Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council (18 002 930)

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

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 12 Nov 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr and Mrs X complain that the Council did not provide them with proper support during their time as friends and family foster carers to their grandchildren. There was fault by the Council because it did not complete the statutory children’s complaints procedure. To remedy the injustice to the complainants the Council agreed to complete the procedure and a financial remedy to reflect the distress and unnecessary time and trouble suffered by the complainants.

The complaint

  1. The complainants, whom I shall refer to as Mr and Mrs X, say the Council did not provide them with proper support during their time as friends and family foster carers to their grandchildren. This is a broad statement of their complaint and it is subdivided into further grounds of complaint which I will not set out here for the sake of brevity.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the complaint and background information provided by Mrs X and the Council. I considered statutory guidance for local authority children’s services on representations and complaints procedures: Getting the Best from Complaints. I sent a draft decision statement to the complainants and the Council. I considered the comments of both parties on it.

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What I found

  1. Getting the Best from Complaints sets out statutory guidance for local authorities on implementing the Children Act 1989 complaints procedures.
  2. There is a three-stage procedure for children’s complaints and it gives advice on each stage of the procedure. I will focus on guidance that relates to the stage 3 review panel.
  3. Section 3.9 of the guidance says:

“where stage 2 of the complaints procedure has been concluded and the complainant is still dissatisfied, he will be eligible to request further consideration of the complaint by a Review Panel (regulation 18). As it is not possible to review a complaint that has not yet been fully considered at Stage 2 (including providing the report(s) and adjudication to the complainant), it is essential that the local authority does not unnecessarily delay the conclusion of Stage 2”.

“Further consideration of the complaint can include, in a limited number of cases, early referral to the Local Government Ombudsman. Otherwise, the complainant retains the right to proceed to a Review Panel”.

  1. Annex 3 of the guidance provides advice on early referral cases to the Ombudsman. It states:

“Where the presenting facts indicate that reasonable, appropriate consideration of the complaint has been undertaken at Stage 2 and that further consideration by the Review Panel would not produce a demonstrably different outcome, the complaints manager should discuss with the complainant the possibility of referring the complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman.”

“There are a number of important safeguards that must be in place before proceeding with this option. Stage 2 must have delivered:

  • A very robust report
  • A complete adjudication
  • An outcome where all complaints have been upheld (or all significant complaints relating to service delivery in respect of the qualifying individual) and;
  • The local authority is providing a clear action plan for delivery; and
  • The local authority agrees to meet the majority or all of the desired outcomes presented by the complainant regarding social services functions”.
  1. Where all the above applies and the complainant agrees the complaints manager can then approach the Ombudsman and ask him to consider the complaint directly without first going through a Review Manager.

Background to the complaint

  1. Mr and Mrs X acted as friends and family foster carers to four of their grandchildren. Mr and Mrs X complained that they were not given proper support by the Council. Beneath this umbrella, there were 13 grounds of complaint.
  2. The Council responded to their complaint at stage one and put it through the statutory children’s complaints procedure at stage two. This involved investigation and reports by an independent investigator and independent person.
  3. The stage two investigating officer upheld some grounds of their complaints; partially upheld others; and did not uphold other grounds. The officer set out Mr and Mrs X’s desired outcomes and said, in conclusion, the investigation could not deliver all the outcomes. However, the officer said her findings should be shared with senior managers at the Council and learning identified in the case should be discussed with social work teams. The officer highlighted a need for clear recordings and sharing of information; consideration by the family and friends fostering team of the appropriate person to visit when concerns are raised and whether this should be two people rather than one; and the need to make the agenda of care planning meetings available to attendees prior to the meetings.
  4. The Council’s adjudicating officer agreed with the investigating officer’s findings and recommendations.
  5. Mr and Mrs X asked for a stage three review by a panel. They questioned the findings and outcomes on eight grounds of the complaint.
  6. The Council refused their request. It said it had already acknowledged learning and improvement required from the stage two investigation. Instead, it responded to Mr and Mrs X’s queries in its response letter. It then referred them to the Ombudsman.

Analysis

  1. A local authority can refuse to conduct a stage three panel review in certain limited circumstances set out in the guidance. Those circumstances did not apply here. The stage two investigation did not uphold all the grounds of complaint. The Council did not propose to meet all Mr and Mrs X’s desired outcomes. The Council did not follow the required steps for an early referral to the Ombudsman. The Council’s refusal to conduct a stage three review panel is fault.
  2. I recommended the Council initiates a stage 3 review panel. I also recommended a payment of £200 to the complainants to reflect the distress they have suffered because of the Council’s decision and the unnecessary time and trouble expended in pursuing this complaint with the Ombudsman prematurely. The Council agreed with the remedy.

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Final decision

  1. There was fault by the Council because it did not complete the statutory children’s complaints procedure. I closed this complaint because the Council agreed to remedy the injustice to the complainants.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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