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Suffolk County Council (20 012 173)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 26 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not and cannot investigate Mr X’s complaint that the Council failed to carry out a detailed investigation into his child protection report in July 2020. We cannot investigate the same issues a Court is considering and it is unlikely we would find fault in the Council’s decision to taken no further action.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, says the Council failed to properly investigate his child safeguarding allegation. He says this meant he has not seen his child for more than six months.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We have the power to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we think the issues could reasonably be, or have been, raised within a court of law. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)
  3. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by 'maladministration' and 'service failure'. I have used the word 'fault' to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information Mr X provided with his complaint and the Council’s replies to him which it provided. Mr X had the opportunity to comment on a draft version of this decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr X says that in early July 2020 he contacted the Council’s children services team because he was concerned that his child, B, had a mark which he believed was caused by B’s mother. He says he was told that a Council officer would visit B and their mother. Mr X says he heard no more and complained to the Council three weeks later.
  2. The Council says B’s school contacted it about the mark before Mr X. It says an officer tried to call Mr X before he contacted it. It says it has no record showing the officer who Mr X spoke to promised a home visit.
  3. The Council replied to Mr X’s complaint in mid August. It explained what it believed had happened. It said Mr X could have not returned B to their mother if he did not feel B was safe there. It noted that Mr X had applied to court for it to decide B’s care arrangements.

Analysis

  1. We cannot investigate the same issues a Court is considering. It is considering B’s care. It can order the Council to carry out a more detailed child protection assessment if it believes it necessary.
  2. The Council could not have prevented Mr X’s contact with B as it did not have parental responsibility for B. It is for B’s parents or the Court to determine this.
  3. B’s mother’s care of B, including any harm she may have caused B, will inevitably be part of the Court’s consideration.
  4. Given Mr X has applied to Court it is unlikely our investigation would find fault in the Council’s decision to take no further action in July.

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Final decision

  1. We will not and cannot investigate this complaint. This is because we cannot investigate the same issues a Court is considering and it is unlikely we would find fault with the Council’s decision to take no further action in July 2020.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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