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Brighton & Hove City Council (21 015 276)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 20 Jun 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was no fault in how the Council dealt with Miss B’s allegation that she was sexually assaulted by a social worker. The Council has no record of Miss B reporting this before 2019, by which point the social worker – who had left to work for a different authority several years before – had been jailed for making indecent images of children. When the Council did hear Miss B’s allegation in 2019, it referred the matter to the Police and provided her with support. Its actions were satisfactory.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I refer to as Miss B, complains that, when she was 15 years old, her social worker sexually assaulted her. She says she reported this to the Council in 2013 (when she was 17), but nothing was done.
  2. Miss B says the same social worker was central to her own children subsequently being taken into care. She says he was ‘covering his tracks’ by undermining her and raising concerns that she was not safe around children.
  3. Miss B reports that the same social worker was later jailed for making indecent images of children.

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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. If we are satisfied with an organisation’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)
  2. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information from Miss B and the Council. Both 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

  1. Miss B says she was sexually assaulted by her social worker when she was 15 (which would have been in 2010/11). She says she later reported the assault to her social worker’s manager, but the matter was ‘swept under the carpet’. The Council says it has no records of Miss B’s allegations from this period.
  2. The social worker later left the Council to work for another authority. In 2017 he was convicted of making indecent images of children, and later jailed.
  3. The Council says that, according to its records, the first time it became aware of Miss B’s allegations against her former social worker was in 2019 (when she was 23 years old). Her leaving care worker – to whom she made the allegations – reported the matter to the Council’s ‘Local Authority Designated Officer’ (LADO), who deals with allegations against staff members. The LADO told the worker to contact the Police.
  4. Miss B’s leaving care worker discussed her allegations with the Police, who agreed to meet Miss B to interview her. However, Miss B then decided she did not want to go through with the interview. The Council says it has no further records about the matter.
  5. In early 2022 Miss B made a complaint to the Council. She repeated her earlier allegations about her former social worker. She also said the same social worker recorded false evidence about her which was used later as justification for the removal of her children.
  6. The Council wrote to Miss B and addressed her allegations about the social worker. It appears to have believed her account, and apologised for any distress that she may have experienced. However, it said it had no record of her reporting the sexual assault at the time.
  7. The Council said its reasons for applying for a care order for her second child (it was not involved with the removal of the first) were related to her circumstances at that time – namely substance misuse and homelessness. It said historical case recordings about her were not relevant to the court’s decision-making.
  8. Miss B remained dissatisfied with the Council’s response, and approached the Ombudsman.

My findings

  1. I cannot question a decision made by a court. This means I cannot investigate Miss B’s complaint that historical case recordings made by her former social worker were decisive to the removal of her children from her care. However, it seems unlikely that a court would have granted a care order simply because of old case notes about Miss B from when she was a teenager.
  2. The Council says it has no record of Miss B reporting the sexual assault by her former social worker until 2019. It would not be a proportionate use of public money for me to review all of Miss B’s social care documents prior to 2019, as they date back several years – particularly when the Council has already looked for evidence of Miss B reporting the assault and has not found it.
  3. Because of this, I have considered the Council’s response to Miss B’s allegations in 2019, when, it says, it first heard them.
  4. The worker whom Miss B spoke to in 2019 reported the matter to the Council’s LADO, which is the correct process to follow when an allegation is made about someone who works with children. However, as the social worker had, by that point, received a custodial sentence and no longer worked with children in any capacity (nor will ever do so again), there was no role for the LADO.
  5. The worker then spoke to the Police, and provided support to Miss B to pursue her allegations.
  6. Although Miss B chose not to continue with the Police investigation – and did not raise the matter formally again for three years – I have found no fault with how the Council acted.
  7. It was for Miss B, who was 23 years old, to decide whether she wanted to report the assault to the Police. She did so, and asked the Council for support, which it provided for as long as she wanted it to (which was until she withdrew from the Police investigation).
  8. Given the nature of Miss B’s allegations – which concerned a criminal offence and therefore were a matter for the Police – it is not clear what more the Council could have done to help her.
  9. Because of this, and given that there appears to be no evidence that Miss B reported the assault before 2019, I have found no fault with the Council and I have completed my investigation.

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Final decision

  1. There was no fault in how the Council dealt with Miss B’s allegation that she was sexually assaulted by a social worker.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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