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Suffolk County Council (17 016 369)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 13 Apr 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman will not investigate this complaint about the actions of a social worker in relation to the care and well-being of the complainant’s child. This is because the part of the complaint relating to a Section 37 Report is out of our jurisdiction as it was considered by a court, and we cannot achieve the outcomes that the complainant seeks.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Mr B, says that the Council:
    • Presented an inaccurate Section 37 report to the court resulting in his ex-partner, E, being given care of their child, C;
    • Has not considered properly his concerns regarding C’s safety in the care of E;
    • Has not taken action regarding court orders being disregarded by E; and
    • Has not supported him to make a complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  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. 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 we would find fault, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided by Mr B and the Council. I have also sent Mr B a draft decision for his comments.

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What I found

  1. Mr B has a son, C, who was the subject of private court proceedings to decide his residency.
  2. A social worker for the Council produced a Section 37 Report for the court. Mr B says the report is inaccurate and biased, leading the court to decide residency in favour of the child’s mother, E.
  3. We cannot consider this part of the complaint, as the Ombudsman may not look at any matter that has been part of court proceedings.
  4. Mr B further says that the Council has not considered properly his concerns for C’s safety and wellbeing in the care of E. In particular, he says that E has disregarded a court order that C should not be allowed to come into contact with E’s new partner.
  5. The Council has used its safeguarding procedures. It has continued to monitor C’s progress and wellbeing through visits by the social worker and health visitor, and through C’s nursery. It has found no evidence to suggest either that C has had contact with E’s new partner, or that there are legitimate concerns for C’s safety.
  6. The Council has told Mr B that if he has fresh concerns, they should be raised with its Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub.
  7. It has further told him that it has no responsibility for deciding residency or for enforcing court orders regarding contact. These matters can only be considered by a court.
  8. The Ombudsman will not consider Mr B’s concerns and allegations for the same reason. Only a court can achieve his desired outcomes.
  9. Mr B also complains about the way the Council supported him to make his complaint, but we will not investigate this issue. The Council has provided details to him in its Stage 1 response of the conversations and meetings it had with him about his complaint, and we are unlikely to find fault causing him injustice in the support offered.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman should not investigate this complaint. This is because part of it is out of jurisdiction due to court action, and we cannot achieve the outcomes that he wants.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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