Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 29 Mar 2022
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: We will not investigate Mrs C’s complaint about the Council’s failure to provide adequate support for her adopted son. This is because the Council has agreed to carry out an investigation under the statutory complaints procedure for children’s services.
- The complainant, Mrs C, says the Council is at fault for its failure to support her in caring for her adopted son, T. She says this has caused injustice because she can no longer afford to care for her family.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. A late complaint is one made more than 12 months after something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
- We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we are satisfied with the actions a council has taken or proposes to take. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(7), as amended)
- We do not start or may decide not to continue with an investigation if we decide:
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or
- there is another body better placed to consider this complaint,
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6))
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mrs C. Using the information I had gathered, I wrote an enquiry letter to the Council.
- Mrs C 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
What should happen
Post adoption support
- Adoptive families have a legal right to an assessment of adoption support needs from the local authority responsible for that support. The assessment must cover a range of needs, from mental health to the child’s need for therapeutic services to the need for additional support during a child’s education.
- If a parent disagrees with a council’s decision about post-adoption support, they can complain to their council. The Council should consider their complaint through the statutory complaints procedure for children’s services complaints.
Children’s statutory complaints procedure
- The Government has created a dedicated complaints procedure for complaints about children’s services (’the statutory complaints procedure’). It has created statutory guidance called Getting the Best from Complaints which explains how the statutory complaints procedure works and when it should be used.
- There are three stages in the process. At stage one, the council responds to a complaint. If a complainant is not satisfied, they can ask for a stage two investigation. Stage 2 investigations are overseen by an independent person. If they are still not satisfied, they can ask for a Stage 3 review panel to hear submissions and decide on remaining points.
- Mrs C adopted a child, T, born to a relative in 2017. She says the Council pressured her to adopt the child. This is not something we can investigate as it occurred too long ago.
- Sadly, T has congenital disabilities. His needs, Mrs C says, mean she had to give up work. The family has found it increasingly difficult to afford to care and support T and their other children.
- Mrs C complained to the Council about the lack of support in December 2020. The Council rejected Mrs C’s complaint at Stage 1 of the procedure and invited her to request a stage 2 investigation within 20 days.
- Mrs C did not do so, instead coming to the Ombudsman.
- Mrs C came to the Ombudsman after the Council had completed a Stage 1 response to her complaint under the statutory complaints procedure. She did not respond to the Council’s invitation to request a Stage 2 investigation. The Stage 2 investigation is set out, in Getting the Best from Complaints, as the correct procedure to deal with complaints about adoption support.
- The Council has agreed that it will carry out a Stage 2 investigation. I have, therefore decided to discontinue my investigation to allow the process to continue. The organisation that delivers services is always better placed to resolve problems and to learn directly from things that have gone wrong. They also have wider discretion to look at issues that we cannot, because they lie outside our jurisdiction. That is why we usually expect complainants and bodies in jurisdiction to have exhausted the local complaints procedure before we will investigate.
- If, after a stage 3 review, Mrs C is unhappy with the outcome, she can complain to the Ombudsman.
- I have discontinued my investigation.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman