before it placed her for adoption, but did not do so.
- I refer to Mr and Mrs B’s daughter as C.
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 and Social Care 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
- I considered information from Mr and Mrs B and the Council. I wrote to Mr and Mrs B and the Council with my draft decision, and considered their comments.
What I found
- Mr and Mrs B made a complaint to the Council in 2018, after the Council had decided C should be placed for adoption. They said the Council had failed to communicate with them, and they asked for C to be allocated a new social worker.
- The Council upheld parts of the complaint, and formed an action plan to remedy their injustice. The action plan said the Council would:
- Speak to C’s foster carers to see if they would agree to meet Mr and Mrs B;
- Arrange a new social worker for C;
- Arrange a meeting between Mr and Mrs B and C’s new social worker;
- Decide whether Mr and Mrs B could know the ‘general area’ in which C would be placed;
- Clarify the arrangements for letterbox contact after C’s adoption;
- Complete a post-adoption contact agreement;
- Arrange a meeting between Mr and Mrs B and C’s IRO;
- Give up-to-date photographs of C to Mr and Mrs B; and
- Give an update on C’s progress to Mr and Mrs B at the next meeting.
- Mr and Mrs B’s complaint is that the Council has not implemented the action plan it formed in November 2018 to resolve their stage 1 complaint.
- Much of this plan has already been completed. The Council arranged a meeting between Mr and Mrs B and C’s prospective adopters, clarified post-adoption contact arrangements and issued an agreement.
- The Council refused to complete parts of the complaint which involved changing C’s social worker or providing information about, or new photographs of, C. It said this was because it had placed C for adoption, so could not provide information about her, and changing her social worker would not be in her best interests.
- I am satisfied that C’s change in circumstances after the formation of the action plan – her placement for adoption – has significantly affected the Council’s ability to meet these action points. The Council was not at fault for failing to meet them.
- The Council has not told Mr and Mrs B whether they can know the general area in which C is placed. However, in keeping with the Council’s assertion that it can no longer provide information about C to Mr and Mrs B, I do not consider it likely that the Council would have provided this information. As a result, Mr and Mrs B experienced no injustice from the Council failing to clarify whether they could know where C is placed, and I will not comment on the matter further.
- The Council told Mr and Mrs B – in November 2018 and March 2019 – that it would arrange a meeting between them and C’s IRO, and that it would provide photographs of C from the period preceding her adoption placement. As of June 2019, the Council had still not done either of these things. This period of seven months was an unacceptable delay, which was fault by the Council.
- The Council has now confirmed that the meeting, and the provision of photographs, will take place in July. This means it does not need to take further action to meet the action points on the November 2018 plan. However, Mr and Mrs B suffered an injustice from the delay, particularly in the time and trouble they went to in pursuing the complaint. The Council has agreed to apologise for this.
- The Council has agreed to arrange a meeting between Mr and Mrs B and C’s IRO.
- The Council has agreed that, during this meeting, it will give Mr and Mrs B photographs of C from the period before she was placed for adoption.
- The Council has agreed to provide a written apology to Mr and Mrs B for the delay in arranging this meeting and providing the photographs of C.
- These actions should be completed within four weeks of the date of this decision statement.
- The Council was at fault for the delay in arranging a meeting between Mr and Mrs B and C’s IRO, and in providing them with photographs of C from before it placed her for adoption. The agreed actions remedy Mr and Mrs B’s injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman