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Devon County Council (21 013 022)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 12 Jun 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We have discontinued our investigation into Mr B’s complaint about the Council’s child protection social worker. The Council has accepted its mistakes and offered remedies. We cannot achieve the additional outcomes Mr B wants.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr B, complains about how the Council conducted a child protection enquiry and plan. He also complains about the conduct and decision-making of his children’s social worker.
  2. Mr B says the social worker’s report to the initial child protection conference was inadequate and full of errors. He also raises a number of issues with her attitude and behaviour. He feels this was evidence of deliberate victimisation of himself and his family.
  3. Mr B says he and his wife were denied advocacy, despite requesting it more than once and despite needing it because of mental health issues.
  4. Mr B says the Council’s actions amounted to disability discrimination, which caused him distress. He wants the Council to amend its records and take action against the social worker.

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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 may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
  • we could not add to any previous investigation by the organisation, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint.

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

  1. We normally expect someone to refer the matter to the Information Commissioner if they have a complaint about data protection. However, we may decide to investigate if we think there are good reasons. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. The Ombudsman cannot investigate whether social workers are meeting their professional standards of conduct. Complaints of this nature should be referred to the social workers’ professional body, Social Work England.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information from Mr B and the Council. Both parties 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 happened

  1. Mr B made a complaint directly to the Council before approaching the Ombudsman, and the Council responded in November 2021.
  2. In its response, the Council accepted fault for the substantive elements of Mr B’s complaint. It said:
    • its social worker was wrong to deny Mr B access to advocacy.
    • it could have worked with Mr B and his family differently, and, if it had, this may have meant a child protection plan was unnecessary.
    • concerns about Mr B’s children decreased after a change in social worker. The new social worker had a better relationship with Mr B.
  3. The Council apologised to Mr B. It said it would produce a guide for staff to clarify when and how to arrange adult advocacy. It also said it had put a new training regime in place for staff which would hopefully prevent similar issues happening again in future. However, it said it could not amend professional records.
  4. Mr B was dissatisfied with this response. He said he wanted inaccurate and misleading records amending or deleting. He also said the Council’s response failed to say what action would be taken against the social worker for her mistakes. He approached the Ombudsman.

My findings

  1. As the Council has already accepted its failings in Mr B’s case, and has offered an apology and reasonable service improvements, there is little I can add to its conclusions.
  2. I have, however, considered whether it would be proportionate to make additional recommendations to remedy any remaining injustice Mr B may have.
  3. Mr B wants records amended or deleted, and wants action taken against the social worker. I make no comment on whether these are reasonable requests in the circumstances, because both are matters for consideration by other bodies, not the Ombudsman.
  4. Mr B has, under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the right to request the rectification or deletion of records. He can approach the Council and ask this directly. If he is dissatisfied with the Council’s response, he can refer the matter to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which is best-placed to deal with such complaints.
  5. The Ombudsman is also unable to investigate complaints about staff conduct, because we do not comment on or get involved with disciplinary procedures.
  6. Social Work England is the professional body for social workers and deals with concerns about fitness to practise. If Mr B wants to pursue his complaints about the social worker’s conduct he can approach Social Work England directly.
  7. As I could not add anything to the Council’s conclusions on Mr B’s complaint, and as I cannot achieve the additional outcomes he wants, I will discontinue my investigation.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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