The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr and Mrs B complain the Council has not produced a report summarising the findings of its investigation into allegations made against them as foster parents. Mrs B is a social worker and is concerned it could impact on her future employment if the findings are not summarised clearly. The Ombudsman does not find fault.
- The complainants, who I refer to as Mr and Mrs B, complain about the Council’s handling of an investigation into their standards of care as foster parents. We have previously investigated the substantive issues of this case. This complaint is separate in that it is solely related to how the Council has set out its findings.
- Mr and Mrs B complain the Council has not set out a further report, summarising its findings. They say it should have done so in line with national guidance. They are concerned that if unsubstantiated allegations are left on their record in their current form, it could have negative impact on Mrs B’s employment opportunities as a social worker.
- Mr and Mrs B also complain the Council did not follow national guidance to include its designated officer for child protection (“the LADO”). They say any such involvement should be in the summary of the report.
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)
- We cannot investigate a complaint if it is about a personnel issue. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5a, paragraph 4, 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 reviewed the information provided and details of the previous case then discussed the complaint with Mr B. I reviewed the reports the Council has already provided and decided whether it should have produced a further report.
What I found
- The Department for Education has produced National Minimum Standards for fostering services (“the Standards”).
- Standard 22 relates to ‘Handling allegations and suspicions of harm’. The following parts of Standard 22 are relevant to this case:
- 22.4) The fostering service provider’s child protection procedures are submitted for consideration and comment to the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board (LSCB) and to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) for Child Protection10 (or other senior officer responsible for child protection matters in that department). They are consistent with the local policies and procedures agreed by the LSCB relevant to the geographical area where the foster carer lives. Any conflicts between locally agreed procedures and those of other placing authorities are discussed and resolved as far as possible.
- 22.5) Each fostering service has a designated person, who is a senior manager, responsible for managing allegations. The designated person has responsibility for liaising with the LADO and for keeping the subject of the allegation informed of progress during and after the investigation.
- 22.6) Allegations against people that work with children or members of the fostering household are reported by the fostering service to the LADO. This includes allegations that may appear relatively insignificant or that have also been reported directly to the police or Children and Family Services.
- 22.7) A clear and comprehensive summary of any allegations made against a particular member of the fostering household, or staff member, including details of how the allegation was followed up and resolved, a record of any action taken and the decisions reached, is kept on the person’s confidential file. A copy is provided to the person as soon as the investigation is concluded. The information is retained on the confidential file, even after someone leaves the organisation, until the person reaches normal retirement age, or for ten years if this is longer.
- As we have already investigated the substantive issues of the case previously, I will not go into these again in detail.
- Mr and Mrs B are experienced foster carers. The Council placed three brothers with them in late 2016. The brothers’ behaviour became increasingly challenging and there were incidents of violent behaviour by the brothers towards each other. Mr and Mrs B did not feel they were receiving adequate support from the Council and served notice in early 2017 to end the placement.
- Following the end of the placement, the children’s social worker raised some concerns about the foster care of Mr and Mrs B. The Council initiated a standards of care investigation. Mr and Mrs B were suspended from fostering while the investigation took place.
- The Council produced a report, which Mr and Mrs B said contained many errors. Mr and Mrs B complained about the investigation and the findings. The Council agreed that another independent social worker would investigate again and complete a further report.
- The further report found several failings in the first standards of care investigation. It also noted failures in communication about the placement on the Council’s behalf. It recommended some training for Mr and Mrs B but found the concerns did not warrant de-registering them as foster carers. The Council continue to approve Mr and Mrs B as foster carers.
- The first question is whether the Council should have completed a further report, following the second standards of care investigation report, summarising its findings. Mr and Mrs B say it should have done so in line with Standard 22.7.
- I have read through the report and considered whether this report complies with the standards or if the Council should have competed another report. I do not find fault in the Council’s decision not to issue a further report.
- The second investigation report has a bullet pointed list of all the concerns the social worker raised about Mr and Mrs B’s care. It therefore meets the first element of Standard 22.7, which is to provide a clear and comprehensive summary of any allegations made.
- The next elements of Standard 22.7 say the Council should include details of how it followed up and resolved the allegation, a record of any action it took and decisions it reached.
- The report goes on to address each of the bullet points one by one. Under each heading its sets out a background, including Mr and Mrs B’s views. It also provides a detailed analysis, findings and, where necessary, recommendations of further training for Mr and Mrs B. The report therefore also meets those elements of Standard 22.7.
- The final elements say the Council must provide a copy of the report to the foster carers and keep it on their confidential file. The Council has provided a copy of the report to Mr and Mrs B and the report does remain on their confidential file.
- The report is relatively long and detailed but anyone who reads it would have no doubt about what the allegations and findings were. It seems what Mr and Mrs B want is for the Council to provide another report, with a shorter summary saying whether the allegations were upheld or not upheld. I cannot say it should do so in this case.
- If the social worker alleged specific incidents in which abuse took place or Mr or Mrs B’s actions directly led to harm, the Council may have made clear decisions on whether they were substantiated. However, that is not the case here. The investigation was into the overall standards of care, including behavioural management techniques and empathy with the brothers. There is no clear upheld or not upheld outcome to most of these issues.
- The report has found areas in which Mr and Mrs B show good practice and others where they would benefit from added training. It would be difficult to condense these findings down into a short summary that says whether the Council found the allegations supported. The report sets out the findings clearly and in detail.
- Mr and Mrs B refer to the section of the report titled ‘Actions by the Department’. They say this does not give any conclusions about the social workers involved but focusses solely on them as foster carers.
- I would not expect this part of the report to give conclusions about the social workers. The report is for a standards of care investigation into Mr and Mrs B as foster carers. It will therefore focus on their care. If the Council has concerns about the performance or conduct of its social workers, it would need to investigate these separately and confidentially as employment matters. As above at Paragraph 4, such matters are not in our jurisdiction.
- I also cannot see how the report would impact on Mrs B’s employment. Their fostering file is confidential. The Council would not routinely share it with her current employer or any prospective employer.
- Mr B says it might impact on Mrs B if she applied for a job at the Council. However, I am not aware that she has made any such application and cannot measure injustice based on such a hypothetical situation.
- If Mrs B did apply for a job at the Council, it might need to consider any conflict of interest if social workers with knowledge of her case were involved in her application. The Council is very unlikely to routinely share the file with hiring managers.
Standards 22.4 – 22.6
- Mr and Mrs B say they did not receive any information about the LADO or have any contact with them in the 14 months they were under suspension. They say this should have been in the summary report.
- The Standards say the fostering service must keep the LADO up to date with details of any allegations made. They do not say anything about contact between the LADO and the subject of the allegation. They also do not say the Council must detail any contact it has with the LADO in its investigation report. I therefore do not find fault.
- The Council is not at fault in how it has reported the findings of its standard of care investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman