Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 31 Mar 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the Council failed to act in response to a safeguarding referral about a child who harmed him at school. He says this harm has caused long-term effects. The Council acted according to its duties and was not at fault.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, who is now an adult, complains of events that happened when he was a child. He is represented by his father, whom I shall call Mr Z.
- Mr X says the Council failed to respond properly to reports that a child at a school was abusing others. He says the child harmed him and that this has led to long-term effects.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated the Council’s response to a safeguarding referral. I give my reason for not investigating any other matters at the end of this statement.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
- We cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b), 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 we would find fault, or
- the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
- the injustice is not significant enough to justify our involvement, or
- it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
- 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
- The matters complained of go back several years. Normally, we would expect a complainant to come to us much sooner. However, I have exercised discretion to consider Mr X’s complaint because he was a child at the time of the events. It can take many years for adults to speak about traumatic events of a sexual nature from their childhoods. So, I do not consider Mr X delayed coming to us.
- Mr X has not complained to the Council. However, the Council has considered Mr X’s father, Mr Z’s complaint about these matters. It says it would not refuse to consider Mr X’s complaint on the grounds of time. But it says it would not consider the complaint a second time as Mr Z has already made it.
- Given the Council has not refused to consider Mr X’s complaint on grounds of time, I have taken a pragmatic view. It would not be a good use of public money or either of the two parties’ time to ask Mr X to return to the Council and wait for a refusal, before bringing the complaint back to us. Therefore, with both parties’ consent, I have considered the complaint.
- Mr X is also entitled to nominate his father, Mr Z, as his representative.
- I read Mr X’s complaint and documents supplied by the Council, some of which are sensitive and cannot be disclosed to protect the data of other people. I spoke to Mr Z on the telephone. I asked the Council to confirm whether there had been more than one safeguarding strategy meeting at the time the events occurred. I considered the Council’s duties under the Children Act 1989.
- I shared a draft of this decision with both parties and invited their comments. I considered those I received.
What I found
- Mr X says he suffered harm at school about eight years ago. I have no reason to doubt this.
- Mr Z supplied a copy of an Ofsted report about the school from a time about a year later. Ofsted found there were safeguarding concerns at the school, which was small and catered for children with special educational needs (SEN). He also provided evidence that shows parents had told the school that their children were being harmed by another child.
What should have happened
- Councils with safeguarding duties for children must consider reports they receive that a child may be at risk of suffering significant harm. Where they have reason to believe that, they must take the action they consider necessary to remove the risk. The first stage in that process is to hold a safeguarding strategy meeting.
What happened, and was it fault by the Council?
- The evidence I have seen shows the Council received a referral about events at the school involving a named child. The Council held three safeguarding strategy meetings over several months. I have seen the minutes of these meetings. They are detailed and show the Council closed the case after taking the action it found necessary to remove the risk to other children, both at the school and elsewhere.
- I do not find the Council at fault as its actions met its duty.
- I have not upheld the complaint as the Council acted without fault.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not investigated the actions of the school as the Ombudsman has not authority to do so.
- I have not investigated what further action the Council may have taken several years ago in respect of the other child after he left the school. Doing so would be unlikely to lead to any different outcome.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman