Nottinghamshire County Council (17 002 241)

Category : Children's care services > Friends and family carers

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 23 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr and Mrs G complained the Council provided insufficient support in helping Mrs G care for her grandson, ‘Child X’. The Ombudsman found fault as the Council did not recognise Child X was a ‘looked after child’ from the time he entered Mrs G’s care. This caused injustice as Mrs G did not receive all the financial or other support the Council should have provided her. The Council has agreed a series of recommendations which aim to remedy this injustice. It will make various back-payments to Mrs G and review the support it currently offers her.

The complaint

  1. The complainants, whom I have called “Mr and Mrs G” complained about the extent of support they received from the Council after Mrs G agreed to care for their grandson, whom I have called “Child X”. Since the end of July 2015 Child X has lived with Mrs G. Mr and Mrs G complained the Council:
      1. Would not recognise that Child X entered Mrs G’s care as a looked after child given concerns the Council had for his welfare.
      2. That as a result Mrs G did not receive enough financial support for Child X between July 2015 and November 2016; at which point she obtained a Special Guardianship Order (SGO) for him.
      3. That further, because the Council did not consider Child X a looked after child, it had also provided inadequate support for Mrs G after November 2016, under the Special Guardianship Regulations.

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What I have investigated

  1. I considered most of Mr and Mrs G’s complaint to be within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction to investigate. However, I did not consider I could investigate the support provided by the Council to Mrs G between 21 November 2016 and 19 January 2017. I explain my reasons at the end of this decision statement.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We cannot investigate a complaint about the start of court action or what happened in court. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5/5A, paragraph 1/3, as amended)
  3. 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)
  4. 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)
  5. 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.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. Before completing my investigation and issuing this decision statement I considered the following:
  • Mr G’s letter of complaint and supporting information provided by him and Mrs G in further correspondence and telephone conversations.
  • The Council’s replies to Mr G’s complaint issued before we began our investigation.
  • Information provided by the Council in response to various written enquiries.
  • Relevant law and government guidance as referred to in the text below.
  • Past decisions and publications by the Local Government Ombudsman of relevance to this investigation. In particular, a report issued against Liverpool City Council (reference 12 006 209) and a special focus report “Family Values: Council services to family and friends who care for others’ children” published in November 2013.
  1. I also sent both Mr and Mrs G and the Council a draft decision statement setting out my provisional thinking about the complaint. I considered comments made in response and amended the final wording of this decision statement accordingly.
  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.

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What I found

  1. Before turning to the specific events covered by Mr and Mrs G’s complaint I needed to consider the extent to which the Ombudsman could investigate it. This was because of the jurisdictional issues set out in paragraphs 3 and 4 above.
  2. I decided that to conduct an effective investigation into the complaint we had to consider events from around May 2015, three months before Child X went to live with Mrs G. I considered we had to examine the circumstances where Child X entered Mrs G’s care. Otherwise we could not form a view on what support the Council should have provided to Mrs G after she became Child X’s Special Guardian. The Special Guardianship Regulations provide for different support in cases where a child enters a Special Guardian’s care as a ‘looked after child’.
  3. Second, I considered the impact of the Court proceedings which made Mrs G Special Guardian for Child X. I decided these did not prevent investigation of most of this complaint. The primary purpose of the Court hearing in November 2016 was to decide whether to make Mrs G a Special Guardian or not. But I could not ignore the order also referred to a letter given by the Council to Mrs G on 21 November 2016.
  4. The letter assured Mrs G of certain support the Council would provide once the Court made Child X the subject of a SGO. This included specific commitments on financial support until 19 January 2017 at which point the support would drop to a lower level.
  5. I considered we could not investigate any complaint about the content of the 21 November letter for reasons explained at the end of this statement. However, I did not consider the letter set in stone the support the Council would offer Child X beyond 19 January 2017. Because it left open the question of both financial and non-financial support for Child X after 19 January 2017. We could therefore investigate a complaint about the support given to Mrs G both before 21 November 2016 and after 19 January 2017.

Legal Considerations

  1. Every Council with responsibility for children’s services must provide accommodation for children within their area who need it. Circumstances where the Council has this duty include where no-one has parental responsibility for a child and for lost or abandoned children. It also includes circumstances where a person who has cared for a child can no longer provide them with “suitable accommodation or care” (Section 20 of the Children’s Act 1989). A child cared for by the Council in these circumstances becomes a ‘looked after child’.
  2. A Council can fulfil its duty to accommodate looked after children through placing them with family. The family member receiving the child then becomes a ‘family and friends foster carer’. Being a family and friends foster carer entitles the family carer to weekly fostering payments and social work support. Any payments should be at the same rate as paid to local authority foster carers. There is no equivalent financial support for parents who arrange informally for their children to live with relatives. They are not ‘looked after’ children as defined above.
  3. However, a Council with responsibility for children’s services must also provide services for ‘children in need’. The Children’s Act defines these as children who need services from the Council “to maintain a reasonable standard of health and development or to prevent harm”. Children who live with family and friends under informal arrangements can receive financial support therefore as ‘children in need’.
  4. Any fostering allowances paid in line with the advice in paragraph 16 should include any extra allowances the foster carer would have a right to. For example, if the Council pays an increased fostering rate to children with disabilities then a family and friends foster carer should receive that allowance if caring for a child so entitled. Councils should pay all fostering allowances at least at the minimum rate set out by government.
  5. There can be dispute (as in this case) about whether a child is a ‘looked after child’ or has moved to a relative under an informal arrangement. In 2007 a Court judgment against the London Borough of Southwark provided guidance on how to decide this question. The Court held:
  • That if the Council played “a major role” in arranging for the child’s move then the most likely conclusion was that it exercised its powers and duties to accommodate the child.
  • That an informal arrangement will usually be one directly between the parents and relative with no Council involvement.
  • That if the Council was simply facilitating an informal family care arrangement then it must be clear with those involved about its involvement. This would include giving clear advice to the relative caring for the child about who is financially responsible. For example, giving the relative receiving the child advice to “look to the person with parental responsibility”.
  1. A relative with care of a child can apply for a Special Guardianship Order which gives them parental responsibility over the child. Such an order makes the relative the child’s ‘special guardian’. If a relative caring for a ‘looked after child’ becomes a special guardian then the child will no longer be a ‘looked after child’.
  2. However, a special guardian may remain entitled to support for the child. The local authority responsible for agreeing the special guardianship order has responsibility for providing financial support for the child. It can pay a Special Guardianship Allowance to the Special Guardian. However, this is not automatic as the allowance is means tested. The Courts have held that special guardianship allowances should be in line with fostering allowances.
  3. More generally, any support given to Special Guardians must be in line with the Special Guardianship Regulations 2005 (amended in 2016) and Government publishes guidance in support of those. The local authority where the special guardian lives is usually responsible for undertaking any assessment of need for the child, as well as any special guardianship support services in response to that assessment. But there is one exception. That is where a child was a ‘looked after child’ before the making of the special guardianship order. In which case, such support remains the responsibility of the authority where the child became looked after. Although where a child lives outside its area that authority can enter an arrangement with another authority to discharge its responsibilities.

Did Child X enter Mrs G’s care as a ‘looked after child’?

  1. At the beginning of events covered by this complaint (May 2015) Child X lived in the Council’s area in the care of his mother who I will call ‘Ms Y’. Mrs G is Child X’s parental grandmother. She is married to Mr G but they maintain separate houses, with Mr G living in another area again around 200 miles from Mrs G.
  2. Child X has several siblings. In May 2015, all were subject to Child Protection Plans. As a result, the Council children’s’ services had frequent involvement with the family. Ms Y was pregnant and expecting another baby in August 2015.
  3. Child X went to live with Mrs G in late July 2015. The Council said this followed an informal family arrangement or private fostering arrangement agreed between her and Ms Y. It said that it did not play a ‘major role’ in arranging for Child X to live with Mrs G. So, it did not need to give advice to Mrs G of the kind envisaged in the Southwark judgment.
  4. Mr and Mrs G said this was incorrect. Mrs G agreed to care for Child X because she understood the alternative would be that he entered local authority care. Mr and Mrs G argue that in effect, Child X, became therefore a ‘looked after child’ when he entered Mrs G’s care.
  5. I found the weight of evidence in this case supported Mr and Mrs G’s case more than that of the Council. I noted the Council drew attention to contemporaneous references in some of Child X’s case notes that referred to his move being an “informal family arrangement”. But simply saying this did not make it so. Having read hundreds of pages of case notes in this case I found the following picture emerged which demonstrated the Council had a ‘major role’ in his move to Mrs G’s care.
  6. First, it became clear from May 2015 onwards the Council began recording increasing concern about Child X’s behaviour. It recorded him becoming “increasingly violent when he feels unable to cope”. It recorded him throwing and breaking items in the home. Also, it recorded his exclusion from school for assaulting staff and damaging a classroom. The Council recorded that at the time there were no plans to consider taking Child X or any of his siblings into care. But it also recorded the case needed regular review.
  7. So, throughout May and June there were regular visits to Child X’s home by a family support worker and social workers. They reported continuing concerns with Child X’s behaviours at home and in school. A Child Protection Conference held on 13 July 2015 held the worries about the family justified increasing visits to daily from now on. On the following day, a Council worker found faeces smeared around the family home, which Ms Y attributed to Child X.
  8. It appears this was the trigger point for the second phase of the Council’s involvement when it began actively considering if Child X should move out of the family home. It social worker recorded an internal discussion on 14 July 2015 saying: “we discussed [Child X] having behavioural problems and mother is unable to deal with this – discussed whether it would be worth considering [he] be accommodated for a short period of time [..] [Ms Y] was reluctant to do this but agreed as she was concerned that [Child X] would be placed in care. I had been reinforcing with [Ms Y] the concerns that had been raised about [Child X] assaulting the new born baby”
  9. I found a first mention of Mrs G in the case papers around this time. The Council recorded her speaking to its social worker on 16 July 2015. The social worker recorded Mrs G being willing to look after Ms Y’s children “to prevent them going into care”.
  10. On 20 July 2015, the Council reported Child X assaulting Ms Y. A Family Resource Worker for the Council recorded telling Ms Y of her concerns should Child X remain in her care, along the lines set out at paragraph 31.
  11. Third, the Council next encouraged a move for Child X to live with Mrs G. On 21 July 2015, a social work manager said the Council provisionally supported Child X going to live with Mrs G. They advised Child X’s social worker to arrange background checks on Mr and Mrs G and to visit Mrs G’s home. Another note of a contact with Ms Y dated 21 July 2015 recorded her saying Child X was “having to leave” her care.
  12. On 22 July 2015, a further child protection conference review took place. The minutes recorded Child X’s social worker saying she was “very concerned” about Child X’s behaviours. Further it records her saying: “her manager had indicated [Child X] should be placed in local authority care because of the behaviours he displays and the risk to the unborn child”. The minutes recorded Ms Y becoming upset as “she did not want [Child X] to go into care”. The minutes then record Mrs G offering to care for Child X “for a short time”. Ms Y then asks the social worker “how long” the placement would be for and the social worker’s response is that she “was not able to say”.
  13. If there was any doubt about the accuracy of this minute I consider this dispelled by the later statements of Mrs G and Ms Y. From 7 August 2015 onwards I found many statements on the Council’s files of Mrs G’s understanding of events. She has repeatedly said she agreed to look after Child X as an alternative to the Council beginning care proceedings. She understood the Council was on the brink of taking such proceedings on 22 July.
  14. The case papers also contain references to Ms Y’s understanding of events. She has repeatedly said that if she had not agreed to Child X moving to Mrs G’s home the Council would have taken him into care.
  15. I found the Council’s involvement in the case entered a fourth phase after 22 July 2015. It then began to consolidate Child X’s move into Mrs G’s care. There are references to the Council asking Ms Y to sign agreements under Section20 of the Children’s Act to consent to all her children being put in local authority care. I understand mostly this was a purely short-term measure while she entered hospital to give birth. But there is a note on 6 August the Council wanted Ms Y to sign “a written agreement […] to say she now agrees [Child X] to remain with [Mrs G] long term”. The Council recorded its social worker asking Ms Y to sign such an agreement on11 August but she was not at home when they called.
  16. The case records therefore documented the evolving and increasing involvement of the Council in Child X’s case between May and August 2015. I considered the facts set out above showed the Council had a “major role” in arranging for Child X to live with Mrs G. I am satisfied it actively encouraged and then consolidated his move. Even if the Council did not get to the position where it weighed up the likely success of taking Court proceedings for Child X to enter local authority care this was clearly something under consideration.
  17. It was also not prepared to let Child X live anywhere. That it undertook background checks of Mr and Mrs G and Mrs G’s home show that it was concerned to place Child X in a safer environment. Further it is not the case the Council ever told Mrs G to “look to the person with parental responsibility” for financial support for Child X (i.e. Ms Y). On the contrary, in a case conference on 29 July 2015 the Council recorded the need to make financial support available to Mrs G. It then went on to support Mrs G financially in her care of Child X.
  18. I considered the Council at fault therefore for not considering Child X a ‘looked after child’ from July 2015 onward. The injustice this caused is as follows. First there were practical consequences for the support offered to Mrs G which I discuss below. Second the Council’s actions also caused distress to both Mrs G and her husband, as it consistently failed to recognise the sequence of events which led to Child X entering Mrs G’s care. This in turn led also to Mr and Mrs G experiencing unnecessary time and trouble; both in trying to secure the services to support the care of Child X which Mrs G should have received from the outset and in pursuing complaint about this matter.

Was the scope of the Council’s support to Child X sufficient pre-November 2016?

  1. Soon after Child X entered Mrs G’s care the Council began providing her with financial support. This was at a rate of around £114 a week. The Council says it calculated this amount as equivalent to state benefits which Mrs G might receive for Child X. It says it paid Mrs G under Section 17 of the Children’s Act as it considered Child X a “child in need”.
  2. It follows from my finding above that I did not consider these payments were enough. If Child X was a ‘looked after child’ and the evidence supports that he was, then it followed that Mrs G should have received fostering allowances for him. The Council was at fault for not paying those allowances.
  3. So, there was a shortfall in the financial support Mrs G received from the Council in caring for Child X. The national fostering allowance for the 2015/16 financial year was £139 a week for a child of Child X’s age, rising to £141 from April 2016. Mrs G therefore did not receive an amount equivalent to the difference between these amounts and the £114 a week paid by the Council. This was an injustice.
  4. Beyond this I also note that before Mrs G became Child X’s special guardian he remained subject to a Child in Need plan. Part of that plan required Mrs G to continue to encourage and promote contact for Child X with his birth parents. As I noted above, Mrs G does not live in the Council’s area. She lives around 65 miles away from Child X’s parents who live within that area. So, each contact visit made after August 2015 has involved a round trip of around 130 miles. Mrs G reports neither of Child X’s birth parents willing or possibly able to travel to Mrs G or support with the costs of these trips. Further Mrs G has consistently stated to the Council that Child X’s needs mean he becomes anxious and his behaviour disruptive on public transport (the minutes of Child in Need reviews for February and April 2016 refer for example). Given that Mrs G does not have her own transport this meant she paid for a taxi to make the round trip instead of using public transport.
  5. Under whatever provision the Council financially supported Mrs G before she became Child X’s special guardian, I consider it should have been giving more attention to this cost of promoting contact. I noted that from April 2016 Mrs G reported she could not financially maintain the visits to Child X’s parents, yet there is no suggestion the Council reconsidered the amount of support it provided. I considered that was inattention and justified a further finding of fault.
  6. This fault also created its own separate injustice. Because I am doubtful that even if Mrs G had received the national fostering allowance from the moment Child X entered her care, this could have met the need to also promote contact.
  7. I noted Government guidance also refers to children with extra needs. It says that if a council pays an extra allowance to meet those needs, then it should also pay that allowance to the family and friends foster carer.
  8. The Council has clarified it did not (and does not) have a policy to pay foster carers extra allowances if caring for children with extra needs. Instead it pays certain carers a premium based on their experience and expertise. So, I cannot find the Council should also have paid Mrs G a further allowance to reflect Child X’s extra needs.
  9. But the Council does still make some payments above the basic minimum fostering allowances. Its policy since April 2016, explained on its website has been to make some added payments as follows:
  • To pay a fostering supplement of £10 a week per child as well as the national minimum fostering allowances.
  • To pay birthday and festivities allowances. I note Child X had a birthday in 2016 before Mrs G became his special guardian.
  • To pay a holiday allowance.
  1. I saw no reason why Mrs G could not receive payments for Child X in line with the policy summarised at paragraph 50. There has been a further injustice therefore in Mrs G not receiving these payments.

Has the support provided to Mrs G after 21 January 2017 been sufficient?

  1. In this case, as I have explained, the Council treated Child X as a ‘child in need’ from the time he entered Mrs G’s care. Until the SGO was made it therefore maintained a support plan for his care, subject to regular review. But once Child X became subject of the SGO the Council sought to end this involvement.
  2. It flows from the findings I have made above that there was fault in this approach. I do not consider the Council could close Child X’s case just because he was now subject of a SGO. If Mrs G needed support services after the SGO was made then the Council had to consider what support services she needed and to arrange those.
  3. I noted that in the Child in Need reviews Mrs G had challenged the Council’s proposal to end its involvement. In response, the Council suggested there would be little role for its services in any event. This is because its records suggested Mrs G had engaged with local services including enrolling Child X in a local school and with GP services who referred him to Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMHS) services. The minutes of the reviews also detailed efforts made by Child X’s school aimed at helping him with coping strategies. However, I did not think the Council could fetter its discretion not to consider if Mrs G might need further support. For example, exploring the possibility of respite or additional support to meet Child X’s needs out of school hours.
  4. During this investigation, in September 2017, Child X received an assessment of need from a third-party organisation which provides a useful snapshot of his current needs. I understand this followed contact between Mr and Mrs G and the Children’s Commissioner. The assessment, sent to Mrs G’s home authority, says Child X has a diagnosis of autism, a learning disability, mental health issues, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and an attachment disorder. These contribute to severe behavioural issues of the kind described with episodes of self-harming, smearing, violent outbursts of temper towards people and property and so on.
  5. I am satisfied from the statements made to me by Mr and Mrs G that caring for a child with these multiple and complex needs has been difficult for Mrs G. The assessment in September 2017 again provides a snapshot of the pressure she feels under, for example in maintaining her employment. I find this also reflected in the Child in Need minutes when the Council maintained its management of the case and in statements made in the complaint. I cannot say for sure what further social care support the Council should provide or should have provided Mrs G in the absence of an up to date needs assessment. But I consider it likely Mrs G would have an entitlement to some additional support. A further injustice she has suffered therefore is distress in the form of uncertainty; not knowing if the Council could do more to offer services to support her.
  6. In support of this finding, I note Child X is currently being assessed further by Mrs G’s home authority further to the third-party assessment I referred to above. I also understand a referral for Child X to have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) has been undertaken. I took account of these developments in making recommendations for action I wanted the Council to take to remedy this injustice, which it has agreed and which are detailed below.
  7. I turn next to the financial support provided by the Council. The allowance it currently pays Mrs G follows the model published by the Government which says Special Guardianship allowances can be means tested. The start point is to use the basic minimum allowance paid to foster carers. But unlike foster carers, a Special Guardian can claim state benefits for their child and so these (along with other income) are considered when deciding on a weekly allowance. The assessment also takes account of the Special Guardian’s outgoings.
  8. I considered the Council’s most recent assessment of the allowance paid to Mrs G which decided she could receive around £55 a week in support. While I could see no arithmetical error in the means assessment I considered the Council was at fault for potentially not including certain matters within its assessment that it could consider.
  9. First, the model suggests that money used to pay loans for needs incurred by the Special Guardian resulting from becoming the Special Guardian might be included in the assessment. Mrs G declared loans on the assessment which I understand were used to buy an extra bed-settee and furniture essential for her to accommodate Child X. But the assessor asked no information about these loans and so did not consider including the payments in the assessment.
  10. Second, the model says an authority can include “reasonable” child care costs in the expenses incurred by the Special Guardian. Mrs G declared child care costs on her assessment but no enquiries were made about these and they were not included in the assessment.
  11. I considered the Council at fault for the oversights set out in paragraphs 60 and 61. I could not say the assessment was necessarily flawed because I did not know if the Council should have included these amounts in its assessment of Mrs G’s expenses. But I considered the point arguable. So, there was further distress in the form of uncertainty and therefore an injustice.
  12. I also considered there was another potential oversight. In paragraphs 44 and 45 I referred to the expectation, which the Council has always maintained, that Mrs G should maintain contact for Child X with his birth parents. I have set out above my concern the money Mrs G received before November 2016 was not enough to facilitate this.
  13. Since January 2016 the Council has paid around £44 a month as a “contribution” to the costs of facilitating that contact. It follows from my earlier findings, that my concern extends to this arrangement also. This is because of Child X’s needs and the comments made by Mrs G about the difficulties he encounters with public transport as a result.
  14. In comments made during this investigation the Council indicated a willingness to reconsider here. It said it was committed to “the principle it will fund two contact visits a month”. Although it also said it had “nothing in our knowledge” to suggest Child X cannot use public transport.
  15. I do not agree with the Council’s view as Mrs G’s statements on the matter must amount to some evidence of the difficulties she faces. However, I accepted the Council might want more assessment or expert opinion to inform what it should reasonably fund when it comes to Mrs G transporting Child X.
  16. Further complicating matters I understand that over time Child X’s contact arrangements have changed. So, while Mrs G has arranged multiple visits for him to his birth parents these have not necessarily followed the pattern of one to each parent each month. Mr and Mrs G advise for example that in recent months Child X has wanted less contact with Mrs Y.
  17. I considered it was further inattention for the Council not to have reviewed the support given to Mrs G with funding contact after January 2016. That was a fault. This caused further injustice to Mrs G in the form of uncertainty. As while I have insufficient evidence to reach a judgment on what the Council should have reasonably funded to support contact, that uncertainty is again a cause of distress.

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Agreed action

  1. At paragraphs 41, 44, 47, 51, 56, 62 and 68 I have identified where I considered fault by the Council caused injustice to Mrs G and/or Mr G and/or (by implication) Child X. The Council has accepted this finding and has agreed to undertake a series of actions to remedy the resulting injustice. First, within 20 working days of this decision statement it will:
      1. Provide an unreserved apology to Mr and Mrs G accepting the findings of this investigation.
      2. Pay £1000 to Mrs G in recognition of the distress identified at paragraphs 40 and 55 of this draft.
      3. Pay £300 to Mr & Mrs G in recognition of the unnecessary time and trouble they have been put to, which I identified at paragraph 40 of this draft.
      4. Pay the shortfall between the payments Mrs G received between 1 August 2015 and November 2016 as Section 17 payments and what she should have been paid as fostering allowances, as identified in paragraph 43 of the draft. The Council should provide an explanation for how it calculates the sum owing which I estimate will be around £1700.
      5. Pay any allowances to which Mrs G would also have been entitled as a foster carer before November 2016 as identified in paragraph 50 of the draft. The Council should provide an explanation for how it calculates the sum owing.
  2. Second, to further remedy the injustice identified at paragraph 56 the Council will contact Mrs G’s home authority within 20 working days of a decision on this complaint to discuss Child X and Mrs G’s care needs moving forward. The Council will enquire what support that authority is currently providing and/or what assessments it is undertaking. It will agree to take over the financing of any care needs currently being met by that authority and/or agree with that authority how Mrs G’s support needs moving forward will be assessed, maintained and reviewed. The Council will agree to maintain whatever support Mrs G needs in line with Special Guardianship Regulations until November 2019. It can delegate certain tasks by agreement with Mrs G’s home authority in line with the Regulations.
  3. Third, within three months of a decision on this complaint I want the Council to complete a re-assessment of the financial support it currently pays to Mrs G. To complete this part of the remedy the Council will need Mr and Mrs G’s co-operation to meet with its officers and provide any financial records reasonably required. The re-assesment will:
      1. Include a fresh means assessment of the SGO payments Mrs G currently receives. This will take account of the potential oversights identified in paragraphs 60 and 61 of this decision and resulting injustice at paragraph 62. Any increase in the weekly payment given to Mrs G will be backdated to 6 March 2017 (the date of the previous assessment).
      2. To address the injustice identified in paragraphs 47 and 68 the Council should re-consider the financial support it has historically provided for Mrs G to support contact visits for Child X and what it should provide moving forward. The Council will meet with Mrs G and establish the following:
        1. What contact has taken place since April 2016 between Child X and his birth parents; while Mrs G may not have a complete record, the Council should do its best to establish the number of such visits and any changes in the patterns of the visits over time.
        2. How that contact has been facilitated; i.e. has it always been a case of Child X visiting his birth parents or have they made any trips to visit him, Have visits been undertaken on public transport or by taxi. What costs has Mrs G incurred in making those visits.
        3. The reasons why Mrs G says she cannot use public transport for Child X.
  4. The meeting referred to at paragraph 71 will take place at a neutral venue and Mrs G will be entitled to bring along support (she has suggested her local Ward Councillor in the area where she lives who has also volunteered to provide a venue from that authoirty’s offices). If necessary, before or after that meeting, the Council can request information from third parties such as Child X’s birth parents or professionals working with him; to help verify the pattern of visits or comment on the issues Mrs G reports with him using public transport.
  5. Once the Council has completed its enquiries it will write to Mrs G and address the following:
      1. It will review the payments historically made to support contact from April 2016 (excluding the period 21 November 2016 to 19 January 2017) and consider if those were adequate. It will provide a financial remedy to Mrs G if it no longer considers the sums it provided to her were reasonable and an explanation for how it has calculated any amount paid. It will explain if it maintains the sum provided was reasonable.
      2. It will consider the situation moving forward and whether it still considers it necessary for Mrs G to be providing two contact visits a month and the funding that it will provide to support with those visits.
  6. Concerning the agreed action at 69d) I have noted that alternate dates appeared in the case papers about the exact date when Child X went to live with Mrs G in July 2015. But they all agreed he had lived with Mrs G from the end of the month at the latest. That is why my agreed action takes effect from 1 August 2015.
  7. Concerning the agreed action at 69 e) above I do not know if the allowances referred to in paragraph 49 were also in payment for the 2015-16 financial year. The agreed action will cover at least the period from April 2016 to 20 November 2016. But if it is the case such allowances were also payable in 2015-16 then a backdated award will also be made to cover the period from 1 August 2015 to 31 March 2016 also.
  8. Concerning the agreed action set out between paragraphs 71 and 73 if Mrs G is unhappy with the outcome of any further assessment she may contact this office again. We will consider if the Council has satisfactorily completed the agreed action and undertake any further investigation necessary to come to a view on that.

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Final decision

  1. We have upheld this complaint finding the Council acted with fault causing injustice to the complainants. The Council has now agreed action we consider will provide a fair remedy for that injustice. Consequently, we have completed our investigation satisfied with its actions.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I did not investigate events between 21 November 2016 and 19 January 2017. This was because the Special Guardianship Order cross-referenced a letter given by the Council to Mrs G which expressly set out what support it would offer her between those dates. The Court therefore considered its contents when considering the making of the Special Guardianship Order and I understood would not make the Order without such assurances from the Council. I understood Mr and Mrs G feel the assurances may not have gone far enough but I considered that as they were considered expressly by the Court we could not re-open any discussion of the support set out in that letter which Mrs G received. So, the service given by the Council to Mrs G between these dates fell outside our jurisdiction.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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