London Borough of Lambeth (18 001 986)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 29 Oct 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council failed to adequately investigate allegations he was abused while in the Council’s care. The Council delayed in investigating and responding to Mr X’s allegations. However, there is no evidence of fault in how the Council looked into the substance of Mr X’s allegations. The Council has agreed to apologise to Mr X. It has also agreed to review its procedures for investigating allegations against people working with children, and review its complaint handling processes.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council failed to adequately investigate allegations he was abused while in the Council’s care as a Looked After Child.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  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)
  3. 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. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended).
  4. I am investigating the Council’s actions since 2015 as the Council finished investigating the matter in 2017, after which Mr X complained to the Ombudsman. I am not investigating the Council’s actions before 2015 as I consider Mr X could have complained to the Ombudsman at this time and the complaint is late.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered Mr X’s written complaint and the Council’s response to my enquiries.
  2. Mr X and the Council have had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision.
  3. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

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What I found

  1. Councils have a duty to investigate if they have reasonable cause to suspect that a child who lives in their area is suffering, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
  2. The Council must have reasonable cause to suspect that a child is likely to suffer harm before it can enquire. The Council cannot investigate to see if there is a problem unless it has reasonable cause for suspicion.
  3. Councils must appoint a Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) to oversee and manage the investigations of allegations against people working with children.

What happened

  1. In 2008 Mr X lived in supported accommodation as a Looked After Child (LAC). The accommodation was run by a private provider for the Council. Between 2008 and 2015 Mr X continued to receive support from the Council as a LAC.
  2. In October 2015 the Council was contacted by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner. It told the Council Mr X had told his advocate at a children’s charity that his key worker had physically assaulted him while in supported accommodation in 2008. Mr X also said the key worker had assaulted another resident.
  3. The Council contacted Mr X’s advocate. It asked if Mr X had reported the matter to the police. It said it would begin an investigation but needed the details of the police officer considering the matter to involve them in the strategy meeting and investigation.
  4. The advocate told the Council Mr X had not yet contacted the police direct. The Council spoke to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner who confirmed it had alerted the police. The LADO arranged a strategy meeting and invited the police, with other professionals working with Mr X.
  5. In November 2015 the LADO chaired a strategy meeting. The police did not attend. At the meeting Mr X’s allegations were discussed in detail. Following the meeting the Council carried out checks on the key worker, including whether there had been any accusations from other residents.
  6. In December 2015 Mr X attended a local police station to give a statement. Following Mr X’s statement, the police decided to close the investigation and told the Council.
  7. In February 2016 the Council received an email from another charity working with Mr X. The charity said Mr X continued to say his key worker had physically abused him in 2008. The Council decided to treat the matter as a safeguarding investigation. It told Mr X it would look into his allegations and how the Council had responded to them.
  8. The Council tried to arrange a meeting with Mr X in March 2016, however its records say Mr X was not available. It managed to arrange a meeting between a new LADO, Mr X and his advocate in April 2016. At the meeting Mr X said he could not remember the details of the other resident the key worker had assaulted. The new LADO then met with Mr X’s social worker and arranged a new strategy meeting.
  9. The Council held a strategy meeting in July 2016. The meeting reviewed the previous actions. It confirmed the previous investigation had found no concerns with the key worker, and there was no record of any other allegations. The police had closed their investigation as they said it had been too long since the incident allegedly took place.
  10. Following the meeting the Council wrote to Mr X. It said there was a lack of evidence to support the allegations and it was closing the investigation.
  11. Mr X contacted the Council again in November 2016. He said he was unhappy with the LADO’s investigation into the allegations. The Council agreed to look into the matter at stage two of its complaints procedure.
  12. In March 2017 the Council completed its stage two investigation. The stage two report said there was no record of a reported assault in 2008, and there was no other evidence to support Mr X’s claim. The investigation into the key worker had resulted in no evidence of any wrongdoing. The report said the LADO had carried out a thorough investigation and taken information from a range of sources into account. The Council agreed with the LADO’s findings.
  13. The Council sent Mr X a stage two adjudication letter in October 2017. It apologised for the delay in responding. It summarised the stage two findings and did not uphold Mr X’s complaint. Mr X remained unhappy and asked for a stage three investigation in December 2017. The Council responded in February 2018. It said it did not feel it could add anything with a stage three investigation and signposted Mr X to the Ombudsman.

My findings

  1. It is not the role of the Council or the Ombudsman to investigate whether a crime has occurred. That is a matter for the police and the courts. I have investigated the Council’s response to Mr X’s 2015 allegations against the key worker working on its behalf.
  2. Mr X says the Council failed to adequately investigate his allegations. When the Council received the allegations in 2015 it appointed a LADO and held a strategy meeting. Following the meeting the Council carried out further investigation. When the police decided to close its investigation the Council also decided there was not enough evidence against the key worker.
  3. The Council held another strategy meeting in 2016 when Mr X restated the allegations. It reviewed its actions so far and again found no evidence to justify further action. It then carried out a stage two investigation into its actions. I have reviewed the Council’s records and information from Mr X and can find no fault in the way the Council looked into Mr X’s allegations. It was entitled to reach its view there was no evidence to support Mr X’s allegations. The Council is not at fault.
  4. In December 2015 the police ended its investigation into Mr X’s allegations. There is no record of whether the Council decided to end its investigation and it did not tell Mr X the outcome of its investigation. This is fault. When Mr X returned to the Council in February 2016 the Council did not hold a strategy meeting until July 2016. When Mr X complained again in November 2016 the Council agreed to investigate at stage two. However, there is no evidence the Council started looking into the matter until April 2017. The Council completed its investigation in April 2017 but then did not send Mr X a response to his complaint until October 2017. This is fault.
  5. While there is no evidence of fault in how the Council considered the substance of Mr X’s allegations, the Council repeatedly delayed in carrying out its investigation into Mr X’s allegations and failed to communicate the outcome of its investigation with Mr X. This fault caused Mr X unnecessary uncertainty.

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Agreed action

  1. Within one month of my final decision, the Council has agreed to apologise to Mr X for the uncertainty caused by its delay and lack of communication.
  2. Within three months of my final decision, the Council has agreed to review its procedures for investigating allegations against people working with children to ensure it holds any strategy meeting necessary as soon as possible. It will also review its complaint handling processes to ensure it is aware of any delays in sending complaint responses so it can act accordingly.

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Final decision

  1. There was fault leading to injustice. The Council has accepted my recommendations. I have decided to complete my investigation as I consider that a suitable remedy.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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