Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 07 Nov 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There was no fault in the Council’s consideration of Mr F’s complaint under the statutory children’s complaints procedure and it took the action recommended by the panel at stage 3 of that procedure.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr F, complains about the actions of the Council’s disabled children’s services team. Specifically he says that:
- the Council’s investigation of his complaint about the services provided to his family is faulty because it has not resulted in most of his complaints being upheld; and
- the Council has not yet taken the action it agreed it would at the end of its consideration of his complaint at stage 3 of complaints procedure.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The law sets out a three stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. At stage 2 of this procedure, the Council appoints an Independent Investigator and an Independent Person (who is responsible for overseeing the investigation). If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a stage 3 review. If a council has investigated something under this procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless he considers the investigation was flawed. However, he may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
- 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)
- If we are satisfied with a council’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)
How I considered this complaint
- I discussed the complaint with Mr F and considered the written information he provided with his complaint. I made written enquiries of the Council and considered all the information before reaching a draft decision on the complaint.
- I gave the Council and Mr F the opportunity to comment on my draft decision and took account of their comments before reaching a final decision on the complaint.
What I found
- Mr F says a court awarded him joint custody of M together with M’s mother and that the judge allowed Mr F and his former partner to make the practical arrangements around this.
- Mr F submitted a complaint in August 2017. This complaint was considered at stage 1 of the children’s statutory complaints procedure. The Council provided its response in September and detailed to the complaints as:
- The Council had failed to provide Mr F with written reports of activities carers undertook with his son, M, since April 2017;
- Mr F requested that the sessions with the carer and his son stop because he had not been provided with copies of the written reports but they did not stop;
- The refusal by a senior officer in the Council’s children’s social work team to provide reports or stop the sessions when he asked were rude and disrespectful, especially as Mr F has parental responsibility for his son; and
- The social worker had made a racist comment at the end of a phone discussion which Mr F but the social worker denied having said.
- A meeting was arranged to include Mr F, M’s mother and staff to discuss what activities would be undertaken in future sessions with the carer and the best way to ensure Mr F was kept updated in future;
- The social worker would remain the same but would meet with Mr F to discuss how to improve future communication and how they could work better together;
- Mr F would be involved in future planning and work with M including being invited to M’s annual review;
- A written apology for the delay in providing the written reports by the carer; and
- In future Mr F would be “mindful” of the way he interacted with officers about his son, including being realistic in his expectations and escalating concerns with the social worker and his/her manager if necessary.
- The panel partially upheld the new complaint, not because the social worker had been replaced, but because Mr F was not told about this before it happened;
- The panel reached the same conclusions as the stage 2 investigator in relation to his earlier complaints. The notes of the hearing indicate these were considered thoroughly by the panel in discussion during the hearing.
- A review meeting should be held with Mr F and his former partner to discuss future sessions with the carer/outreach sessions;
- Mr F to be included in future involvement of the children’s team with his son including annual review meetings;
- A written apology to be sent to Mr F for the delay in issuing the reports from the carer;
- Mr F “to remain mindful of the way he interacts with staff” and have realistic expectations of staff;
- Family support work manager to meet with Mr F within 28 days to let him know what their involvement with M would be; and
- A senior manager to review whether the quality of service being provided by the organisation that had provided a carer to M and whether they had sufficient oversight of the carers’ record keeping and information sharing.
Action taken on the panel’s recommendations
- The Council says the review meeting involving Mr F and his former partner was scheduled for 27th September as this was the first date that all the participants required to attend were available. The required participants included the social work team officers and officers from the respite/short breaks provider as well as Mr F and his former partner. The Council confirms this meeting went ahead though neither Mr F nor his former partner attended, cancelling on the day of the meeting.
- The Council says it wrote to Mr F in late June enclosing a letter of support with his housing problems and asking him to let the Council have dates when he was available to attend a meeting with the carer/outreach service. The Council says Mr F did not respond to this request for dates.
- In July 2018 the Council says Mr F attended a meeting at the Council with his ex-partner, where again he asked for help regarding housing and Mr F indicated he would be happy to attend a meeting with the outreach service. The Council says it could not arrange the meeting in August due to a combination of holidays and childcare needs.
- The Council says M’s case in its children’s disabilities team was closed in March 2018 so there is no longer a need for an annual review meeting. The Council says the only service being provided to M is now the short breaks/respite arrangement and this is provided directly by the organisation arranging this. The Council says that Mr F has been given the details of the sessions provided through the short breaks service. The Council says that in May 2018 M’s case was re-opened to a different part of the Council’s children’s services team (Assessment) and confirms that Mr F has been involved in the assessment and has been in correspondence with the social worker in that team since then. The Council confirms the social worker had conversations with Mr F on seven occasions between May and August.
- A senior officer wrote to formally apologise to Mr F for the failure to provide records of the carer’s work with M in May 2018. I have seen a copy of this letter and consider the apology was properly given.
- As the Council’s family support worker service to M ceased in March 2018, it would seem that a meeting the manager of the Council’s family support worker service was not necessary so I assume this did not go ahead.
- A senior special needs officer arranged a meeting with other senior officers in the team that arranges “short breaks” with carers such as those provided to M in June 2018. As a result of their meeting she said “I am satisfied following my meeting and with the documentation that the Senior manager at (the service provider) has provided that they exercise sufficient oversight of the services they provide and are very aware of record keeping and sharing information. We have agreed that any short break cases where there are differing opinions from either parent about the sharing of information that (the service provider) will refer back to the short breaks (team) for them to follow up with both parents to agree a position”. The officer wrote to Mr F to tell him the outcome of this meeting in August.
Was the Council at fault and did this cause injustice?
- My role is to consider whether there was fault in the Council’s consideration of Mr F’s complaint. I am aware that Mr F is unhappy with the outcome of its consideration as it did not uphold every part of his complaint but it is not my role to consider whether its decision was right or wrong but to focus on whether it was reached properly and thoroughly. I have carefully considered the investigations of Mr F’s complaint, particularly at stages 2 and 3 of the process and consider it was thorough and properly addressed the complaint that Mr F made. I do not therefore consider there is fault in relation to this part of Mr F’s complaint to this office.
- The Council has now completed the action recommended by the panel at stage 3 of the process. The panel met in April 2018 and the adjudicator at stage 3 agreed to the panel’s recommendations in May. The written apology was provided promptly and addresses the fault identified. The meeting with Mr F, his former partner and relevant professionals did not take place until late September which is four months after the stage 3 investigation was completed. I recognise that the Council had tried to agree a date for this meeting with Mr F in June and July 2018 and also that when it did arrange the meeting for September Mr F did not attend. So, whilst it took four months for this meeting to be arranged I do not consider this to be the result of fault by the Council as it had tried to agree dates with Mr F earlier. I do not consider it wrong for the Council to have proceeded with the meeting when Mr F did not attend as he cancelled on the day and had not responded to earlier requests for his preferred dates.
- I consider action to put in place the other of the panel’s recommendations was satisfactory.
There was no fault in the Council’s consideration of Mr F’s complaint under the statutory children’s complaints procedure and the Council took the agreed action following the findings at stage 3 of the complaints process. I recognise that the Council took a long time to set up the meeting with the outreach service but do not consider this was the result of fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman