Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 24 Nov 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained about the Council’s actions before during and after he began caring for his grandchildren. He says the Council’s remedy for these fault is inadequate. The Council is at fault and has caused injustice. The Council has agreed financial remedies and a fresh review of the Council’s decisions in the period before the children moved to stay with Mr X.
- The complainant, who I refer to here as Mr X, complained about the Council’s actions before and after he began caring for his grandchildren, including provision of incorrect information, a lack of support, failure to keep appropriate records and a failure to complete an adequate viability assessment. The Council has investigated these complaints and accepted some fault.
- Mr X now complains about the time it took for the Council to accept its fault and that the remedy offered – an apology – is inadequate given the distress and expense caused. He lacks confidence that the Council has learned lessons from his experience. He also complains that the Council has failed to share information with him.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information provided by Mr X and the Council. I have shared this draft statement with Mr X and the Council and considered their comments before finalising my decision.
What I found
The Government’s guidance on kinship care
- Statutory guidance, Family and Friends Care, sets a framework for provision of support where children are brought up by members of their extended family or friends because their parents can no longer care for them. It covers children who are living with family member in informal arrangements over the short and long term where the family member does not have parental responsibility for the child.
- It states that a local authority has a duty to assess informal arrangements if it thinks services are necessary to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child in need of additional support.
- The guidance further states that where family members are caring for a child who would otherwise be looked after, “it is essential that proper recognition and effective support are given to ensure the carers are able to safeguard the child and promote his or her welfare”.
- Mr and Mrs X are parents of Z who has young children. Safeguarding concerns were raised about the way Z was caring for the children. After investigation, the Council decided the children were at risk of significant harm. It placed the children on a child protection plan, which set out the steps to be taken to keep them safe. In early October 2020, after the Council decided the children could not safely stay in the sole care of Z, the children moved into Mr and Mrs X’s home. Concerns then emerged about Mr and Mrs X’s care for the children. The Council obtained a court order which allowed it to remove their grandchildren from their care. In mid-November 2020 the Council placed the children with foster carers.
- Mr X complained the Council had failed to properly support him during the placement. He believed the Council had removed the children from Z’s care and placed in his care. But the Council said the children were not in its care and this was a family arrangement. Mr X said the Council’s actions caused him distress and mental health problems.
- The Council considered the complaint under the statutory procedure for complaints about children’s services. This is a three-stage process. The stage 3 panel said there were several issues which indicated Mr X’s home was not a safe or appropriate place for the children given they were on a child protection plan and the Council did not complete an adequate viability assessment. It said the Council seemed to consider that as this was a family arrangement it did not have to complete a proper risk assessment, but this was incorrect. The panel felt the children had been left at potential risk and Mr and Mrs X were set up to fail. There was also no information to show a support plan had been agreed.
- The process failed to reach a conclusive answer about what Mr X was told about the placement of the children with him as the social worker had failed to record the conversation. The stage 3 panel noted that where an absence of social worker notes had been observed earlier in the investigation, this had not been rectified by the time the investigation concluded.
- The Council agreed to apologise that the initial support it provided was inadequate and for the distress caused. It also sent Mr X a cheque for £229.37 to cover the cost of a stair gate, highchair and travel cot he had purchased during the children’s stay. Finally, it reminded staff of their duties to children at risk and, where failings in supervision have been found, to monitor any improvements.
- The Council also carried out a review of the events leading up to the children being placed with Mr and Mrs X. The review said that Mr and Mrs X were initially asked if they would supervise the children’s mother. However, the children’s mother decided against this and the children moved to stay with Mr and Mrs X instead. It said the children moved in with Mr and Mrs X as a family arrangement and that alternatives would have included taking the matter to court to seek an interim care order. The review did not investigate Mr and Mrs X’s understanding of the situation.
- Mr X was not satisfied with this remedy. He told me he would like compensation for the distress suffered and the time he had taken in complaining to the Council before it had accepted its faults. He said he was not confident the Council had learned its lessons.
- In my view, an apology was insufficient for the distress caused. I recommended the Council agree to pay Mr X £400 to remedy his distress and for his time and trouble in making the complaint. This was calculated with reference to the Ombudsman’s guidance on remedies, the relatively short time period involved and Mr X’s vulnerabilities. The Council agreed to this. It also agreed to pay Mr X £150 towards the cost of replacing a bed damaged by one of the children.
- The Council also agreed that a senior manager who is independent of the matters concerned will carry out a fresh review of the events leading up to the placement of the children. This will refer to the statutory guidance on kinship care and consider:
- What the Council should have done in respect of assessing Mr and Mrs X given the children were on a child protection plan;
- What initial support should have been put in place; and
- How similar situations should be explained to families in future to ensure there is no confusion in their minds as to the nature of the move and the support they can expect.
- The Council has agreed that:
- Within one month of my final decision it will pay Mr X £400 to remedy his distress and for his time and trouble; and
- £150 towards the cost of a replacement bed; and
- Within three months of my final decision the Council will carry out a fresh review of its decisions in the period before the children’s move to Mr X and to send the findings to Mr X, the Ombudsman and to all relevant staff.
- I have completed my investigation with a finding of fault by the Council which has caused injustice. The Council has agreed financial remedies and a fresh review.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I did not investigate Mr X’s complaints about information sharing as these are matters for the Information Commissioner.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman