Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 20 Feb 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about the Council’s response to malicious child protection allegations made against the complainant. This is because we cannot achieve the outcomes that the complainant seeks.
- The complainant, who I refer to here as Mrs N, says that the Council:
- Has handled poorly safeguarding procedures following an allegation about the care provided by her for their grandchildren;
- Should have taken into consideration the history of malicious and untrue allegations instigated by the children’s paternal grandparents;
- Has refused to remove the allegation from her file; and
- Has not fully complied with a Subject Access Request made by the her and her husband.
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 we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information provided by Mrs N and I have sent her a draft decision for her comments.
What I found
- Mrs N and her husband care for their grandchildren. In August 2017 a child protection referral was made to the Council regarding Mrs N’s care.
- The Council investigated the allegation under its safeguarding procedures, and found it to be unsubstantiated.
- Mrs N complained, as she said there had been a number of malicious referrals and allegations instigated by her grandchildren’s paternal grandparents. All had been shown to be untrue, and Mrs N felt that the Council should have taken this history into consideration in investigating the latest referral.
- The Council has responded to the complaint, explaining that it has a statutory duty to carry out safeguarding checks in accordance with section 47 of the Children Act 1989, where there is an allegation that a child may be at risk of significant harm. This duty cannot be set aside or considered in the context of previous allegations. Each referral must be considered on its own merits.
- Mrs N responds that even if the Council did have to investigate this new allegation, it handled it badly. She says there was initial delay in responding, followed by a refusal to wait to interview the child involved until after her 11+ test. She feels that the Council followed some procedures without adequate thought for the effect on the child and the family.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate the complaint further, however.
- There is no fault in the Council following up the referral. As it rightly says, it cannot ignore any referral even if there have been previous unsubstantiated allegations from the same source. I recognise that repeated use of the safeguarding procedures would be frustrating or distressing to Mrs N and her family, but we cannot affect or change the fact that the Council must respond to the allegations, even if it suspects they may be malicious.
- None the less, the Council may wish to consider whether the way it follows up allegations is sufficiently sensitive to the situation and the likely effect on the children involved. I cannot say that its timing of the interview with the child involved affected her performance in the 11+ test, as Mrs N believes, or that it has caused injustice that would warrant further investigation. However, the possibility of causing injustice through an over rigid application of the safeguarding protocols should be a consideration that is taken into account in any future dealings with Mrs N’s family.
- Mrs N has also asked the Council to remove the allegation from her file, and is dissatisfied with its refusal to do so. However, we cannot achieve this outcome, as the Council must keep an accurate record of the allegations triggering the safeguarding procedures. Mrs N does have the right to have the outcome correctly recorded, and to have her own comments added to the file.
- Additionally Mrs H has complained to the Council that it has not fully complied with an SAR. This complaint is for the Information Commissioner’s Office to consider.
- Finally, Mrs H regards it as unacceptable for the children’s paternal family to continue to fabricate allegations. This is not something that the Council either condones or can prevent. Mrs H could consider referring the matter to the police.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint. This is because there is insufficient evidence that the Council’s actions have caused injustice, and we cannot achieve the outcomes that she is looking for.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman