The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr and Mrs X says the Council failed to take meaningful action or provide support to their adopted daughter following incidents of self-harm. There was fault by the Council because it did not assess the support needs of Mr and Mrs X and their daughter. The Council agreed a financial remedy to reflect the injustice suffered by the family in consequence of this fault.
- Mr and Mrs X say the Council failed to take meaningful action or provide support to their adopted daughter following incidents of self-harm and suicidal thoughts.
- Mr and Mrs X say social services and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) did not formulate a risk management plan for six months after their daughter presented at a local hospital after an incident of self-harm in December 2017. They say their experience of trying to get help for their child was made worse by both services’ dilatory, perfunctory, and unpleasant handling of the matter.
- They say the Council breached a duty of care owed to their daughter as a former looked after child. They made numerous telephone calls and sent numerous emails to a social worker to inform him their daughter’s condition was getting worse but the social worker only gave them holding responses with no follow up. For instance, he would tell them he would consider options and consult with his colleagues but never follow up. Mr and Mrs X say the social worker failed to carry out agreed actions and ignored their views as parents.
- Mr and Mrs X say their daughter fell behind at school but they did not receive any help to enable her catch up.
- Mr and Mrs X say their daughter’s condition worsened and they feel the Council’s inaction contributed to the deterioration in her mental health.
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)
How I considered this complaint
- I reviewed the complaint and background information provided by Mrs X and the Council. I discussed matters with Mrs X by telephone. I sent a draft decision statement to Mrs X and the Council and considered the comments of both parties on it.
- 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.
What I found
- Section 3(1)(d) of the Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005 states that ‘services in relation to the therapeutic needs of an adoptive child’ is prescribed as an adoption support service (in addition to counselling, advice and information) to be provided by a home authority of the adoptive parents. The prescribed services in Section 3 may include giving assistance in cash.
Government guidance on help after adoption
- Adoptive families have a legal right to an assessment of adoption support needs from the local authority responsible for their post adoption support. The assessment covers a range of needs, from mental health and the need for therapeutic services to additional support during a child’s education.
- The local authority is legally required to carry out the assessment but it is not currently legally required to provide the support that an assessment may reveal the parents and child need. Instead, provision of post-adoption support services is currently at the discretion of the local authority.
- If the local authority decides to provide post-adoption support it can deliver the support by itself or commission outside agencies such as registered adoption support agencies or NHS practitioners to deliver the support. For example, a local authority could refer the adopters to the Adoption UK Family Support Service and provide funding for the support.
- The Adoption Support Fund is available to pay for services and training for adoptive parents. To access the fund, a local authority needs to do an assessment of an applicant’s adoption support needs. If the assessment shows these services would be beneficial then the local authority can make an application to the fund.
Getting the Best from Complaints
- Getting the Best from Complaints is statutory guidance on social care complaints and representations for children, young people and others. It makes clear adoption-related functions may be the subject of a complaint to be dealt with under the statutory children’s complaints procedure. This includes:
- Provision of adoption support services (as prescribed in regulation 3 of the Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005) in so far as these enable adoptive children to discuss matters relating to adoption;
- Assessments and related decisions for adoption support services as prescribed in regulation 3 of the Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005 (Parts 4 and 5 of the Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005).
- Mr and Mrs X were referred to a local hospital in December 2017 by their daughter’s GP following an incident of self-harm. Practitioners from CAMHS and a social worker from the Council were then involved with their daughter from that point.
- Between December 2017 and June 2018, Mr and Mrs X point to delay by the Council as well as CAMHS in taking meaningful action to help their daughter. They sought the assistance of their local MP. The Council’s response to their MP was taken as a complaint response under the first stage of the Council’s complaints procedure. When Mr and Mrs X expressed dissatisfaction with that response, the Council issued a second and final complaint response in August 2018.
- The letters of complaint stated Mr and Mrs X’s concerns about inaction and delay by the Council. The Council’s second stage complaint response provided a chronology of action taken by the initial social worker and a second social worker who replaced the first.
- I note the Council’s explanation of its role in the second stage complaint response as follows:
“You have also complained that there has been no care plan from social care and as far as you are concerned, social services were responsible for the care plan. I would like to clarify the role of social services with your family to help explain this position.
Social care would provide a care plan for children within our care i.e. looked after children. Individuals who adopt children have full parental rights and responsibility and are primarily responsible for their care. However, the local authority will still be obliged to provide a level of advice and support 9such as referring to other agencies) for parents of adopted children. Social care would not be providing a care plan in such circumstances. [Mr and Mrs X’s daughter’s] needs have primarily been for emotional support and around her mental health. Social care and health do work together on cases to ensure support from multiple professions and perspectives. However, issues such as mental health support etc. would be primarily under the remit of health under our joint working”.
- I do not propose to examine the alleged failings of the first social worker as set out by Mr and Mrs X and the Council’s counter defence of the social worker in this statement for the sake of brevity. It would serve no useful purpose to do so. Rather, the test of whether there was fault by the Council in this matter can be seen in the Council’s explanation of its role above.
- The explanation is flawed. While certainly the lead role in dealing with a child’s mental health role rests with CAMHS, the Council had a statutory duty to assess Mr and Mrs X’s adoption support needs. There was no assessment by the social worker of their needs. Rather, the evidence shows the social worker acted on the basis that the necessary support would be provided by CAMHS. With this belief, the social worker liaised with CAMHS but did not act on the Council’s statutory duty. The explanation of the Council’s role cited above shows its officers may not have been aware of the statutory duty towards Mr and Mrs X as adoptive parents. I would have grave concerns if officers were aware of the duty but still drafted that response.
- I accept the first social worker and latterly the second did take steps that were helpful to Mr and Mrs X over the course of 2018. But the support and clarity Mr and Mrs X needed would have been clearly set out in an assessment. The failure to provide one is a key reason why I find fault by the Council. I uphold the complaint that the Council did not take meaningful action over a six-month period.
- I also find fault by the Council because it did not put Mr and Mrs X’s complaint through the statutory children’s complaints procedure. The complaint was clearly one for that procedure as can be clearly seen in Getting the Best from Complaints.
- Where we find fault by a local authority we must consider the injustice to the complainant and a remedy for the injustice.
- Mr and Mrs X’s daughter is now receiving the therapeutic services she needs. However, the injustice lies in assessing the impact of the Council’s failing on Mr and Mrs X and their daughter in the period in question here. I find there was six months of delay which arguably caused frustration and anguish for Mr and Mrs X. That could have contributed to the breakdown of the placement. Mr and Mrs X’s daughter could have received therapeutic services at an earlier stage. I am also mindful that the Council was not statutorily obliged to provide services had it assessed the needs of Mr and Mrs X’s family. I have weighed these factors in making the following recommendation:
- I recommend the Council pays a total of £1300 to Mr and Mrs X. This is composed of £900 to their daughter to reflect the avoidable distress she was caused over the six-month period; £250 to Mr and Mrs X to reflect their time and trouble in making the complaint; and £150 to Mr and Mrs X to acknowledge their own distress caused by the Council.
- I recommend a formal apology to Mr and Mrs X’s family for the Council’s failings.
- I recommend the Council review its handling of complaints to ensure officers dealing with complaints are cognisant of the statutory children’s services complaints procedure and how it applies to complaints from adoptive parents.
- I also recommend the Council’s social workers receive training on adoption support services regulations and the Council’s duties when dealing with adoptive parents.
- There was fault by the Council because it did not take meaningful action over a six-month period in support of Mr and Mrs X’s daughter. It failed to consider its statutory duty. It also did not put Mr and Mrs X’s complaint through the statutory children’s complaint procedure. I closed this complaint because the Council agreed to remedy the injustice to Mr and Mrs X and their daughter.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman