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Worcestershire County Council (21 018 159)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 06 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about children service’s actions, as it is unlikely we would find fault.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, complains about children service’s actions.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate 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 continue an investigation if we decide:
    • there is not enough evidence of fault to justify investigating, or
    • we could not add to any previous investigation by the organisation. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered information provided by Mr X and the Council.
  2. I considered the Ombudsman’s Assessment Code.
  3. I considered Mr X’s comments on a draft version of this decision.

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My assessment

Background events

  1. At the end of April 2021, a hospital contacted the Council’s children services team because of having to treat Mr X’s child, B, with whom he lives. This was a safeguarding referral. The Council carried out a section 47 investigation and called a child protection conference. Mr X complained to the Council about its children service’s actions. His complaint covered four issues. He says:
      1. The Council’s section 47 investigation was unlawful.
      2. A social worker spoke to B at their school without Mr X’s consent.
      3. The Council only called a child protection conference because Mr X did not agree to a working agreement.
      4. The Council’s officers are conspiring against him.

The Council replied to Mr X’s complaint in its Children Act statutory complaints procedure.

Background law and guidance

  1. Councils have a duty to investigate if there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm. They must decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare. (Children Act 1989, section 47)
  2. Anyone who has concerns about a child’s welfare should make a referral to children’s social care and should do so immediately if there is a concern the child is suffering significant harm or is likely to do so.
  3. The council should make initial enquiries of agencies involved with the child and family, for example, health visitor, GP, schools and nurseries. The information gathering at this stage enables the council to assess the nature and level of any harm the child may be facing. The assessment may result in:
    • no further action;
    • a decision to carry out a more detailed assessment of the child’s needs; or
    • a decision to convene a strategy meeting.
  4. Section 47 of the Act places a duty on agencies, but mainly the council and the police, to make “such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether to take action to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child in their area”.
  5. If the information gathered under section 47 supports concerns and the child may remain at risk of significant harm the social worker will arrange an initial child protection conference (ICPC). The ICPC decides what action is needed to safeguard the child. This might include making the child a ‘child in need’ (CiN) and implementing a safety plan.

The statutory complaints’ procedure

  1. The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. The accompanying statutory guidance, Getting the Best from Complaints, explains councils’ responsibilities in more detail.
  2. The first stage of the procedure is local resolution. Councils have up to 20 working days to respond.
  3. If a complainant is not happy with a council’s stage one response, they can ask that it is considered at stage two. At this stage of the procedure, councils appoint an investigator and an independent person who is responsible for overseeing the investigation. Councils have up to 13 weeks to complete stage two of the process from the date of request.
  4. If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage two investigation, they can ask for a stage three review by an independent panel. The Council must hold the panel within 30 days of the date of request, and then issue a final response within 20 days of the panel hearing.
  5. We are unlikely to reinvestigate the same events which have been investigated under this procedure unless it was flawed by significant process faults. This is because it has independent oversight at stage two and stage three.

Analysis

The Council’s section 47 investigation was unlawful

  1. The Council’s complaint investigation found this was not upheld. It was reasonable to expect the Council to carry out a section 47 investigation given the referral it received.

A social worker spoke to B at their school without Mr X’s consent

  1. The Council’s investigation concluded the social worker had discussed this with Mr X at the time of the conversation. It says its records confirm this. Mr X disagrees. We have to make a decision on the balance of probabilities based on the evidence we have. It is unlikely we will find fault.

The Council only called a child protection conference because Mr X did not agree to a working agreement.

  1. The Council says there were many reasons why this multiagency meeting was called. The stage three review panel concluded that more effort could have been engaged to find an agreed wording. But this may not have worked nor prevented the child protection conference. Given the circumstances, it is unlikely we would find fault.

The Council’s officers are conspiring against him.

  1. The evidence Mr X provided to the Council’s investigation does not support his claims.

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Final decision

  1. We will not investigate this complaint. This is because it is unlikely we would find fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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