London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (20 007 706)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 02 Nov 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains the Council did not properly deal with care for her son Y. The Council did not communicate with Ms X or Y honestly or openly, there was limited planning or case direction, the potential for Y to return home was not well managed, didn’t work with Ms X or Y about placement needs, adequate work was not done to resolve issues informally before the decision to take proceedings was made, failed to record and distribute accurate minutes and decisions and did not consider information properly. Ms X and Y suffered distress, time and trouble advocating for support for Y and personal outrage at the decision to take court action. The Council should pay Ms X an additional £500 and pay Y £1000 for distress, and pay Ms X £1000 for personal outrage.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms X, complains the Council did not deal properly with care and support for her son Y because:
    • there was a lack of honesty by the Council in the way it dealt with them;
    • there was poor process and planning, leading to crisis management (including not telling her son where he was going before he moved);
    • there was poor communication by the Council;
    • it failed to take Y’s needs into account when arranging foster care placements;
    • it blamed her then did not provide a parenting course it asked her to undertake;
    • it failed to record and send accurate minutes and decisions; and
    • an officer lied at a legal planning meeting that led to a court case, saying she had abandoned her child.
  2. Ms X says she and Y suffered distress, that court action was taken by the Council, there was a detrimental impact on Y including a delay to him being able to return home.

Back to top

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. When considering complaints, if there is a conflict of evidence, we make findings based on the balance of probabilities. This means that we will weigh up the available relevant evidence and base our findings on what we think was more likely to have happened.
  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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Ms X and considered the details of her complaint as well as the Council’s response. I reviewed documents sent by the Council and Ms X.
  2. Ms X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

Back to top

What I found

Childrens Services complaints procedure

  1. The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. At stage 2 of this procedure, the Council appoints an Investigating Officer and an Independent Person (who is responsible for overseeing the investigation). If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a stage 3 review.
  2. If a council has investigated something under this procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless he considers that investigation was flawed. However, he may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
  3. The law says a stage 2 investigation should take no more than 25 working days and 65 working days in complex cases.
  4. The law says a complainant must request a review by a stage 3 review panel within 20 days of the stage 2 adjudication. The panel must be held within 30 days of the request for a review. The panel must provide a report within 5 days of being held and the Council must provide its response within a further 15 days.

What happened

  1. In 2005 Ms X adopted Y when he was 11 months old. In 2013 Ms X discovered Y was born with an underdeveloped brain.
  2. In 2014 Y was diagnosed as having ARND, ASD, ADHD and development disorder.
  3. In 2016 an multi-disciplinary assessment was completed, which recommended therapeutic work for Ms X and Y should continue. The Council refused to pay for this. An application for further funding for therapy in 2017 was also declined.
  4. In August 2018 Ms X contacted the Council saying she had asked for help on several occasions, but only received limited help with no clear outcomes or guidelines. The Council offered Ms X family therapy.
  5. In September 2018 Ms X asked the Council to find other accommodation for Y because she was struggling to continue parenting without a change in behaviour.
  6. In October, the Council declined to agree an alternative placement for Y. Ms X asked for foster care to be provided for Y over the half term holidays. Some support was offered by the Council comprising support at home for one week and foster care for the second.
  7. Ms X again asked the Council to accommodate Y. Ms X agreed to a section 20 placement and Y then lived in foster placements from October. There were difficulties in accessing suitable placements for Y. Ms X agreed to review the situation after three months.
  8. In November the Council considered Y’s case and decided to take court action.
  9. The guardian noted recommendations for support and intervention had been made but had not all been implemented so this would need to be considered to ensure the family do get the support they needed. A psychological assessment was requested and completed. The court did not recommend a care order.
  10. In March 2019 Y returned to live with Ms X and the Council agreed further funding for therapy.

Ms X’s complaints

  1. Ms X complained to the Council. Her complaint covered the first six points in paragraph 1. Ms X’s first complaint was dealt with through the statutory children’s complaint process.
  2. Ms X first complained in December 2018. The Council responded in January 2019 and Ms X asked for her complaint to be escalated to stage two.
  3. The stage two investigation report was completed in August 2019. It upheld or partially upheld most of Ms X’s complaint. The Council’s response to the stage two investigation was sent to Ms X in October 2019.
  4. Ms X asked for her complaint to be considered again by the stage three panel. The stage three panel met and considered Ms X’s complaint in October 2020. The Council’s response to the stage three panel’s findings was sent to Ms X in November 2020.
  5. Ms X subsequently made a second separate complaint regarding the final bullet point. Ms X’s second complaint has been investigated by the Ombudsman, with the consent of all parties.


Stage 3 findings and response by the Council

  1. The Council partially upheld the first part of Ms X’s complaint regarding lack of honesty. It agreed that there had been times when it appeared officers had not been honest with Ms X, there was a lack of contact and there was a lack of open and honest communication with Ms X in relation to the support provided to Y.
  2. The Council fully upheld the second part of Ms X’s complaint regarding a lack of clear processes and planning, leading to crisis management. It agreed that:
    • There was limited planning to support Y during late 2018;
    • progress with the placement search and the challenges involved in finding a suitable placement were not shared;
    • Y experienced a high number of placement changes over a short period;
    • Y found the situation unsettling and very difficult to understand and manage;
    • Information on care proceedings/foster care was not shared or shared late.
  3. The Council partially upheld the third part of Ms X’s complaint regarding poor communication. It agreed that:
    • The realistic potential for Y to return home was not well managed;
    • The initial agreement was for Y to be in care for at least three months, which was endorsed by the Accommodation and Resources Panel. However, shortly after he came into care in October 2018, a decision was taken to consider initiating care proceedings for Y. This was contradictory;
    • There is no record that the potential change in the plan for Y was communicated to Ms X;
    • The legal planning discussion was held less than two weeks after Y came into care and this was a very short time to have developed an adequate plan for Y’s longer term care;
    • options for support that were possible and available were not discussed with Ms X.
  4. The Council partially upheld the fourth part of Ms X’s complaint regarding taking into account Y’s needs. It agreed there was no evidence that the Council had met and worked with Ms X or Y to be clear about his placement needs and to explain the difficulties identifying a suitable placement.
  5. The Council fully upheld the fifth part of Ms X’s complaint regarding blaming her and treating her like she was at fault. It agreed that:
    • Ms X had worked hard to successfully parent Y, but she reached a point where this became extremely challenging due to his increasingly complex needs;
    • The lack of a consistent practitioner or social worker allocated to [Ms X and Y] contributed to the lack of coordinated support;
    • the contradictory decision to issue care proceedings for Y was taken within two weeks of him coming into care and allowed insufficient time to provide Ms X and Y with the support needed for Y to safely return home;
    • There was no direct work with Ms X or Y to develop and agree a plan to achieve his return home, or to explain that care proceedings may need to be issued if this reunification plan failed;
    • The decision to issue care proceedings was given to Ms X at a meeting in November 2018. The meeting purpose was not adequately explained and so Ms X was not given the opportunity to bring a supporter with her to the meeting. The meeting was not well managed or supportive and the decision to issue care proceedings was not sensitively communicated;
    • Ms X felt blamed or criticised for her parenting at this meeting;
    • there was also a lack of understanding at the meeting that parenting a child with complex needs can be extremely challenging.
  6. The Council partially upheld the sixth part of Ms X’s complaint regarding recording and sending accurate minutes and decisions. It agreed that:
    • There is no evidence that you were provided with an adequate and timely response that explained why your funding request was not approved;
    • Minutes of meetings were negative in tone and blaming of Ms X’s parenting.
  7. The stage two investigation response was provided after 10 months. The stage three review panel was held 12 months after Ms X’s request. The Council significantly exceeded the statutory timescales. This is fault by the Council.
  8. The Council has accepted it is wholly or partly at fault in respect of each aspect of Ms X’s complaint.
    • The Council has responded to the stage 3 panel’s recommendations and outlined a range of service improvements it has taken.
    • The Council has apologised to Ms X in its stage three response and has offered to pay her £500 for time and trouble.
  9. In addition to the time delays and problems requiring service improvements, the Council has acknowledged significant personal injustice to Ms X and Y in its stage 3 response. Ms X and Y suffered distress. I do not consider the remedy offered to be sufficient in respect of the acknowledged injustice.

Ms X’s second complaint

  1. In October Ms X met with the Council and agreed to a review of arrangements in respect of Y after three months.
  2. In November, panel casenotes show there was an intent to Y to go back to live with Ms X.
  3. Minutes of a legal planning meeting in November show:
    • Ms X is abandoning Y by not wanting to revise the respite care arrangement and only wanting Y to be in care.
    • Ms X views Y as the problem and has refused support packages.
    • Ms X has said she will not have Y back in the home setting.
    • There were concerns regarding the parenting from Ms X to which Y has been exposed to long term.
    • Legal advice was given that the threshold for care proceedings was met due to Ms X abandoning Y by wanting to relinquish parental responsibility of Y.
  4. Y’s care plan dated December 2018 shows:
    • The long term need is Y to have a clear plan of permanency whether this be in extended foster care, or for a rehabilitation plan to be implemented of which the network and the family assess as achievable;
    • Ms X had made multiple requests for additional funding for ongoing support and individual therapy which had been declined by senior management;
    • The purpose of the care arrangements was to allow Y and Ms X separation from each other to allow time to rebuild a positive relationship with each other.
  5. In a meeting between Ms X and the Council in January 2019, Ms X consistently said that Y could return home but not if nothing changes, NOT that he could not return home under any circumstances. She said that she wanted Y to return home after the right support is put in place to help manage.
  6. Court proceedings by the Council were not successful.
  7. An expert psychologist report in May 2019 found:
    • It is clear that the stress built up to an out of control situation last year. Possibly this would have been avoidable had Ms X felt listened to and responded to in her request for support over the summer. Ms X’s experience of having had to battle for appropriate support and understanding throughout Y’s life has been a huge stressor and experienced as an additional trauma, in the context of the experience of loss associated with the gradual realisation of the extent of Y’s needs and the way that the family was going to function.
    • Y has had a mother who has given him consistent care, and who has managed not to reject in response, up until last year when the lack of support led to a total breakdown, and who has fought for his needs to be met. Ms X’s parenting has been protective for him, and it is not the parenting that has led to the difficulties he has, but his extensive neurodevelopmental needs. The parenting has protected him from the development of associated mental health and conduct disorders.
    • Further and well-planned support is needed
  8. The Council’s stage three response shows it accepts that:
    • The decision to issue care proceedings for Y was contradictory to other evidence and allowed insufficient time to provide Ms X and Y with the support needed for Y to safely return home;
    • There was no direct work with Ms X or Y to develop and agree a plan to achieve his return home; and
    • there was also a lack of understanding that parenting a child with complex needs can be extremely challenging.
  9. The legal planning meeting did not consider the full range of information about Ms X and Y. Concerns expressed at the meeting as recorded in the minutes were not factually based. The Council did not act in a joined up manner and considered Ms X’s parenting to be a root cause of problems, which has subsequently been shown to be inaccurate. This is fault by the Council. Ms X and Y were not provided with the support they needed and the Council proceeded to issue care proceedings after seeking legal advice on incomplete and flawed information. Ms X and Y suffered distress and personal outrage.

Back to top

Agreed action

  1. To remedy the additional injustice caused by the fault I have identified, the Council has agreed to take the following action within 4 weeks of this decision:
    • Pay Ms X an additional £500 in respect of distress caused to her;
    • Pay Ms X £1000 in respect of personal outrage; and
    • Pay Y £1000 in respect of distress caused to him.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I have found fault by the Council causing injustice to Ms X and Y. I have now completed my investigation.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page

LGO logogram

Review your privacy settings

Required cookies

These cookies enable the website to function properly. You can only disable these by changing your browser preferences, but this will affect how the website performs.

View required cookies

Analytical cookies

Google Analytics cookies help us improve the performance of the website by understanding how visitors use the site.
We recommend you set these 'ON'.

View analytical cookies

In using Google Analytics, we do not collect or store personal information that could identify you (for example your name or address). We do not allow Google to use or share our analytics data. Google has developed a tool to help you opt out of Google Analytics cookies.

Privacy settings