Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 02 Sep 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: the Council included inaccurate information about an historical issue in child protection meetings. That did not affect the outcome of those meetings but caused Miss B distress. The Council has apologised and added an addendum to the minutes. That is satisfactory remedy.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Miss B, complained the Council:
- wrongly said she had not engaged with support since December 2018 when she had engaged from July 2018;
- included inaccurate information in reports for a child protection conference which led to her children being removed from her care;
- failed to take action when the social worker denied having a conversation with her about drug abuse; and
- failed to take prompt or appropriate action when it identified the inaccuracy in the report and conference minutes.
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. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a Council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. He must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended and 34(3))
- 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
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and Miss B's comments;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- gave Miss B and the Council an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
What I found
- Miss B has three children. On 11 April 2018 the Council received a referral from Miss B’s daughter’s school. The referral said Miss B’s daughter had reported Miss B physically abusing her.
- The Council held a strategy meeting on 12 April and decided to begin a section 47 child protection investigation. The investigation decided the children were at risk of suffering significant harm and an initial child protection conference took place on 17 May. At that meeting conference members placed the children on child protection plans under the category of neglect.
- A review child protection conference took place on 20 July. Conference decided to keep the child protection plans in place, although it noted some progress.
- At a further review child protection conference in January 2019. Conference decided to keep the child protection plans in place. The child protection plans remain in place currently.
- Miss B put in a complaint to the Council about some of the information provided to the conference following a meeting in January 2019. On 28 January 2019 the Council accepted it had referred to incorrect information in relation to Miss B’s eldest son and apologised. The Council agreed to amend the minutes to include an addendum. That addendum says the information about Miss B’s actions in relation to her son when he was three is incorrect and should be ignored. All conference members received a copy of the minutes and addendum.
- In response to the further issues raised by Miss B the Council said it could not reach a safe conclusion about whether the social worker had given accurate information about what was said during a meeting as there was a dispute about what was said. In terms of Miss B not engaging until 17 December 2018 the Council told Miss B concerns had been raised about her not meaningfully engaging.
- I have not found any evidence to suggest the social worker claimed Miss B had only engaged from a date in December 2018. I am satisfied the minutes from the various meetings record the level of engagement from Miss B from July 2018 onwards, which is when she says she began to engage with the Council. Those minutes do, however, record the social worker’s view that Miss B’s engagement is sporadic and superficial. I recognise Miss B is likely to strongly disagree with that view. However, it is not the Ombudsman’s role to comment on an officer’s judgement and it is not fault for the officer to record his judgement, even if Miss B disagrees with it. I am, however, satisfied the minutes of the various meetings record where Miss B has challenged the view put forward by the social worker. As it is not fault for the social worker to express a view and it is not my role to comment on the merits of that view I have no grounds to criticise the Council.
- Miss B is concerned the Council incorrectly referred to her hitting her son when he was three years old when that is not accurate. I am satisfied the Council has investigated that point and accepts the information is inaccurate. The Council has apologised and added an addendum onto the minutes to make clear to those participating in meetings that this information is not supported by the documentary evidence. I recognise Miss B does not consider that satisfactory as she believes this influenced conference members to place her children on child protection plans. The evidence I have seen though satisfies me the initial child protection conference decided child protection plans were appropriate on the basis of recent allegations made by Miss B’s daughter about Miss B hitting her. There is no evidence to suggest conference members decided to place the children on child protection plans due to concerns about what happened with Miss B’s eldest son some 12 years earlier. In those circumstances I consider the Council’s apology and agreement to place an addendum on the minutes a satisfactory outcome for this part of the complaint.
- Miss B says because the Chair of the child protection conference is the one that incorrectly referred to her hitting her son when he was three years old she should not have continued to chair the meetings. However, the evidence I have seen satisfies me where the Chair referred to Miss B hitting her son when he was three years old she was only repeating the information the social worker had provided. It was the social worker, rather than the conference Chair, that introduced the allegation Miss B had hit her son when he was three years old. I have seen no evidence the conference Chair knew that was inaccurate until January 2019. In those circumstances I cannot criticise the Council for continuing to allow the conference Chair to chair meetings.
- Miss B says because the Council included incorrect information in reports for the child protection conference the children were wrongly taken away from her. However, the evidence I have seen satisfies me it was Miss B who decided the children should stay with other family members, rather than the Council deciding that was appropriate. So, I have found no evidence to suggest incorrect information in the various reports and minutes led to Miss B’s children being taken away from her.
- Miss B says the social worker dealing with her lied about a meeting which took place in a room where CCTV evidence is available. As I understand it, Miss B says she discussed substance misuse issues with the social worker at that meeting while the social worker denies that discussion took place. Having considered the minutes of the meeting on 7 January 2019, I can find no evidence to suggest the social worker made any statements about what he had discussed with Miss B at the meeting. In any event, I understand the CCTV recording does not have sound and the social worker disputes what was discussed. In the absence of any evidence to prove what was said at the meeting I cannot reach a safe conclusion about whether the social worker provided inaccurate information to the conference.
- Miss B says when it identified inaccurate information it failed to take prompt or appropriate action. As I understand it, what Miss B wants is for the Council either to remove reference to the incorrect information in the reports and minutes or to write directly to conference members to tell them about the incorrect information. As the Council has explained though, it cannot amend the original report or minutes of meetings. The most the Council can do is add an addendum onto the minutes to record what information is inaccurate. I am satisfied it has done that in this case. I am also satisfied the Council did that promptly once it discovered the error and that all conference members have received a copy of the minutes. I am satisfied that has made them aware the information was incorrect. In those circumstances I see no reason why the Council would have had to write to conference members individually. As I am satisfied the Council has taken the action the Ombudsman would expect it to take I have no grounds to criticise it.
- The Council has apologised for referring to incorrect information in the initial child protection conference. The Council has added an addendum to the minutes to make clear the information about what happened with Miss B’s eldest son is inaccurate.
- I have completed my investigation and found fault by the Council in part of the complaint which caused Miss B an injustice. I am satisfied the action the Council will take is sufficient to remedy that injustice.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman