The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X and Ms Y complained the Council did not provide appropriate support when two children were placed with them on an adoption placement. They said the lack of support led to the failure of the placement. They also said the Council’s complaint investigation was flawed. There was no fault in how the Council considered their complaint under the children’s statutory complaints procedure. As it appropriately considered the complaint, the Ombudsman will not re-investigate.
- Mr X and Ms Y complained the Council did not provide appropriate support after it placed two children with them on an adoption placement. They said the Council’s lack of support led to the failure of the placement. They also complained the Council’s investigation into their complaint was flawed. They want the Council to accept it did not support them adequately, admit their investigation was flawed and complete a fair and impartial investigation into their complaint.
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 read Mr X and Ms Y’s complaint and discussed it with Mr X over the phone.
- I read information provided to me by Mr X and the Council.
- Mr X and Ms Y and the Council had the opportunity to comment on the draft decision. I considered their comments before making my final decision.
What I found
The children’s statutory complaints procedure
- 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 Investigating Officer 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. If a council has investigated something under this procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless he considers that investigation was flawed. However, he may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
- In 2017, Mr X and Ms Y had been approved as prospective adoptive parents. The Council placed two children with them, with the aim that Mr X and Ms Y would eventually adopt the children.
- The children remained with Mr X and Ms Y for 11 months. In November 2017, Mr X and Ms Y asked the Council to end the placement. They said the Council were not supporting them appropriately and they could not continue caring for the children. The children returned to the Council’s care.
- In February 2018, the Council met to consider the children’s future. It decided adoption was no longer in the children’s best interests.
- In March 2018, Mr X and Ms Y complained to the Council. They said the Council had failed to appropriately support them and the children during the placement. They said the Council had put them under unreasonable pressure and scrutiny and has set the placement up to fail. They wanted the Council to admit that its lack of support, poor communication and flawed processes had led to the failure of the placement. They wanted the Council to return the children to their care.
- The Council accepted the complaint under the children’s statutory complaints procedure. Due to its complexity, it decided to progress the complaint straight to stage 2.
- The Council appointed an independent investigator and an independent person to oversee the investigation.
- During the investigation, the Council applied to the Court to revoke the children’s adoption orders. During this process, it suspended the complaint investigation. It told Mr X and Ms Y there would be a delay.
- In December 2018, the Council provided its complaint response. It apologised for the delay but did not uphold most of Mr X and Ms Y’s complaint. It upheld some points about poor administration and apologised to Mr X and Ms Y for these. However, it said these errors did not lead to the failure of the placement.
- Mr X and Ms Y were dissatisfied with this response and escalated their complaint to stage 3. They said they disagreed with the investigation findings and the investigation process was flawed and lacked impartiality.
- An independent panel considered the complaint at stage 3. It considered the investigation reports and other appropriate documents. The panel agreed with the findings of the stage 2 investigation. The Council told the panel what action it had taken to address the identified service improvements, and the panel was satisfied with the Council’s actions.
- The panel chair wrote to Mr X and Ms Y. They told them the panel agreed with the findings of the stage 2 investigation and it was satisfied the Council had acted appropriately to address the identified service improvements. The Council also wrote to the complainants setting out the changes it had made to improve its services following their complaint.
- Mr X and Ms Y remained unhappy and brought their complaint to us.
- I have considered the stage 2 investigation reports and have found no fault in how the investigating officer and independent person considered Mr X and Ms Y’s complaint. They investigated each part of their complaint appropriately and made findings based on the evidence considered. The Council apologised to Mr X and Ms Y for the upheld parts of the complaint and made appropriate service improvement recommendations.
- The stage 3 panel members were appropriately independent from the Council. They considered the stage 2 investigation reports and other relevant documents. The panel agreed with the findings of the reports. There is no evidence of fault in how the panel came to its decision. It also considered whether the Council had addressed the service improvements identified in the reports and was satisfied with the Council’s actions.
- Where a council considers a complaint under the statutory children’s complaints procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless he considers that investigation was flawed. I have found no fault in the way the Council investigated Mr X and Ms Y’s complaint, so it is not appropriate for the Ombudsman to re-investigate.
- I have completed my investigation. The Council was not at fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman