Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 27 Aug 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council has not implemented the recommendations made at stage two and three of the statutory children’s complaints procedure. The Ombudsman finds fault with the Council for failing to complete two of the recommendations made. The Council has agreed to pay Mr X a financial remedy, and to complete the outstanding recommendation.
- The Council previously investigated Mr X’s complaint about children social services through the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The complaint was investigated at stage one, two and three of the procedure. Recommendations were made at stage two and three, which the Council accepted. Mr X complains the Council has not implemented the recommendations made at stage two and three.
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)
- 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)
- The Council made recommendations in 2017. Mr X first complained to the Ombudsman in January 2019. I have exercised my discretion to consider the matter because Mr X could not have complained sooner. This is because he only had reasons to believe the Council had not completed the recommendations in 2019.
- 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 Mr X and considered the information he provided.
- I made enquiries with the Council and considered the information it provided.
- I sent two draft decisions to Mr X and the Council and considered their comments.
- Under our information sharing agreement, we will share this decision with the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted).
What I found
- Mr X complained about the single assessment completed by a social worker. The Council investigated his complaint through all three stages of the statutory children’s complaints procedure. The Council made recommendations at the end of its stage two and three investigations.
- The Council’s stage two recommendations were:
- to add a comment to the single assessment to alert readers to the additional information which should be taken into account when considering the assessment;
- to add Mr X’s complaint comments and views to the child’s case records;
- to send letters to the child’s mother and Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) about the single assessment;
- to send a reminder to all managers in children’s services about appropriate levels of support for the supervision of the work of inexperienced and pre-qualified social workers when their supervisor is on leave or unavailable;
- to send a reminder to children’s services managers and social workers about practice standards when planning to close cases;
- to include sampling of case closure practice in children’s case file audits, and;
- for learning and improvement team to follow up any learning from this case regarding support and supervision for student and newly qualified social workers.
- The Council’s stage three recommendations were:
- for the Council to consider as a general rule, children and young people, if interviewed by a social care professional, should be informed of any outcomes prior to case closure;
- to add Mr X’s statement, setting out his concerns regarding the single assessment, to the child’s case records;
- for a senior manager to support Mr X, should he wish, to finalise his statement;
- for a senior manager to add an alert on the child’s record directing that all information held about the child should be read concurrently;
- for the Council to ensure recordings of visits, telephone conversations, and actions arising are included in case files, and;
- for the local authority to set up a protocol, in line with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) guidelines, for the use of protected titles. In particular, the protocol should cover the period between gaining a professional qualification and formal registration with a professional body.
- In August 2017, the Council wrote to Mr X and confirmed it had uploaded a copy of his statement to the child’s records.
- The Council provided evidence of the following:
- a copy of the letter and email sent to the child’s mother and CAFCASS. The correspondence told each party the single assessment was incomplete and asked them not to use the information in the future;
- a screenshot of the comment added to the child’s case records which drew attention to the additional information that needed to be considered;
- a screenshot of the child’s case records which showed the Council uploaded Mr X’s statement to the child’s case record in June 2019;
- a copy of its quality assurance framework and audit process;
- a copy of its practice standards document;
- a copy of the email sent to team managers which asked them to send the practice standards document to all social workers and students (dated 21 June 2019), and;
- a copy of its protocol for student workload, which includes pre-qualifying staff.
- The practice standards document highlights the Council has weekly supervision meetings with newly qualified workers for the first six weeks, and fortnightly meetings after that. The Council completes monthly supervision for all other social workers.
- The Council explained a manager will supervise inexperienced and pre-qualified social workers when their supervisor is on leave or unavailable. The Council explained it would tell the staff member in advance if the manager was taking planned leave, or as soon as the manager’s absence was highlighted.
- The Council also confirmed there was no written protocol in place about the use of protected titles. The Council said it was planning to introduce one in the future. The Council explained newly qualified social workers could not hold cases until they registered with the HCPC. It said it allocated work to a registered social worker who was responsible for the quality of the practice. The Council said this was in line with HCPC requirements.
- In response to my first draft decision, the Council provided evidence which demonstrated Mr X’s statement had been uploaded to the child’s records in July 2017.
- The Council also explained it will be shortly publishing a workforce strategy that will include a statement about the use of protected titles.
- The Council has provided evidence it has completed some of the recommendations made. I am satisfied it has completed the following.
- The Council has added a comment on the child’s records which alerts readers to the extra information. The Council did not add the comment to the single assessment document. Instead, it was added to the child’s case records. While this was not in line with the recommendation made at stage two, it is in line with the recommendation made at stage three. Therefore, I am satisfied the Council has completed this recommendation.
- The Council has written to the child’s mother and to CAFCASS to alert them of the incompleteness of the single assessment. The Council has also asked them not to use the information in the future.
- The Council has a clear process in place regarding how it will supervise social workers if their manager is absent or on leave.
- I am also satisfied the Council’s audit process is clear and detailed. The structure of the document is simple to follow and sets out what reviewers should look for when considering the quality of a piece of work. I also believe the frequency of audits will help the Council identify poor practice at an early stage.
- However, the Council has not provided evidence it has set up a protocol with regards to the use of protected titles. The Council said it was planning to introduce one in the future. This is fault.
- The recommendation made to the Council following the stage three investigation was clear in asking the Council to set up a protocol around the use of protected titles. The Council has not done this and in my view, it is not good enough to say it is planning to implement one in the future. This is because the Council has already had two years to introduce this protocol.
- I find the find the fault identified caused Mr X an injustice because this recommendation formed part of his remedy for the injustice caused by the faults identified by the stage three panel. Mr X should have received this remedy and he has not.
- I acknowledge the Council has said it will be implementing a workforce strategy to include a statement about protected titles. I would be satisfied with this if the strategy makes specific reference to the use of protected titles for the period between gaining a professional qualification and formal registration with a professional body.
- The Council had initially provided evidence it had only uploaded Mr X’s statement to the child’s record in June 2019. For that reason, I made a finding of fault, causing Mr X an injustice. In response to my draft decision, the Council provided evidence it had in fact uploaded Mr X’s statement to the child records in July 2017.
- It is unhelpful the Council did not send this evidence to me earlier. Nevertheless, I am satisfied the evidence provided demonstrates the Council did upload Mr X’s statement to the child’s records in July 2017. Therefore, the Council appropriately completed this recommendation when it said it did and I do not find fault.
- However, the Council only emailed managers to remind them about the practice standards when planning to close cases in June 2019. This should have been done when the recommendation was first made, in 2017. Therefore, this is fault.
- I find the fault identified caused Mr X an injustice because he did not receive the remedy he should have. This is distressing for him.
- To remedy the injustice caused by the faults identified, the Council has agreed to complete the following:
- Provide a sincere and meaningful apology to Mr X for the faults identified and for the injustice caused.
- Pay Mr X £300 in recognition of the incomplete remedy and for the distress and uncertainty caused by the faults identified.
- The Council should complete the above within four weeks of the final decision.
- Implement its workforce strategy which will include a statement about the use of protected titles. This statement should have specific reference to the period between gaining a professional qualification and formal registration with a professional body.
- The Council should complete the above within three months of the final decision.
- I find fault with the Council for failing to complete two of the recommendations made. The Council has accepted my recommendations. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman