The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr B complains about the way the Council held meetings to consider his actions as an adult who works with children. The Ombudsman has not found fault with the way the meetings were held but there was poor record keeping and the Council failed to consider the protocol for missing children. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mr B and to place a detailed note of its reasons for upholding the allegation on his file.
- Mr B complains about the Council’s actions following an allegation that he acted inappropriately when a child went missing from his care.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 have discussed the complaint with Mr B and I have considered the documents he and the Council have sent and both sides’ comments on the draft decision.
- 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.
What I found
- The national guidance ‘Working together to safeguard children 2015’ and the procedures of the local children safeguarding board set out the Council’s duties in dealing with allegations against an adult who works with children. The procedures use the word ‘employer’ to refer to all ‘organisations that have a working relationship with the individual against whom the allegation is made.’ This include fostering services, employment agencies or businesses.
- Councils must appoint a Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) to oversee and manage when there are allegations against people who work with children.
- An allegation may be that a person has:
- Behaved in a way that has or may have harmed a child.
- Possibly committed an offence against a child or related to a child.
- Behaved in a way that indicates they may pose a risk of harm to children.
- Acted in an irresponsible manner which any reasonable person would find alarming or questionable given the nature of work undertaken.
- Demonstrated an inability to make sound professional judgements which safeguard the welfare of children.
- Failed to follow adequate policy or procedures relating to safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children.
Missing children protocol
- The procedures are aimed at the council, police and other agencies to ensure there is a coordinated response when a child is missing.
- They say:
- ‘Many children will exhibit normal adolescent behaviour testing boundaries and it is not helpful to consider every incident of lateness or absence as high risk. However, some children will need to be treated as missing immediately due to their vulnerability.’
- A person should check their residence and surrounding area to find the child before contacting the police.
- The children should be offered an independent return interview and this is the responsibility of the local authority with parental responsibility.
Statutory complaints procedure for complaints about children services
- The law sets out a three stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. This procedure sets out the actions that can be complained about and the people who can complain. If a complaint does not fall under the procedure, it will be dealt with under the council’s corporate complaints procedure.
- Mr and Mrs B foster for agency K, an independent fostering agency. In July 2013, council L (not Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council) placed four siblings with Mr and Mrs B. One of the children is a seven year old girl called C. Mr and Mrs B also have a child together.
- There was an argument on the evening of 7 February 2017 and child C told Mr B she would leave in the morning.
Incident of 8 February 2017
- On 8 February 2017 the following happened:
- 08:30 – Mrs B left the house to go to work.
- 08:30 – The children were getting ready to go to school, supervised by Mr B.
- 08:35 – C said: ‘I’m leaving now’. She went into the porch and closed the door to the porch.
- 08:40 – Mr B and the children went to leave the house and realised C had gone. They looked outside but could not see her.
- Between 08:40 and 08:55 - Mr B dropped his child off at nursery.
- 08:55 – Mr B dropped two of the children off at school M which was also C’s school. He says he looked for C during the drive to the school and then continued to drive around to look for her.
- 08:55 – One of the children told school M that C had gone missing.
- 09:10 – A member from another school contacted school M and said a parent had reported a child walking on her own at 08:55 am. One of the school members had gone out to find the child.
- 09:15 – C was found. She was with three members of the public and the person from the other school.
Referrals to the Council
- On 9 February 2017 agency K spoke to the Council regarding its concerns about Mr B’s actions. The Council agreed to convene a meeting as soon as possible
- On 8 February 2017, council L sent a multi-agency referral form to the police. The police sent this to the Council on 13 February 2017.
Meeting on 17 February 2017
- The Council organised an initial allegation management meeting on 17 February 2017. The LADO chaired the meeting. The police, agency K, council L and school M attended the meeting.
- The social worker for the children, who works for council L, said she had visited Mr B and had told him he had acted inappropriately. She said:
- Mr B had heard the front door close but did not look for the child.
- She challenged him on the fact that he had not told the school that C was missing.
- There would be no criminal investigation.
- Mr and Mrs B should be spoken to separately.
- The children should be seen and spoken to about their placement.
- There would be a review meeting on 6 March 2017.
Meeting on 6 March 2017
- The same agencies attended the review meeting apart from the police. Council L said it had a meeting with Mr B and continued to be concerned as he minimised the allegation.
- Agency K said it had met with Mr B and he would not acknowledge that his judgment on the morning was wrong. He blamed the school for misrepresenting what happened and said he acted in accordance with the protocol.
- The Council said the outcome of the previous meeting stood.
- On 31 March 2017 Mr and Mrs B gave notice to council L and said they could no longer care for C and her siblings. Mr B said they did this because they were worried that, if the children were removed from his and Mrs B’s care, they could also lose their own child.
- Agency K has decided to put the case before the fostering panel which may result in Mr B’s de-registration as a foster carer.
Complaint and responses
- Mr B complained to the Council in May 2017. The Council responded to his complaint at stage 2 of the process in November 2017. He has also complained to the Ombudsman. I have summarised his complaint and the Council’s responses.
- Mr B said:
- The Council did not provide him with a written report or a way to appeal.
- The LADO refused to meet with him.
- The Council did not explain to him why the allegation was upheld.
- The allegation was upheld because he did not call the police. He said he did this because he followed the protocol, but the Council did not consider the protocol.
- As a result of the Council’s actions, the children will have to leave the placement and he will have to give up fostering.
- The school’s report on the incident contained ‘malicious fabrication’.
- The Council should have carried out a return interview.
- The underlying problem was that he did not have the same rights as an employee because he was a foster carer.
- The Council should have investigated his complaint under the statutory procedure, not the corporate procedure.
- The role of the LADO was to convene the meeting and, if possible, agree an outcome.
- The Council did not have a duty to provide a report.
- Any child protection investigation was the duty of council L as the children were ‘looked after’ by council L.
- The employer’s role was to decide what further disciplinary action to take.
- It was the employer’s duty to share the minutes of the meeting.
- It did not have to consider his complaint under the statutory procedure as the children were not looked after by the Council.
- C went missing while in Mr B’s care and should have been better supervised. Mr B should have immediately checked for C when he heard the front door open.
- The fact that Mr B dropped off his daughter at nursery and the other children at school suggested he did not sufficiently understand the urgency of the situation or fully concentrated on the search for C which he should have done considering her age and vulnerability.
- Mr B failed to check with the school whether C was there even though this was the most obvious place she would go to.
- Mr B failed to let the school know C was missing and to let him know immediately when she turned up.
- Mr B failed to contact the social worker and the police. He should have done this as soon as he realised she was missing because of C’s age and vulnerability.
- After the events, professionals spoke to Mr B. His responses suggested he did not accept the concerns. This increased professionals’ concerns as it suggested he may act in the same way in the future.
- The complaint is made more complex because three different agencies are involved. I understand Mr B’s frustration at this, but I can only investigate the Council. The Council’s role was a limited one. The guidance is clear that the Council was not responsible for the following:
- Inform Mr B of the outcome of the meeting – agency K.
- Decide whether to carry out a disciplinary investigation – agency K.
- Decide whether to take disciplinary action – agency K.
- Carry out a child protection investigation if needed - council L as the children were looked after by them.
- Carry out an independent return interview – council L as it has parental responsibility for the children. This is normally only done if a child is reported missing to the police.
- The Council has offered to pay Mr B £300 for the ‘frustration, distress and inconvenience’ he incurred in making the complaint. That is an appropriate remedy.
- The Council has agreed to take the following actions within one month of the final decision:
- Apologise to Mr B for the fault.
- Add a note to minutes of the meeting setting out more clearly why the allegation was upheld.
- I have completed my investigation and found fault by the Council. I am satisfied the action the Council will take is sufficient to remedy the injustice Mr B have suffered
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman