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Wiltshire Council (20 014 415)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 11 Jan 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council, the police and his child’s school failed to properly deal with his safeguarding concerns about his child’s welfare. Mr X says the matter has caused him significant distress, financial loss and his child continues to be at risk of significant harm. There is no evidence of fault in the way the Council dealt with Mr X’s safeguarding concerns.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council failed to identify and act on the safeguarding concerns he raised about his child’s welfare.
  2. Mr X complains his child’s school and the police also failed to properly act on his safeguarding concerns.
  3. Mr X says the Council’s failings has caused him significant distress and financial loss. Mr X also says the Council has failed to protect his child and he continues to be at risk of significant harm.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated how the Council considered Mr X’s safeguarding concerns about his child’s welfare from 2020.
  2. I have not investigated Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s alleged failure to act on the safeguarding concerns he raised about his child’s welfare prior to May 2020. The complaint is late and it was open to Mr X to make a complaint to the Ombudsman before now. I also do not consider I could carry out a reliable and effective investigation in the events before 2020 due to the passage of time or I could achieve anything for Mr X.
  3. I have not investigated Mr X’s complaint about how the police and his child’s school failed to properly deal with his safeguarding concerns. This is because the Ombudsman cannot investigate the actions of the police and schools.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  3. We investigate complaints about councils and certain other bodies. We cannot investigate the actions of bodies such as the police authority. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 25 and 34A, as amended)
  4. We cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b), as amended)
  5. 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)
  6. 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 discussed the complaint with Mr X and considered the information he provided. I considered the information the Council provided in response to my enquiries.
  2. I sent Mr X and the Council a copy of my draft decision and considered the comments and additional information received before reaching a final decision.

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What I found

Legislation and Guidance

  1. Anyone with concerns about a child’s welfare can make a referral to a local authority.
  2. When cases involve parallel criminal and child protection investigations, a police investigation will focus on whether there is sufficient evidence to prove that a crime has been committed. Whereas child protection enquiries seek to establish whether a child is at risk of significant harm.
  3. The Children Act 1989 and statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children sets out a council’s responsibilities to safeguard children.
  4. Councils have a duty to make enquiries where a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. The enquiries must establish the child’s situation and determine whether protective action is required. (Section 47 Children Act 1989)
  5. The Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) team makes assessment of the risk to a child and decides on what to do to best protect the child. To make an informed decision, MASH gathers information from partner agencies, children and their families. The most appropriate intervention is agreed in response to the child or young person’s identified needs.
  6. If a council considers there is or may be significant harm being caused to a child, it must take further action. If a council decides the child is not at risk of significant harm, it may take no further action. It may also refer a child, or family for other services or assistance depending on the circumstances.
  7. Where there are more complex needs, the Council may offer a service under section 17 (child in need) or section 47 (child protection) of the Children Act 1989.

What happened

  1. This chronology includes key events in this case and does not cover everything that happened.
  2. Mr X and his ex-partner have two children together.
  3. Mr X is separated from his ex-partner. Mr X no longer lives with his ex-partner and their children. There is no order against Mr X which prevents him from making contact with his children but they do not want contact with him.
  4. In May 2020, Mr X reported to the police that he had been a victim of domestic abuse and he raised safeguarding concerns, in particular about his second child’s, Y, welfare. Mr X said the offender was his ex-partner and alleged she had a mental health condition. Mr X said she had turned the children against him and prevented him from seeing them. The police considered the two cases Mr X reported to it were old domestic abuse cases from 2017 and 2018. It considered Mr X’s report was not a criminal complaint and was not an immediate safeguarding concern.
  5. The following day, MASH considered Mr X’s safeguarding concerns. It said Mr X did not raise any specific concerns about Y’s welfare. MASH explained the issue of Mr X’s ex-partner preventing him from seeing the children was a matter for the courts and he could seek legal advice. MASH rejected Mr X’s safeguarding concerns referral. It concluded no further action was necessary.
  6. Mr X disagreed with the police and MASH’s rejections of his referral. He said the police failed to properly act on his concerns in 2017 and 2018. Mr X said that its failure did not help the safeguarding situation and he had not had contact with his children for years. Mr X asked the Council to call a Child Protection Conference (CPC) in relation to Y because the issues were ongoing.
  7. The Council contacted Mr X to discuss his concerns further. Mr X explained he believed Y had been experiencing psychological abuse from his ex-partner due to her controlling behaviour since his previous report to the police in 2017. Mr X also said he believed it may be caused by Y’s lack of contact with him. He maintained the Council should investigate the matter and start a CPC process. The Council explained the MASH assessment and CPC processes to Mr X. It explained Mr X’s current information did not meet the threshold to start a CPC process.
  8. Mr X submitted additional evidence to support his safeguarding concerns about Y. This included emails, messages and social media conversations between him and Y, also messages between Mr X and his ex-partner.
  9. The Council acknowledged the evidence showed the extent of communication breakdown between Mr X and his ex-partner which likely caused distress to Y. But it did not consider the issue affected the support and safeguarding needs of Y. The Council said the messages Y sent to Mr X were in 2017 about his mother hurting him which Y later denied. It said it records showed Mr X did not report the matter to the Council’s children’s services at the time.
  10. The Council said it had received no welfare concerns from Y’s school. It said records showed Y was distressed two years ago when the police spoke with him about the impact the dispute between Mr X and his ex-partner had on him. The Council decided not to make direct contact with Y to discuss the safeguarding concerns Mr X raised as it might cause him further distress. It considered Y’s school was a trusted and safe environment, so the Council asked the school to discuss the matter with Y to gain his views. The Council told Y’s school to inform it of any safeguarding concerns about Y.
  11. The Council concluded there was not enough evidence to suggest significant harm was caused to Y or there were current support needs which required it to start a section 17 assessment. It maintained its decision that no further action was required. The Council advised Mr X and his ex-partner to consider mediation or legal proceedings to resolve any outstanding issues between them. This was because the Council believed it would have a positive effect on Y. The Council told Mr X to make a formal complaint if he remained dissatisfied with its decision.
  12. Y’s school confirmed to the Council it had no safeguarding concerns about Y.
  13. In January 2021, the Council received further evidence from Mr X. He submitted a handwritten note to the Council and the police which he said Y wrote in 2017. The note showed Y allegedly suffered abuse from Mr X’s ex-partner in 2017. The Council said Mr X had not seen Y in the last two years and he had limited evidence of recent impact on Y. The Council investigated the content of the handwritten note. It was satisfied Y was not at risk of significant harm and found he appeared to be more settled. It confirmed Y had regular support at school to express any concerns he may have which the school would continue to monitor. The Council agreed there was no further action required.
  14. On 14 January 2021, Mr X made a formal complaint to the Council. He complained the Council failed to properly investigate his safeguarding concerns about Y. Mr X said the Council did not directly speak with Y and he disagreed with the Council’s reason that discussing the matter with Y would cause him further distress. He said the Council passed its responsibility to Y’s school. Mr X said the Council failed to discharge its responsibility to protect Y as he continued to be at risk of further abuse from his ex-partner. Mr X said the dates of the evidence he provided in support of his concerns were irrelevant. This was because the situation was still ongoing and the content of Y’s messages was enough for the Council to start a section 47 process. Mr X complained the Council did not allow him to submit further evidence before it closed his case. He said he did not believe mediation and family law were suitable remedies to resolve his safeguarding concerns.
  15. In the Council’s stage 1 and 2 responses to Mr X’s complaint, it maintained it properly considered and investigated Mr X’s safeguarding concerns about Y. The Council confirmed it found no evidence to support Mr X’s allegation that his ex‑partner was emotionally abusing Y. As a result, it was decided it was not proportionate to undertake further intervention with the case.
  16. Mr X remained dissatisfied with the Council’s responses to his complaint. Mr X made a complaint to the Ombudsman.

Analysis

  1. The Council is required by law to consider and make enquiries upon receipt of information indicating a child is suffering or likely to suffer harm. The enquiries must establish the child’s situation and determine whether further protective action is required. I cannot disclose some confidential information to Mr X as it contains third party information. But from the evidence seen, I am satisfied the Council took appropriate action in dealing with Mr X’s safeguarding concerns about Y’s welfare. It made enquiries with partner agencies and relevant persons in assessing the risk to Y.
  2. I appreciate Mr X disagrees with the Council’s decision, but the Ombudsman cannot question the Council’s professional judgement when we have found no fault in how it reached its decision.

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Final decision

  1. I find no evidence of fault by the Council in how it dealt with Mr X’s safeguarding concerns about Y’s welfare.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I have not investigated matters prior to May 2020, the actions of the police and Y’s school as stated in paragraphs 5 and 6 above.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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