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South Tyneside Metropolitan Borough Council (19 005 036)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 16 Jan 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complains the Council wrongly kept her away from her son between 2010 and 2013 as she believed there was a court order in place. She also complains the Council did not promote contact and did not give her adequate information and support. The Ombudsman finds fault with the Council for not recognising Miss X’s son was a looked after child sooner. However, the faults did not cause Miss X any injustice. We do not find fault with the Council’s other actions.

The complaint

  1. Miss X’s son was removed from her care by the Council under an emergency protection order. Miss X complains:
  • The Council wrongly kept her away from her son between 2010 and 2013. Miss X said she was led to believe there was a court order in place which prevented her from seeing, or visiting, her son. However, there were no court orders in place. Miss X said this deprived her of having an independent judge consider and review the case.
  • Between 2010 and 2013, the Council did not support and promote contact between her and her son.
  • The Council did not give her adequate information and support leading up to the special guardianship order (SGO). Miss X says this meant she felt pressured to agree to the SGO.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. I decided to exercise discretion to consider this complaint as there was evidence Miss X could not have complained about the matter sooner. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke with Miss X and considered the information she provided.
  2. I made enquiries with the Council and considered the information it provided.
  3. I sent a draft decision to Miss X and the Council and considered their comments.

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What I found

The Children Act 1989, Section 20

  1. Parents and carers can request the council accommodate a child under this section. Parents retain parental responsibility and can remove the child at any time. Once a child is accommodated by a council, that child becomes a looked after child.

The Children Act 1989, Section 47 enquiries

  1. Section 47 places a duty on councils to make enquiries to safeguard or promote a child’s welfare, where there is reasonable cause to suspect a child in its area is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm.
  2. Councils can consult anyone they consider necessary as part of their enquiries, to help them decide if they need to act to safeguard or promote a child’s welfare. They must consult with the child to ascertain their wishes and feelings.
  3. The initial enquiries must establish the child’s situation and decide whether action is needed to protect the child. If, following these enquiries, concerns of significant harm remain, the social worker should call an initial child protection conference.

What happened

  1. In October 2010, Miss X’s son, A, was taken to hospital by his paternal grandmother because of a burn on his back. There were concerns about the burn as Miss X’s account of how it happened were inconsistent. As a result of these concerns, the Council placed A with his maternal grandmother.
  2. The Council completed section 47 enquiries and held an initial child protection conference in November 2010. The Council decided to place A on a child protection plan. Records showed Miss X engaged with professionals and had supervised contact with A.
  3. In January 2011, the police completed its investigation and noted the burn was an accident. The Council decided to keep A on the child protection plan, and he was to remain in the care of the maternal grandmother while the Council assessed Miss X. There is no evidence to suggest Miss X challenged A’s placement with the maternal grandmother.
  4. In March 2011, Miss X had unsupervised contact with A. Between April and May 2011, Miss X was noted to be engaging well with the Council and had accessed various support services. The Council also noted unsupervised contact was going well.
  5. In June 2011, Miss X was served an eviction notice. The Council advised her to visit a solicitor and to contact citizen’s advice bureau. The Council also had concerns about Miss X’s new relationship as her partner had a history of violence.
  6. Between June and July 2011, the records showed Miss X began to disengage with professionals. It was noted Miss X was homeless and that she had failed to show up to some contact sessions with A. Miss X’s contact with A was back to being supervised.
  7. A remained on a child protection plan in August and September 2011. The records noted Miss X was represented by a solicitor in September 2011.
  8. In October 2011, the Council discussed a special guardianship order (SGO). The Council explained what this meant to Miss X. The Council noted Miss X agreed she wanted to pursue this option.
  9. Between October 2011 and May 2012, A remained on a child protection plan. The records showed Miss X’s involvement with professionals was intermittent. Records noted Miss X had confirmed she would contest the plan for a residence order.
  10. In June 2012, the Council identified A should have been considered a looked after child under section 20. The Council informed Miss X of the fact A was a looked after child and that his placement with his maternal grandmother was a friends and family foster placement. Miss X did not challenge the Council about A’s placement but confirmed she did want A to be in her care.
  11. In July 2012, Miss X gave the Council consent for A to remain living with his maternal grandmother. Miss X continued to have supervised contact with A twice a week.
  12. In August 2012, it was noted Miss X had missed some contact sessions with A. There was also evidence of the Council trying to contact Miss X unsuccessfully.
  13. In January 2013, Miss X told the Council she wanted A returned to her care. The Council told her it was supporting a residence order to the maternal grandmother. The Council asked her to visit to discuss the matter further. Miss X did not show up to this meeting.
  14. Between January and August 2013, the Council struggled to keep in contact with Miss X. She also missed various appointments with other services. It is unclear from the records whether Miss X had contact with A during this period. However, the Council had not stopped contact sessions.
  15. In October 2013, records noted Miss X had said she would contest the SGO. At the end of October 2013, the court granted the SGO to A’s maternal grandmother.

Analysis

No court order between 2010 and 2013

  1. It is clear from the evidence the Council did not have any court orders in place for A’s placement with his maternal grandmother.
  2. It is also clear the Council recognised, in June 2012, it should have considered A a looked after child under section 20 of the Children’s Act 1989 when he was first placed with his grandmother in October 2010. This is fault. The Council recognised this fault and acted quickly to rectify this by recognising A as a looked after child in July 2012. This action was appropriate.
  3. However, I do not consider the fault identified caused Miss X any injustice. This is because there is no evidence Miss X tried to challenge the Council about A’s placement between 2010 and 2012. Miss X said she did tell the Council she wanted A back in her care. I do not dispute this as the records showed she had raised this with the Council. However, if Miss X felt the Council had been wrong to keep A from her, she could have raised a complaint about the Council’s actions.
  4. Further, the records also showed Miss X had a solicitor in September 2011. Therefore, if she had concerns about A’s placement, she had the opportunity to raise this with her solicitor to challenge the Council’s actions.
  5. There is also evidence Miss X asked the Council about an SGO in October 2011. The records showed she wanted to pursue an SGO after the Council explained what an SGO was. At this stage, Miss X should have been aware of the fact there was no legal order for A to be in the care of his maternal grandmother. Again, Miss X could have challenged the Council on this but there is no evidence she did.

Contact between Miss X and A

  1. The evidence shows the Council facilitated contact between Miss X and A throughout 2010 and 2013. There is no evidence to suggest the Council stopped Miss X from seeing A.
  2. There is evidence there were periods when Miss X did not have contact with A. However, this was not due to the Council stopping contact, but due to Miss X not showing up to the contact sessions.
  3. Therefore, I do not find fault with the Council as the evidence shows it did support and promote contact between Miss X and A.

Special guardianship order

  1. Miss X said the Council did not give her adequate information and support leading up to the SGO.
  2. The evidence shows Miss X first asked the Council about an SGO in October 2011. The Council provided her with information and explained the difference between an SGO and a residence order. Miss X told the Council she wanted to pursue an SGO. This suggests Miss X understood what an SGO was and this was her preferred option.
  3. In January 2013, Miss X did tell the Council she wanted A returned to her care. At this point, the Council told her it was supporting a residence order to the maternal grandmother. The Council invited Miss X to a meeting so the matter could be discussed in more detail. However, Miss X did not attend this meeting and the Council struggled to contact her between January and August 2013.
  4. Further, the records show Miss X noted she would contest the order in May 2012 and October 2013. This demonstrates Miss X was aware she could contest the Council’s actions. Therefore, this does not support Miss X’s contention she felt pressured to agree to the SGO.
  5. It is clear the Council tried to provide Miss X with further information and support about the legal process. It is also clear Miss X was aware of her right to oppose the SGO. Therefore, I do not find fault with the Council.

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Final decision

  1. I find fault with the Council for not recognising A was a looked after child sooner. However, the fault did not cause Miss X any injustice. I do not find fault with the Council’s other actions. I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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