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Devon County Council (16 019 237)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 22 Feb 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council provided Mrs X’s abusive husband with information about her whereabouts. However, there was evidence Mrs X had invited him to her home and so she was not caused an injustice by the Council’s actions. The Ombudsman cannot investigate the Council’s decision to start care proceedings as this was dealt with by the court.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains that the Council has removed her child from her care. She says the Council has refused to move contact visits even though she has difficulties travelling to see her child. Mrs X says the Council refused to postpone a court hearing when she was hospitalised but agreed to postpone the hearing because a psychiatrist was ill.
  2. Mrs X says the Council told her abusive ex-husband where she was living putting her at risk.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have spoken to Mrs X about her complaint and considered information she provided to the Ombudsman.
  2. I have also considered the Council’s response to my enquiries and a court judgement regarding Mrs X’s son.
  3. I have written to Mrs X and the Council with my draft decision and given them an opportunity to comment.

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What I found

  1. On 24 March 2016 the Council heard an initial child protection conference regarding Mrs X’s son, Y. The Council made Y subject to a child protection plan due to domestic abuse in the family home. As a result of this Mrs X and her husband agreed not to live together until the Council and other agencies thought it was appropriate to do so.
  2. On 9 September 2016 the Council moved Mrs X and Y following reports of further domestic abuse and threats made against Mrs X by her husband.
  3. On 12 September 2016 Mrs X refused to remain in the accommodation. The Council discussed the situation with Mrs X and she attempted to harm herself. She was taken to hospital for a mental health assessment and Y was taken into care on an emergency basis.
  4. On 14 September 2016 the Council obtained an Interim Care Order for Y who was placed with foster carers.
  5. After Y was placed in care the Council continued to allow contact between Mrs X and Y. Mrs X had moved out of the area at this time and asked for contact to take place near to her new home. The Council said that this would involve too much travel for Y but agreed to provide Mrs X with financial support to get to contact. Mrs X says she was not offered financial assistance. The Council says Mrs X then said she was unable to travel due to health concerns but it became aware she had travelled overseas in December 2016. The Council said the offer of financial assistance to allow Mrs X to attend contact arrangement whilst these remained in place.
  6. The Council accepts that it mentioned Mrs X had moved to a different area in a document which was shared with her husband as part of ongoing court proceedings regarding Y. The Council says it only named the town where Mrs X had moved. The Council has apologised for this. However, it says there is evidence that Mrs X herself has told her husband where she is living and that she has invited him to her property.
  7. On 19 September 2017 the courts granted the Council a care order and placement order. This meant the Council was able to put Y up for adoption.
  8. In making the judgement the court found that Mrs X had continued to have contact with her husband after she agreed not to and had deliberately concealed this from the Council.

My findings

  1. The Council has accepted that it provided Mrs X’s husband with information about the general area she was living in. However it did not provide him with her address. Furthermore there is evidence, as set out in the court judgement and elsewhere, that Mrs X herself told her husband where she was living and invited him into her home. Therefore I cannot say Mrs X was caused an injustice as a result of the Council sharing this information with her husband.
  2. The Council offered to help Mrs X with travel to and from contact with her son. Mrs X says no such offer was made. However these contact arrangements were part of an interim care order granted by the courts. If Mrs X was unhappy with arrangement or support being offered she could have raised this in court. The Ombudsman cannot investigate the start of court action or what happened in court.
  3. I cannot investigate the Council’s decision to commence care proceedings. This is because the courts have granted a care order and placement order meaning Mrs X’s son is being placed for adoption. The Ombudsman cannot investigate the start of court action or what happened in court. This includes the decision to postpone the hearing for a psychiatrist but not for Mrs X.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation as I have found fault but this has not caused an injustice to Mrs X.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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