Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 28 Mar 2017
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There is evidence of efforts by the Council to assist the complainant and her great nephew who she has looked after since he was a baby. But, by early 2016, the Council recognised that the nephew’s behaviours posed a significant risk. The Ombudsman considers that there was fault by the Council in that it should have arranged a more robust multi agency response to safeguard him and to assist the complainant.
- The complainant, who I shall refer to as Mrs X, complains that the Council has not helped her with the care of her great nephew who came to live with her and her family in 2001. I shall refer to the great nephew as Child B. Mrs X also complains that the Council has not provided services to Child B. Child B is nearly sixteen years old.
- Child B has persistent difficulty with social skills, emotional development and behavioural skills which have caused problems at school and at home.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman cannot investigate late complaints unless he decides there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to the Ombudsman about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D)
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. The Ombudsman cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. He must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3))
How I considered this complaint
- I have spoken to Mrs X and obtained information from the Council. The Ombudsman has exercised discretion to look at this complaint even though it is out of time. This is because there are special reasons in this case and because this is in keeping with the message in the Ombudsman’s special focus report on family carers, highlighting the difficulties for them.
- I have decided to investigate this complaint from April 2011 when Mrs X requested assistance from the Council. I have seen the Council’s records dating back to 2011.
- Mrs X has also made a complaint against a neighbouring Council, which I shall refer to as Area C. I have investigated a complaint against Area C. I have concluded that Area C should have explained to Mrs X her right to request some financial support when Mrs X agreed to care for Child B in 2001. This is because Area C was responsible for placing Child B in 2001 with Mr and Mrs X. Area C has now agreed to make Mrs X a Residence Order allowance and make a compensation payment. But the Residence Order Allowance ends when Child B is 16 unless Mrs X can obtain the Court’s agreement to extend the Order.
- I sent two draft decision statements to the complainant and to the Council. I have taken into account Mrs X and the Council’s additional comments when reaching my final view.
- The final statement will be sent to the Office for Standards in Education, Children Services and Skills (OFSTED) in accordance with the arrangement the Ombudsman has to share findings with this organisation.
What I found
Legal and administrative arrangements
Special educational needs
- Where it is necessary for the council to decide the special educational provision which the child’s learning difficulty calls for, the council shall make and maintain a Statement. In September 2014 new legislation about SEN came into force and councils now have to issue an Education, Health and Social Care Plan (EHCP).
- Under the previous legislation, part four of a final Statement will set out the type of school and any particular school which the council consider appropriate for the child; or the council’s arrangements for the provision for education otherwise than at school which the Council consider appropriate.
Child in Need (CIN)
- A child can be deemed to be a child in need under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 if, among other things, the child is disabled. Councils should carry out an assessment of children in need to consider whether the child meets its criteria for services. Councils must have clear criteria which explain how services are allocated based on need but which take into account the impact of disability on children and families.
- Where a child is suspected to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm the council is required by Section 47 (S47) of the Children Act 1989 to make enquiries. This is to enable it to decide whether it should take any action to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child.
- Where there is reasonable cause to suspect that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm, there should be a strategy discussion involving the local authority children’s social care and the police and other bodies, as appropriate. The Government has issued guidance – Working Together to Safeguard Children 2006 (updated in March 2010, 2013 and 2015)’.
- Area C was involved with Child B’s mother from November 2000. I shall refer to the mother as Ms B. Area C was involved because of significant child protection concerns regarding Ms B’s care of her children.
- When Child B was born in 2000, (Ms B’s third child), Area C placed Child B on its then Child Protection register because of the concerns it had about Ms B’s abilities to care for a young baby. At a subsequent child protection case conference, Area C indicated that it would take legal action if Ms B was unable to protect and care for Child B.
- The concerns about Ms B’s ability to care for Child B continued. In July 2001 Ms B left Child B in the care of an adult who Area C deemed was not suitable to care for him. The maternal grandmother agreed to take Child B. The grandmother subsequently arranged, with the Area C’s agreement, for Mr and Mrs X to take Child B. Ms B also agreed to this.
- Mr and Mrs X have six children, all now grown up. Mr and Mrs X initially obtained an interim Residence Order (now called a Child Arrangement Order) for Child B. Ms B was in agreement with this. Mr and Mrs X obtained a final Residence Order soon after. At that time Mr and Mrs X had four children still living at home.
The Council’s involvement
- In April 2011 Mrs X approached the Council saying she and her husband were having difficulties in caring for Child B. The Council agreed to carry out an initial assessment and this resulted in Child B being regarded as a child in need. The Council provided some direct sessions for Child B with a social worker. Mrs X reported his behaviour had become more manageable and she asked for these direct sessions to cease.
- In January 2013 Mrs X approached the Council again asking for urgent support. At this stage Child B had been excluded from his school. I understand the local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) had become involved and had provided family therapy. The Council provided an allocated worker to Child B.
- The Council carried out a core assessment and it made a referral to its Children and Parenting Support Service. It was noted the situation at home was deteriorating. The Council also arranged an assessment of Child B’s possible special educational needs.
- The Council held a child in need review meeting in May 2013. Mrs X stated that they were close to asking for Child B to be removed. In August 2013 the Council issued a proposed SEN Statement and it was, at this stage, looking for a suitable school for him.
- In the meantime CAMHS remained involved. It started Child B on medication for his Attention Deficiency Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It appears matters improved as a result. It was also agreed Child B should return to his previous school. The Council closed the case in February 2014. By this stage Child B was back at school and CAMHS remained involved.
- In September/October 2014 Mrs X made a further referral to Children Services explaining that Child B’s behaviour had deteriorated. Following this referral Child B’s medication was reviewed and some youth support was provided to Child B to help him access services within the community. The Education Department also agreed to review Child B’s school placement.
- In January 2015 there was a further referral to Children Services. Mrs X was asking for help to manage Child B’s behaviours and she stated she was struggling financially. The Council explained she would have to approach Area C as that council had placed Child B with her.
- The Council carried out a further assessment and noted that Child B was a ‘complex young person diagnosed with ADHD, Oppositional Deviance Disorder (ODD) and attachment issues’. The Council noted he was at risk because of his socially unacceptable behaviour. The assessment recorded that Child B was willing to talk to a family worker and that Mr and Mrs X were content for this intervention to take place.
- Some support was provided until May 2015. The Council arranged for Child B to be placed at a different school, which I shall refer to as School D. School D is an independent specialist school. In May 2015 the Council issued a SEN Statement. A Family Support Worker assisted Child B with some life story work.
- Mrs X again stated that she was struggling financially. The Council advised her to approach Area C for assistance.
- In May 2015 the case was then closed by Children Services. Child B remained at School D and settled well.
- In January 2016 Mrs X approached her Member of Parliament (MP) because she felt the Council was not providing appropriate support and she was still struggling financially and with Child B’s behaviours including his use of the social media and his inappropriate explicit messaging.
- The Council’s Children Services conducted a detailed child and family core assessment. School D stated it had not had problems with Child B.
- The core assessment highlighted the difficulties for Mrs X and her family in caring for Child B and also highlighted his vulnerability to possible child sexual exploitation. It also noted that his socially unacceptable behaviours continued to put him at risk. The core assessment highlighted that Mrs X had clarified that the family required additional financial support and respite care rather than further assessments.
- The Council arranged a multi agency meeting for 17 March 2016. At this meeting Mrs X described the significant difficulties they were having with Child B. It was agreed that the social worker from School D would work with Child B in respect of the identified risks. It is also recorded that Mrs X stated she did not feel continued Children Services’ involvement would be helpful. But the Council also recognised that she had become disillusioned with services in that they had not helped to resolve the difficulties which the family was experiencing as a result of Child B’s behaviours or provide an improvement in his behaviours.
- The Council decided to close the case on the basis that School D’s social worker would be assisting and helping Child B.
- In October 2016 Mrs X made a further referral to Children Services. Child B’s behaviour was becoming more risky and he had started stealing from home and from others. He also had a fascination with fire. The Police made a referral stating they had serious concerns that Child B’s risky behaviours may escalate.
- Recently the Council told me that Mrs X had requested that, once 16, Child B should be placed in alternative supported accommodation. However Mrs X has now told me that she is unwilling to do this. She considers Child B would not feel safe in supported accommodation and she and her family remain committed to him.
- Mrs X says she is looking for more support and respite care.
- Mrs X has approached the Council a number of times since 2011 requesting assistance. Social workers have been allocated and in addition CAMHS and education have been involved. This has resulted in help being provided to Mrs X and to Child B and he is now placed at a special school. It appears that this has helped his behaviour at least when at school.
- There is also evidence of some improvement for Child B and for Mr and Mrs X between 2011 and 2016. But it appears these periods have been short lived and difficulties have quickly reappeared particularly since 2013.
- Child B has some significant and complex difficulties and, as he has approached adolescence, these have become more marked. He also has a formal diagnosis of ADHD which, at its most severe, can result in children acting in ways which are sometimes hard to understand and which exposes them to unacceptable risks.
- I am satisfied that the Council has provided some support to Child B and to Mr and Mrs X. This may not have resulted in the improvements which the complainant had wished for. But I cannot say that this is solely as a result of fault by the Council. Child B’s needs are significant and not easily resolved. Adolescence is a time of great change and those with behavioural difficulties, before adolescence, can often have some deterioration in their behaviours while in this transitional stage.
- However, in early 2016 it was clear that Child B’s difficulties were significant and were continuing and, more importantly, he posed a risk to himself and possibly to others. There were also a number of agencies involved, CAMHS, Education, and Children Services, and more recently the Police.
- By early 2016 Child B’s behaviours continued to be of concern and in March 2016 the Council had identified that Child B was at risk of child sexual exploitation and at risk of harm because of his socially inappropriate behaviours. It was agreed that School D should manage these risks and Children Services decided to close the case, having sought Mrs X’s views about this.
- However, given the number of referrals over the years and that the Council’s assessment had identified that Child B was at risk of significant harm because of his behaviours, I consider that these factors should have triggered a more robust multi agency safeguarding response from the Council and it should have arranged a strategy meeting involving the different agencies to devise a way to safeguard Child B and to help the family.
- On that basis I consider that, since March 2016, there has been some fault by the Council by not acting more robustly on the safeguarding risks which it had identified.
- I cannot say whether the outcome would have been different but for this. But I note that, by October 2016, Mrs X had again approached the Council for assistance.
- Most families struggle with the type of behaviours Child B is displaying and Mr and Mrs X have done well to provide Child B with a stable home to date. In my discussions with them, it seems they are thinking of strategies to help Child B.
- But there is a possibility that Child B’s behaviours may soon become beyond their control and it also appears that Child B is vulnerable to outside pressures and is at risk of exploitation. So, in my view, the Council needed to have a clear plan, involving all the agencies- Education, CAMHS, Children Services and the Police-to help Mr and Mrs X manage Child B’s behaviours, reduce the risks, and to work collaboratively. Such a plan should also identify the protective factors which help Child B to manage his difficulties and risks better. For example he appears to cope well at his special school and he is involved positively in the football team.
- So I recommended that the Council arranged a multi agency meeting promptly so it can devise a clear care plan for Child B and provide assistance to Mr and Mrs X in caring for him.
- This meeting took place in January 2017 and the Council has a more detailed plan which involves a social worker visiting Child B weekly. Child B also stays with his birth mother at weekends which gives Mr and Mrs X a break. But there is some concern about whether this arrangement will continue.
- The Police Early Action Team is involved and is willing to speak to Child B about any anti social behaviour. There may also be merit in considering a further assessment by CAMHS of Child B’s mental health needs given the increased escalation of his behaviours. But this is for the multi agency group to consider.
- Child B has a Statement of his SEN. Transitional planning to Adult Services has began and the Council will also need to convert Child B’s Statement to an Education, Health and Care Plan and to start considering the arrangements if Child B cannot remain at School D.
Mrs X’s further comments
- Mrs X considers that Area C is at fault primarily because it placed Child B with them without providing support, particularly financial support. I have made a finding of administrative fault against Area C and it agreed to make a Residence Order allowance. However this came to an end once Child B was 16.
- Mrs X says one of the main difficulties, in addition to Child B’s sometimes risky behaviours, is the financial pressure on the family. She feels she has provided a good home to Child B and kept him safe but with little financial support.
- Both Mr and Mrs X and the Council have tried hard to help Child B with his significant difficulties. But his needs are complex and difficult to resolve. There were faults by the Council in not having a multi agency and coordinated safeguarding approach in view of Child B’s risk of sexual exploitation and possible risk to others. However there is now a more comprehensive plan for him and the Police Early Action Team is involved.
- In addition the Council has agreed to make a payment of £500 to Mrs X for the avoidable distress caused to her by the errors which I have identified and for the delay in having a more robust response to Child B’s difficulties.
- I have therefore completed my investigation and I am closing the complaint. However I recognise the financial pressures on Mrs X and I have asked the Council to consider this further.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman