Decision : Not upheld
Decision date : 28 Nov 2018
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs B complains the Council has not continued with its re-unification process for her daughter because of concerns about her partner. Mrs B says the concerns are unwarranted. The Ombudsman finds the Council is not at fault in how it managed this complaint. This is because Mrs B’s daughter can decide where to live and Mrs B’s complaint conflicts with her decision.
- The complainant, who I refer to as Mrs B, complains about the Council’s attitude to her new partner and its effect on contact with her daughter. The Council told Mrs B that her daughter (“Miss C”) raised concerns about the partner’s behaviour towards Mrs B. The Council helped Miss C, who had moved back in with Mrs B as part of re-unification, to find her own accommodation. The Council also told Mrs B it would not consider re-unification for her son (“Child D”) until she addressed the issues about her partner. Mrs B says the Council should not take this attitude to her partner and should continue with re-unification for both her children.
- I have investigated Mrs B’s complaint about living arrangements and re-unification for Miss C.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- We 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, as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the information provided by Mrs B and the Council. I made further enquiries of the Council to establish why it did not feel this was a statutory children’s complaint. I sent a copy of my draft decision to Mrs B and the Council for its comments.
What I found
- A Looked after Child is any child who is subject to a care order or accommodated away from their family by a local authority under section 20 of Children Act 1989. The accommodation can be voluntary or by care order. The child becomes looked after when the local authority has accommodated them continuously for longer than 24 hours.
- The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. At stage 2 of this procedure, the Council appoints an Investigating Officer and an Independent Person (who is responsible for overseeing the investigation). If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a stage 3 review. If a council has investigated something under this procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless he considers that investigation was flawed. However, he may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
- Miss C is a Looked after Child in the care of the Council. However, she moved back into Mrs B’s home as part of a re-unification process.
- In mid-2018 Miss C raised concerns with social workers about domestic incidents involving Mrs B and her partner. The Council informed Mrs B that unless she addressed the issues it could not continue with full re-unification and Miss C may ask to live elsewhere. A social worker from the Council met with Mrs B several times after this. Mrs B’s partner continued to live in her home and Miss C told social workers she would like to explore alternative living arrangements. The Council has supported Miss C to do so.
- Mrs B complained to the Council about the stance it had taken. Mrs B said she should not have to choose between her partner and her children. She says her partner is a good role model for her children.
- The Council responded to Mrs B at Stage 1 of its complaints procedure. However, it does not consider the complaint should be managed under the statutory children’s complaint procedure, as outlined at Paragraph 4 above. It considers Miss C is old enough make her own decisions about where to live. It says Mrs B’s complaint is not about the child but the way the Council has treated her and her partner. It therefore considered the complaint under its corporate procedure.
- I agree the Council should not manage Mrs B’s complaint under the statutory children’s procedure.
- Mrs B’s complaint stems from Miss C’s decision to look for an alternative place to live. Mrs B is understandably upset by this and feels Miss C should continue to live at home. She appears to feel the decision has been made because of the Council’s concerns about her partner. However, Miss C is old enough to decide if she wishes to live elsewhere. The Council’s role is only to continue providing Miss C with support and help her find alternative living arrangements. I cannot make any criticism of the Council when it has listened to Miss C’s concerns, respected her decisions and continued to provide her with support.
- Guidance on the statutory complaints procedure says an appropriate person may complain on behalf of the child or in their own right. However, when considering the full circumstances of this case, it is clear Mrs B’s complaint conflicts with Miss C’s decision and is not one Miss C would support.
- It is not consistent with the objectives of the statutory complaints procedure, for anyone to bring a complaint that conflicts with the wishes of a child who is free and able to make their own decisions. This is particularly so when the child has made the decision in the interests of their own welfare. In this case Miss C chose to live elsewhere because of concerns about her mother’s relationship with her partner. It would therefore not be appropriate for the Council to investigate this case as a statutory children’s complaint
- The Council met with Mrs B several times to discuss the matter and responded to her complaint under its corporate complaints procedure. I am of the view the Council has managed the complaint appropriately and is not at fault. I am also not critical of the Council’s response to Mrs B’s complaint. It is entirely reasonable for the Council to support Miss C in her decision.
- My decision is the Council is not at fault in how it managed this complaint. This is because Mrs B’s daughter can make decisions about where to live and Mrs B’s complaint conflicts with those decisions.
Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate
- I have not investigated Mrs B’s complaint about re-unification for Child D.
- Child D currently lives with foster parents. Mrs B’s contact with Child D is subject to a court order and periodically reviewed by the Council. The Council is shortly due to hold a review meeting, during which it will discuss the re-unification issue for Child D. It will carry out a further parenting assessment and will obtain Mrs B and her partner’s views as part of this.
- The statutory children’s complaints procedure does cover issues about parental contact with children in care under section 34 of the Children Act 1989. However, this relates to the day to day issues such as how contact sessions are handled and her ability to contribute to reviews. Any complaints Mrs B has about the plan for her contact with Child D is a matter for the court.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman