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London Borough of Bexley (21 002 050)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 14 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B says the Council failed to properly consider a child protection concern he raised and, in investigating that referral, failed to properly involve him and produced a biased report. There is no fault by the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr B, complained the Council:
    • failed to engage with him or seek his evidence when investigating a safeguarding concern he raised;
    • failed to consider evidence from the GP about the safeguarding concerns he raised;
    • failed to properly investigate the safeguarding concern and instead made comments about his actions which were not supported by the evidence;
    • acted partially towards his ex-partner and produced a biased report;
    • misrepresented facts in the child and family assessment;
    • failed to consult him before removing his children from school and arranging for them to move to another area: and
    • failed to consider the evidence he provided when responding to his complaint.
  2. Mr B says the Council’s actions have caused him significant distress and have resulted in him being separated from his children.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a Council’s decision is right or wrong simply because Mr B disagrees with it. He must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
  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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint and Mr B's comments;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided.
  2. Mr B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

What should have happened

  1. The Government has produced guidance for councils on safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children: the Working Together to Safeguard Children guidance (the guidance).
  2. The guidance says assessments are intended to:
    • gather important information about a child and family;
    • analyse their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child;
    • decide whether the child is a child in need (under section 17 of the Children Act 1989) or is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm (under section 47 of the Children Act 1989); and
    • provide support to address those needs to improve the child's outcomes and welfare and where necessary to make them safe.
  3. The guidance says every assessment should draw together relevant information gathered from the child and their family and from relevant practitioners including teachers and school staff, early years workers, health practitioners, the police and adult social care.
  4. The guidance says the social worker should analyse all the information gathered from the assessment to decide the nature and level of the child's needs and the level of risk, if any, they may be facing.
  5. The special educational needs code of practice (the code) says where a child or young person moves to another local authority, the 'old' authority must transfer the education, health and care plan (EHCP) to the 'new' authority. The old authority must transfer the EHCP to the new authority on the day of the move, unless the old authority has not been provided with 15 working days' notice of the move. In that case the old authority must transfer the EHCP within 15 working days beginning with the day on which it became aware.

What happened

  1. At the time of the events complained of Mr B was living with his ex-partner and their three children. One of the children has learning difficulties and has an EHCP.
  2. On 3 September 2020 Mr B contacted the Council as he was concerned about his ex-partner’s mental health, aggression and neglectful care of the children. Mr B reported when his son returned from holiday he had three lacerations on his leg which his ex-partner had concealed. The Council began a child and family assessment. As part of that assessment the social worker visited Mr B’s ex-partner and the children.
  3. An incident took place at Mr B’s home on 22 September. Both Mr B and his ex-partner called the police to report that the other had been violent. The children were present. The police attended and arrested Mr B but released him the following day without charge.
  4. Mr B’s ex-partner and her children moved into another local authority area. As part of that move the Council arranged for Mr B’s son’s EHCP to be transferred to the new local authority.
  5. The Council’s social worker spoke to Mr B on 25 September.
  6. On 21 October the Council completed the child and family assessment and recommended the case be closed as the family had moved out of the area. The Council did not identify any evidence to suggest the children were at risk in Mr B’s ex-partner’s care.
  7. Mr B put in a complaint in November 2020. The Council responded to that in January 2021 and apologised for the delay. Mr B was not happy with the Council’s response and put in a further complaint on 15 February. The Council responded to that on 12 March. The Council did not uphold the complaint.

Analysis

  1. Mr B says the Council failed to engage with him or seek his evidence when investigating a concern he raised about his ex-partner’s parenting of their children. Having considered the documentary evidence I am satisfied the child and family assessment included Mr B’s representations detailing his concerns. I therefore have no evidence to suggest the Council failed to engage with Mr B. There is nothing in the documentary evidence I have seen to suggest Mr B told the Council he wanted to provide more evidence regarding the safeguarding concern he had raised before it reached its conclusions. I therefore have no grounds to criticise the Council.
  2. In reaching that view I recognise Mr B is concerned the social worker did not include him in the home visit which took place on 15 September. While I understand Mr B’s concern, it would not be usual for the person making the referral to be present at a home visit to assess the parenting capacity of one of the parents, even if the referrer is the second parent. In any event, the purpose of that visit was primarily to assess the safety of the children, taking into account the parenting capacity of Mr B’s ex-partner. I do not consider failing to include Mr B in that visit is fault. As I said in the previous paragraph, I am satisfied the Council obtained Mr B’s views and comments as part of the assessment process and I therefore have no grounds to criticise it.
  3. Mr B says the Council failed to consider evidence from the GP relating to his safeguarding concern. I am satisfied as part of the child and family assessment the Council contacted the professionals involved with Mr B’s family. That included the family GP. I am satisfied the child and family assessment set out in detail the comments made by the GP. I therefore could not say the Council had failed to consider evidence from the GP.
  4. Mr B says the Council failed to properly investigate the safeguarding concern he raised and instead made comments about his actions which were not supported by the evidence. In particular, Mr B says the Council substituted his allegation of child abuse by his ex-partner for his ex-partner’s allegation of domestic violence. Mr B is particularly concerned about that because he says the allegation of domestic violence was unfounded.
  5. Having considered the child and family assessment I am satisfied the Council properly investigated the safeguarding concern Mr B raised. As part of the assessment of that concern a social worker met with Mr B’s ex-partner and observed her interaction with the children. The social worker also obtained updates from the professionals involved with the family. None of those updates raised any concerns about Mr B’s ex-partner’s relationship with the children. After considering the evidence the Council decided the concerns raised by Mr B were unsubstantiated. I recognise Mr B is likely to strongly disagree with that view. However, as I said in paragraph 3, it is not the Ombudsman’s role to comment on the merits of an officer’s judgement unless there is evidence of fault in how that judgement has been reached. I have found no evidence of fault here.
  6. I recognise though the child and family assessment referred to the concerns Mr B’s ex-partner raised about alleged domestic violence from Mr B towards her. That does not mean though the Council substituted that allegation for Mr B’s allegation of child abuse. As I said in the previous paragraph, I am satisfied the child and family assessment shows Mr B’s concerns were properly investigated. I cannot criticise the Council though for recording the issues raised by Mr B’s ex-partner. I also consider it likely even if the ex-partner had not raised those concerns the child and family assessment would have had to address them. That is because there was a domestic violence incident during the period of the assessment. The Council’s responsibility here was to ensure the children were safe and protected. It was therefore not fault for the Council to deal with the allegations raised by Mr B’s ex-partner about the recent incident as it had a responsibility to ensure the children were safe.
  7. I am satisfied though the Council expressed its concerns in the assessment about the difficult relationship between the two parents and the children witnessing that, rather than concentrating on who was responsible for any alleged violence. I am therefore satisfied in considering those issues the Council’s approach was even handed and there is no evidence of bias against Mr B. The child and family assessment set out the allegations made by Mr B’s ex-partner but also recorded Mr B’s contention that he had suffered domestic violence from his ex-partner. The assessment also made clear both parties had contacted the police about the domestic violence incident that occurred during the assessment. I am therefore satisfied both that the Council dealt with the domestic violence issue properly and that its approach was even handed. I therefore have no grounds to criticise it.
  8. Mr B says the Council acted partially towards his ex-partner which means it produced a biased report. Mr B points out the social worker met with his ex-partner but did not meet with him. In contrast the Council says the social worker asked to meet with Mr B but he did not provide details for his availability. I have found no evidence to support the Council’s position here. However, having considered the child and family assessment I am satisfied in producing that report the social worker contacted Mr B to obtain his views. I say that because the report goes into detail about what Mr B said. I am therefore satisfied although the social worker did not meet with Mr B this did not mean that the Council failed to consider Mr B’s point of view. I am satisfied it did. It is also clear Mr B provided a written outline of his concerns to inform the Council’s assessment. I am satisfied the child and family assessment is even handed in its discussion of Mr B and his ex-partner and I have found no evidence of bias.
  9. Mr B says the Council misrepresented facts in the child and family assessment. Mr B is referring here to the nature of the domestic violence incident that occurred during the assessment. Mr B says it was his ex-partner that was the instigator of the violence and the police found no evidence of him perpetrating domestic violence against his ex-partner. As I said earlier, I am satisfied the child and family assessment records there was a domestic violence incident during the assessment. I am also satisfied the assessment set out that Mr B and his ex-partner had made counter allegations about who was responsible for that incident. There is nothing in the child and family assessment to suggest the Council misrepresented any facts in relation to that domestic violence incident. The assessment does not attribute blame for the domestic violence incident and it is clear the Council’s concern was not who perpetrated the domestic violence but the fact it was accepted a physical altercation took place and the children were present. In those circumstances it was right for the Council to include what had happened in the assessment given its responsibility was to ensure the children were safe. I am satisfied the assessment is clear the Council’s concern related to the poor relationship between the parents and did not attribute blame to one or the other. I am therefore satisfied the Council has not misrepresented facts in the child and family assessment.
  10. Mr B says the Council failed to consult him before it removed his children from school and arranged for them to move to another area. I understand Mr B’s concern about not having access to his children. However, the documentary evidence shows it was Mr B’s ex-partner that decided to pursue a move to another area rather than the Council. In those circumstances I cannot criticise the Council for providing its assistance, particularly given it had concerns about the impact the parent’s relationship was having on the children. As it was Mr B’s ex-partner’s decision to move it was not the Council’s responsibility to consult Mr B. In any event, I would not expect the Council to do that when there was a potential safety issue. As I set out in paragraph 11, the Council then had a responsibility to transfer the EHCP for the child moving into another local authority’s area.
  11. Mr B says the Council failed to consider the evidence he provided when responding to his complaint. I am satisfied Mr B submitted two complaints - a stage one complaint and stage two complaint. I have considered the comments Mr B provided in both complaints and the Council’s response to those complaints. I have found no evidence to suggest the Council failed to consider what Mr B had said or the evidence he provided. Clearly the Council takes a different view of what happened in this case to that taken by Mr B. However, for the reasons I have set out in this statement I have found no fault by the Council.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and do not uphold the complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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