The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complained about the Council’s failure to provide financial support to care for his two grandchildren and related matters. The Ombudsman has found no fault because Mr X refused to accept the backdated fostering allowance and there is no evidence to prove the other matters complained about.
- Mr X complains about the Council’s failure to provide financial support to care for his two grandchildren and related matters. In particular, he complains about:
- Being pressurised into resigning from a private fostering agency.
- Making a payment for only one child.
- Inaccurate statements made by social workers about his conduct and the Council’s refusal to acknowledge these in writing.
- Mr X says he wants the Council to accept and apologise for these mistakes.
What I have investigated
- I have not investigated complaints about the failure by the Council to comply with statutory requirements in respect of child protection matters. This is a matter for the mother of Child A and Child B to complain about, not Mr X, as she has suffered the primary claimed injustice.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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
- As part of my investigation I have:
- considered the complaint and documents provided by Mr X;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered its response;
- considered the relevant law and statutory guidance;
- spoken to Mr X; and
- sent a draft version of this decision to both parties and invited comments on it.
What I found
Relevant law and guidance
- Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 provides the local authority with the power to provide accommodation for children without a court order when they do not have somewhere suitable to live. It is widely known as voluntary accommodation because the parents must agree to the child being accommodated.
- Regulations 24 of the 2010 Care Planning Regulations set out arrangements for the temporary approval of a connected person as a foster carer in exceptional circumstances for up to 16 weeks to allow an immediate placement and sufficient time for a foster carer approval process to be undertaken.
- Mr X and his wife, Mrs X, had been Council-approved foster carers since 2002. During this time they successfully fostered many children. In October 2016, concerns were raised about a child in their care. The Council carried out an investigation about what happened. However, during this investigation Mr and Mrs X resigned as approved foster carers.
- Mr and Mrs X later registered with a private fostering agency (“the Private Agency”).
Events leading to the complaint
- In February 2019, Mr and Mrs X were looking after their two grandchildren, Child A and Child B under a private arrangement. Shortly afterwards, their mother (Mrs X’s daughter) attempted suicide and the Council’s social service department became involved. It was agreed by all parties that Child A and Child B should continue to live with their grandparents under a section 20 agreement which was signed by their mother.
- In March 2019, discussions took place between Mr and Mrs X and the Council about how this caring arrangement should be formalised. It was agreed they would be approved as foster carers on a temporary basis under Regulation 24, pending a full assessment. They would receive the standard fostering allowance paid through the Private Agency.
- However, became apparent it was not possible for foster carers to be registered with more than one agency. This led to a delay in paying Mr and Mrs X the fostering allowance, and when it did happen the allowance was only paid for Child A.
- This also led the Council to question whether long term fostering was in the children’s best interests, particularly as ongoing assessment of their mother had not been completed. So alternative options were discussed with Mr and Mrs X. These options included making the children subject to either a Special Guardianship Order (“SGO”) or a Child Arrangement Order (“CAO”). The Council started an assessment on the suitability of Mr and Mrs X to be long term carers under either an SGO or connected persons fostering arrangement.
- Mr and Mrs X made it clear they did not want to apply for a SGO. The Council cancelled the assessment. The Council explained that it was unable to assess Mr and Mrs X as connected person foster carers while they were still registered at the Private Agency. Mr and Mrs X said they did not want to leave the Private Agency until they had confirmation from the Council that they would be approved as connected persons.
- In March 2019, Mr X told the Council he was only receiving a payment for Child B.
- Mr and Mrs X resigned from the Private Agency in April 2019. Mr X says they were pressurised into doing this by a social worker, (Ms Y).
- In April 2019, a meeting took place to discuss options. The Council said a SGO was its preferred option for the children. Mr and Mrs X again made it clear they did not want this. They said they did not want to be means tested and the children required more support from the Council which they believed would not be as readily available under a SGO. A CAO was also discussed but later rejected by Mrs and Mrs X, for similar reasons.
- As approved foster carers, they had previously received a maintenance allowance plus a professional fee. As they were no longer approved, the Council says they were only entitled to receive the maintenance payment.
- The Council’s view was that either a SGO or a CAO was in the best interests of the children in the long term. Under a fostering arrangement, Mr and Mrs X would not have parental responsibility for the children and would have the possible stigma of being a child in the care system. Under a CAO the weekly support payment less that they would receive under a fostering arrangement and under and SGO any payments were means tested. Mr and Mrs X said they did not agree to their other disabled daughter’s disability benefits being taken into consideration.
- The Council reviewed the case and decided it could not continue to supervise the placement when no assessments were being competed. Removal of the children from their care was a possibility was discussed with Mr and Mrs X. They say they felt they were being blackmailed and the social worker (Ms V) accused them of being “money oriented”.
- Mr X was offended by this statement and asked Ms V to put it in writing. He repeated this request a number of times. He said he could not move forward until the matter was addressed. The Council asked him to use the complaints procedure which he did.
- There was a clear breakdown in the relationship between Ms V and Mr and Mrs X so a manager made contact with Mr and Mrs X to try resolve the stalemate situation. To assist with this, the Council agreed to independent legal advice for Mr and Mrs X to properly inform them about the pros and cons of the various options.
- Mr and Mrs X were still only in receipt of a fostering maintenance allowance for Child B.
- In July 2019, Mr X was sent a cheque for the back dated payments for Child A in the sum of £2136. However, Mr X refused to cash this and returned it to the Council.
- In August 2019, having received legal advice, Mr and Mrs X confirmed their wish to be long term connected persons foster carers. The Council agreed and recommenced the assessment process.
Mr X’s complaint
- Mr X complained about a several matters that I have summarised under two main headings:
Conduct of, and statements made by social workers, Ms V and Ms Y
- Ms V unfairly said Mr X was money oriented.
- Ms V incorrectly said Mr and Mrs X “jumped before they were pushed” when referring to Mr and Mrs X’s resignation as Council approved foster carers in 2016.
- Ms V accused Mr X of being unprofessional because he said a meeting was “a shambles” when only one child was discussed.
- Ms V blackmailed Mr X into agreeing to a CAO. She said if they did not agree by 5pm the case would be closed.
- Ms V refused to confirm her written statements in writing despite Mr X requesting this six times.
- Ms Y lied to his about having to leave the Private Agency and then said this could be withdrawn which was another lie.
Failure to provide financial support
- The Council has failed to provide any financial support for Child A since she became a looked after child in February 2019.
- A backdated cheque for £2136 for Child A was returned as he thought acceptance of it would affect the outcome and “out of pride”.
- Mr X says he wants to continue to provide a home for his grandchildren under a fostering arrangement and receive the appropriate level of support, particularly as they have additional needs.
Council’s response to the complaint and Ombudsman’s enquiries
- The Council made the following points in response to Mr X’s complaint:
- Ms V denied saying Mr and Mrs X were “money oriented” but acknowledged that financial support was discussed and was a relevant consideration.
- Ms V accepted she said to Mr X is was not professional to refer to partner agencies as “shambles”.
- Ms V denied blackmailing Mr X into agreeing to a CAO. She said the case could be closed if a way forward could not be found.
- The Council accepts initially only Child B was funded but this was because of the problem with the Private Agency. They were sent a backdated payment in July for Child A that was later returned by Mr X.
- Mr X was advised to use the complaint process soon after he raised his grievance about the social workers comments about money.
- Assessments were stopped when Mr X decided he did not want to pursue a SGO and he was still registered at the Private Agency.
- The Council says it will reinstate the fostering allowance for both children for as long as they remain in their care under fostering arrangements. The rate payable is £168 per child per week.
- In reaching my decision about this complaint I have carefully considered the case notes from the children’s files.
- Much of the complaint relates to the actions and statements of a particular social worker, Ms V. To address this, I have relied on the Council’s complaint response which contains her response to the allegations made by Mr X.
- I will deal with the two aspects to the case in turn.
Conduct of the social workers
Ms V unfairly said Mr X was money oriented.
- The case notes demonstrate there were many discussions about what type of placement would be in the best interest of Child A and Child B. Running parallel to this was the Council’s assessment of their mother and whether the girls would return to her care in either the short or long term.
- Mr and Mrs X were experienced foster carers, previously approved by the Council. While not the subject of the complaint, the circumstances in which they resigned as Council approved foster carers had left some bad feeling with Mr and Mrs X.
- It is a matter of fact, not opinion, that Mrs and Mr X’s preferred option was also the most financially advantageous to them. But Mr and Mrs X are clear that the financial support was not their motivation behind this choice. While they did not want to live in poverty, they felt the girls would receive more support is they remained in the care of the local authority, particularly as the girls were struggling at school and may have additional needs.
- It is for this reason that the Mr X was offended when Ms V accused him of being “money oriented”.
- I have considered the social care records and can find no evidence that Ms V said this to Mr X, but I would not necessarily expect to see it recorded.
- The Ombudsman makes decisions on the balance of probabilities. This aspect of the complaint essentially to one person’s word against another. There is no independent witness to what Ms V did or did not say to Mr X, so the Ombudsman is unable to make a finding on this aspect of the complaint.
Ms V incorrectly said Mr and Mrs X “jumped before they were pushed” when referring to Mr and Mrs X’s resignation as Council approved foster carers in 2016.
- The Council’s complaint response incorrectly interpreted Mr X’s complaint about this as being in connection with the Private Agency. In fact, it was about when they resigned as Council-approved foster carers in 2016.
- Whether Ms V make this remark, I cannot say. I has not been possible to establish whether Ms V specifically denied making this comment because the Council misinterpreted the complaint.
- Within the records, there is a case note from a manager saying the circumstances around their resignation should be considered during the assessment process. This is entirely appropriate because it was relevant to Mr and Mrs X being approved.
Ms V accused Mr X of being unprofessional because he said a meeting was “a shambles” when only one child was discussed.
- Ms V has accepted she said Mr X’s comments about the meeting were “unprofessional”. Her expressing such a view does not amount to fault.
Ms V attempted to blackmailed Mr and Mrs X into agreeing to a Child Arrangement Order. She said if they did not agree by 5pm the case would be closed.
- The Council has denied this allegation and has provided an alternative narrative. This is that the Council was simply making it clear that the unregulated placement without any ongoing assessments could not continue.
- The case notes support the Council’s version of events, as I would expect.
- As stalemate situation had arisen between the Council and Mr and Mrs X. The Council’s view was a SGO or CAO was the best option for the children but Mr and Mrs X disagreed. The Council could not allow the placement to continue unregulated. This is what Ms V told Mrs and Mrs X. The complaint is about his this was explained and the pressure they felt they were being put under to agree a proposal that they did not consider to be in the best interest of the children
- While I understand Mr and Mrs X had a certain perception of what they were being told, it is now impossible for me to determine how this information was explained to them. By that time, it had become an urgent situation and so I would not criticise Ms V for making this clear to Mr and Mrs X. I do not find fault here.
Ms V refused to confirm her written statements in writing despite Mr X requesting this six times.
- The case notes clearly show Mr X asking for Ms V’s comments to be put in writing. There is an email from Ms V to Mr X saying that she did not have to worry about doing this. Mr X strenuously denies ever saying this to her.
- As before, I cannot establish what exactly happened here, but it is clear from the tone and content of the case notes that the relationship between Mr and Mrs X and Ms V had effectively broken down.
- This was recognised by Ms V as she asked a manager to intervene and move the case forward which is what happened.
- Mr X was directed towards the complaints process and his complaint investigated within a reasonable timescale. This was an appropriate outcome and there is no further role for the Ombudsman here.
Ms Y lied to Mr X about having to leave the Private Agency and then said this could be withdrawn which was another lie
- Ms Y has put forward a different version of events that is supported by the case notes. It is a matter of fact that Mr and Mrs X could not be approved as foster carers by both the Council and the Private Agency. There is no evidence that Ms Y said they could withdraw their resignation.
- While Mr and Mrs X may believe they could have fostered Child A and B under their existing approval with the Private Agency, the Council did not agree. This was a matter for the Council to decide and so I do not find any fault here.
Failure to provide financial support
The Council has failed to provide any financial support for Child A since she became a looked after child in February 2019.
- The Council has accepted no payments have been made in respect of Child A and they should have been. But it sought to remedy this in July 2019 by sending a cheque to cover the fostering allowance backdated to February 2019.
- The Council has remedied this initial mistake and so there is no role for the Ombudsman here.
A backdated cheque for Child A was returned by Mr X as he thought acceptance of it would affect the outcome and out of pride.
- This was Mr X’s choice and the Council has made it clear it will reinstate the standard fostering allowance for both children as soon as Mr X agrees to this. If Mr X disagrees with this sum, he should raise this directly with the Council. The Ombudsman cannot add anything further to this.
- The Ombudsman has not found fault in the Council’s actions when Mr X sought to become an approved foster carer for his grandchildren.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman