Manchester City Council (18 003 403)

Category : Children's care services > Fostering

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 12 Feb 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr B complains about the Council’s response to his concerns about a school and its decision to terminate a foster placement. The Ombudsman has not investigated the complaint relating to the school as this is outside of his jurisdiction. The Ombudsman agrees with the Council’s investigation into the other complaints. The investigation said that there was no fault in the Council’s actions except that the Council should have informed the independent reviewing officer earlier and should have held a review meeting before deciding to change the children’s placement. The Council has apologised for this and this is an appropriate remedy.

The complaint

  1. Mr and Mrs B are foster carers. They complain about the way the Council decided to end a foster placement. They say the Council did not take the appropriate action against the children’s school even though they raised safeguarding concerns about the school.

Back to top

What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated the complaints about the Council’s actions. Paragraphs 64 to 68 explain why I have not investigated the actions of the school or the way the Council responded to Mr B’s concerns about the school. I have also not investigated Mr B’s claim that the Council’s actions were in breach of the Human Rights Act.

Back to top

The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b), as amended)
  2. The courts have said that we cannot investigate a complaint about any action by a council, concerning a matter which itself is outside jurisdiction (R (on the application of M) v Commissioner for Local Administration in England [2006] EWHC 2847 (Admin)) 
  3. 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 Investigating Officer 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 that investigation was flawed. However, he may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
  4. 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)
  5. 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)
  6. 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)

Back to top

How I considered this complaint

  1. I have discussed the complaint with Mr and Mrs B. I have considered the documents they and the Council have sent and the relevant law, guidance and policies and both sides’ comments on the draft decision.

Back to top

What I found

  1. Regulation 14 of the Care Planning, Placement and Care Review (England) Regulations 2010 says that when a local authority wants to terminate a placement, it must, among other things:
    • Carry out a review of the child’s case and ensure that the views of all the people concerned have been heard.
    • Inform the IRO.
    • Give notice to the person with whom the child is placed.
  2. The Children Act Guidance Volume 2 says that regulation 14 does not apply where the foster carer decides that they are no longer able to continue with the placement of a child.
  3. The Children Act Guidance Volume 4 says children should not move to another placement unless this is by agreement following a statutory review.

Agencies involved and the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction

  1. Mr B and his wife Mrs B are foster carers. The Council (Manchester City Council) placed four siblings with them in June 2013. The couple also have their own child.
  2. Mr and Mrs B live in a different council (council L) and the children’s primary school is based there.
  3. Mr and Mrs B are agency foster carers with Agency K.
  4. My current investigation only relates to Manchester City Council, not council L, agency K or the school.

Summary of events relating to the complaint

  1. There was an incident on 8 February 2017 when one of the foster children went missing from Mr B’s care.
  2. Council L received referrals from agency K and the Council regarding this incident. Council L’s Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) organised an initial allegation meeting on 17 February 2017 which the Council, agency K, the police and the school attended. The professionals upheld an allegation of neglect by Mr B relating to the incident.
  3. The Council held a meeting with Mr and Mrs B, agency K and the school on 1 March 2017. The Council explained to Mr and Mrs B that it was unhappy with the way they had handled the situation when the child went missing on 8 February 2017. As Mr and Mrs B were registered as foster carers with agency K, the Council said it was agency K’s role to investigate the incident and to assess the foster carers’ training needs.
  4. The Council said it had decided the children could continue to live with Mr and Mrs B and the matter would be dealt with by additional training. It said it had taken this decision taking into consideration that:
    • The children were happy with Mr and Mrs B.
    • The children had made a lot of progress in the placement.
    • The children should remain together and it would be difficult to find a placement for four siblings.
    • A move would be disruptive and cause distress. It may mean a move to another school.
    • There had been no further incidents when the children went missing.
    • The Council would give Mr and Mrs B guidelines of what was expected from them in the next few days.
  5. The professionals agreed at the review meeting organised by the LADO on 6 March 2017 that the decision made at the previous meeting (uphold the allegation) should remain.
  6. Agency K’s worker met Mr and Mrs B on 8 March 2017. She sent an email to the Council about what happened in the meeting. She said she could not tell Mr and Mrs B the conversations from the professionals’ meetings. Mr B said he knew the Council would remove the children. He said the police had removed two children from his care in the past. The police had told him then that under normal circumstances it would also have removed Mr B’s birth children. Mr B said he was worried that the Council would try to remove his birth child as well as the foster children. Mr B told Agency K that he could not work with the children’s school anymore and he wanted to move them from the school.
  7. Mr B has told me that Agency K’s worker’s email does not reflect what he said, but he agrees that he told Agency K that he wanted the children to be moved to a different school.
  8. Agency K informed the Council of Mr B’s position.
  9. Agency K contacted the Council on 21 March 2017 and said:
    • Mrs B had moved out of Mr and Mrs B’s house and had moved to a house next door. She did this to protect her own child from being removed by the Council.
    • Mr B had told her he would refuse to send the children to the school after the Easter holidays as he was not able to work with the school or trust them.
    • Mr B had made a complaint about the school to Ofsted.
    • Agency K was concerned about the placement.
  10. Mr B has said that he disagrees with the Council’s note of this date. He says he never separated from Mrs B and that he said he would not return the children to the school after the expiry of his 28 days-notice period which he was entitled to give.
  11. A note from the Council dated 23 March 2017 sets out what action the Council was taking. It said the social worker and her manager would meet with Mr and Mrs B to explain to them that they had to return the children to the school and to let them know that Mrs B should live in the family home. The note said the Council was concerned about Mr and Mrs B not working with professionals in the children’s best interests. However, the Council was waiting for the assessment by Agency K and the decision from the Fostering Panel. It said these would inform any decisions about the future of the children.
  12. The manager and the IRO discussed the case on 28 March 2017. They felt it would be necessary to move the children because of the foster carers’ continued refusal to return the children to the school after the Easter holidays.
  13. Mr B called the independent reviewing officer (IRO) on 29 March 2017. He said he would be giving his notice on the foster placement on 31 March 2017 and he had safeguarding concerns about the school.
  14. The Council decided to move the children to a new placement on 29 March 2017. The documents show the reasons were the foster carers’ inability to understand the concerns that had been raised about their practice and their decision not to return the children to their school.
  15. On 31 March 2017, Mr B gave the Council 28 days’ notice to end the placement. His reason was that there was a safeguarding issue at the school and he did not agree the children should remain at the school.
  16. On 1 April 2017 Mrs B called the police as she said the children had alleged that a teacher had touched one of the children inappropriately during assembly. The Council and the police spoke to the child who had witnessed this incident and decided there was no case to answer.
  17. On 10 April 2017, the Council found a placement for the children. The IRO discussed the case with the social worker and asked whether the move could be expedited over the half term holiday. The social worker said 17 April was the earliest the foster carers could start. The IRO said she would arrange a looked after child (LAC) review within 20 days of the move date.
  18. The social worker sent an email to Mr and Mrs B not to discuss the issues around the school or their decision to give notice with the children. The Council asked Mr and Mrs B not to discuss these issues in the contact with the children’s mother and reminded them that they gave notice and everybody needed to manage this process in the children’s best interests. They asked Mr and Mrs B to be supportive of the move, regardless of their personal feelings of why they gave notice.
  19. The social worker visited the children on 11 April 2017 and informed them of the decision that they would leave the placement. The children were very upset at the decision. The social worker became concerned, as she spoke with the children, that Mr and Mrs B had been discussing the issues with the children, against the request of the social services. The social worker gave the children leaflets for an advocacy service.
  20. The children asked if the placement ended because the school lied. They were worried about the money Mr and Mrs B had spent on their house. One child said the first placement for the child was the most important and, now that he had to move, all the hard word Mr and Mrs B had done would be gone.
  21. The following day the social worker received a call from the older sibling of the children, who lived with other foster carers. The sibling was described as very distressed and almost hysterical. She said Mr B had told her that the children were being left at risk of serious harm at school. She said they had shown her a photo of bruise on one of the children’s faces which was allegedly caused at school.
  22. The sibling’s foster carer told he social worker that Mr B walked into the contact session waving a piece of paper saying: ‘I’ve been issued with a gagging order.’ The foster carer said she had tried to tell Mr B that it was best for the children to follow the social worker’s request, but he had ignored this.
  23. Mr B has denied speaking to the older sibling or the foster carer and says this did not happen.
  24. The children told the advocacy service and their mother that they wanted to stay with Mr and Mrs B and change primary schools and the advocacy service and the mother made representations to the Council.
  25. The Council became concerned that Mr and Mrs B were not following the Council’s request in managing what was already a difficult move. It said this could cause greater problems in the next placement and the social worker felt that Mr and Mrs B were not considering what the impact of their behaviour was on the children. The Council said it was worried that Mr and Mrs B were not acting in the children’s best interest and decided to bring the end of the placement forward.
  26. The Council attended Mr and Mrs B’s home and removed the foster children. The children were clearly distressed and did not want to move. Mr and Mrs B’s birth child saw this and was also upset.

Mr B’s complaint

  1. The Council responded to Mr B’s complaint dated 28 April 2017 on 9 and 30 May 2017. An independent investigator and an independent person completed stage 2 reports in November 2017 and the panel considered the complaint at stage 3 on 27 April 2018.
  2. The complaints were:
    • The Council should have investigated their complaints against the school more thoroughly.
    • The Council should have shared their safeguarding concerns about the school with Council L’s LADO.
    • The Council should have investigated the concerns about the school in the same way it investigated the concerns the school raised about them.
    • The Council should have responded differently to the incident on 8 February 2017.
    • The Council removed the children without following the correct procedure which should have included a looked after children review and the move was financially motivated.
    • The IRO was not involved in the decision to remove the children and should have been.
    • Mr and Mrs B offered to speak to the new foster carers and this offer was unreasonably refused.
    • The Council has denied them contact with the children.
    • The Council has failed to recognise their rights under Human Rights legislation.
  3. The independent investigator initially asked to speak to the children as part of his investigation. The Council said the complaint was not made on the children’s behalf and it was not in their best interest to be interviewed.
  4. The independent investigator (IO) did not uphold any of Mr B’s complaints at stage 2. The independent person (IP) partly upheld the complaint about the Council’s response to the incident on 8 February. He said the Council should have informed the IRO about the incident and failed to do so. He also partly upheld the complaint about the removal of the children as the Council made the decision to end the placement without a LAC review.
  5. The Council did not uphold any of the complaints at stage 2.
  6. The stage 3 review panel partly upheld two of Mr B’s complaints in line with the IP’s earlier findings. The Council agreed with the findings of the stage 3 panel and apologised to Mr and Mrs B for the failures in terms of the process.

Analysis

  1. I have not investigated Mr and Mrs B’s three first complaints about the Council’s response to his concerns about the school or his complaint about the Human Rights Act.
  2. I agree with the outcomes of the investigation into Mr B’s other complaints.
  3. Mr B said the Council should have responded differently to the incident on 8 February 2017. He feels the matter did not meet the threshold for a referral and the Council should have challenged the outcome of the meetings which upheld the allegation.
  4. The Council’s investigation did not uphold the complaint in terms of the referral and the meetings but it said the Council should have informed the IRO of the incident. I agree with the findings. The incident met the threshold for a referral to the LADO. A seven year old child was missing from Mr B’s care and the Council was concerned that Mr B had not taken appropriate action when this incident took place. The Council followed the correct process by referring the matter to the LADO. Mr B was not a Council foster carer so the responsibility for the investigation into concerns about Mr and Mrs B’s practice lay with agency K, not the Council.
  5. Mr B says the correct procedure was not followed when the children were removed and that there should have been a LAC review There is some lack of clarity in the government’s guidance whether a LAC review is needed when a foster carer has given notice on the placement. Nevertheless, the Council’s own investigation has upheld the complaint and I agree there was fault in the process, but am of the view it did not cause any significant injustice.
  6. The purpose of a review meeting would have been to ensure that the views of the people involved including the children were heard before the Council made a decision about changing the placement.
  7. In this case, the Council knew the views of the foster carers, the children and the IRO. The decision whether to move the children or not had been taken out of the Council’s hands by Mr and Mrs B’s decision to give notice on the placement and by taking the position they would not return the children to the school. Therefore, I am of the view that the fact that the meeting was not held did not cause any real injustice as the outcome would always have been that the children would move placements.
  8. I also accept the Council’s reasons why they brought the date of the move forward. The Council was concerned that Mr and Mrs B were not following their request to work with the Council to make the move as painless as possible for the children. The Council was worried that the longer the children remained in the placement, the more difficult the move would be and it would make it more difficult for the children to settle in their next placement. However, it would have been good practice to give the family some notice so that the move was less traumatic for everybody.
  9. I agree with the investigation that there was no evidence that the move was financially motivated.
  10. Mr B complained that the IRO was not involved with the decision to move the children. I agree with the investigation that there was no fault here. The IRO discussed the move with the Council on 28 March 2017 and agreed with the move. She spoke to the Council again on 10 April and was clearly in agreement with the proposed actions.
  11. Mr B complains that his offer to talk through his experience with the new foster carers was unreasonably refused and that contact with the children after the move was unreasonably denied. The investigation did not uphold these complaints and I agree with the outcome. Mr B was in conflict with the school, agency K, council L and the Council. He made comments to the children, the children’s sibling and her foster carer which were of concern. The Council sent an email on 10 April 2017 asking Mr B not to discuss certain issues with the children, but the problem continued.
  12. The Council took these factors into consideration and decided that it would not be in the children’s best interest to have further contact with Mr and Mrs B and there was little to be gained from a meeting between the new foster carers and Mr and Mrs B. I find no fault in the way the Council made this decision.
  13. Mrs B says the independent investigation into his complaint was flawed as the investigator did not speak to the children. The Council says it made this decision in the children’s interest. It was focused on settling the children in the new placements and did not think it was in the children’s interest to revisit the issues about the old placement. I do not agree that the investigation was flawed because of this as the investigator had access to the children’s records and knew what their views were. The documents show the children wanted to remain in the placement and shared a strong sense of injustice about what happened.

Back to top

Agreed action

  1. The Council has already apologised for not informing the IRO of the 8 February 2017 incident and for not holding a review meeting before its decision to end the foster placement. That is an appropriate remedy and I do not recommend any further remedy.

Back to top

Final decision

  1. I have completed the investigation. There was some fault by the Council which has already been remedied.

Back to top

Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. The Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b) says the Ombudsman cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools. The actions of a council dealing with a complaint about these matters are also out of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
  2. This means the Ombudsman cannot look at the actions of the school or the way the Council responded to a complaint about the actions of a school.
  3. Mr B says that some of the school’s actions reached the threshold for a safeguarding investigation. He complains about the Council’s failure to address this. I cannot investigate this complaint without also considering the school’s actions. Therefore, this complaint is also outside of the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction.
  4. In addition, most of the safeguarding concerns Mr B raises relate to events dating back to 2015 and 2016. I would not, in any event, investigate these complaints as they relate to events from more than a year ago. Mr B could have made a complaint about these matters at the time and any investigation now would be difficult because of the historical nature of the complaint.
  5. I have not investigated Mr B’s claim that the Council’s actions are in breach of the Human Rights Act as this claim would be better decided by a court.

Back to top

Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

Print this page