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Bedford Borough Council (20 013 075)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 02 Aug 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We cannot investigate a complaint about the accuracy of information in the Council’s records. This is because the records either form part of a court report, or reflected allegations made by other bodies which are not in our jurisdiction. The Council was at fault because it did not provide the complainant with copies of meeting minutes in a timely way, but it has already addressed this. We have therefore completed our investigation.

The complaint

  1. I will refer to the complainant as Mr B.
  2. Mr B complains:
  • a social worker has told lies about his conduct and behaviour; and
  • the Council has failed to circulate copies of the minutes of meetings.

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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. 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)
  3. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. This includes the preparation and content of reports which a council has produced at the court’s request. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
  4. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. We cannot investigate the actions of bodies such as schools or the police. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 25 and 34A, as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I reviewed Mr B’s correspondence with the Council.
  2. I also shared a draft copy of this decision with each party for their comments.

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What I found

  1. Mr B is involved in private law proceedings with his former partner, concerning their daughter.
  2. On 17 July 2020, Mr B emailed the Council saying he wished to make a complaint about his daughter’s allocated social worker, whom he accused of “acting as legal advice” and lying. The Council emailed Mr B back the same day, to say it had tried to call him to discuss this but had had no answer.
  3. Mr B emailed the Council again on 24 July, alleging he had had no response to his first email. He said he would now put his complaint in writing.
  4. Mr B said the social worker had told several lies about him. These were:
  • that he had been “extremely angry” when he arrived at school to collect his daughter on one occasion;
  • that he had attended his former partner’s home in a similar mood in December 2019, again after being asked to collect his daughter from school;
  • that his daughter had said she did not know where she would be staying from day-to-day;
  • that he was being “guarded” about his current partner; and
  • that he would threaten and intimidate his former partner.
  1. Mr B asked for more information on these allegations. He also said the social worker was more concerned with his response to the section 7 (s7) report she had prepared, than his daughter’s welfare, and that she had told him he should have attended a court hearing. Mr B also considered the social worker had convinced his former partner to change her mind about the outcome of a court hearing, which she had originally been satisfied with.
  2. Mr B said he had made recordings of phone calls which supported his allegations.
  3. The Council provided its stage one response on 29 September. It said:
  • the school had informed the Council that Mr B had been extremely angry when he arrived to collect his daughter. The school had explained this in a letter addressed to Mr B on 9 July. Mr B had had an opportunity to discuss this allegation during a Child in Need (CIN) meeting on 2 July;
  • Mr B’s daughter had told the social worker she did not know when she was to spend time with each parent. The social worker had discussed this with Mr B during a phone call on 14 July;
  • the social worker had asked Mr B for details of his new partner and their child, for the purposes of the s7 report she was preparing. Mr B had had the opportunity to respond to the report in court;
  • the police had attended alleged domestic abuse incidents between Mr B and his former partner, for example in December 2019. Mr B’s behaviour had been recorded as threatening and intimidating. The social worker had reflected the police records in the s7 report;
  • the social worker’s duty was to represent Mr B’s daughter’s interests, not his or his former partner’s. The social worker was entitled to express her views to either parent.
  1. The Council did not uphold Mr B’s complaint.
  2. Mr B escalated his complaint to stage two on 30 September. He reiterated he had recordings of several of the conversations in question.
  3. The Council provided its stage two response on 5 January. It apologised for the delay, which it explained was because it had decided to undertake a full review of the file. The Council said it had listened to various recordings Mr B had provided, but some were unclear and others were inaccessible.
  4. The Council noted the dates of various CIN and Core Group meetings, and accepted the social worker had not provided Mr B with copies of the minutes within five working days, as was the Council’s policy; and that, in two cases, it did not appear Mr B had received the minutes at all.
  5. The Council upheld this element of Mr B’s complaint. It apologised and said it would remind staff to ensure they provided copies of minutes in a timely manner in future. It also said it would ensure Mr B received the minutes of the two meetings which it had not yet provided.
  6. However, the Council did not uphold Mr B’s complaint about the social worker’s alleged lies. This was because it was satisfied the stage one response had been appropriate.
  7. The Council noted Mr B had raised a further point, which was that the social worker had been present at his former partner’s home during a child protection conference. The Council said this had been agreed in advance, because it was standard practice for parents to each be supported by a social worker when they were in separate venues. The Council said a different social worker had supported Mr B.
  8. Mr B had also requested he be given as much notice as possible of any future meetings. The Council said the social worker had been notifying Mr B of the dates of meetings as soon as they were arranged. However, it has also agreed to change his daughter’s social worker, at his request.
  9. The Council said it had noted there had only been a small number of visits to Mr B. The social worker had explained this was because Mr B’s daughter was normally with her mother. The Council said it had asked the new social worker to make more visits to Mr B, even if his daughter was not there.
  10. The Council explained it had now completed its complaints procedure, and referred Mr B to the Ombudsman if he wished to pursue his complaint further.
  11. Mr B complained to the Ombudsman on 2 March.

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Legislative background

Section 7 reports

  1. As part of private law proceedings involving children, the court may ask the Council to produce a s7 report. The court will then consider the report as part of its decision making.
  2. Because s7 reports form part of court proceedings, we have no jurisdiction to investigate their preparation or content.

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Analysis

  1. There are two broad aspects to Mr B’s complaint. I will address each in turn.

Alleged lies by the social worker

  1. Mr B says his daughter’s social worker has lied about his behaviour and conduct.
  2. The Council has explained some of the alleged lies form part of the s7 report the social worker was preparing. Regardless of any other consideration, the law says this means I cannot investigate it. Any concerns Mr B had about the contents of the report were a matter for him to address in court.
  3. The information I have does not make entirely clear the context of the other alleged lies – for example, that Mr B had been angry when he collected his daughter from school.
  4. However, I note this allegation was made by the school, and that the Council simply reflected it in its own records. The same is true of the allegations about domestic abuse, which it appears the Council has taken from police records.
  5. Our role is to ensure the Council has followed the correct administrative procedures. To this end, we could not generally find fault with the Council for relying on information provided by other professional bodies.
  6. And it is not for me to investigate or come to a view on the accuracy of the allegations themselves. If Mr B wishes to continue to dispute the accuracy of the allegations, this is better addressed by the school and police respectively.
  7. I have discontinued my investigation of this element of Mr B’s complaint.

Copies of meeting minutes

  1. The Council has acknowledged it had not sent Mr B copies of meeting minutes within the five working days required by its policy. It also acknowledged it had failed to provide the minutes at all in two cases.
  2. This is fault, and, as Mr B was entitled to see the minutes, I consider this represents an injustice to him.
  3. However, I am satisfied the Council has taken steps to remedy this, both by providing the missing minutes, and also reminding staff of the need to provide them in a timely fashion. We would not recommend anything further here.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation with a finding of fault causing injustice, but which the Council has already remedied.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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