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Reading Borough Council (22 000 149)

Category : Children's care services > Child protection

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 28 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Summary: We will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s children protection actions from late 2020 and its handling of his complaints. There is no fault in the Council investigating the child protection referral or holding child protection case conferences. The Council has remedied or is acting to remedy Mr X’s injustice arising from the complaint handling and social worker actions. If Mr X wishes to pursue other claims it is reasonable for him to use his legal remedies.

The complaint

  1. Complaint 1: Mr X complains the Council during a child protection investigation, in October 2020, forced him out of his home under threat that his child might be removed into care. Mr X says the social worker called him the ‘perpetrator’ regarding allegations of domestic violence made by his partner. He says the social worker lied and manipulated evidence. She bullied him and threatened his then partner by saying their child could be removed. Mr X says the Council treated him like a criminal despite the police investigation ending without charge. He says the first social worker’s behaviour and biased report prolonged the Council’s intervention with his family.
  2. Complaint 2: Mr X complains the Council in February 2021 inappropriately placed his unborn child on a child protection plan on the grounds of abuse. The category was later changed to emotional abuse for both children.
  3. Complaint 3: Mr X complains the Council did not arrange contact with his children. He says it should facilitate contact with his children who he has not seen for a long time.
  4. Complaint 4: Mr X complains the Council’s complaint handling was flawed. There was a failure to keep to the children’s complaint procedure including delay dealing with his complaints. He says he did not receive information before the meeting and was stressed due to not being properly prepared. He says the stage 3 panel blamed the police for him being out of his home. He says the panel narrowed his complaints and failed to consider all the evidence. He says the remedy of £1000 is not sufficient to cover his injustice. He says the Council needs to improve practice, so others do not suffer. He says the Council’s final adjudication letter failed to consider his desired outcomes and ignored panel recommendations.
  5. Injustice: Mr X says he felt bullied and harassed during the child protection case. He suffered stress, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and harm to his health. He says the Council defamed him, treated him like a criminal, and breached his human rights. He says he suffered business losses. He could not apply for a government grant covering the impact of Covid-19 because he could not gain access to his home. Mr X says he had the expense of staying in hotels. Mr X says he paid for professional advice regarding the complaint process. He says the flaws in the complaint handling caused him time and trouble and the Council’s reference to an ‘ex gratia’ payment is disrespectful. Mr X also says the Council harmed his relationship with his children who also suffered.

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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 are satisfied with the actions a council has taken or proposes to take. We may also not investigate if:
  • we could not add to any previous investigation by a council, or
  • further investigation would not lead to a different outcome, or
  • we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.

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

  1. The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
  2. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone could take the matter to court. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to go to court. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(c), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mr X’s information, comments, and replies to the draft decision statement. The information includes the complaint correspondence.

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My assessment

  1. I will not investigate this complaint for the following reasons:
  2. Complaint 1: There is no fault in the Council starting a child protection investigation following the police referral which reported Mr X had allegedly assaulted his partner while she was holding their child. The Council is not responsible for Mr X being obliged to live away from home. Before discussion with the Council, the police placed Mr X on bail. It was a bail condition, for some weeks, that he could not return home. Mr X says he complied with the condition. It would have been unlawful for the Council to tell Mr X’s partner that she could have him home. Thereafter, the decision that he could not return home was made by his partner. Mr X had a solicitor and the option of considering his legal remedies.
  3. Further investigation of the actions of ‘social worker A’ will not add to the statutory complaint investigation. Social worker A, who Mr X is primarily critical of, dealt with the child protection case for the first month until the initial child protection case conference. The stage 2 reports and panel hearing considered the actions of the social worker in detail. It found her at fault due to inaccurate recording and a refusal to communicate with Mr X by email. The social worker wrongly referred to him as the ‘perpetrator’ rather than the ‘alleged perpetrator’. The complaints were upheld, and an appropriate remedy provided (see below).
  4. Complaint 2: There is insufficient evidence of fault or injustice to Mr X to investigate the child protection case conferences or subsequent events. The conferences were necessary to consider the risks to an unborn child. There was ongoing uncertainty about the relations between Mr X and his partner which required assessment. In mid-2021 a court granted Mr X’s partner a 12-month non-molestation order. Mr X says he attended the hearing. His reply to the draft decision (para 19:2) says the order was made due to his former partner’s false allegations, police lies, and social services manipulation/threats. It is indicative of conflict which raises legitimate concerns about the welfare of Mr X’s children.
  5. Complaint 3: Mr X is living separately from his former partner and children. I will not therefore accept a complaint on their behalf from him. We cannot obtain the outcome Mr X wants on contact with his children and there is insufficient evidence of Council fault. Contact is a matter between Mr X and his former partner who has care of the children. Mr X has the right to apply to court for contact. ‘Social worker B’ reported that Mr X’s former partner would not let him see the children until he had participated in a parental assessment. There is information that Mr X did not pursue mediation or counselling which might have progressed the matter. His reply to my draft decision confirms he ‘did refuse’ (paras 15:9).
  6. Complaint 4: I am satisfied the complaint process remedied Mr X’s injustice in terms of the six complaints considered. The complaints were about ‘social worker A’. The stage 3 panel found the stage 1 findings failed to properly consider the evidence that the social worker was in the wrong particularly in calling Mr X a ‘perpetrator’. The panel correctly found the child protection investigation was necessary. There were several months of delay during the stage 2 and 3 procedures. The Council has apologised and offered Mr X the recommended £1000. This was based on £200 time and trouble, £100 for each upheld complaint, and £200 for distress. The Ombudsman would not recommend a greater amount.
  7. The panel addressed good practice issues. Mr X is correct the Council’s stage 3 adjudication letter reply following the panel did not deal with some recommendations. I have checked the position with the Council. I am satisfied the Ombudsman does not need to investigate to ensure compliance with the recommendations. The Council says:
      1. Training has been given to complaint officers and the Council has commissioned training from the Ombudsman.
      2. It is drafting guidance on recording: ‘frequency of visits and recording at a glance’.
      3. It is in the process of amending the case record reference to Mr X as perpetrator rather than alleged perpetrator. It will update the Ombudsman further.
  8. Other claimed injustice: The stage 3 panel did not consider costs such as business losses or professional costs because they were not part of the stage 2 complaint. It is not necessary to take professional advice to use a complaint procedure. I will not investigate other matters for the following reasons:
  9. Complaints about breach of human rights, harm to health, slander, and business losses are outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction because Mr X has or had a legal remedy at court (see paragraphs 7 and 8).
  10. I consider it reasonable for Mr X to use his legal remedies if he wishes to pursue such claims. A court has the power to grant damages. Mr X said during the statutory complaint procedure that he wanted £40,000 and has indicated to the Ombudsman he wants a higher figure. We cannot achieve what Mr X wants.

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Final decision

  1. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mr X’s complaint about the Council’s children protection actions from late 2020 and its handling of his complaints. There is no fault in the Council investigating the child protection referral or holding child protection case conferences. The Council has remedied or is acting to remedy Mr X’s injustice arising from the complaint handling and social worker actions. If Mr X wishes to pursue other claims it is reasonable for him to use his legal remedies.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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