Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 27 Mar 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained that Telford and Wrekin Council refused to consider his complaint beyond stage one of the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Ombudsman has discontinued investigation of this complaint as further investigation will not result in a different outcome for Mr X or achieve the outcome he wants.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X, says the Council has wrongly refused to pursue his complaint about an assessment it completed further to his request to see his daughter, Z.
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’. 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:
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
- there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I attempted to discuss the complaint with Mr X and carefully considered the information he provided with his complaint. I obtained a copy of the relevant additional papers from the Council before considering all the information and reaching a draft decision on the complaint.
- I gave the Council and Mr X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision before reaching my final decision on the complaint.
What I found
- The law sets out a 3 stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services (The Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006).
- “Getting the Best from Complaints” (the guidance) is statutory guidance for councils implementing this three stage procedure.
- Paragraph 2.6 of the guidance provides details of who may complain under the statutory procedure. It includes a parent or someone who has parental responsibility for him.
- Paragraph 3.1.5 of the guidance confirms that where a council accepts a complaint at stage 1 of the procedure the complainant is entitled to pursue their complaint through all three stages. It further states that councils are “obliged” to ensure that the complaint proceeds to stages 2 and 3 of the procedure once it has been accepted as a complaint eligible to be considered under this procedure at stage 1. The guidance makes it clear that a complainant may complain to this office at any time during the process.
- “Getting the Best from Complaints” confirms that the Regulations place a 10 working day time limit on dealing with complaints at stage 1 of the process. Paragraph 3.5.5 of the guidance states “Where the local authority cannot provide a complete response it can implement a further 10 days’ extension…The maximum amount of time that Stage 1 should take is 20 working days. After this deadline the complainant can request consideration at Stage 2 if he so wishes”. Paragraph 3.5.6 states “The Complaints Manager should inform the complainant that he has the right to move on to Stage 2 if the time scale has elapsed for Stage 1 and the complainant has not received an outcome”. Paragraph 3.5.7 says the if the matter is resolved “the local authority must write to the complainant confirming the agreed resolution and the Complaints Manager should be informed of the outcome as soon as possible. Otherwise a letter should be sent by the local authority to the complainant…responding to the complaint”. Paragraph 3.5.8 goes on to say “Where the matter is not resolved locally, the complainant has the right to request consideration of the complaint at Stage 2”.
- A Child Arrangement Order is a court order that can stipulate what contact should take place between a parent and a child if this cannot be sorted out otherwise. When considering such an application the court can ask Cafcass (Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service) to complete an assessment and provide a report to decide what is best for the child. If a social services department already knows a child the court may ask the relevant council to do this instead.
- Mr X’s complaint relates to an assessment completed by the Council’s children’s services department in 2016. This followed a request from Mr X to have contact with his teenage daughter and his parents whilst he was on day release from prison.
- The Council completed an assessment but did not provide a copy of this assessment to Mr X as he does not have parental responsibility for his daughter. Mr X’s probation officer however did show Mr X the social worker’s summary of the assessment provided to the probation officer in 2017. The summary states “The risk assessment undertaken by probation indicates Mr X to be a high risk to children and medium risk to Ms Y (his daughter’s mother), it is unknown at the present time whether Mr X has changed his behaviours that led to his current conviction and therefore it is my view that contact between Z and her father should not take place until such a time where Mr X is able to show these changes following his release from prison. In the event that future contact does take place then it is important that this should take place in a supervised environment such as a contact centre for a period of time where Z and her mother feel safe in the company of Mr X”.
- Having seen this summary of the assessment Ms X complained to the Council stating there were inaccuracies in the assessment and important relevant information had not been taken into account. In a further letter in May 2017 Mr X provided more details of the points he considered were inaccurate and the information that had not been taken into account.
- In June the Council provided its response at stage 1 of the children’s statutory complaints process. It stated that the social worker had been interviewed and a team manager had considered the points Mr X made but did not consider they would have altered the outcome of the assessment. The Council agreed it would append Mr X’s May letter detailing his concerns to the assessment and keep it on file. The Council confirmed it would not be involved in arranging the contact.
- In early July, dissatisfied with the outcome of stage 1 of the complaint, Mr X asked for the matter to be considered at stage 2 of the statutory procedure. It appears the Council declined this request but Mr X made a further request for a stage 2 investigation in August 2017. The Council refused this request in November 2017 reiterating the points it made in its stage 1 response.
- I have decided to discontinue my investigation of this complaint as I do not believe that further investigation will lead to a different outcome or I can achieve the outcome Mr X wants. This is because the outcome Mr X wants is contact with Z and further investigation by me cannot achieve this.
- If Mr X is refused contact, or is unwilling or unable to participate in supervised contact, he could apply to the court for a Child Arrangement Order and this would provide a legally binding decision on the issue of whether Mr X should have contact with his daughter and whether this should be supervised. I consider this to be the most appropriate way for Mr X to seek to achieve the outcome he wants.
- I have discontinued my investigation of this complaint as I cannot achieve the outcome Mr X wants and further investigation will not result in a different outcome for him.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman