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Central Bedfordshire Council (20 012 679)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 27 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We discontinued our investigation. The Council considered Miss C’s complaint and made recommendations. Further investigation is unlikely to achieve a different outcome.

The complaint

  1. Miss C complains about two assessments carried out in 2019 and 2020. She says the assessments contained inaccurate information, missed other important information out and were biased and unbalanced.
  2. She also complains about the decision to convene a child protection conference and some of the Councils actions in relation to the conference.
  3. Miss C says she has suffered distress because of the way the Council has treated her throughout the assessments and conference process.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’, which we call ‘fault’. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint, which we call ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We do not start or continue an investigation if we decide:
  • we could not add to any previous investigation by the organisation; or
  • further investigation would not lead to a different outcome.

(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

  1. 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 to Miss C and considered the information she provided with her complaint. I made enquiries with the Council and considered its response along with relevant law and guidance.
  2. Miss C and the Council had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I carefully considered all the comments I received before making my final decision.

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What I found

Law and guidance

Statutory 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. The accompanying statutory guidance, Getting the Best from Complaints, explains councils’ responsibilities in more detail.
  2. The handling and consideration of complaints consists of three stages:
    • Stage 1 - local resolution
    • Stage 2 – investigation
    • Stage 3 - review panel
  3. At stage two of the procedure, councils appoint an investigating officer (IO) and an independent person (IP) who is responsible for overseeing the investigation. If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage two investigation, they can ask for a stage three review by an independent panel.
  4. The Ombudsman would normally expect a council and complainant to follow the full complaints procedure. The guidance sets out the circumstances in which a complaint can be referred to the Ombudsman without completing all three stages. This can only happen when the stage two investigation is robust with all complaints upheld. Councils must show they agree to meet most of the complainant’s desired outcomes and have a clear action plan for delivery.

What happened

  1. In January 2020 Miss C complained to the Council about assessments and meetings that were part of a child in need process.
  2. The Council responded using its corporate complaint process. In August 2020 it provided its final response and upheld some parts of Miss C’s complaint. It made recommendations in respect of the issues it identified.
  3. In September 2020 Miss C complained about the Councils decision to hold a child protection conference. She also complained about the report that was prepared for conference and how the process was managed.
  4. The Council considered her complaint through its corporate complaint process and provided a final response in March 2021. The Council upheld some of Miss C’s complaint and made further recommendations.
  5. Miss C was unhappy with the Council’s response to her complaints and complained to the Ombudsman.
  6. The Council said the complaint was about the assessments and the offer to add an addendum was proportionate. It said the content of the reports is a matter of professional judgement for the social worker.

My findings

  1. Miss C’s core complaint issues stem from the Council’s decisions and actions during its assessment process.
  2. The Council wrongly used its corporate complaint process instead of the statutory process. However, I have reviewed the complaint investigation and recommendations and I did not have any concerns about the way the investigation was carried out and the recommendations were proportionate.
  3. I do not think further investigation would achieve a different outcome.

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Final decision

  1. I discontinued my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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