Essex County Council (18 004 568)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 26 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr A complains the Council was grossly negligent in its duty of care to him when he was a child by failing to prevent the severe physical, emotional and mental abuse he was subjected to by his adoptive parents between 1978 and 1989. The Ombudsman is discontinuing the investigation into this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would reach a sound, fair, and meaningful decision, or achieve the outcomes desired by Mr A if we were to continue investigating.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I shall refer to as Mr A, complains the Council was grossly negligent in its duty of care to him when he was a child by failing to prevent the severe physical, emotional and mental abuse he was subjected to by his adoptive parents between 1978 and 1989.

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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 late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  3. We have the power to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. 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)
  4. 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, it is unlikely we would find fault, or there is another body better placed to consider the complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have read Mr A’s complaint and the Council’s response to it, and have provided both parties with an opportunity to comment on this draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr A states he, his brother and his sister were all adopted at separate points during the 1970s. He says they were subsequently abused by their adoptive parents and believes the Council should have been aware of the abuse as social workers were in regular contact with the family at the time, as one of his siblings was subject to a care order when he was adopted. Similarly, he highlights his adoptive parents fostered other children and in the mid-1980s the family was added to the children’s risk register following a child protection investigation. Moreover, he states some of the social work reports commented on the non-accidental injuries he and his siblings were receiving, and a recent police investigation recovered Council documents which indicated it knew the abuse was taking place but did nothing.
  2. He feels the Council’s social services department abandoned him and believes he would have been spared years of abuse had the Council acted. He states its negligence has had a significant impact on him and has negatively affected his career, ability to form and maintain relationships, and mental health.
  3. He wants the Council to acknowledge its failures and change its procedures so they do not reoccur. He also wants it to pay him compensation for the pain and suffering caused by its negligence.
  4. In January 2018, Mr A complained to the Council about the matter. It responded and said it was “unable to locate any records which give any detail as to concerns, referrals, investigations, actions taken and not taken” in the period before the start of the child protection investigation in the mid-1980s. It added the records relating to the investigation were lacking and stated it had conducted an extensive search for files which might contain the information he was looking for, but could not find any. Consequently, it said it was unable to comment why he and his siblings were left in their adoptive parents’ care until the late 1980s.
  5. Mr A complained to the Ombudsman after he received the Council’s response.

Analysis

  1. I have considered whether I should continue investigating Mr A’s complaint given it is late and the matters he is complaining about took place approximately three decades ago. If I were to investigate, I need to be confident there is a realistic prospect of reaching a sound, fair, and meaningful decision.
  2. I note Mr A states the Council was grossly negligent and is seeking compensation. The Ombudsman’s remit is limited to investigating maladministration and service failure; we cannot issue a finding that a council was grossly negligent, nor can we give compensation for this. The courts can issue such a finding therefore Mr A should consider seeking legal advice if this is something he wishes to pursue.
  3. Mr A states he also wants the Council to acknowledge its failures and change its procedures so they do not reoccur. This is something that is in the Ombudsman’s remit, however I do not think there is a realistic prospect of reaching a sound, fair, and meaningful decision on this aspect of his complaint. This is because any investigation would be hampered by the Council’s lack of records, and the fact that I can only request those records relating to Mr A and not his siblings as they have not provided consent for their personal information to be shared.
  4. In addition, the matters complained about took place prior to the introduction of the Children Act 1989, meaning I cannot apply the guidance relating to this piece of legislation to what happened and it would be more difficult to reach a firm conclusion on whether the Council was at fault. Similarly, the Council will have changed its processes and procedures after the introduction of the Act and other pieces of child protection legislation in the years that followed, therefore it is likely that any changes in procedure that were needed at the time these events took place have already been made. Finally, if I were to find the Council was at fault it would be very difficult to establish whether its actions, or inaction caused the injustice suffered by Mr A and whether any recommendations should be made to remedy this.
  5. It is clear Mr A had a traumatic upbringing and the abuse he was subjected to has had a detrimental impact on him. However, the points above indicate I am unlikely to reach a sound, fair, and meaningful decision, or achieve the outcomes desired by Mr A if I were to continue investigating his complaint. Therefore, I have decided to discontinue this investigation.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued the investigation into this complaint. This is because it is unlikely I would reach a sound, fair, and meaningful decision, or achieve the outcomes desired by Mr A if I were to continue investigating.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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