Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 30 Aug 2019
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr F’s complaint relates to matters which have been considered by a court. It is therefore outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr F, complains that the Council
- failed to assess him as was agreed at an Initial Child Protection Conference and
- unreasonably asked him to sign an agreement in relation to contact with his children.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
- 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:
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have considered information provided by Mr F. I have also seen copies of Mr F’s complaints to the Council and its responses.
- I have discussed my draft decision with Mr F who has also provided written comments.
What I found
- Mr F and his partner have a number of children one of whom, S, has serious disabilities. Mr F says that looking after S imposed a great strain on the family as a whole. The children were therefore all considered Children in Need and the family received some support.
- In 2017, following an assault on S by an adult relation, the children were put on a Child Protection Plan. As part of this process, the Council identified that it should undertake an assessment of Mr F’s needs as a parent and carer. Mr F says that this never happened.
- Shortly after this, Mr F’s children were removed from his care following concerns about bruising on one of the children. The Council applied to court for care orders for all of the children.
- Mr F says the Council identified in early 2017 that he should, as his statutory right, receive an assessment of his needs. He says if it had, perhaps he would have received support and advice which might have prevented the children having to be removed from his care. He says that, in any case, the Council should have removed S from the home rather than all the children.
- Mr F says that for two months after they went into the care of the Council, he had regular contact with the children but then the Council insisted he sign an agreement that he would confirm that he would visit the children by 8:30 on the morning of each scheduled visit or the visits could not take place. Mr F refused to sign the agreement because he thought this was a form of blackmail and, if an agreement was needed, it should have been sorted out as soon as the children became looked after, not two months later.
- The whole issue of where the children should live and what contact they should have with their parents has been considered by the court. When proceedings were over, Mr F contacted the Council and asked it to investigate complaints a) and b). It refused because, it said, all the matters Mr F had raised had either been considered at court or could have been.
- Mr F has confirmed that his barrister raised both a) and b) at court.
- I recognise that Mr F is not complaining directly about what happened in court. His complaint is, rather, that if sufficient support had been put in place following an assessment, care proceedings might not have been necessary. However, in my view, the issues at the heart of both complaints have been considered at court or are inextricably linked with the decisions of the court. The court will have considered the impact of the Council’s actions (or inactions) when considering what was best for the children and could, if it wished, have ordered further assessments on Mr F or any other members of the family and could have decided that further support was appropriate rather than the children staying in care.
- The Ombudsman could not investigate complaints a) or b) without speculating about the court’s decision as effectively the injustice Mr F claims is linked to the decisions about where the children should live. Therefore, the Ombudsman cannot investigate without venturing into areas which are excluded from his jurisdiction (see paragraph 4).
- As the court has decided where the children should live and on what terms, there is in any case no meaningful remedy which the Ombudsman could put in place to remedy the claimed injustice (paragraph 2).
- I have decided that the Ombudsman cannot investigate this complaint. This is because the matters complained of have already been considered by a court and are therefore outside our jurisdiction.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman