Norfolk County Council (17 017 744)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 26 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: the Council has properly considered Ms M’s concerns for her children’s welfare. The Council is satisfied the children are safe with their father. There is no fault in the Council’s decision. The Ombudsman cannot question Council decisions taken without fault.

The complaint

  1. Ms M complains that Children’s Services are ignoring her concerns about her children.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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 considered:
    • information provided by Ms M;
    • information provided by the Council, including records of referrals and the Council’s response to Ms M’s complaint;
    • Working together to safeguard children published by the Government in March 2015; and
    • The Norfolk Threshold Guide: Ensuring that children & young people receive the right services at the right time and for the right duration published by the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board.
  2. I invited Ms M and the Council to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Ms M separated from her children’s father, Mr F, some time ago. Her children live with their father. Ms M is concerned for her children’s wellbeing. She alleges their father mistreats them. She has made numerous referrals to the Council and other agencies. She wants the Council to intervene. The Council is satisfied the children are safe and properly cared for by their father.
  2. Unhappy with the Council’s response, Ms M complained. The Council explained how it considered her concerns. The Police have conducted welfare checks and the professionals who have regular contact with Ms M’s children have no concern for their safety and wellbeing.
  3. Ms M remained dissatisfied and complained to the Ombudsman.

Protecting children from harm

  1. The government has issued guidance to Councils managing cases where there are concerns about a child’s safety or welfare. (Working Together to Safeguard Children)
  2. Anyone who is concerned that a child is suffering or at risk of harm should inform the Council.
  3. Councils have a duty to conduct an investigation if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. (Children Act 1989, section 47(1))
  4. Following a referral, the Council must decide within one working day whether it is going to begin an investigation. Before starting an investigation, the Council must hold a strategy discussion to decide what action to take.
  5. The Council must have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is likely to suffer harm before it can make enquiries. The Council cannot descend on a family to see if there is a problem unless it has reasonable cause for suspicion.
  6. Norfolk Safeguarding Children Board has its own safeguarding children procedures. The Board has published guidance on the thresholds for intervention by Children’s Services.

Ms M’s complaint

  1. The Ombudsman does not decide whether Ms M’s children are safe in the care of their father. This is the Council’s job. The Ombudsman checks the Council has properly considered Ms M’s concerns. Neither the Council nor the Ombudsman decides where Ms M’s children should live. This is a private matter between Ms M and Mr F.
  2. I asked the Council to send me the records of all the concerns Ms M has raised about her children’s care since 1 January 2017. The records show how the Council considered Ms M’s concerns and decided what to do.
  3. The records show:
    • the Council referred Ms M’s concerns to the multi-agency safeguarding hub, the specialist team that assesses concerns for the welfare of children;
    • the Police have conducted welfare checks;
    • the Council has contacted the children’s schools; and
    • the Council has contacted the children’s father.
  4. The Council recognises the stresses that Ms M and her family face. However, the Council does not consider Ms M’s children are at risk of harm. The Council considers the children’s needs are met by their family and their wider support network (including their schools).
  5. The evidence satisfies me the Council has followed the correct procedures to consider Ms M’s concerns for her children. There is no fault in the Council’s decision. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault.

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Final decision

  1. The Council has properly considered Ms M’s concerns for her children’s welfare. The Ombudsman cannot question decisions taken without fault. I have ended my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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