Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 28 Mar 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There is no evidence of fault by the Council when it completed a child protection assessment on Miss B’s sons. It relied on information from third parties and has provided evidence that it also took account of Miss B’s views.
- The complainant, Miss B, complains that the Council relied on incorrect information from the police and other third parties when it completed a child protection assessment on her sons, M and N. She states that it has refused to make amendments to the assessment to reflect what really happened and what was actually said.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated the Council’s actions in relation to the April 2016 child protection assessment. The section at the end of this statement sets out parts of the complaint I have not investigated.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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:
- Read the papers submitted by Miss B.
- Considered the Council’s comments about the complaint.
- Provided both parties with an opportunity to comment on a draft decision and considered their comments.
What I found
- Government guidance, “working together to safeguard children 2015” says that if at any time it is considered that a child has suffered significant harm or is likely to do so, a referral should be made to the council. This referral can be made by any professional.
- The guidance states that a child protection assessment should be a dynamic process which responds to the changing nature and level of need and or risk faced by the child. The aim is to reach a judgement about the nature of the need and or risk. It states that it is important that:
- Information is gathered and recorded systematically.
- Information is checked and discussed with the child and their parents where appropriate.
- Differences in views are recorded.
- The impact of what is happening to the child is clearly identified.
Events leading to the complaint
The Council completed a single assessment
- In February 2016, the Council received a safeguarding referral from the police after Miss B’s sister contacted them because she was concerned about the volume and nature of communication from Miss B. The police visited Miss B’s address. Due to concerns about her mental health and the children’s wellbeing, the attending officer decided to complete a safeguarding referral to the Council.
- The headteacher at M and N’s school also received a phone call from Miss B’s sister saying she was concerned about Miss B’s mental health. The school also had concerns about Miss B’s behaviour and therefore it decided to contact the Council.
- The Council considered both referrals and decided it due to the concerns and the limited information available it needed to complete a single assessment on the family. A social worker visited the home the same day to gather more information about the family. The social worker recorded that there were no initial concerns about M and N’s welfare but Miss B mentioned that there were suspicious circumstances around her father’s death.
- A different social worker visited the home a week later. She said she had concerns about how ‘extreme some of Miss B’s views are on conspiracy theories and how this may impact on the children’. She said she needed to get more information from relevant agencies and visit the children again; which she did.
- The Council planned a child in need meeting for 7 March 2016 where professionals and Miss B could discuss their concerns and recommendations. Prior to this meeting the social worker spoke to Miss B on the phone to discuss the purpose of the meeting with her. She also told Miss B about her concerns about the conspiracy theories and said that the Council needed to know more about how they impacted on the children. The notes state that Miss B queried what the social worker meant by conspiracy theories and that the social worker gave examples such as her father being killed and the government hacking his computer. The notes state that Miss B then discussed ‘weird’ things that happened prior to her father’s death.
- The Council chaired the child in need meeting on 7 March 2016, but there are limited notes about what was said at this meeting. The Council states that all professionals agreed that there were concerns about Miss B’s ‘conspiracy theories and extreme views’ but that this was not impacting on the welfare of the children. Therefore, the Council could close the case.
- The Council completed the single assessment in April 2016 and then shared this with Miss B via post.
Miss B complained about the single assessment
- In November 2016 Miss B raised concerns about the single assessment. She said that she could not face reading it at the time the Council sent it to her but felt that the case should never have been opened. Miss B stated that the reasons why her sister contacted the police and her sons’ school are malicious, untrue and unfounded and that she could prove it. Miss B asked the Council what she could do to get the incorrect information in the single assessment changed.
- The Council responded to Miss B’s concerns in January 2017. It said that the information in the assessment was based on the safeguarding referral from the police and the school. It said if she had concerns about the validity of this information she should raise it with those bodies directly. The Council also explained that conversations with social workers are not recorded verbatim and therefore it can only rely on the social worker’s records. It said without any evidence to substantiate what was said it can only conclude that there was a miscommunication between Miss B and the social worker.
- Miss B was dissatisfied with this response and her complaint was escalated to stage two which reiterated much of the initial response. The Council said if she has a different account of events at the time of the assessment these views can be held alongside the assessment. They will then be taken into account if any new assessments are written. But it confirmed that the assessment itself cannot be amended.
- Miss B then provided her comments which disputed a number of the statements on the single assessment. The Council replied to Miss B and confirmed that it had added them to her social care file.
- Miss B also raised a complaint with the police about the information it provided to the Council for the safeguarding referral. The police responded to her complaint in June 2017. It found that the safeguarding referral was an accurate reflection of the attending officer’s notes which he maintained were accurate. The investigating officer said that there is no evidence to suggest that the officer lied or that the information on the referral form is inaccurate. Therefore, the police said it would not amend its records.
- The Council has a duty to consider safeguarding referrals and any risk of harm to children. Therefore, it appropriately considered the referrals it received from the police and the school in February 2016. After considering this information it decided that it needed to complete a single assessment to gather more information about the context of the family circumstances and protective factors. I have found no evidence of fault in the way the Council made this decision. Therefore, I will not challenge it.
- Miss B states that the Council has relied upon incorrect information in the assessment and failed to take account of her views. But it is not fault for the Council to rely on information provided by other professional agencies and take account of it in its assessment. I appreciate that Miss B disagrees with its accuracy and has raised a formal complaint with the police. But her complaint was not upheld and the police maintains that the information was accurate. Therefore, the Council was entitled to use it in its assessment. In any event, the Council can only make decisions based on information available at the time.
- Guidance does state that parent’s views should also be incorporated into assessments; Miss B states that the Council failed to do this. I disagree. Social workers visited the home on two occasions where they could take account of Miss B’s views. They also spoke to Miss B on the phone prior to the child in meeting. The notes show that the during this phone call the social worker explored her concerns that she was going to include in her report. Miss B also attended the child in need meeting where she could also express her views. These meetings all took place prior to the Council completing the single assessment.
- I appreciate that Miss B disagrees with what the social worker reported she said during these conversations and meetings. But I was not present and can only rely on the notes available. Therefore, where there is one person’s word against another I am unable to make a finding about what was said. I understand Miss B’s view that her comments and views could have been incorporated more into the single assessment. But what to write in the single assessment is for the professional assessment of the social worker. And, where there is no evidence of fault, the Ombudsman will not challenge this.
- In any event, Miss B has provided a large number of comments on the single assessment which the Council has agreed to hold on file. Therefore, these comments and views should be considered if a new assessment was completed.
- There is no evidence of fault by the Council when it completed a child protection assessment on Miss B’s sons. It relied on information from third parties and has provided evidence that it also took account of Miss B’s views. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- Miss B has also complained about a second child protection assessment that the Council completed in October 2017. But this is premature because it has not completed the Council’s complaints process.
- Miss B has attempted to raise this complaint with the Council but there was confusion whether one or two single assessments existed. The Council should now consider Miss B’s second complaint under its complaints procedure. If she remains dissatisfied with the Council’s response she can bring a new complaint to the Ombudsman within 12 months. If Miss B has any complaints about the health service, she should also raise this with the relevant health service body.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman