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Cambridgeshire County Council (20 007 949)

Category : Children's care services > Adoption

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 03 Dec 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not and cannot investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s decisions on his children’s care. The Court is deciding this.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains about various issues relating to the care his children receive and the Council’s decisions about their care.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
  2. 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’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  3. We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  4. We have the power to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we think the issues could reasonably be, or have been, raised within a court of law. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided with his complaint which included the Council’s replies.

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What I found

  1. The Council currently cares for Mr X’s two children. He is in prison. The Council plan is for the children to be adopted. The Court granted a Placement Order allowing the Council to place the children with prospective adopters. The Council says Mr X has appealed the Court’s decision and the case is with the Court of Appeal. It says his parents have also challenged the Court’s decision.
  2. The Council replied to Mr X’s complaint at the first stage of its complaints process. It refused to escalate his complaint to the second stage as it said the Court was making the crucial decisions in this case.

Complaints and analysis

  1. Mr X’s complaint involves several issues. They are listed below with my view on each:
      1. Mr X would like a parenting assessment carried out on him. He says he is due to be released from prison shortly. The Court is deciding the children’s care arrangements. We cannot investigate the same issues a Court is deciding. It is reasonable to expect Mr X to ask the Court to order an assessment.
      2. Mr X says he requested the Council provide him with documents. This is called a Data Protection Act, Subject Access Request (SAR). Mr X says the Council took 18 months to produce the documents. Parliament set out a complaints process for SAR delays which is to the Information Commissioner’s Office. They would have been better placed to consider the delays. It is reasonable to expect Mr X to have complained to them.
      3. Mr X says the Council has refused to assess his parents for a special guardianship order. The Court is currently considering the children’s care. We cannot investigate the issues a Court is deciding.
      4. Mr X says the Council provided the Court with a poor quality preassessment report. We cannot investigate the production or quality of reports Councils provide to the Court which it uses to reach its decision.
      5. Mr X says his letters have not been read to the children, there have been frequent changes of social worker and the Council has not listened to the children’s wishes and feelings. I gather the youngest child is four. It is not clear how he knows the letters have not been read. In children’s court proceedings, the children are represented independently by a guardian. They can raise issues on the children’s behalf.
      6. Mr X says he has not been provided with enough detail about the prospective adopters. It is reasonable to expect Mr X to ask the Court to order for more information if it is in the children’s best interests to do so.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not and cannot investigate this complaint. This is because the Court is considering the children’s care which overlaps with the majority of Mr X’s complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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