London Borough of Harrow (18 014 935)

Category : Children's care services > Adoption

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 20 May 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr and Mrs X complain on behalf of their daughter, Y and state the Council has failed to provide the post adoption support she needs. They say it delayed when dealing with their request for help and gave poor and conflicting advice about the type of support that is available. The Ombudsman has found the Council was at fault for the way it assessed Y’s needs, the way it handled Mr and Mrs X’s request for funding, and for failing to provide clear information and advice about the post adoption support process. It was also at fault for taking too long to initiate the EHC needs assessment process and for not following the children’s statutory complaint procedure. These failures put Y at risk of harm and caused Mr and Mrs X distress, plus they incurred time and trouble when pursuing their complaint about this matter. To remedy this injustice, the Council has agreed to consider what support it will provide the family and make payments to them. It has also agreed to make several service improvements to prevent the faults identified from reoccurring.

The complaint

  1. Mr and Mrs X complain on behalf of their daughter, Y and state the Council has failed to provide the post adoption support she needs. They say it delayed when dealing with their request for help and gave poor and conflicting advice about the type of support that is available.

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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)
  3. 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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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have:
    • Read Mr and Mrs X’s complaint and discussed it with them.
    • Considered the Council’s comments about the complaint and the supporting documents it provided.
    • Provided both parties with an opportunity to comment on the draft decision.

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What I found

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. The Adoption Support Fund (ASF) 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.

Children’s statutory complaints procedure

  1. 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).

What happened

  1. Mr and Mrs X adopted their daughter Y through another local authority in 2013 when she was four and a half months old.
  2. At the end of March 2018, Mrs X contacted the Council to request urgent post adoption support after seeing a dramatic change in Y’s behaviour. It subsequently allocated the case to one of its social workers, Mr Z.
  3. In mid-April 2018, Mr Z visited the family home to initiate a post adoption support assessment. He discussed Mr and Mrs X’s concerns and potential avenues of support they could explore. He also agreed to meet the parents again in mid-May 2018, whilst Y was at school.
  4. In mid-May 2018, Mr Z visited the family home for a second time. His notes detailing the visit state he explained how an assessment for post adoption support would work and the need to involve other agencies, such as Y’s school. He provided Mr and Mrs X with a copy of a questionnaire and asked that they and Y’s teacher complete this, adding he would use the completed questionnaires to present a case to Y’s GP for a referral to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). He also discussed the option of referring Y to a specialist Children and Families Service to check whether she had any diagnosable conditions.
  5. A few days later, Mr and Mrs X provided Mr Z with copies of the completed questionnaires. Mr Z acknowledged receipt of these and said he would contact the couple again a week later.
  6. At the beginning of June 2018, Mr X called Mr Z and asked whether he had written to Y’s GP. Mr Z said this had been delayed because he was absent from work, but he would submit the referral that week.
  7. The following day, Mr Z wrote to Y’s GP and asked whether a CAMHS referral was possible. He also stated he was considering a referral to the specialist Children and Families Service but felt he should seek the GP’s opinion first. In addition, he stated Mr and Mrs X would arrange an appointment with her shortly.
  8. The following day, Mr Z emailed Mr and Mrs X to inform them he had written to Y’s GP. He suggested they might want to make an appointment with him but said he was not comfortable making a referral to the specialist Children and Families Service without some local GP or CAMHS input. He also provided details of a new adoption support organisation which had opened in the area.
  9. A week later, Mr Z informed Mr X that the GP had made a referral to the local CAMHS. Mr Z also noted that Mr X thought he would make a referral to the specialist Children and Families Service after hearing from the GP. Mr Z said this was not the case and apologised if he had been unclear. In addition, he stated he would contact the Service “for a discussion in the meantime”, adding he would like to schedule a further meeting with the family before making a referral.
  10. On the same day, Mr Z emailed a doctor from the specialist Children and Families Service and said he was considering an application for assessment for Y. He asked the doctor to send him “the latest package details” and a referral form “pending an application” to the ASF.
  11. Five days later, Mr Z called Mr and Mrs X. He said he had contacted the specialist Children and Families Service to discuss a possible referral, in case the local CAMHS referral was not accepted. He also mentioned he was going on leave and said he would submit a referral to the Service beforehand.
  12. Two days later, Mr Z emailed the couple and said he had sent a “referral enquiry” to the specialist Children and Families Service. He highlighted the local CAMHS were yet to deal with the referral he had made and said he had contacted the Service in case this was unsuccessful. He said he did this to provide assurance that another referral was “in the pipeline”.
  13. At the beginning of July 2018, Y’s GP wrote to Mr and Mrs X to notify them the referral had been rejected. However, she said she had referred Y to a developmental paediatrician for assessment and they would receive an appointment in due course.
  14. Around a week later, Mr X discussed his daughter’s case with Mr Z on the phone. Mrs X had doubts about the referral to the developmental paediatrician and raised concerns about the time everything was taking. He also suggested making a referral to a not-for-profit organisation, which I will refer to as Organisation B, that offered post adoption support, including assessments. Mr Z said there was nothing stopping Mr and Mrs X from pursuing this option, but stressed it was important to continue with the referral to the developmental paediatrician.
  15. In the middle of the month, Mr X called Mr Z. The notes of the call show that both parents did not feel they could accept any further visits from Mr Z. Mr X again raised concerns about the time being taken to progress the case, adding he and his wife had decided to pursue a referral to Organisation B. Mr Z enquired about the referral to the developmental paediatrician and reiterated why he thought it was important to pursue this too.
  16. A few days later, the developmental paediatrician wrote to Mr and Mrs X to arrange an appointment with Y.
  17. At the beginning of August 2018, the developmental paediatrician assessed Y. In her letter to Y’s GP, she noted concerns about possible ADHD and other neurodevelopmental disorders, strongly recommending that Y have access to a clinical psychologist so her emotional needs could be explored in further detail. She also said she wanted to assess Y again in November.
  18. In the middle of the month, Organisation B assessed Y. This assessment was carried out by a clinical psychologist and dramatherapist.
  19. Around a week later, Mr Z wrote to Mr and Mrs X about the outcome of the developmental paediatrician assessment. He discussed their options and offered further support.
  20. In mid-September 2018, Organisation B sent a copy of its draft assessment report to Mr and Mrs X. It noted it was important that Y’s therapeutic needs be addressed with some urgency to prevent her from becoming emotionally and socially deficient. Similarly, it said intervention should not be delayed any further and recommended Y undergo a number of assessments, including one to test for possible Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). It also recommended a Neurophysiological Psychotherapy Programme (NPP) and suggested Y needed an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).
  21. A few days later, Mr and Mrs X sent Mr Z a copy of the report and noted Y would be screened for FASD at the end of October. They asked what the next steps would be. In response, Mr Z said he needed to discuss the matter with his manager first before confirming these steps.
  22. At the end of the month, Mr Z and his manager, Ms C visited Mr and Mrs X at home. In the notes detailing the meeting, Ms C stated it was the Council’s view it should explore the reasons why the couple sought assistance from Organisation B and that they should be signposted to the specialist Children and Families Service instead. Mrs X noted they thought a referral had been made to this Service and Mr X said he felt Mr Z had not made the process clear, or do what was asked of him.
  23. The couple also explained why they wanted their daughter to receive the therapy package proposed by Organisation B. In response, Ms C said the Council would not progress assessments from this organisation because it worked closely with its partner agencies. She added the Council’s view was that the assessment suggested Y needed some longer-term provision which could be met through alternative services. When asked, she also confirmed the Council would not fund the package proposed by Organisation B.
  24. A few days later, Mr and Mrs X complained to the Council about these matters. Specifically, they complained about the way Mr Z had handled their case and its lack of progression. The explained they had privately commissioned an assessment with Organisation B but the Council was not providing the support it had recommended. They said they felt the Council was putting budgetary considerations before their daughter and noted she had been unable to access the ASF.
  25. Regarding the meeting they had a few days earlier, they noted Mr Z stated he had made a referral to the specialist Children and Families Service after his first home visit, but they had not seen evidence of this. They complained about the options proposed by Ms C and Mr Z, noting this would take more time when Y required urgent intervention. In conclusion, they requested support and guidance from the Council to get her the help she needed.
  26. At the beginning of October 2018, the Council’s Social Care Complaints Team emailed Mr and Mrs X to acknowledge receipt of their complaint. It said a stage one response would be given within 20 working days.
  27. A few days later, Mrs X rang the Council and spoke to Ms C. The latter said an application could not be submitted to the ASF until it was clear what the Council was asking for. Mrs X asked if she could apply for funding for an Occupational Therapist (OT) and cognitive assessment recommended by Organisation B and Ms C stated she would discuss this with her superiors.
  28. Three days later, Ms C rang Mrs X. She said the Council had considered her request to access ASF funding but it felt this was not the best use of resources and stated Y should seek help from the specialist Children and Families Service instead. She added that it was the Council’s opinion that the report written by Organisation B was not based on evidence, but on an assessment that lasted one day.
  29. Following the call, Mrs X emailed Ms C and asked her to clarify, in writing, the points she had made during their call. She also referred to the Adoption UK website and the need for an assessment, noting the Council was yet to carry out one.
  30. The following day, Ms C responded to Mrs X’s email. She said the assessment had been ongoing since Mr Z’s first visit in April 2018 and reiterated the Council’s belief that the package offered by Organisation B was not an appropriate use of funds. She acknowledged the Council was yet to formally complete its assessment and said:

"The assessing agency makes the decision how best to use the ASF. The assessment is a requirement, but the funding is not an automatic right. While parental preference is taken into account, ultimately the application for the ASF will be made when it has been determined what has been assessed to best meet the assessed needs of the child.”

  1. Two days later, Mr and Mrs X contacted the Social Care Complaints Team to add some information to their complaint. They said the Council was denying them access to the ASF and noted it would take too long to obtain support from the specialist Children and Families Service. They also noted that Organisation B had proposed a package at a reduced cost and explained how this could be funded.
  2. At the end of the month, the Council responded to Mr and Mrs X’s complaint at stage one of its corporate procedure. It concluded they had not received a satisfactory service because their case had not been progressed in a timely manner, their options were not clearly communicated to them, and they had not been provided with a clear plan of action.
  3. However, it stated it was unable to partly fund the package offered by Organisation B and said the recommendation that had been made for NPP was not evidence-based, reasoning it could not be funded from the public purse. Nevertheless, it said that if this was the only package available it “would appropriately assess a way to provide support for this”, but highlighted this was not applicable as other options were available. It clarified this reasoning also applied to applications made to the ASF.
  4. In conclusion, the Council said it had been speaking to the specialist Children and Families Service to progress support, but could not provide details of the nature of this support. It added it would assign a new social worker to the case before offering Mr and Mrs X a meeting to discuss their concerns and explore options for interim support.
  5. At the beginning of November 2018, a new social worker, Ms D, visited the family home after being assigned to the case. She noted Mrs X mentioned that Y needed an EHCP and stated she would initiate this process and contact her school. After speaking to the school headteacher, Ms D notified Mr and Mrs X they needed to contact the school themselves to initiate this process.
  6. In the middle of the month, Mr and Mrs X wrote to the Council and asked it to escalate their complaint. They questioned why Mr Z could not have made the referral to the specialist Children and Families Service at the same time a paediatric referral was made. They also noted that he and Ms C had both commented on the thoroughness of the report produced by Organisation B, adding the ASF had funded it in other cases. Likewise, they noted it had been rated ‘outstanding’ by OFSTED in 2018. They referred to a recent meeting they had with the Council and said it had offered no real alternatives to the package offered by Organisation B. Consequently, they asked it to submit an application to the ASF and consider providing matched funding.
  7. In mid-November 2018, the developmental paediatrician wrote to Y’s GP after assessing her at the end of October. She confirmed Y had FASD and noted her other difficulties. She made some specialist referrals and decided Y needed to undergo some medical tests, adding she would review her again in four months.
  8. A few days later, the Social Care Complaints Team wrote to Mr and Mrs X to confirm their complaint, after meeting with them three days earlier. Toward the end of the month, the Team contacted the couple again and stated the Council had agreed to make a discretionary payment to them totalling £2500, “as a gesture of goodwill”. Although it made this payment because Mr and Mrs X had privately commissioned an assessment from Organisation B, it said this payment was “not an endorsement or acceptance of any kind that the local authority would have considered or engaged the assessment/service that you privately sought and paid for”.
  9. In mid-December 2018, Mrs X emailed the Council and said she had been informed it would not be funding the package offered by Organisation B. She asked for confirmation of this in writing and asked that an application be put to the ASF for funding for a cognitive assessment, given the £2500 goodwill payment was from a different source.
  10. A few days later, an Occupational Therapist working for Organisation B undertook an assessment of Y. She noted Y had significant sensory processing difficulties as well as problems in a number of other areas. She made several recommendations, including that Y received some occupational therapy sensory integration intervention and educational support.
  11. The following day, Ms D submitted an application to the ASF.
  12. The next day, the Council responded to Mr and Mrs X’s complaint at stage two of its corporate procedure. It pointed out it did not have a legal obligation to fund the package offered by Organisation B, but accepted the couple should have received better service and support. It also agreed the referral to the specialist Children and Families Service should have been pursued and communications they had received from Mr Z had been misleading.
  13. Regarding funding, it noted an application had been submitted to the ASF and accepted this process was not explained to them, adding the decision to grant funds is ultimately one for the ASF to make. It also highlighted the Head of Service for Corporate Parenting would decide whether the Council would help fund the £35,000 needed to secure the package offered by Organisation B.
  14. In conclusion, it offered Mr and Mrs X a sincere apology and outlined the next steps in the case. It highlighted a referral to the specialist Children and Families Service was “still in place to be considered further once they have availability of service” and stressed the importance of the interim support it had offered, which included visits from a clinical psychologist.
  15. Two days later, the Head of Service for Corporate Parenting wrote to Mr and Mrs X. She said the Council could not fund the package offered by Organisation B as the cost was “not a feasible option within the constraints of local authority budgets".
  16. At the beginning of January 2019, Mr and Mrs X complained to the Ombudsman about these matters.
  17. The following day, Mr X wrote to the Council in response to its stage two decision. He asked it to clarify a number of points and questioned how the specialist Children and Families Service could meet Y’s needs given the results of her recent assessments. He also noted that Y had not received any therapeutic intervention since the Council became involved in her case.
  18. In the middle of the month, Mrs X emailed the Social Care Complaints Team requesting an update on the ASF application and the EHCP process, noting Y was really struggling at school. The Team responded and said it had passed her concerns to the Service and it should respond in due course.
  19. Over the next few days, Mrs X exchanged emails with Ms C about these matters. The latter noted the ASF application had been rejected but said she could speak to her superiors about submitting a retrospective application for the assessment commissioned by Mr and Mrs X. She also stated a new social worker would be assigned to the case as Ms D was absent, and said it was her understanding the school were progressing the EHCP.
  20. The Divisional Director for Children and Young People then responded to the letter Mr X had sent at the beginning of the month. He clarified the points Mr X had made and said he would ensure an application to the ASF for funding for the year 2018/19 was prioritised. He also apologised for the failures which had been identified in the Council’s complaint responses.
  21. At the end of the month, Organisation B emailed the Council and explained why an application should be submitted to the ASF. It also provided modified costings for its therapeutic package.
  22. At the beginning of February 2019, the ASF informed the Council that it could not consider retrospective applications for funding.
  23. In the middle of the month, Mrs X emailed the Council and noted that Y’s behaviour was deteriorating quickly. She asked it to apply to the ASF for matched funding and said she and her husband would pay the ‘matched’ element, even though the Council would normally do this if it had agreed to do so. She added she had spoken to the ASF and it was content with this arrangement. Consequently, the Council submitted an application to the ASF the following day.
  24. Around this time, a meeting took place at Y’s school. The notes made by the Council show that Mr and Mrs X would progress Y’s EHCP application.
  25. In March 2019, the ASF approved Mr and Mrs X’s application and the therapeutic package for Y was arranged. At the end of the month, the Council wrote to the couple and acknowledged a request they had submitted for an EHC needs assessment.
  26. In the complaint they made to the Ombudsman, Mr and Mrs X state the Council’s failings led them to commissioning a private assessment of Y which concluded she required therapeutic provision and further assessments. However, they say it refused to commission this provision or seek funding from the ASF.
  27. They say the private assessments they commissioned showed Y’s condition was deteriorating therefore it was vital she got the support she needed urgently, but this was not forthcoming. Consequently, they say the delay harmed their daughter’s wellbeing. In addition, they highlight they paid for several assessments and therapies, which resulted in them incurring costs of approximately £7500. Since they made their complaint they note they have now committed to paying Organisation B a further £10,660 to get the provision that their daughter needs.
  28. They acknowledge the Council has already paid them £2500 but they feel this does not rectify the situation. Consequently, they want it to reconsider their request for funding.

Analysis

  1. I note the Council has already acknowledged it was at fault and stated it is willing to take steps to learn from this complaint, which I fully welcome. However, given the nature of the complaint it is important to consider, in detail, what went wrong so the injustice caused is properly remedied and the right service improvements are made to ensure the faults do not reoccur.
  2. Firstly, the Council was at fault for not considering Mr and Mrs X’s concerns under the children’s statutory complaints procedure. When corresponding with the Ombudsman about this complaint, it accepted it should have followed this statutory procedure.
  3. It was also at fault for the way it assessed Y’s needs, after Mr and Mrs X submitted their request for help in March 2018. Section 14 of the Adoption Support Services Regulations 2005 sets out the factors that local authorities should consider when conducting an assessment. The legislation also stipulates that a report of the assessment must be produced and those concerned must be notified of the outcome.
  4. In this case, I have not seen any evidence that the Council produced a report, so I do not know what it considered when assessing Y. In fact, it does not appear to have produced a report at all and it is unclear whether the assessment has actually been completed. All I have seen is an email Ms C sent in October 2018 which stated it was still ongoing.
  5. I note that Mr and Mrs X asked Organisation B to undertake an assessment as they were frustrated at the lack of progress in their daughter’s case. When the Council was presented with the results of this assessment it refused to take action, reasoning the lack of an evidence base prevented it from doing so. This is unacceptable. As Mrs X pointed out, Organisation B was rated ‘outstanding’ by OFSTED and the ASF had previously agreed to fund its provision. Moreover, I note the assessment was carried out by a clinical psychologist after the developmental paediatrician strongly recommended that Y had access to one, so her emotional needs could be explored in further detail. Therefore, there was no reason the Council should not have considered the results of the assessment, especially since it was yet to complete its own assessment.
  6. It is important to note that I am not saying the Council should have agreed to fund the package offered by Organisation B. What I am saying is it should have used the assessment to consider whether it should provide support services to Y, other than the provision of advice and information. If it decided to do this, it should have drafted a plan in accordance with the Adoption Support Services Regulations. In either case, it should have notified Mr and Mrs X what it intended to do.
  7. The Council was also at fault for the way it handled Mr and Mrs X’s request for funding. The Department for Education has issued guidance to help local authorities deal with requests for funding from the ASF. This states they should assess the family and consider whether therapeutic support is needed, then decide what type of support is required and whether the applicant is eligible. Assuming the eligibility criteria are met, the local authority should then submit an application to the ASF.
  8. In this case, an assessment had been carried out by Organisation B which identified a need for therapeutic support. This Organisation proposed a package which provided this support and the Council did not offer any alternatives. Therefore, as Y was eligible, it should have submitted an application to the ASF when Ms C and Mr Z were requested to do so after they met with Mr and Mrs X at the end of September 2018. However, it did not do this.
  9. In this meeting, I see Ms C stated the Council would not fund the package offered by Organisation B. At the beginning of October, I note she then decided an application would not be submitted to the ASF as this did not constitute the best use of resources. In both instances, Ms C did not have the authority to decide how funding should be allocated. Regarding the latter, the Council accepted in its stage two complaint response that the ASF decides when and how it allocates its funds, not the Council. Ms C should merely have checked eligibility and explored alternatives, then facilitated the submission of the application. Moreover, I note the ASF decided to fund the provision in March 2019, meaning it did not share Ms C’s concerns. Regarding the former point about the Council’s own funding, I see the Head of Service for Corporate Parenting decided in December whether the Council would fund the package, after receiving a request from Mr and Mrs X. This indicates that funding decisions of this nature should be made at this senior level, not by Ms C.
  10. I have also found the Council was at fault for taking too long to initiate the EHC needs assessment process when it received a copy of Organisation B’s report in September, which suggested Y needed an EHCP. The Special Educational Needs (SEN) Code of Practice states that health and social care professionals can bring cases to the attention of a local authority, if they think an EHC needs assessment may be necessary. In this case, I see Mr Z made a case note in mid-September stating Organisation B had written to him and provided a copy of its assessment. Therefore, at the very least, he should have written to Mr and Mrs X and provided them with details about how they could request an EHC needs assessment, given an EHCP cannot be issued without this assessment taking place.
  11. I note that Mrs X raised this issue with Ms D when she visited the family home for the first time in November. Ms D subsequently advised her that she needed to contact the school to initiate the process to obtain an EHCP. This advice was incorrect. To obtain an EHCP for the first time, the Council first has to consider whether to carry out an EHC needs assessment, therefore Ms D should not have directed Mrs X to the school. Instead, she should have contacted her colleagues in the Council’s SEN Team to start the process. Moreover, in mid-January 2019 I see Ms C was aware that Mrs X had been told to contact the school to initiate the process, yet she did not advise her this was incorrect or refer the matter to the SEN Team. The Council only acknowledged a parental request for an EHC needs assessment at the end of March 2019, yet this process could realistically have been started a lot sooner if the correct advice had been given.
  12. This leads me to my last finding of fault, namely the Council failed to provide clear information and advice to Mr and Mrs X about their case and the post adoption support process. It did not explain, in sufficient detail, how the assessment process worked, what support it and others could provide, how funding could be secured, and how to initiate the process to obtain an EHCP. I am pleased to see the Council has already accepted this fault.

Injustice and remedies

  1. To clarify, I have found the Council was at fault for:
    • Not following the children’s statutory complaint procedure;
    • The way it assessed Y’s needs;
    • The way it handled Mr and Mrs X’s request for funding;
    • Taking too long to initiate the EHC needs assessment process;
    • Failing to provide Mr and Mrs X with clear information and advice.
  2. I note the Council has now accepted the assessment conducted by Organisation B is valid and has made a £2,500 “goodwill” payment to Mr and Mrs X which covers the cost of this assessment. Consequently, I do not see any need to recommend that the Council completes the assessment it started. However, it is unclear whether, after considering Organisation B’s assessment, it will provide support services to Y other than the provision of advice and information. Therefore, the Council should consider this and write Y a plan if it decides to provide these services.
  3. The main injustice that Y was caused by the Council’s faults relates to the time it took to secure her provision. The adoption support guidance states, “It is important that the assessment process and follow up does not delay provision where a person has an urgent need for a service”. The report that Organisation B provided in September 2018 stressed that Y’s therapeutic needs should be addressed with some urgency to prevent her from becoming emotionally and socially deficient. However, the Council took three months to submit a case to the ASF and decide whether it would provide funding.
  4. Consequently, it could have secured provision sooner had it dealt with this case properly. The fact that it did not meant it put Y at risk of harm. The Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies states a payment should be made in these circumstances in recognition of the injustice that was caused. Therefore, I have made a recommendation in the section that follows to this effect.
  5. It is important to note that I have not considered whether Y was caused any harm by the Council’s actions. This is because it is not clear whether harm occurred and it is generally out with the remit of the Ombudsman to consider this level of injustice. If Mr and Mrs X think the Council’s actions caused their daughter harm, they should send it medical evidence so it can consider whether any further payments are required. If this happens and the couple are not content with the Council’s response, they have the option of pursuing the matter in court.
  6. I have also considered the impact of the Council’s actions on Mr and Mrs X. Its failure to deal with the case properly or provide clear information and advice caused them avoidable distress, which continued over a prolonged period. Furthermore, they incurred unnecessary time and trouble when making their complaint, as the Council could have resolved this earlier had it followed the children’s statutory complaints procedure. Consequently, I have recommended it makes a financial payment to them in recognition of the distress they were caused and the time and trouble they incurred.
  7. I note Mr and Mrs X want the Council to reconsider their request for funding. I have decided not to recommend this as the Head of Service for Corporate Parenting considered the matter in December 2018 and decided the Council would not agree to any funding. I appreciate this decision disappointed the couple but legally, it and other local authorities are not obliged to provide funding.
  8. It is clear that service improvements are needed to ensure the faults identified in this complaint do not reoccur. Many of those who dealt with the case appear to lack knowledge of the adoption support legislation and statutory guidance, the EHC needs assessment and EHCP process, and the children’s statutory complaint procedure. Moreover, there is scope to improve the standard of advice and support which is given to parents. Therefore, I have also made a number of service improvement recommendations in the following section.

Agreed action

  1. Within one month of this final decision, the Council has agreed to:
    • Consider whether it will provide support services to Y. If it decides to do this, it will write her a plan as required by the Adoption Support Services Regulations. Whatever it decides, it will write to Mr and Mrs X to notify them of its decision.
    • Pay Y £500 for putting her at risk of harm.
    • Pay Mr and Mrs X £500 for the distress it caused them, and the time and trouble they incurred pursuing their complaint.
  2. Within three months of this final decision, the Council has agreed to:
    • Brief its Corporate Complaints Team and the Social Care Complaints Team on the children’s statutory complaint procedure, using the statutory guidance document ‘Getting the Best from Complaints’. The brief should focus on identifying the type of complaint which should be investigated under this procedure and the need to adhere to the timeframes outlined in the guidance. This is the second complaint in a matter of months where the Ombudsman has found the Council should have followed this procedure, therefore it is clear this briefing is required.
    • Create an information leaflet for families about the level of post adoption support it can provide. This should include information about the following topics:
        1. The assessment process and the potential for a plan to be issued once this process has been concluded.
        2. The level of support the Council can provide once an assessment has been completed.
        3. What individuals need to do to submit an application to the ASF and what this process involves. Similarly, it should state how applications can be made for matched funding and provide details of how these applications are assessed.
        4. Details about independent organisations that can provide advice and information about the post adoption stage and the support available.
        5. The potential for seeking an EHCP if the child concerned is of school age. Details of how an EHC needs assessment can be requested should be provided.
    • Provide a detailed briefing to all officers and managers which deal with matters relating to post adoption support about the learning points resulting from this complaint. This briefing should cover the following topics:
        1. The background to and outcome of this complaint.
        2. The process for assessing adoptive families after a request for support has been received, using the statutory guidance on adoption issued by the Department for Education. It should be stressed that this assessment must be completed in a timely manner.
        3. The need to decide whether to provide support services, other than the provision of advice and information, once the assessment is complete.
        4. The importance of giving proper consideration to any assessment which has not been completed by the Council, if received.
        5. The need to write to families to inform them of the outcome of the assessment process and what the Council has decided to do next.
        6. The process for submitting an application to the ASF.
        7. The process for dealing with a request for matched funding.
        8. An overview of the EHC needs assessment and EHCP process. Similarly, the importance of identifying when this process should be initiated and how this should be done.
        9. The importance of communicating clearly with families and making them aware of the level of support the Council can provide.
        10. The creation of the information leaflet and the need to give families a copy of this at an early stage.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was at fault for the way it assessed Y’s needs, the way it handled Mr and Mrs X’s request for funding, and for failing to provide clear information and advice about the post adoption support process. It was also at fault for taking too long to initiate the EHC needs assessment process and for not following the children’s statutory complaint procedure.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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