Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 20 May 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Ms X complains about the Council’s handling of child protection matters concerning her grandchild. She complains about the Council’s poor administration, that it included wrong information in the paperwork, and that assumptions were presented as facts. The Ombudsman finds fault with the Council’s actions. We have recommended the Council apologise, pay a financial remedy, and to amend the wrong information.
- Ms X complains about the Council’s handling of child protection matters concerning her grandchild. Specifically, Ms X complains:
- the Council included incorrect information in the paperwork;
- that assumptions made by staff were presented as factual;
- about the Council’s general administration, including the inability to book rooms, keep appointments, and lateness of paperwork;
- the Council’s actions were demoralising and caused frustration, and;
- she took time off work for meetings which the Council then cancelled.
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’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), 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 spoke with Ms X and considered the information she provided.
- I made enquiries with the Council and considered the information it provided.
- I sent a draft decision to Ms X and the Council and considered their comments.
What I found
- The Council had a child protection plan in place, between April 2016 and March 2018, for Ms X’s granddaughter, A. Ms M is the mother of A. Ms M is Ms X’s daughter.
- Child protection plans set out things such as: what work is needed to reduce concerns, what needs the child and family has, and what support the family will need.
- Core group meetings take place regularly to oversee the child protection plan and to check progress. The purpose of the core group is to reduce risks, prevent further significant harm, and to safeguard the child’s well-being. Core group meetings are meetings between the professionals who work with the family, such as social workers and teachers, and the family of the child.
- In November 2017, Ms X complained to the Council about the way it had handled the child protection matters around her grandchild. Ms X main complaint was about the wrong information contained within the paperwork produced by the Council. She also complained the Council had presented assumptions as facts. Ms X said the Council had referred to her daughter’s ex-partner as a partner. Ms X said this caused her daughter distress as her daughter’s ex-partner had been abusive.
- Ms X also complained about the Council’s poor administration. Ms X said this resulted in the Council not keeping appointments, not booking meeting rooms, and paperwork being sent late or not at all. Ms X said this led to a poor impression of children social services and meant she was inconvenienced as she had often taken a day off work for meetings, which the Council then cancelled.
- The Council provided a response to Ms X’s complaint in May 2018. It is not clear from the evidence why there was a delay in the Council providing the complaint response. It appears from the evidence, the Council responded to Ms X’s complaint under the corporate complaints process.
- The Council accepted some fault. Namely, that:
- names and details were incorrect;
- there had been poor communication between the Council and the family;
- there had been a lack of a consistent social worker, and;
- some child protection visits did not take place.
The Council apologised to Ms X for these faults.
- In its complaint response, the Council said it accepted “there had been miscommunication and this has led to information being given and reported that you are both unhappy with and which you state is not factual. I appreciate that you feel that staff have made assumptions and reported them as fact. This is again not satisfactory and if staff are not clear that information is factual it should be made clear and reported as alleged or reported and if contained in a report this should clearly state that it is not factual information…”.
- The Council also confirmed it had not completed five child protection visits and that there had been seven different social workers assigned to the case. The Council explained this was not acceptable practice.
- There was no evidence to show the dates the Council sent paperwork to Ms X, or Ms M, as the Council had not kept a record. The Council could confirm it sent three sets of child protection minutes outside of the agreed timescales. The Council said this was because at the time it had staffing difficulties.
- In relation to venue booking, the Council explained it could not comment whether there had been difficulties with venues in dealing with the child protection matters with Ms X because there were no records. The Council said there can be difficulties in providing venues to hold meetings.
- The Council said it had met with Ms X and confirmed it had made the agreed corrections to the records. The Council said Ms X was satisfied with the outcome. The Council could not provide any evidence of the changes it had made or provide a record of Ms X confirming she was happy with the changes made.
- Ms X said the Council had not spoken to her about what details needed to be changed and that the Council had not given her any evidence to show that the details had been corrected.
Wrong names and details
- The Council had accepted fault during its complaint investigation that there were incorrect names and details contained within its records. However, it is not clear what names and details the Council accepted were incorrect. It is also not clear whether there was agreement between Ms X and the Council about what information was incorrect.
- The Council said it had made the corrections and spoken with Ms X to confirm she was happy with the changes it had made. Ms X said the Council had not spoken with her and she had not seen any of the changes the Council said it had made. There is clearly a conflict of evidence.
- However, the Council has been unable to provide evidence of the changes it said it made. While I accept the Council could have made the changes, I cannot say on balance this has been done. This is fault.
- I find the identified fault caused Ms M an injustice. This is because Ms M said the Council had referred to her ex-partner as her current partner. Ms M said her ex-partner had been abusive. Therefore, the wrong information would have caused Ms M some distress. Further, the records being amended was the Council’s remedy for the fault. Therefore, Ms M was also caused further injustice as did not get the remedy she should have received.
- I do not find the fault identified caused Ms X any injustice. This is because, while I accept it was Ms X who made the complaint to the Council, the fault itself affected Ms M.
No consistent social worker and child protection visits missed
- The Council accepted Ms X’s family did not have a consistent social worker and that some child protection visits did not take place. The Council explained this was due to staffing issues at the time and accepted it was not good practice. This is fault.
- The aim of a child protection plan is to remove the significant risk of harm to the child to the point where the Council’s intervention is no longer necessary. The social worker is often the link between the Council and the family, and they are the ones providing practical support and advice. They are also the people who help decide on the progress made or whether further steps might be needed to safeguard the child. Therefore, a good working relationship between the social worker and family is important to the success of a child protection plan.
- In this case, I find the changes of social worker would have, on balance, made it difficult for Ms M to build an effective working relationship with the Council. Ms M did not receive the service she should have and there is uncertainty over how this may have affected matters. This is distressing for Ms M. Therefore, I find the identified fault caused Ms M an injustice.
- I also find the fault identified caused an injustice to A. This is because the Council should have visited A to check the progress of the child protection plan and to safeguard A from any significant risks. This is undermined if the Council does not complete scheduled visits. A therefore did not receive the service she should have.
- Ms X is A’s grandmother. This means Ms X has no parental responsibility for A. I recognise Ms X has supported both Ms M and A through the child protection matters. However, I have not seen the child protection plan and I do not know if the Council had agreed to provide any support to Ms X. Therefore, I do not find Ms X was caused any injustice by the fault identified.
- The Council has explained it has remedied this by hiring more permanent social workers. I find this was appropriate as it demonstrates the Council has made changes to prevent this fault from reoccurring in the future.
- The Council said it accepted there had been miscommunication in this case and appears to suggest the miscommunication is what caused Ms X to feel the Council had made assumptions and reported them as fact. The Council said this was not satisfactory and that it should make it clear if the information is not factual.
- This response is confusing as it is not entirely clear whether the Council has accepted it had reported assumptions as fact. However, I find that, on balance, the Council has accepted it should have been clearer by stating whether information was alleged. This is fault.
- Information and reports the Council provides should be clear and accurate as these records are permanent. I find the fault identified would have caused Ms M distress, especially as these records are permanently associated with her. This was an injustice.
- I do not find Ms X was caused an injustice as it appears the information which she felt were assumptions which the Council presented as facts, were to do with Ms M.
- The Council confirmed it sent three sets of child protection minutes outside of the agreed timescales. This is fault.
- The Council could not explain whether there had been difficulties with booking venues for meetings as it said no problems were recorded on the system. Ms X said there had been problems which often caused the Council to cancel meetings, which inconvenienced her. There is clearly a conflict of evidence here. However, the Council has explained there was often difficulties in providing venues to hold meetings.
- I find that, on balance, it was likely the Council had difficulties in arranging venues and that this led to scheduled meetings being cancelled. Further, with the lack of evidence provided to suggest otherwise, I have no reason not to believe Ms X’s account. This is fault.
- Therefore, I find some of the identified faults caused Ms X and Ms M an injustice. Both Ms X and Ms M were inconvenienced by the cancellation of meetings and Ms M did not get the opportunity to review paperwork within a reasonable time, which caused her distress.
- In addition to the remedies already completed by the Council, the Council has agreed to complete the following to remedy the injustice caused by the faults identified.
- Work with Ms M to identify and agree on the names and details that are wrong. The Council should correct these and confirm with Ms M she is satisfied with the changes made.
- Provide Ms M the opportunity to clarify the information she feels were assumptions that had been presented as facts. This information should then be included within the relevant case file.
- Apologise to Ms X for the inconvenience caused by the poor administration around venue booking and cancelled meetings. The Council should also pay Ms X £100 in recognition of the inconvenience caused.
- Apologise to Ms M for the distress and inconvenienced caused by the poor administration around venue booking and cancelled meetings, and for paperwork not being sent on time. The Council should also pay Ms M £300 to recognition of the distress and inconvenienced caused.
- Provide an appropriate apology to A for the failure to carry out all child protection visits as required.
- The Council should complete the above remedy within four weeks of the final decision.
- I find fault with the Council’s handling of child protection matters concerning A. The Council has accepted my recommendations. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman