Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 30 Mar 2017
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: There is no fault in this complaint about the care the Council is providing to Mr X’s son who is in foster care on a full care order.
- The complainant, whom I shall call Mr X, has a son, Y, who is a looked after child and with whom Mr X has supervised monthly contact. Mr X complains that:
- the Council has failed to respond properly to his concerns that:
- Y is unhappy in his current foster placement;
- Y was assaulted in his placement in 2014 and on three other occasions before that;
- it is unclear what the foster carers’ spend Y’s Disability Living Allowance (DLA) on;
- the looked after child (LAC) review meetings are inadequate because Mr X l is not permitted to attend the main part of the meeting, is not properly consulted before the meeting or allowed to meet with the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) before the meeting and Mr Z has been refused permission to attend these meetings to support Mr X;
- the activities he is required to undertake with Y at contact sessions are unnecessarily prescribed; and
- it has wrongly refused to consider his current complaints under the statutory complaints procedure and its decision to treat Mr S as a persistent complainant is without foundation.
What I have investigated
- I have considered parts a) i, iii, iv), v and part b) of the complaint. The final part of this statement explains why I have not considered part a) ii.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I discussed the complaint with Mr X and considered the written information he provided with his complaint. I made written enquiries of the Council and took account of all the information before reaching a draft decision on the complaint. I wrote to Mr X and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments before reaching a final decision on the complaint.
What I found
- A court can made a child the subject of a full care order if it is satisfied that a child is suffering or is likely to suffer “significant harm”. Only a court can discharge a full care order.
- Councils have a statutory duty to provide an independent visitor service for children who looked after children. Independent visitors are volunteers who spend time with looked after children and befriend them.
- Councils must arrange regular review meetings for children who are looked after. I will refer to these as a LAC review. For a child in a stable foster placement these meetings take place every six months. Review meetings usually include the child (where appropriate), the child’s parents and foster carers and professionals involved in the child’s care. The meeting is used to talk about matters related to the child’s welfare including, for example, the child’s education, health needs, contact arrangements and care plan. Parents should be consulted about the plans and the child’s progress before the review meeting.
- An Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) chairs a looked after child’s review meeting and monitors the child on an ongoing basis. The IRO is responsible for ensuring the child’s care plan reflects the child’s needs.
- Disability Living Allowance is a benefit paid to people who have additional needs related to their mobility or care.
- The law sets out a three stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services.
- Y was made subject of a full care order in 2012 and lives with foster carers. Y is severely autistic and is non-verbal. Mr X’s contact arrangements with Y were determined by the court and the court also ordered that the contact should be supervised. Y attends a special needs school and is developing skills using the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS).
- Mr X has monthly supervised contact with Y for between three and five hours.
- Mr X requested that Y have an independent visitor and the Council says he is on the waiting list for this.
- Y has regular looked after child review meetings. The most recent of these took place in November 2015, Spring 2016 and September 2016. In 2013 the Council decided to conduct Y’s looked after reviews in two parts due to difficulties related to Mr X’s behaviour and inappropriate comments.
The Council’s comments and evidence on Mr X’s complaint
- The Council says that Y is not able to say he is unhappy with his foster carers as he is non-verbal. The Council says that its observations of Y and his foster carers, school and foster agency staff views are that he is not unhappy. Mr X says Y hits hit head against walls after contact and says this is what Y does when he is unhappy.
- The Council says Y is involved in lots of activities including horse riding and that his social worker sees him in his foster placement at least every 12 weeks and that there is no evidence to indicate he is unhappy there. The Council reports Y is settled in his placement and is making good progress communicating his needs using PECS.
- The Council also says that Y’s foster carers work with Y’s school to help his development at home, using the methods that are working well at school and that he is making good progress.
- The notes of Y’s LAC review meetings show that Mr X has raised his concerns that Y is unhappy in these meetings and that this concern has been addressed.
- The Council says Mr X has complained many times about the foster carers’ use of Y’s DLA. The Council refers to the matter being discussed at Y’s LAC review meeting in November 2015. The notes of this meeting confirm that Y’s foster carer uses Y’s DLA to pay for expenses related to Y’s car which was originally obtained by the carers under a mobility car scheme. It seems the money is therefore used to support Y’s mobility. I note the carers are also reported to have bought Y a pony.
- The Council confirms that Mr Z attended the last LAC review with Mr X in September 2016. The Council says it initially considered his attendance at the previous review was inappropriate as his role was “ambiguous”. This is because Mr Z initially said he was attending the meeting as Mr X’s friend, but later stated he was attending as a councillor and this was not considered appropriate by the IRO.
- The Council says that its records do not show that a consultation booklet was sent to Mr X to complete before the LAC review in November 2015. However the Council says the IRO had a meeting with Mr X two days before the review meeting.
- There was a two part LAC review for Y in March and April 2016. The Council says the notes are unclear as they say that a consultation booklet was completed but does not confirm that one was sent to Mr X. .
- The Council confirms that a consultation booklet was received from Mr X for the LAC review in September 2016. It further confirms that an area manager and the IRO had a meeting with Mr X and Mr Z before the review meeting.
- Mr X and Mr Z were due to meet the IRO in February 2017 before the LAC review planned for March 2017.
- In relation to Mr X’s contact arrangements with Y the Council says it has to ensure these are a positive experience for Y. It says that professionals were concerned about the duration of time Y spent in the swimming pool as part of the contact visit. It confirms that Y’s contact with Mr X is for three to five hours and professionals considered this amount of time in the swimming pool was too long for Y. The notes of the November 2015 LAC review meeting show that this matter and the concerns about the length of swimming were discussed at that review. The meeting agreed that Y would use his PECS to choose an activity to do with his father at his supervised contact sessions after a session of a maximum of one and a half hours of swimming. The Council says alternative activities such as a visit to a park or shopping trips were suggested. The Council says Mr X did not keep to these arrangements so in July 2016 the social worker wrote to Mr X to say that the contact visit should include going to the park first and then going swimming. The current arrangement is still for Y to use his PECS symbols to choose an activity.
- The Council says it has responded to a large number of complaints from Mr X and Mr Z. I note that Mr X submitted his first complaint in 2009 and this complaint was considered under all three stages of the statutory complaints procedure. The Council has provided a chronology of Mr X’s complaints which show he has submitted a very large number of complaints to the Council about various aspects of its children’s services department since 2009 and also a very high number of requests for information in the form of Freedom of Information requests.
- The Council says that the amount of contact from Mr X and Mr Z over a number of years has placed unreasonable and excessive demands on the time and resources of staff. The Council says “The frequency of the contact, often submitting letters every few days, hampers consideration of the issues and by adopting a “scatter gun” approach they are pursing parallel complaints on the same issue. Repeat complaints are submitted with minor additions or variations and there has been reluctance by Mr X to accept the decisions”.
- The Council says that in March 2013, the then Director of Specialist Children’s Services wrote to Mr X as he was still complaining about issues that had been through the complaints process in 2009, and also matters that had already been considered by this office and complaints he had brought to professional social work bodies. She said the Council would no longer write to Mr X about these complaints as his actions were unreasonable.
- The Council considers that some of the complaints raised by Mr X should be correctly dealt with by Y’s social worker and so he was asked to make Y’s social worker his first contact. The Council says that Mr X is not prevented from making a complaint, but that it advised him the Council will only consider new matters and said it will also only consider matters that “require intervention separate to the everyday management of Y’s case”.
Was the Council at fault and did this cause injustice?
- I am satisfied that the Council has properly addressed Mr X’s concerns that he considers Y is unhappy in his foster placement. This matter has been considered in the LAC review meetings and this is appropriate. The allocation of an Independent Visitor will further help with this.
- I am satisfied the Council has told Mr X how Y’s foster carers spend Y’s DLA money and this has been addressed in Y’s looked after review.
- Mr X made the first part of his complaint about the arrangements around the division of Y’s LAC review meetings summarised under iv) to this office previously in 2014. I have not therefore investigated this part of his complaint again.
- The evidence shows that Mr Z attended part of Y’s last LAC review with Mr X. The evidence suggests that Mr X has been consulted in writing or has spoken to the IRO before most of the LAC review meetings. Given Mr X’s very frequent correspondence with the Council about his concerns in relation to Y I am not persuaded that any fault in the consultation procedure having not been adhered to before the meeting in Spring 2016 caused Mr X injustice. This is because his concerns and thoughts on Y’s progress were well known and he was in very frequent contact with Council officers about these. However the Council should ensure that the correct consultation process is followed in future.
- The concerns about the way Mr X was spending time with Y in supervised contact sessions was considered in LAC reviews and were the result of professionals concerns about this. The somewhat prescriptive arrangements for this contact are therefore the result of concerns about Y’s best interests and have been properly considered at the LAC reviews.
- I accept the Council has considered a large number of complaints from Mr X since Y has been looked after. The Council has provided responses to Mr X’s large number of complaints and has previously addressed the matters raised in his complaint to this office often on numerous occasions. The Council has said that it will not continue to address matters it has already investigated and there is no fault in this. The Council has agreed that it will address new complaints. I am satisfied that Mr X’s original complaint about the matters he continues to raise were considered under the statutory complaints process.
- There is no fault by the Council in relation to most of Mr X’s complaint that the Council has failed to address the concerns he detailed about his son’s care. I do not consider that any fault in the Council’s consultation with Mr X before LAC reviews has caused him injustice as he is in frequent contact with the Council about his concerns about Y’s care. The Council should ensure proper consultation in future however. I am satisfied the Council has dealt appropriately with Mr X’s complaints to the Council.
- I did not investigate part a) ii of the complaint. 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. As Mr X was aware of this matter for more than 12 months before he complained to us and could have brought his complaint earlier I have decided not to exercise my discretion to investigate this part of the complaint.
- Mr Z has said that he questions the decision to remove Y from his parents’ care and he has referred to the family seeking ways to overturn the court’s decision to remove Y from their care. I cannot investigate a complaint about the court’s decision to award a care order and it is a matter for the courts if Mr X now wishes to challenge these decisions. These are not matters for us to consider.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman