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Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council (16 014 518)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 08 Mar 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Council followed the correct procedure before deciding on the format of B’s Looked after Child Review meeting. It correctly responded to Mr X’s complaint about this matter.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council intended to unfairly exclude him from a Looked after Child Review meeting about his child B. It did this with less than one day’s notice at the request of B’s foster carers. He wants the Council to apologise and ensure this does not happen again.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), 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 spoke to Mr X about his complaint and considered what he told me.
  2. I considered information provided by the Council about the complaint.
  3. I read relevant legislation and statutory guidance including the Independent Reviewing Officer Handbook concerning Looked after Child (LAC) meetings.
  4. I gave the Council and Mr X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. All children in foster care must have regular reviews chaired by an Independent Reviewing officer (IRO). The IRO must talk to the child about their placement before reviews and listen to their views.
  2. Statutory guidance for IROs says review meetings can be flexible and vary to meet the needs of the child. It is for the IRO and social worker, in consultation with the child, to agree the best way to manage review meetings.
  3. Guidance says that reviews must be child centred and that a series of meetings may be the best way to involve all relevant people. Parents and the child should normally be present at the whole review but this will depend on the circumstances of each case. In some circumstances the social worker and IRO may decide it is not appropriate for them to attend the whole meeting.

Background to the complaint

  1. Mr X is the father of child B who has been placed with several foster carers since March 2012.
  2. In September 2016 a regular LAC Review Meeting for B was planned. The IRO met with B the week before the meeting. This was to find out B’s views and wishes and prepare him for the review. He also spoke to foster carers and other participants.
  3. The day before the review meeting, the IRO decided it was more appropriate to run it as a series of meetings. This was because of concerns from some attendees about running it as a single meeting.
  4. The Council telephoned Mr X about this decision the day before the meeting. It says Mr X did not raise any concerns then. Mr X says he told the Council he was not happy with the arrangement.
  5. Mr X telephoned the Council an hour before the LAC review meeting to say he had decided not to attend. Mr X says this was because he was anxious about the arrangements.
  6. Mr X complained to the Council about how it had handled the LAC review meeting.

Mr X’s complaint about the LAC review meeting

  1. Mr X complained he had not been allowed to attend the full LAC review meeting. The Council had not considered how anxious the new format would make him. It had not considered his susceptibility to such anxiety. It knew about the likely meeting arrangements the week before so should have told him about them earlier. This would have meant he could have prepared better.
  2. The Council replied explaining why it had decided to run the review as a series of meetings. It had decided this the day before the meeting. It told Mr X about it as soon as he could. Mr X could have brought an advocate to support him at the meeting as he had done previously. It would review arrangements for future LAC reviews. It met Mr X later in September as part of B’s care planning and review process.
  3. Mr X was unhappy with this response and complained to the Ombudsman. He told me he wanted to be at the whole meeting to make sure the Council listened to B’s wishes and views. When the council told him about the changed arrangements he asked them to postpone or reschedule the meeting which they refused to do.
  4. He explained the follow up meeting with the Council had not discussed what had happened at the LAC review.
  5. He said he and B had experienced problems with past reviews. Initially B had not been invited to them. Then he was not properly represented by advocates or listened to.

My findings

  1. The Council followed the correct procedure in preparing for the LAC review meeting. It spoke with B about his wishes and to other participants including B’s foster carers and Mr X before deciding the appropriate meeting format. The Council had to decide how to best run the meeting in B’s interests. Because it followed the correct procedure, I cannot question the Council’s judgement about this.
  2. It was unfortunate the Council decided on this format the day before the meeting. However this late notice is not fault. It spoke to Mr X as soon as it could and explained how the arrangements would work. Mr X chose not to attend the meeting.
  3. There was also no fault in how the Council responded to Mr X’s complaint and explained its actions. It explained its decision and agreed to keep LAC review meeting arrangements under review. It met with Mr X after the review to discuss B’s placement. This should have provided an opportunity to discuss what happened at the review.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. The Council followed the correct procedure before deciding on the format of B’s Looked after Child Review Meeting. It correctly responded to Mr X’s complaint about this matter.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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