Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 31 Mar 2015
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs J complains about the care given to her grandchildren, who are looked after by the Council. I have reviewed the evidence and found no evidence of fault causing injustice in the Council’s actions. So I do not uphold the complaint.
- Mrs J complains about the care given to her grandchildren X, Y and Z, who are looked after by the Council, the Council’s investigations into concerns about their care, and arrangements for some of the meetings held to discuss their care.
- Mrs J also complains that a social worker misrepresented X’s diagnosis to court and this misrepresentation then became part of his records.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated the first part of Mrs J’s complaint. The final section of this statement contains my reasons for not investigating the rest of the complaint.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. If the Ombudsman is satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, she can complete her investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i))
How I considered this complaint
- I have taken account of the information provided by Mrs J. I have also reviewed all the Council’s records for X, Y and Z. I have given both Mrs J and the Council the opportunity to comment on the draft decision.
What I found
- The Council took X, Y and Z into care because of serious concerns about the care provided to them by Mrs J and her daughter, the children’s mother. The court granted care orders and the Council placed the children with foster carers. X stayed with Mr and Mrs D, and his sisters Y and Z stayed with Ms E.
- Mrs J and her daughter did not agree with the court’s decision that X, Y and Z should be in care. Later the court granted placement orders for Y and Z so they could be placed for adoption. The Council intended to keep Y and Z together. But when Z was diagnosed with a disability, they decided to look at separating them, so Y’s adoption would not be delayed. Mrs J and her daughter disagree with this, too, but the court will make the final decision.
- Mrs J has made complaints about the Council’s actions as follows:
Failure to protect X from harm while he lived with Mr and Mrs D, and the conduct of the subsequent investigation
- The Council placed X with Mr and Mrs D, foster carers with experience of looking after a child with autism. The placement was an interim one while the Council looked for a permanent foster placement.
- Mrs J raised concerns about X’s placement in 2012. The contact supervisor also reported that X had been distressed and said he wanted to move. The Council considered the concerns raised. It was satisfied Mr and Mrs D’s standard of care was good.
- X moved to a permanent foster placement in February 2013. In May 2013 X talked to family members about his previous foster placement with Mr and Mrs D. He said Mrs D had been mean to him, and described some incidents. X’s uncle reported this to the Council. The incidents did not meet the threshold for a criminal or safeguarding investigation. So the Council carried out an investigation under its procedure for considering allegations against a foster carer.
- The Council talked to Mrs D about the allegations without delay. But officers did not talk to Mr D until October. There was no evidence to back up X’s allegations, and Mr and Mrs D’s explanations were believable and consistent. But they did accept they had found X’s behaviour challenging and might not always have responded in the best way.
- The matter went to the fostering panel in early November. The Council wrote to Mrs J in late November to offer a meeting to discuss the investigation and its outcome. This meeting took place in February 2014.
- The investigation took longer than it should have done. But X was not living with Mr and Mrs D by this time and anyway the investigation did not back up his allegations. So although the investigation should have been concluded more quickly, this did not cause a significant injustice.
- While X was living with Mr and Mrs D, they sometimes struggled with his behaviour, and he was sometimes unhappy. That is not evidence of abuse. Later X moved to different carers who were better able to meet his needs. But that does not mean the placement with Mr and Mrs D was harmful to him. The Council regularly visited the placement, carried out the correct reviews, and asked X about his feelings. So the Council acted correctly to protect X’s physical and emotional well-being.
No social worker attended the meeting held in February 2014
- Mrs J and her daughter attended a meeting on 20 February 2014 to discuss the outcome of the investigation into X’s allegation. The meeting was attended by the fostering and adoption manager and the customer care manager. X’s social worker was not there. The Council said the looked-after children manager was willing to meet with Mrs J and her daughter later if this would be helpful.
- The meeting talked through the findings and outcome of the investigation. The meeting also discussed other current issues such as X’s schooling and the arrangements for contact.
- X’s looked after review meeting was held a few days later. It was attended by X and his foster carer, two social workers, and the contact supervisor. An independent reviewing officer (IRO) chaired the meeting. The IRO met separately with Mrs J, her daughter, and one of the social workers. The IRO also consulted the SENCO from X’s school, and the officer monitoring X’s education.
- Mrs J and her daughter said they felt excluded from X’s life. The meeting agreed the social work unit would liaise regularly with X’s mother to update her on his wellbeing.
- The Council had offered the meeting about the investigation in November, and had already had to rearrange it once because of staff illness. So it was correct to go ahead with the meeting even if not all the relevant officers could be there. Their absence did not affect the information the Council was able to give Mrs J and her daughter.
- The Council was not at fault in holding separate looked-after review meetings, or in continuing with the main meeting when the SENCO and education officer could not attend. The absent officers provided information to the meeting, so other professionals were able to take a clear view of the situation. And professionals took account of Mrs J and her daughter’s view. This is reflected in the meeting decisions.
Failure to protect Y and Z from harm while they lived with Ms E
- Mrs J reported concerns about bruising to Y and Z while they were living with Ms E. She suggested the children had fallen down the stairs, for which Ms E did not have a stair gate. Mrs J also took her concerns to the NSPCC, who made a referral to the Council.
- The incidents did not meet the threshold for a criminal or safeguarding investigation. So the Council carried out an investigation under its procedure for considering allegations against a foster carer. The children’s social worker talked to Ms E. The social worker was satisfied the bruises were normal for active young children and not evidence of a lack of care.
- The social worker wrote to Mrs J to explain this. She said the Council would continue to monitor Y and Z’s welfare closely. The Council did this by making unannounced and extra visits.
- In August 2013 the Council removed Y and Z from Ms E’s care after another member of the household alleged that Y had been assaulted. A police enquiry into the allegation prevented the Council from giving Mrs J details at the time about what might have happened. The Council gave her an outline of events in March 2014 but the investigation was ongoing which limited the information the Council could share. This restriction still applies.
- Mrs J feels that if the Council had acted differently to her earlier concerns, Y would not have been exposed to harm in August 2013. But there was no evidence the bruises were caused deliberately or by neglect. So the Council acted proportionately and correctly to Ms J’s earlier concerns.
- The incident in August 2013 was unconnected to those earlier concerns. I cannot, for reasons of confidentiality, describe what exactly was alleged. But the evidence shows there was nothing the Council should have done that could have prevented the incident. And the Council acted quickly and correctly to protect Y and Z when the allegation was made.
- So the Council was not at fault here.
X was out of school from February 2014
- X’s school placement broke down and he left the school before half term. He did not start at a new school straight away. At the looked after review meeting held later that month, professionals heard the reasons why the placement had broken down. The Council provided X with home tuition while it identified a school that could meet his special educational needs (SEN).
- X attended events at his new school over the summer term, to introduce him to the school before he started there in September.
- I have seen no evidence that X missed out on education during the period between leaving primary and starting secondary school. But in any case he will access a differentiated curriculum and get extra support because of his SEN, so he should quickly catch up again.
- It also might well have been more disruptive for X to have had just a short time at a different primary school before moving to secondary school. This would have made him ‘the new boy’ twice within six months. X had disengaged from education so the Council was right to get him back into school slowly.
The September 2014 looked-after child review had no independent reviewing officer (IRO)
- X’s previous IRO had left and although the Council had appointed a new one, she was not in post to oversee the looked-after child review meetings in August and September 2014. The Council appointed a temporary IRO who chaired both meetings.
- The temporary IRO did not meet with X before the meeting. She was aware that X was tired and about to go on holiday, and that it can be hard for children to meet new professionals. So she decided to get X’s views from his social worker, as a professional X already knew.
- Both meetings were properly chaired by an IRO. And there were clear reasons why this IRO decided not to meet X beforehand. So the Council was not at fault here.
The Council has failed to provide minutes and other documents on time
- Mrs J has not been specific about the minutes and documents she feels the Council has delayed in providing. Letters on file show that the Council sent Mrs J and her daughter copies of care plans, and those assessments and reports which were not confidential. The Council also responded to Mrs J’s letters quickly and offered to meet Mrs J and her daughter to give more information and answer their questions about what was happening in the children’s lives.
- I have found no evidence of fault in the way the Council has provided information to Mrs J and her daughter.
- I have completed my investigation and do not uphold Mrs J’s complaint. I have found no evidence of fault causing injustice in the Council’s actions.
- The Ombudsman 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)
- So I cannot investigate the complaint that a social worker misrepresented X’s diagnosis to court.
- But Mrs J may be reassured to know that the files show professionals took account of the correct information about X’s diagnosis.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman