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London Borough of Lewisham (21 015 816)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 13 Jun 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains the Council has failed to investigate her complaint about historic sexual abuse, causing her distress. The Ombudsman did not find fault in the way the Council proposes to investigate Ms X’s complaint about historic abuse. The Ombudsman has found fault in the time the Council has taken to commence the investigation.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains the Council has failed to investigate her complaint about historic sexual abuse, causing her distress.

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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. 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)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have considered the following:
    • The complaint and the documents provided by the complainant.
    • Documents provided by the Council.
  2. Ms X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered their comments before making a final decision.

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What I found

What happened

  1. I have summarised below the key events; this is not intended to be a detailed account.
  2. Ms X says she and her sister were abused when they were children. Children’s social services were involved with Ms X’s family at the time. Ms X feels let down by the Council.
  3. In July 2020, Ms X contacted the Council and complained about the historical abuse she and her sister suffered as children. She wants to understand why the Council did not do more to protect her and her sister.
  4. The Council considered how it could investigate the matter and suggested it appoint an independent consultant to review Ms X’s family’s care files and answer Ms X’s specific questions. Ms X agreed. The Council started the process towards the end of 2020.
  5. At the start of 2021, Ms X sought legal advice with the view to making a claim. The Council therefore stopped reviewing the family’s care files.
  6. Ms X decided she would still like support to go through the files and for someone to answer her questions. In June 2021, Ms X prepared a list of questions and gave these to the Council.
  7. The Head of Children’s Social Care agreed to identify a professional to review the files and answer Ms X’s questions. The Council has not yet identified a suitable professional to undertake the role. It explained the pressures of COVID-19 has made this more difficult. The Council has therefore not completed the investigation.
  8. Ms X says the Council have not replied to her recent emails.

Analysis

  1. The Council has set out how it intends to work with Ms X and resolve her complaint. It suggested it appoints an independent consultant to review her family’s care files and answer Ms X’s specific questions. Both parties agree this is a suitable way to investigate the matter and provide answers for Ms X. I find no fault in the way the Council has agreed to progress this matter.
  2. Ms X gave the questions to the Council in June 2021. The Council has not identified a professional and the review has not started. Ms X has waited almost a year and has not received answers from the Council. This is a significant delay and amounts to fault.

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Agreed actions

  1. Within eight weeks of the final decision being issued, I propose the Council should:
    • Apologise to Ms X in writing for the delay in investigating her complaint about historic abuse.
    • Appoint a suitable professional to review Ms X’s family’s care files and answer her specific questions.
    • Provide Ms X with monthly updates on the progress of the investigation.

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Final decision

  1. I have now completed my investigation. The Ombudsman has not found fault in the way the Council proposes to investigate Ms X’s complaint about historic abuse. The Ombudsman has found fault in the amount of time the Council has taken to commence the investigation but the steps the Council has now taken addressed any injustice caused by that fault

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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