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Derbyshire County Council (20 012 723)

Category : Children's care services > Disabled children

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 15 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs B complained about lack of support to her family between 2017 and 2021, failure to arrange meetings properly, failure to allocate a social worker from the disabled children’s team, failure to respond to correspondence and delay putting in place recommendations following a complaint. The Council failed to properly consider the impact on Mrs B as a carer during its assessments, failed to arrange some meetings properly, failed to respond to Mrs B’s correspondence and set up direct payments without discussing whether that was an option Mrs B wanted. An apology, payment to Mrs B and training for officers is satisfactory remedy.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs B, complained the Council:
    • failed to provide her and her family with support between 2017 and 2021;
    • unreasonably failed to allocate a social worker from the disabled children’s team;
    • kept inaccurate records;
    • failed to invite relevant professionals to meetings;
    • delayed producing minutes from meetings;
    • failed to reply to her correspondence;
    • delayed putting in place recommendations following her complaint; and
    • offered her unsuitable support in 2021.
  2. Mrs B says failures by the Council meant she and her son suffered attacks in their home for longer than they should have. Mrs B says she also lost her job due to stress and it has affected her and her youngest son’s mental health.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a Council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  2. 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. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a Council’s decision is right or wrong simply because Mrs B disagrees with it. He must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended and 34(3))
  3. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation, I have:
    • considered the complaint, Mrs B's comments and the documentary evidence Mrs B provided;
    • made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided.
  2. Mrs B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments and documentation received before making a final decision.
  3. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

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What I found

What should have happened

  1. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (the Act) says it shall be the general duty of every local authority:
    • (a)to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need; and
    • (b)so far as is consistent with that duty, to promote the upbringing of such children by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs.
  2. Section 47 of the Act says where a local authority have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives, or is found, in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm, the authority shall make, or cause to be made, such enquiries as they consider necessary to enable them to decide whether they should take any action to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
  3. The Council has produced a guidance document for the disabled children's service (the guidance). This sets the threshold at which a referral in relation to a child with a disability will be accepted by the disabled children’s team. It says the team will coordinate an assessment of need for a child or young person who has a substantial, enduring and permanent physical, visual, hearing or intellectual impairment where, resulting from that impairment, the child is limited or prevented from undertaking activities appropriate to their daily living. It says the child will normally have:
    • a significant, permanent and enduring physical disability which leads to dependence on aids and adaptations;
    • a severe/significant global learning disability;
    • a severe and enduring communication disorder;
    • autism with a severe/significant global development delay;
    • a significant sensory impairment.
  4. The criteria says it does not include children diagnosed with ADHD or a psychiatric illness.
  5. The Council has produced a guidance document on short breaks (the procedure). This says the procedure applies to all children although it is especially relevant for disabled children and their families. The procedure says the Council has a duty to provide short breaks for disabled children which can mean day, evening, overnight and weekend activities for the child or young person (or an equivalent resource allocated via a direct payment or personal budget). The procedure says a short break can be provided in the child's own home, the home of an approved carer or in a residential or community setting. The aim is to enable the child to participate in fun, interesting and safe activities and provide a break from caring for the parents.
  6. The procedure says where a child appears to have additional needs which are not being met through existing services the Council should follow the single assessment process.
  7. The procedure says the needs of the parents/carers are an integral part of an assessment. It says providing services which meet the needs of parents is often the most effective means of promoting the welfare of children.
  8. The procedure makes clear the Council's approach is to ensure carers needs are included within the child's assessment.
  9. The Council has produced a guidance document for social care assessments. This says the purpose of any assessment is to gather information about the child and family, analyse their needs and/or the nature and level of any risk and harm being suffered by the child, decide whether the child is a child in need and/or is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm and to provide support to address those needs and improve outcomes for the child to make them safe. It says all assessments should be undertaken with the family. It says the assessment should consider if the parent is a carer of a disabled child as they then may require a carers assessment.

What happened

  1. Mrs B has two children, the eldest of which has an education, health and care plan. At the time of the Council’s first involvement with the family, in 2014, Mrs B eldest son had a diagnosis of ADHD.
  2. The Council’s ongoing involvement with the family began at the end of 2016. From that point on Mrs B regularly reported violent behaviour and abuse from her eldest son directed towards both her and her youngest son. The Council carried out a single assessment in February 2017 and referred the case to the edge of care panel. A child in need plan was in place at that point.
  3. The edge of care panel took place in June 2017. That came up with a plan for:
    • direct work with the eldest son around his behavioural and emotional needs;
    • direct work with Mrs B and observations of her with her eldest son to provide effective advice;
    • joint provision at school;
    • direct work to explore family dynamics and functioning;
    • support to prevent the family reaching crisis point;
    • support for the parents and the eldest son to have therapeutic support to explore his mental health; and
    • direct work with parents to look at how their son has gained so much control in the home and school and for them to develop approaches to address that.
  4. A child in need meeting took place in September 2017. The plan proposed:
    • preventing family breakdown intervention to support the parents to explore what needed to change at home;
    • school and home to report all risky behaviour;
    • information to be gathered from the doctor to understand the child's difficulties;
    • school to ensure medication is being appropriately supported;
    • preventing family breakdown team to work with the eldest son on his wishes and feelings; and
    • avoidance of further exclusions from school.
  5. In October the Council stood the case down from searching for a fostering placement in the hope that the current intervention would remove the need for a placement.
  6. At a visit to the family in November 2017 the Council identified that the risk to Mrs B and her other son had reduced.
  7. Following a child in need meeting in November 2017 the plan was the same as previously with the addition of:
    • one-to-one support for the eldest son at school;
    • for the youngest son to have one-to-one time with each parent at least once a week; and
    • for Mrs B and her husband to spend one-to-one time with both children.
  8. That plan was developed further in December 2017 to include Mrs B’s eldest son attending a gym.
  9. Following Mrs B reporting a violent attack from her eldest son at the beginning of February 2018 the Council put in place a safety plan which involved Mrs B contacting the police when violent incidents occurred. The school later funded a taxi for a short period to enable Mrs B’s eldest son to travel to school separately from his brother.
  10. In February 2018 Mrs B took her eldest son to A&E to be assessed to be assessed by the mental health crisis team. Child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) assessed him as well enough to go home. Mrs B asked for her eldest son to be placed in foster care. The Council explained that would need to happen in a planned way and asked Mrs B to find a suitable family member to care for him. The Council decided to complete a full social work assessment rather than a section 47 assessment as the Council was not convinced the case met the threshold of significant harm. The Council recorded if there were further incidents the case could be escalated to section 47. The family subsequently decided to send the youngest son to his grandparents and keep their eldest son at home for the weekend. From this point onwards a shared care arrangement was in place as an interim family arrangement where Mrs B’s eldest son would spend some weekends with his uncle and overnights during the week with his grandparents.
  11. In March 2018 Mrs B reported some improvements with less incidents. Visits from the preventing family breakdown team continued. Meetings continued to take place, including an edge of care panel meeting and child in need meetings. Direct work with Mrs B’s son also continued, alongside social work visits.
  12. In August 2018 at a visit by the preventing family breakdown officer Mrs B explained her eldest son’s physical aggression had increased. Mrs B told the officer her brother was now reluctant to have Mrs B’s eldest son for respite visits and he was also refusing to go to his grandparents. Mrs B said she felt back at the beginning again. Mrs B said she would like a mentor to work with her son and help him to practice coping, social awareness and appropriate communication as well as making the right choices. Support from the preventing family breakdown team continued.
  13. In October 2018 Mrs B telephoned the Council with concerns about potential outcomes of violence from her eldest son. She asked for the Council to accommodate him. Mrs B’s husband reported he intended to move out of the family home to safeguard himself against false allegations. The Council agreed a support plan to support the family to keep the eldest son at home as accommodating him was not an option. The Council also discussed the possibility of respite with Mrs B’s brother but he could not offer that.
  14. The timeout team began working with Mrs B’s eldest son in October 2018. That involved the timeout officer taking Mrs B’s son out of the home for various activities.
  15. Mrs B eldest son began attending a new education provision part-time in January 2019. The Council agreed for the preventing family breakdown team to continue to provide support. That support ended in April 2019.
  16. The Council offered Mrs B non violent resistance training (NVR) again in May 2019. Mrs B refused as she did not consider the technique suitable for her son as he had autistic spectrum disorder. The Council also suggested some other options, which Mrs B declined. Mrs B continued to ask for a mentoring service for her eldest son.
  17. The Council carried out a further single assessment in 2019. This noted support would be provided to Mrs B’s younger son to understand disability and how it impacts on the family. The Council also decided to progress the case to section 47 and an initial child protection conference.
  18. The initial child protection conference took place in July 2019. The conference made both children subject of safeguarding plans. Mrs B again asked for a mentor for her eldest son. The plan at this point was for:
    • the youth offending team to work with the eldest son;
    • CAMHS to provide family therapy;
    • NVR and any other therapeutic intervention;
    • a young carers referral for the youngest son;
    • a referral to CWDT; and
    • exploring services for the two children.
  19. A review child protection conference took place in September 2019. The children remained on child protection plans. The conference noted Mrs B’s request for a mentor but recorded the participants view that as support was to be provided from health in relation to the eldest son changing his behaviours it was not considered mentoring would be appropriate at that time.
  20. A review child protection conference took place in February 2020. This recorded the family were engaging with the Council and the eldest son was working with the youth offending social worker. The case conference noted the eldest son was having one session a week with a psychotherapist in school and the youngest son had begun accessing young carers. A child in need plan was recommended.
  21. In April 2020, following a referral from a charity linked to the police about comments one of Mrs B’s son’s had made the social worker telephoned Mrs B. The social worker recommended Mrs B not allow unsupervised contact between her two sons. Mrs B advised she had no family or friends that could help with caring for the children and reported that her youngest son’s mental health was dipping as he was refusing to get out of bed and was in low mood. Mrs B asked for respite. The Council suggested Mrs B use some of her DLA to support with respite sessions.
  22. Later in April the case was referred to the multiagency risk assessment conference (MARAC) as Mrs B’s eldest son had attacked his brother.
  23. At the beginning of May 2020 Mrs B asked for some support two hours a day between Monday and Friday to assist the transition for her eldest son returning home from school. Mrs B also asked about mentoring support and the Council again suggested she use some of her eldest son’s DLA for that.
  24. A child protection conference took place in May 2020. Mrs B’s youngest son remained on a safeguarding plan with the eldest son on a child in need plan.
  25. In May and June 2020 Mrs B asked the Council for some respite. The Council began a carers assessment.
  26. A review child protection conference took place in August 2020.
  27. At a social work visit in September 2020 Mrs B reported that incidents were less frequent. Mrs B asked for respite support and more support for her youngest son at school.
  28. Following a stage two complaint investigation the investigating officer produced a detailed report in January 2021, upholding some elements of the complaint and making a recommendation for remedy which included a new single assessment/carers assessment. Mrs B subsequently escalated her complaint to stage three as she was not happy with the outcome of the stage two investigation. The Council began a single assessment.
  29. Mrs B’s eldest son completed his work with the youth offending team in March 2021.
  30. The Council completed the single assessment in July 2021. That recommended some new provision:
    • A plan to support the eldest son’s sensory needs for transition from home to school with a meeting to be arranged;
    • support from the behaviour analyst at his school;
    • family therapy;
    • to develop a more detailed positive behaviour plan;
    • review the safety plan;
    • carer assessment;
    • work identified in the short-term to spend time in the home for two hours a week; and
    • arrangements for a video camera to be used to look around the house to see what sensory triggers could be impacting on the eldest son, followed by advice on how to manage those.
  31. At stage 3 of the Council’s complaints process it upheld the following complaints:
    • a review of the assessments completed over the previous four years demonstrate minimal consideration given to Mrs B's needs or those of her husband in caring for their eldest son;
    • the Council failed to offer a parent carer assessment since 2016;
    • the Council failed to signpost for domestic violence support due to the child attacking the parent;
    • partner agencies were not always involved or informed of progress;
    • there were some inaccuracies in the Council’s records; and
    • the Council repeatedly failed to respond to Mrs B’s communications.
  32. Stage 3 made the following recommendations:
    • complete the single assessment by 8 July 2021;
    • offer Mrs B the support of the community care worker until the assessment could be considered at the central resource panel. This would provide up to two hours Monday to Friday;
    • provide Mrs B with a copy of the safety plan after it had been reviewed at the next child in need or core group meeting;
    • arrange a meeting to clarify expectations regarding communication if it was required;
    • time and trouble payment of £300;
    • £300 to reflect the impact of the faults found and the distress that caused the family; and
    • following the single assessment the Council will provide a backdated payment should the need for any services be identified
  33. The Council initially offered an interim respite service for two hours per week where a worker would attend Mrs B’s home and carry out some work with her eldest son. Mrs B questioned the value of that as it would not provide her with any respite. The Council explained to Mrs B the support offered was not an offer of respite but was for one-to-one direct work with her son and there would need to be a responsible adult present in the home. The Council explained it was temporary support until the panel considered the case but it could take place at the grandmother’s house as Mrs B had suggested.
  34. By the end of July 2021 the Council had agreed direct payments for Mrs B. This was for four hours a week support for her eldest son during term time and 12 hours a week during school holidays.
  35. The Council checked with Mrs B in October 2021 and she advised she had not been able to identify a PA. The Council referred Mrs B to an organisation that could help her identify a PA. The Council has since passed the case onto its brokerage service to identify a suitable PA.

Analysis

  1. I have exercised the Ombudsman’s discretion to investigate what happened from 2017 onwards as I am satisfied the issues have been ongoing since that time, Mrs B has not let the issue drop and as Mrs B was under significant stress at the time.
  2. Mrs B says the Council failed to provide her and her family with support between 2017 and 2021, despite her repeatedly asking for help. Having considered the documentary evidence I am satisfied the Council provided support to the family from 2017 onwards. This included support and advice from the preventing family breakdown team, various parenting programmes, social work visits and an outreach worker for Mrs B’s eldest son. I therefore could not say the Council had failed to put in place any support. The Council also completed referrals for support and therapeutic assessments for Mrs B’s eldest son, alongside referring Mrs B’s youngest son to young carers.
  3. There is, however, an issue with how the Council considered the impact the issues with the eldest son were having on Mrs B, as the main supporting parent. The Council accepts its assessments gave minimal consideration to the caring role provided by Mrs B. The Council also accepts there was a delay signposting Mrs B to domestic violence support. While I appreciate the Council were trying to provide the family with support and advice about how to change the eldest son’s behaviours I would have expected the Council to pick up on the impact those behaviours were having on the family given it is regularly mentioned in the documentary records. There were also regular requests for respite. Failure to consider those issues is fault.
  4. It seems to me likely if the Council had properly considered the impact on Mrs B and her family earlier it might have led the Council to putting in place support for Mrs B as carer. I therefore consider Mrs B is left with some uncertainty about whether she would have received additional support as a carer if the Council had handled the case as it should have done. That has undoubtedly caused Mrs B significant distress. Given the length of time involved, but also taking into account the interventions the Council arranged, I consider an appropriate remedy would be for the Council to pay Mrs B £1,000. I also recommended the Council pay Mrs B an additional £500 to reflect her time and trouble pursuing the complaint. I recommended the Council provide update training for officers involved in carrying out single assessments to make clear the need to consider the needs of carers alongside the child when completing an assessment. The Council has agreed to my recommendations.
  5. Mrs B says the Council should have allocated a social worker from the disabled children’s team for her son. Mrs B says because the Council failed to do that it did not fully understand her son’s needs and recommended interventions, such as parenting programmes, which were inappropriate. I set out in paragraphs 9 and 10 the criteria for the disabled children’s service. I am satisfied the Council did not allocate a social worker from the disabled children’s team in Mrs B’s case because it did not consider her son met the criteria for the service. I recognise Mrs B strongly disagrees with that decision. However, as I said in paragraph 4, it is not the Ombudsman’s role to comment on the merits of a decision reached without fault. In this case the disabled children’s team had information about Mrs B’s son’s diagnosis and presentation. The disabled children’s team did not consider Mrs B’s son met the criteria for its service. As the Council reached that decision properly there are no grounds on which I could criticise it. I am satisfied though this did not prevent Mrs B receiving support from other departments within the Council, although I appreciate Mrs B did not always consider the Council’s intervention appropriate. Nor is there any evidence to suggest Mrs B could only access short breaks if her son were dealt with by the disabled children’s team. As there was no fault by the Council there are no grounds on which I could criticise it.
  6. Mrs B has concerns about the accuracy of the Council’s records. Having considered the list of inaccuracies Mrs B has provided I am satisfied some of those relate to issues where Mrs B has clear evidence to show the Council’s records are incorrect. In other cases Mrs B disputes the context around which some of the comments are made. Failure to ensure the Council’s records are accurate is fault. I am satisfied the Council has offered an appropriate remedy though by including Mrs B’s list of inaccuracies on the file so they can be read alongside the Council’s evidence. That is the remedy the Ombudsman would normally recommend in this circumstance. I therefore make no further recommendation.
  7. Mrs B says the Council failed to invite relevant professionals to meetings and often sent reports out with short notice before meetings. The Council accepts partner agencies were not always kept informed of significant incidents and not all agencies were appropriately invited to all meetings. That is fault. I cannot say though those failures resulted in a significant injustice to Mrs B other than her justifiable sense of outrage. I therefore recommended an apology for this part of the complaint. The Council has agreed to that recommendation.
  8. Mrs B says the Council delayed producing minutes from meetings. In contrast the Council points out there is no stipulated timeframe to provide minutes of meetings. While I recognise that, the Ombudsman would expect the Council to send out minutes promptly and would usually expect that to take no longer than a month. There were occasions when minutes took considerably longer to be issued in this case and that is fault. I consider an apology an appropriate remedy.
  9. Mrs B says the Council repeatedly failed to reply to her correspondence. The Council accepts this. That is fault. As I said earlier, I have recommended £500 to reflect the time and trouble Mrs B has had to go to pursuing her complaint, which the Council has accepted.
  10. Mrs B says the Council delayed putting in place the recommendations from stage two and stage three. I set out the stage three recommendations in paragraph 49. I am satisfied the main part of those recommendations related to the single assessment and approval of support following that. There was a delay completing the single assessment following the stage two recommendation, although it was completed within the timescales set by the stage three panel. Delay completing the assessment is fault. Clearly that has added to Mrs B’s distress and I have taken that into account in the financial remedy recommended. It still remains for the Council to clarify any backdated payment due following the single assessment, which I have asked it to do promptly.
  11. Mrs B says the Council offered her unsuitable support in 2021. The first issue is a support worker provided for two hours per week. Mrs B says that provision is unsuitable because the length of time is insufficient for the support worker to complete any work with her son. In addition, the support has to take place in her own home which means she does not receive any respite. Having considered the documentary evidence I am satisfied this initial support was put in place by the Council as a temporary measure pending the agreement for funding from panel, which has now been completed. The alternative would have been to provide no support until the resource panel considered the case. In those circumstances I do not consider the Council’s action warrants a finding of fault.
  12. In terms of the current provision Mrs B is concerned the Council has given her a direct payment. Mrs B say she does not want to manage staff or have a direct payment but she was given no other option. Mrs B says she has not received any guidance about how to identify suitable provision other than the provision of a list. Having considered the documentary evidence I am satisfied the Council gave Mrs B information about direct payments and has recently referred her to an external organisation to help her manage the process. However, I have seen nothing in the documentary evidence to suggest the Council properly discussed with Mrs B the options available to her. Nor is there any evidence the Council obtained Mrs B’s agreement to a direct payment rather than sourcing the provision itself. The purpose of the direct payments process is to give service users more control over the provision they receive. However, the Ombudsman would not expect a Council to impose a direct payment on somebody when they do not want one. That is fault. I note though that the Council has now involved its brokerage team in an attempt to identify a suitable PA for Mrs B’s son, which I welcome. I recommend the Council liaise with Mrs B about appointing a PA and whether this is more appropriate as part of a Council provided service or as part of a direct payment.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of my decision the Council should:
    • apologise to Mrs B for the faults identified in this statement;
    • pay Mrs B £1,500;
    • work with Mrs B to identify a suitable PA and discuss with her the arrangements for that provision in terms of whether it should be Council provided or as part of a direct payment.
  2. Within two months of my decision the Council should carry out update training for officers dealing with single assessments to ensure they are aware of the need to assess the needs of carers as part of that assessment.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation and found fault by the Council in part of the complaint which caused Mrs B an injustice. I am satisfied the action the Council will take is sufficient to remedy that injustice.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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