The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Miss B complained about the actions of the Council when she and her partner, Mr C were foster carers. We cannot find fault with the actions the Council took.
- Miss B complained that Manchester City Council (the Council) was at fault in failing to support her and her partner in their role as foster carers. As a result, they felt compelled to resign. Specifically:
- The supervising social worker was rude and intimidating. She also displayed a negative attitude towards Miss B’s partner and cancelled meetings at the last minute.
- The Council expected Miss B’s partner to use annual leave to attend training and supervision sessions and refused to let him do online training.
- The Council left them without a social worker for long periods.
- Miss B had to frequently chase up payments between April 2017 and September 2018.
- The Council failed to support them in September 2018 leading to a dangerous situation with a child and then pressurised them into taking another child.
What I have investigated
- We have exercised discretion to investigate parts a), b) and c) of the complaint, as we consider it was reasonable for Miss B to have delayed her complaint from March to October 2020 due to the COVID19 pandemic. However, we consider events prior to March 2019 are too old to investigate now and Miss B could have complained about them at an earlier point.
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
- I have considered the complaint and the documents provided by the complainant, made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided. Miss B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
- Miss B and her partner Mr C had been foster carers since 2013. They were approved as short break carers for children aged 0 to 18.
- In March 2019 they completed a feedback form on the previous year as part of their annual review. Miss B said her supervising social worker (SSW) and her manager had been very supportive, she was kept informed of updated information and meetings and communication was good.
- In July 2019 the Council informed them of a change to their contract. They were unhappy with this change and informed the SSW of their intention to resign.
- The SSW cancelled one supervision session at short notice in June 2019 due to illness. Miss B cancelled a session in April 2019 due to illness. There were no supervisions in July and August 2019, and from November 2019 to January 2020 due to the SSW being on planned sick leave for hospital treatment. The Council informed all foster carers of the leave in advance and the manager provided support during the absences. Miss B cancelled two supervisions in February 2020.
- In March 2020 the Council said the SSW visited Miss B and Mr C for an agreed supervision session. The Council said a number of issues were raised which involved some difficult discussions and decisions. On 5 March 2020 they submitted their resignation as foster carers and cancelled several agreed short breaks.
- In October 2020 Miss B and Mr C complained to the Council about the way they had been treated. They said the SSW was rude and intimidating, they were discriminated against as carers forcing Mr C to take annual leave to attend training and other sessions, supervisions were cancelled at very short notice, and they had no SSW for long periods.
- The Council responded in December 2020. It said it could find no evidence that the SSW had been rude or intimidating. It acknowledged it was difficult to reach a view on issues such as this, but the manager had not witnessed any rude or intimidating behaviour. The Council agreed it was not acceptable for social workers to routinely cancel supervisions at short notice, but it could only find one instance where this had happened due to unavoidable sickness and the Council apologised.
- Miss B then complained to us in January 2021.
- The Council has said in response to my enquiries that it did not require Mr C to take time off work to attend training and supervision sessions. The SSW said that Mr C never attended one of her support groups but had attended two evening support groups run by a different social worker in the past three years. The SSW also said she tried to accommodate Mr C by signposting him to training he could do out of hours and also suggested holding supervisions during his lunch break
- There is no evidence that Miss B or Mr C were unhappy with the SSW prior to March 2020 following a difficult supervision session. They did not raise any complaints of rude or intimidating behaviour until that time. It appears that the session was challenging and that difficult issues were discussed and the Council has apologised if Miss B and Mr C felt intimidated or bullied. However, I cannot conclude on the evidence available that the SSW acted inappropriately.
- The SSW cancelled one session at the last minute due to illness. I note Miss B also did the same on two occasions and I cannot find fault with unavoidable one- off cancellations in these circumstances. There is no evidence it was a routine problem.
- There is no evidence to support Miss B’s view that the Council forced Mr C to take time off. The SW has said Mr C did not attend her support groups and was not usually present at the supervisions. She highlighted out of hours training and suggested supervisions during his lunch breaks.
- It is clear that the SSW was off work due to planned hospital treatment for several months in 2019/2020 but the Council said it gave advance notice of this and the SSW’s manager provided cover and support. I cannot find fault here.
- I have completed my investigation into this complaint as I am unable to find fault causing injustice in the actions of the Council towards Miss B.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman