The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr and Mrs T complained the Council removed two children they were fostering from their care primarily because of their ages. This was not found to be the case. The Council took six months from when the children were removed to collect their belongings from Mr and Mrs T. This is fault but it did not cause Mr and Mrs T injustice.
- The complainants, whom I shall call Mr and Mrs T say the Council unreasonably removed 2 children (U and V) from long term foster care with them on account of their age and contrary to previous acceptance the children would stay with them until maturity. They say the process used was contrary to the Council’s policies and procedures.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- 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, we will share this decision with Ofsted.
- 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 considered the information submitted by Mr and Mrs T with their case and spoke to them on the telephone. I made enquiries of the Council and assessed its response, which I cannot share with Mr and Mrs T. I sent the Council and Mr and Mrs T a copy of my draft decision and took comments received into account before issuing a decision.
What I found
- Mr and Mrs T were agency foster carers looking after children in the Council’s area. This means the priority for the Council was the children and not Mr and Mrs T. Mr and Mrs T would have been supervised by their agency and, arguably, any concerns about the care they provided to U and V should have come through it. The agency is not in the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction so I cannot consider its actions. I note Mr and Mrs T have referred their case with their agency to the Independent Review Mechanism.
- Mr and Mrs T thought the Council removed U and V from their care, in March 2018, because of their age. From seeing the documentation, I am satisfied this was not the case. U and V were removed because of safeguarding concerns. These concerns had more weight than the previous agreement U and V would stay with Mr and Mrs T until they were 18. They would also override U and V’s wishes and feelings.
- When considering what action to take, there is evidence the Council considered the information it had. It may have chosen to ask for more medical evidence given one of the concerns was over-medicalisation of V. Mr and Mrs T say they only took V to medical professionals upon agreement with social workers or the school. Even if the Council had asked for additional evidence, on the balance of probabilities, the outcome would not have been different. The Council’s decision to remove the children was based on more than one piece of evidence. There were also disclosures from the children, and observations from Council officers, following the move, which I cannot share with Mr and Mrs T. Mr and Mrs T disagree with the accuracy of these but this, as before, would not have made any difference to the Council’s decision to remove the children.
- The way to move children from one placement to another is a matter of professional judgement and I have no evidence the professional judgement, in this case, was exercised with fault. The Council says the agency arrived at their address before the Council did; the agency was responsible for explaining to them what was happening. Whether moving children is urgent or not is also a matter of professional judgement and there is no evidence of fault in the Council deciding that removing the children was the correct course of action.
- I cannot consider Mr and Mrs T’s complaints that the children were extremely distressed and unhappy at the removal as they do not have parental responsibility for U or V. I can understand how upsetting it must have been for Mr and Mrs T but, given the Council’s decision to remove the children quickly rather than having a planned move (which Mr and Mrs T say their agency wanted), this was unavoidable.
- Mr and Mrs T are critical that no one spoke to them about the allegations made and gave them an opportunity to change their practice. On the balance of probabilities, this would have been a matter for their agency rather than the Council. The Council’s online procedures say; ‘You will be given where appropriate the chance to respond to the allegation before a final decision is made about what action to take’. The Council accepts it might have communicated better with Mr and Mrs T but it did not think it would be ‘appropriate’, at the time, to take the lead from their agency, which is not evidence of fault.
- Mr and Mrs T say that a recording of a telephone call – which they did not give permission for – was used as evidence against them. They say they approached the Office of the Information Commissioner, which said their fostering agency had breached the Data Protection Act 1998. The recording also highlighted safeguarding concerns. Because of this, I do not find the Council at fault for accessing it and using it as evidence.
- Although Mr and Mrs T are understandably unhappy about a note from their agency written to ‘warn’ the Council they were seeking to become Council foster carers, there is no evidence this influenced the Council’s actions.
- Mr and Mrs T say it took six months from U and V being removed for their possessions to be collected by the Council. This is fault but it does not cause Mr and Mrs T injustice – the injustice is the children’s who were without their property for some considerable time. I cannot consider this matter further as Mr and Mrs T cannot complain on behalf of the children.
- I have found evidence of fault in my investigation but not that led to injustice for Mr and Mrs T.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman