The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr and Mrs C complained about delays and poor communication by the Council during the adoption of their second child, D. The Council accepts it was at fault and has offered to pay Mr and Mrs C £500.
- Mr and Mrs C complain that Wolverhampton City Council (the Council):
- delayed at every stage of the adoption process;
- failed to communicate properly or sensitively with them throughout this period;
- failed to tell them that the adoption was proceeding as a twin-track rather than single-track process;
- failed to complete paperwork in a competent or timely manner; and
- failed to attend court and misled them about this.
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 have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. I have written to Mr and Mrs C and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments.
- 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
- In 2017 Mr and Mrs C adopted a child. Later that year their social worker (from a different Council) told them that the child’s mother was pregnant and asked if they were interested in adopting the sibling. They registered an interest.
- They heard nothing more until their social worker made contact with the Council in February 2018 The Council confirmed the baby (D) had been born and was now in foster care. The Council started an assessment and they were approved as potential adopters and foster carers for D in early March 2018.
- Mr and Mrs C contacted the Council in May 2018 for an update. It said that it anticipated a court date in June for the initial hearing and invited them to visit at the end of May 2018. During the visit they enquired about whether the foster to adopt scheme could apply given the circumstances. The Council declined, saying it would take as long to complete the approval and it was a long distance for the Council to travel given where Mr and Mrs C lived.
- Mr and Mrs C had to contact the Council again to find out what was happening and were given a different date for the final adoption panel hearing which interfered with their plans for adoption leave which they had already booked. They were also given contradictory information about their proposed name change and a possible date to meet D. The Council also delayed in providing D’s paperwork to Mr and Mrs C and submitting the completed paperwork to court for the adoption process.
- The Council’s social worker did not attend the adoption court hearing in February 2019 and the Council delayed in admitting the error. It also failed to inform Mr and Mrs C about the outcome of the hearing. They obtained this information from the court, four days after the hearing.
- Mr and Mrs C complained to the Council about the process. The Council replied in April 2019. It agreed there had been delays progressing the adoption from June 2018 including:
- transferring the case to the correct team within the Council;
- completing the paperwork for court;
- carrying out statutory visits for D;
- completing the Later in Life letter; and
- delay in informing them of the outcome of the adoption hearing.
- holding an Adoption Process Workshop for all children’s social workers;
- continuing to track all adoption cases to ensure cases are filed at court within ten weeks; and
- holding a meeting with managers from the Regional Adoption Agency (new from 1 April 2019).
- In response to my enquiries the Council has offered to pay £500 (within one month of the date of this decision) to Mr and Mrs C in recognition of the injustice accused to them by the delays.
- I consider this is a reasonable and fair way of resolving the complaint and I have completed my investigation on this basis.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman