The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr S complained the Council had not asked two social workers to apologise to him after making allegations about the standard of care he and his wife provided to a foster child. When he later made complaints about this, Mr S thought the Council should have considered them through the statutory complaints procedure. There is no evidence of fault.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr S, says that two officers made allegations against the care he and his wife offered to a foster child. The investigation caused the family a great deal of distress although the allegations were unsubstantiated. Mr S wanted apologies from the officers for the distress they caused by making the allegations during what was a difficult time for the family.
- When Mr S made complaints afterwards, he felt the Council should have used the statutory complaints procedure, given he was a foster carer, rather than consider them as corporate complaints.
- He asked the Ombudsman to consider these issues.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
- We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information sent to me by Mr S and I spoke to him on the telephone. I have sent Mr S and the Council a copy of my draft decision and will take any comments they make into account before reaching a decision.
What I found
- Mr S said he and his wife had been the subject of an allegation made by two social workers in relation to a child they were fostering, at a time when they wanted help and support. We would not criticise social workers making complaints if they felt, in their professional judgement, there were concerns with care.
- Although it was undoubtedly a difficult time for Mr and Mrs S, the allegations were investigated and found unsubstantiated. The Council subsequently thanked them for the work they did with the child and apologised if they felt communications were not “respectful and constructive”. There are no concerns about the standards of care offered by Mr and Mrs S.
- Mr S wants an apology from the two social workers who complained about him, who he thinks should have supported the family instead of criticising it, but I cannot achieve this outcome. We consider the Council as a corporate body. Mr S does not believe the apology is sufficient but this is a merits argument – the Council has apologised and there is no fault in it doing so.
- I appreciate the investigation would have caused Mr and Mrs S a huge amount of stress, and would have impacted on their care, but this was the appropriate way for the Council to treat the allegations. Further investigation is unlikely to lead to a different outcome on this point.
- Mr S thought the Council should have used the Children’s Services (statutory) complaints procedure to investigate the complaints he made following this. The statutory procedure is for the benefit of children. As Mr S made complaints on his own behalf, as a foster carer, it was appropriate for the Council to consider it as a corporate complaint, which it did. There is no evidence of Council fault.
- Subject to further comments by Mr S and the Council, I intend to make a finding of no fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman