The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr and Mrs P complain about their dealings with the Council in the course of their adoption of their son, B. An independent investigation upheld 14 of their 15 complaints. The Council accepted the investigator’s findings and recommendations. I agree with the independent investigator’s findings and the action the Council has taken in response.
- Mr and Mrs P complain about their dealings with the Council in the course of their adoption of their son, B. Their compliant centres on the Council’s failure to provide information about B’s life before he was placed with them. They say the Council’s failure to tell them everything prevented them making informed decisions, and their experiences trying to obtain information has undermined their trust in the Council. They set out their concerns in detail in their complaint to the Council, and they are unhappy with the Council’s response. They believe external scrutiny of the Council is needed.
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:
- information provided by Mr and Mrs P;
- information provided by the Council, including its response to their complaint at all three stages of the Children Act complaints process.
What I found
- Mr and Mrs P were identified as potential parents for B in 2018. A short time later, the Council placed B with them.
- Mr and Mrs P have found their dealings with the Council difficult and extremely stressful. When they decided to adopt, they said they would not be able to cope with a child who had suffered sexual abuse. Their complaint arises in large part from the Council’s failure to disclose information about B’s past, and their concern the Council was concealing sexual abuse from them.
The Council’s response to Mr and Mrs P’s complaint
- The Council considered Mr and Mrs P’s complaint at all three stages of the Children Act complaints process. This is a formal procedure, set out in law, which councils must follow to investigate certain types of complaint. It involves:
- a written response from the Council (Stage 1);
- the appointment of an independent investigator to prepare a report (Stage 2); and, if the person making the complaint requests
- an independent panel to consider their representations (Stage 3).
- When a council has investigated a complaint under the Children Act complaints process, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it. We may consider whether a council has properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigator and review panel, and any remedy the Council offers.
- I am satisfied the independent investigator carried out a thorough and fair investigation. I agree with her findings and recommendations. I do not intend to investigate Mr and Mrs P’s complaint further.
- The Council has accepted the independent investigator’s findings and recommendations. Mr and Mrs P’s trusted representative from their adoption agency has now had access to B’s files. The Council has offered compensation.
- We have published guidance to explain how we recommend remedies for people who have suffered injustice as a result of fault by a council. Our primary aim is to put people back in the position they would have been in if the fault by the Council had not occurred. When this is not possible, as in the case of Mr and Mrs P, we may recommend the Council makes a symbolic payment to acknowledge what could have been avoidable distress, harm or risk.
- When the Ombudsman recommends a payment for distress, we only take account of avoidable distress that is the result of fault by the Council. A remedy payment for distress is often a moderate sum of between £100 and £300. In exceptional cases, it may be more. The Ombudsman does not recommend compensation in the same way a Court might.
- I do not underestimate how difficult Mr and Mrs P’s experience has been or the distress they have suffered. I consider the Council’s offer of £1,500 is a suitable symbolic payment to acknowledge the impact of the Council’s mistakes.
- Mr and Mrs P are keen there should be external scrutiny of the Council’s actions. This has already happened. The Council fulfilled its legal obligation to arrange an independent investigation and an independent complaint review panel to consider Mr and Mrs P’s complaint. The Council has accepted their findings and recommendations. I agree with the independent investigator’s findings and recommendations. There is nothing for the Ombudsman to add.
- I have completed my investigation. An independent investigation under the Children Act complaints process upheld 14 of Mr and Mrs P’s 15 complaints. The Council accepted the independent investigator’s findings and recommendations. I agree with the outcome.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman