Decision : Closed after initial enquiries
Decision date : 04 Mar 2020
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complains about the Council’s decision to deregister her as a foster carer, the actions of an Independent Reviewing Officer, and the impact of the Council’s decision on her former foster children. The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint. This is because the complaint is late, and it was reasonable for Mrs X to use the Independent Review Mechanism to challenge the Council’s decision to deregister her. Given the time that has elapsed, it would be difficult to establish exactly what the Independent Reviewing Officer said, and Mrs X does not have permission to complain on behalf of her former foster children.
- Mrs X complains about the Council’s decision to deregister her as a foster carer in September 2017. Mrs X says she was unfairly represented at the fostering panel by her social worker. She also complains she was threatened in her own home by an Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO). Mrs X says she had three children in permanent placements and the Council has abused them by removing them from her care.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Local Government Act 1974 sets out our powers but also imposes restrictions on what we can investigate.
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
- 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’. 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 we would find fault, or
- the fault has not caused injustice to the person who complained, or
- it is unlikely we could add to any previous investigation by the Council, or
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
- there is or was another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- We may investigate complaints made on behalf of someone else if they have given their consent. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26A(1), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered Mrs X’s complaint to the Ombudsman and the information she provided. I also gave Mrs X the opportunity to comment on a draft statement before reaching a final decision on her complaint.
What I found
- The Council has previously placed foster children in Mrs X’s care. There was an incident in the family home in May 2017. This led to the Council deregistering Mrs X as a foster carer. This decision was taken in September 2017 and meant three children were removed from her care. Mrs X complained to the Ombudsman in September 2017, but we explained she first needed to raise her concerns with the Council.
- Mrs X complained to the Council in February 2018. Mrs X wanted to complain about:
- The decision to deregister her as a foster carer in September 2017 and the impact it had on the three children she had been caring for.
- Lack of support from the Council following the incident in May 2017.
- The timing of the decision to deregister her. Mrs X said the decision was taken too early and destroyed her marriage. But the Council still left children in her care from May to October 2017.
- Lack of support from the Council when she was diagnosed with two serious illnesses in 2016.
- A fourth child (Y) had been left under her care via a Special Guardianship Order, but the three other children had been removed.
- Mrs X said she had not received a report from the panel that decided to deregister her as a foster carer. The Council said that Mrs X had been sent the standards of care report before the panel met, and the letter terminating her approval as a foster carer. The paperwork held by the Council did not provide any extra information, but it could send a copy of the decision sheet if Mrs X wanted a copy.
- Mrs X said an IRO had threatened her by saying “one more strike and you are out” which he then denied. The Council’s response said the IRO denied making the comment. But it was not acceptable for a child in the Council’s care to witness domestic abuse. The IRO had been raising his concerns about this.
- Mrs X said a fostering officer had accused her of lying about when her husband had visited. The Council said it had received reports that Mr X was visiting the house and it was appropriate for the officer to ask about this.
- Mrs X said there had not been any actions to allow the three children previously in her care to stay in touch with each other. The Council’s response explained there was a contact plan to allow all the siblings to stay in touch with one another. The Council would put in place more structured contact as one of the children had asked for this. Unrestricted telephone contact was also in place.
- Mrs X then contacted the Council in March 2019 to complain she had been underpaid her Special Guardianship Allowance for Y. The Council’s response explained Mrs X had been correctly paid up until Y’s 18th birthday, and until he moved into an alternative placement. Y had later moved back in with Mrs X. The Council would not pay Mrs X an allowance for this. It was a private arrangement between Mrs X and Y, and there had been an alternative placement available to Y.
- The Ombudsman normally expects people to complain to us within twelve months of them becoming aware of a problem. We look at each complaint individually, and on its merits, considering the circumstances of each case. But we do not exercise discretion to accept a late complaint unless there are clear and compelling reasons to do so.
- Mrs X first complained to us in September 2017 and the Council provided her with a response in April 2018. I see no reason Mrs X could not have brought her complaint back to the Ombudsman much earlier. The exception at paragraph 3 therefore applies to her complaint. In reaching this decision I have taken into account the points I make below.
- If Mrs X was unhappy with the decision to deregister her as a foster carer, she had the right to appeal via the IRM. This is the body intended by Parliament to consider appeals against deregistration. I see no reason Mrs X could not have used this option.
- Mrs X is clearly concerned about how the IRO spoke to her. But, even if we were to investigate, given the time that has elapsed, it is difficult to see how we could ever reach a safe conclusion about what happened.
- Mrs X is also concerned about the impact her deregistration will have had on the children who were previously in her care. But Mrs X does not have permission to complain on their behalf. This means we cannot consider this part of her complaint.
- Mrs X has complained to the Council about being underpaid her Special Guardianship Allowance for Y. But Y turned 18 in May 2016, and moved out in October 2017. This part of her complaint would also seem to be late, and I see no reason Mrs X could not have complained earlier. But, even if the complaint was not late, the Council has explained to Mrs X about the payments it made. I have not seen enough evidence of fault by the Council to warrant an investigation.
- The Ombudsman will not investigate Mrs X’s complaint. This is because the complaint is late, and it was reasonable for Mrs X to appeal using the Independent Review Mechanism. Even if the complaint was not late, it is unlikely we could establish exactly what was said by the Independent Reviewing Officer. Mrs X does not have permission to complain on behalf of the children previously in her foster care, and there is not enough evidence of fault in how the Council has calculated Mrs X’s Special Guardianship Allowance.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman