The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms B complained about the way the Council failed to progress her adoption assessment and delayed in dealing with her complaint about it. This delayed her approval as an adopter by over two years. The Council accepted the failings, apologised to Ms B and offered her £2000. We agreed the Council was at fault and that the payment is appropriate to put right the injustice. The Council has agreed to assist Ms B to progress a new application now.
- Ms B complained that the London Borough of Wandsworth’s (the Council’s) failures in progressing her adoption assessment and delays in dealing with her complaints have delayed her approval as an adopter by over two years. The Council has failed to explain:
- why her case was not transferred to Adoption London South (ALS) in September 2019;
- why the Council could not update her Prospective Adopter Report (PAR) as recommended by the Adoption Panel in 2018;
- why her case did not return to the Panel in January 2019;
- why action was taken instead which was not recommended by the Panel and which caused further delay;
- why the Council has been unable to offer practical assistance to expedite the assessment with ALS or another agency.
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. Ms B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
- 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
Adoption London South (ALS)
- In 2019 the Council, along with a number of other Councils in the area, formed a new regionalised adoption agency (ALS) following new legislation in 2017 to improve adoption services for children and adopters. ALS is a separate body with its own management structure and resources, but it delivers adoption services on behalf of the Council.
- The assessment of prospective adopters is a two-stage process:
- Stage one is the pre-assessment stage (it should take no more than two months to complete) where prescribed checks are carried out to decide whether the person should automatically be excluded. Three references are required and a medical check.
- Stage two is the assessment itself which should be completed within four months. The assessment report advises whether the prospective adopter is suitable and advises age, sex and number of children which the prospective adopter could care for. The social worker will prepare a comprehensive report which will be presented to the Adoption Panel who can recommend approval, or not. The agency’s decision maker will then consider the recommendation.
- Ms B applied to the Council to adopt a child in April 2018. In November 2018 the Council submitted her case to the Adoption Panel. The Panel, on a majority decision, decided to defer her application to do further work and to fill in some gaps in the Prospective Adopter’s Report (PAR), with a view to coming back to Panel in January 2019.
- In January 2019 a team manager decided that Ms B’s case would not return to the Panel. No specific reasons for this were recorded. The Council undertook further meetings and assessments with Ms B over the next few months. Ms B says these were not recommended by the Panel. Her social worker last made contact with her in July 2019.
- In August 2019 Ms B made a formal complaint about the delay in progressing her adoption application and the failure to take her case back to Panel without explanation.
- On 1 September 2019 the Council’s adoption service transferred to ALS. But Ms B’s case was not transferred, nor was she informed of the new organisation or the possibility that her case could be transferred. No reasons were recorded for why Ms B’s case was not transferred to the new service.
- On 1 November 2019 the Council responded to her complaint. It acknowledged some shortcomings in the pre- and post-panel process:
- the Council had not shared the minutes of the adoption panel with Ms B until now.
- the Council had not sent a formal letter regarding the decision to defer.
- there had been gaps in communication, fault in the process, the communication and the quality of the assessment.
- there was a lack of recording of why decisions were made and why the case was not put back to the Panel.
- the PAR lacked depth, rigour and critical analysis.
- no reasons were given why further work was recommended and how it would inform the panel decision.
- to allow ALS to take on the case and continue the assessment;
- to make an application to another agency; or
- to withdraw her application.
- The Council should provide an overview letter to Ms B to confirm that most of the delay stemmed from the Council’s mismanagement of the case, not Ms B.
- Ms B should have one single named contact to oversee and coordinate the transfer of information to ALS or another adoption agency.
- The Council should liaise further with ALS to clarify if and how they could continue her adoption application.
- If the ALS option failed the Council should signpost Ms B to a different agency and consider providing additional resources to support a faster response from another agency.
- The Council has accepted significant fault in dealing with Ms B’s application which has delayed Ms B’s potential approval as an adopter by more than two years. I agree the Council was at fault for failing to:
- bring Ms B’s application back to Panel in January 2019;
- provide any explanation for that decision and for why further work was pursued over the next six months;
- provide regular and competent social worker support and communication to Ms B from January 2019 onwards;
- complete her application before September 2019;
- transfer her case to ALS in September 2019 or provide any explanation for that failure;
- respond to her information request;
- deal with her complaint in a reasonable period of time (it took 16 months); and
- come up with a workable resolution, including clarifying with ALS at a much earlier stage how they would deal with her application. I understand the Council cannot direct ALS in any way, but it should have established in February 2020 that ALS would require a fresh application and could not guarantee previous workers would not be involved. It took a further 8 months to reach this conclusion.
- I consider the amount offered is in line with our guidance on remedies for distress, frustration and time and trouble over a prolonged period of time. However, I also recommend the Council:
- establishes, within two weeks of my final decision, whether Ms B wishes to proceed with an application to ALS on the terms given or whether she wishes the Council to assist her to find an alternative agency; and
- once Ms B has communicated her decision, the Council, within a further month, should appoint a named person to assist Ms B to progress her application with ALS or help her to identify an alternative agency and support her with the application process as quickly as possible. They should as a minimum maintain contact with Ms B on a monthly basis, and ideally fortnightly, until the process is completed;
- I consider this is a proportionate way of putting right the injustice caused to Ms B and I have completed my investigation on this basis.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman