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Somerset County Council (21 017 556)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 11 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate this complaint about the Council’s child and family assessment. This is because we could not achieve the central outcome the complainant is seeking.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, Mr X, complained the Council is at fault in producing an inaccurate child and family assessment.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended
  2. 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
  • further investigation would not lead to a different outcome, or
  • there is another body better placed to consider this complaint, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by the complainant and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. Mr X has had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making my final decision.

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My assessment

  1. Mr X told us there is incorrect information in the Council’s child and family assessment. He said it placed his partner’s daughter on a child protection plan, without suitable explanation. Mr X said he is no longer allowed any contact with her which has torn the family apart. Mr X told us he is seeking a new safety plan in line with the original plan.
  2. The Council considered Mr X’s complaint. It amended some wording in the child and family assessment, but reached the same conclusion. It said the plan would remain in place. The Council confirmed it has addressed one missed visit by its officer. There is nothing to suggest this is something that made a difference to the Council’s decision.
  3. When considering complaints about child protection matters, we may not act like an appeal body. We cannot question the merits of the decision the Council has made or offer any opinion on whether or not we agree with the judgment of the Council’s officers. Instead, we focus on the process by which the decision was made. In this case the Council has followed the process we would expect and made some amendments to its assessment after considering Mr X’s complaint. We have no powers to overturn the Council’s plan so we could not achieve the central outcome Mr X is seeking.
  4. Mr X told us, while his case is slowly moving forward, his complaint has not been fully investigated by the Council. He says Council employees disregarded the social worker code of practice and this has not been addressed in their responses. While I understand Mr X is not happy with the way the Council has dealt with his complaint, the substantive issue he has complained about is the child and family assessment. Where we have decided not to investigate the substantive issue complained about, we would not consider a standalone complaint about the Council’s complaint handling. We are not a regulatory body. Regulatory bodies are better placed to look at concerns about a council officer’s non-compliance with professional standards. Mr X has the right to get inaccurate data the Council holds about him corrected. That is something he can pursue without our involvement.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint because we could not achieve the central outcome he is seeking.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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