Surrey County Council (18 016 677)

Category : Children's care services > Fostering

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 16 May 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council failed to address his complaints about children’s services, causing distress. The Ombudsman finds the Council failed to follow the statutory children’s complaints process. The Ombudsman recommends the Council provides an apology, payment, progresses Mr X’s complaints in line with the statutory process and reviews it procedures.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council has still not addressed his complaints about children’s services, made in September 2017, causing him distress.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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.
  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. I spoke to Mr X and I reviewed documents provided by Mr X and the Council. I gave Mr X and the Council the opportunity to comment on a draft of this decision and I considered the comments provided.

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What I found

  1. Complaints made by or on behalf of children about council services must follow a three stage statutory complaints procedure. Councils can only depart from this procedure in exceptional circumstances.
  2. Stage 1: local resolution - A council should provide a stage 1 response within 10 working days of receiving a complaint. In some cases this timeframe may be extended. But, the maximum amount of time a stage 1 should take is 20 working days.
  3. Stage 2: Investigation -This is an investigation by an investigating officer and an independent person. The Complaints Manager should arrange for a full and considered investigation of the complaint to take place without delay. The council should provide a stage 2 response within 25 working days of receiving a request to go to stage 2. Where this is not possible, the council may extend Stage 2 to a maximum of 65 working days.
  4. Stage 3: review panel - If a person remains unhappy they can ask for further consideration of the complaint by a Review Panel. The panel should meet within 30 working days of the request for a review and provide its report within 5 working days of the meeting. The council must then provide a response to the report within 15 days and refer the complainant to the Ombudsman should he remain unhappy.
  5. A council has discretion whether to consider complaints where to do so would prejudice court proceedings. In such cases the council should give reasons for their decision. Once the court proceedings have ended the complainant has one year to resubmit their complaint to the council.

What happened

  1. In 2008 the Council placed a child, Y, in foster care with Mr X and his wife.
  2. In July 2015 the Council removed Y from Mr X’s care. However, the Council returned Y after two weeks.
  3. In May 2016 Mr X complained to the Council about its actions.
  4. In June 2016 the Council agreed to consider Mr X’s complaint at stage 2 of the statutory children’s complaints process. However, it later told Mr X to resubmit his complaint after the court proceedings for his adoption of Y had ended.
  5. In June 2017 the Court agreed Mr X could adopt Y and proceedings ended. Mr X then contacted the Council asking it to consider his previous complaint and other matters.
  6. The Council and Mr X exchanged correspondence and the Council asked Mr X to set out his complaints so it could consider what, if any, it would investigate under the statutory process.
  7. By letter of 25 September 2017 Mr X set out his complaints to the Council. In summary, he complained about:
    • removal of Y in July 2015 without following a proper process
    • failure to investigate the allegations that led to the removal
    • reliance on an inaccurate council report during adoption proceedings
    • inaccurate council records and documents
    • failure to act on safeguarding concerns
    • failure to comply with court requests for information
    • refusing to allow him and his wife support at meetings
    • failure to ensure the adoption process took place fairly.
  8. In October 2017 the Council told Mr X it would ask an independent consultant to review the documents and see what matters, if any, it would consider under the statutory complaints process.
  9. Mr X chased the Council for a response.
  10. In March 2018 the independent consultant told the Council he had started to look at Mr X’s complaint but thought it was not clear. He suggested he may need to meet Mr X to understand his complaints. However, I note he later gave the Council his views on the complaint.
  11. The Council provided its response to Mr X’s complaints on 29 March 2018. I have summarised its response as follows:
    • His complaint that the Independent Reviewing Officer refused to allow a councillor to support him at meetings is an appeal against the IRO’s decision. This is not appropriate for consideration under the statutory process.
    • His complaint that he was inappropriately de-registered as a foster carer has a separate route of appeal. Therefore, this is not appropriate for consideration under the statutory process.
    • If he remains unhappy he can contact the Ombudsman.
  12. Mr X responded to the Council to say it had failed to address his complaints. I note the Council again referred him to the Ombudsman.
  13. Mr X then contacted the Ombudsman. He said the Council had only addressed one of the concerns set out in his letter of September 2017 and had made up another complaint.

Findings

  1. The Council agreed to look at Mr X’s complaint about the removal of Y at stage 2 of the statutory children’s complaints process, once court proceedings had ended. Court proceedings finished in June 2017 and Mr X complained again in September 2017, yet the Council has still not investigated this complaint. I consider this is significant fault.
  2. The Council failed to address most of the complaints made by Mr X in September 2017. The Council should have considered these complaints under the statutory process or explained to Mr X why it would not. However, it did neither. This is significant fault.
  3. The Council’s complaint response of March 2018 was inadequate. The Council only addressed one concern and it addressed a complaint about deregistration which Mr X did not raise. This amounts to fault.
  4. Mr X has been put to time and trouble and suffered distress because of the Council’s failings. I am also concerned there may be systemic problems within the Council.

Agreed action

  1. To remedy the injustice set out above I recommend the Council carry out the following actions within one month of the date of my decision:
    • Provide Mr X with a written apology for failing to address his complaints;
    • Pay Mr X £100 in recognition of the time, trouble and distress he has suffered;
    • Consider Mr X’s complaint about the removal of Y from his care under stage 2 of the statutory children’s complaints process;
    • Consider Mr X’s remaining complaints under stage 1 of the statutory children’s complaints process or provide Mr X with a written explanation why it will not do so;
    • Review its handling of Mr X’s complaint to identify what went wrong and take steps to prevent recurrence of any failings. The Council should also provide the Ombudsman with evidence of its review and the actions taken.

The Council has accepted my recommendations.

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Final decision

  1. I find the Council failed to follow the statutory children’s complaint process, causing Mr X injustice. The Council has accepted my recommendations and I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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