Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council (18 004 128)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Closed after initial enquiries

Decision date : 27 Sep 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The Ombudsman has not investigated Ms Y’s complaint about the termination of contact with her son, X, who is currently looked after under a full care order. The decision to end contact was made by the Council in 2016, and is now too old for the Ombudsman to consider. In addition, Ms Y also tells the Ombudsman she has started legal proceedings against the Council.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I will call Ms Y, complains that:
    • Contact with her son was stopped unnecessarily in 2016 and without proper explanation;
    • A social worker stopped a bowling activity that Ms Y had with her son; and
    • A social worker spoke to Ms Y in an unacceptable way in 2016.
  2. As a desired outcome Ms Y seeks to resume contact with her son, and wishes not to have any further contact with the social worker in question.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. During my investigation, I have:
    • Discussed the complaint with Ms Y, and considered any information she submitted;
    • Considered the Council’s responses to Ms Y’s complaints;
    • Consulted the Ombudsman’s ‘Guidance on Jurisdiction’; and
    • Issued a draft decision and considered any comments received from Ms Y and the Council before making a final decision.

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What I found

  1. Ms Y has a 17-year-old son, whom I will call X. He lives with Ms Y’s half-sister under a full care order. Until 2016 Ms Y had contact with X six times each year. The frequency of the contact was decided by the courts.
  2. In 2016 the Council ended the contact arrangements because of concerns it had about the quality of the contact. It is not clear what X’s views about contact are.
  3. Ms Y complained in February 2017 about the Council’s decision to end contact. As part of that complaint she also raised concerns about the conduct of the social worker who had contacted her regarding the termination of contact. The Council responded in March 2017. Ms Y then asked the Council to review her complaint at the second stage of the statutory complaints procedure. The Council commissioned an independent investigator who issued their findings in July 2017.
  4. The stage two investigator upheld parts of the complaint, and asked the Council to undertake some remedial actions. These were mainly around seeking the views of X using the services of an independent advocate, and to undertake a risk assessment to inform a plan about any future contact. The investigator also asked the council to apologise for the way it communicated with Ms Y in 2017.
  5. Ms Y tells me that contact with X resumed in April 2018.
  6. Ms Y complained to the Council again in June 2018. Ms Y asked the Council to escalate her complaint to the third and final stage of the complaints procedure. The Council refused. It said that too much time had elapsed since the stage two findings and so Ms Y was not entitled to a review at the third stage of the procedure. Ms Y approached the Ombudsman.
  7. The Ombudsman has jurisdiction to investigate events which the person affected became aware of within 12 months of their complaint to us. We have discretion to extend the scope of our investigation if we decide there are good reasons to do so. For example, if a council has delayed in dealing with a complaint and the person was prevented from approaching us sooner.
  8. The events Ms Y complained about happened in late 2016. While she complained promptly to begin with, she waited 11 months before asking to progress her complaint. Ms Y says this is because she had tried and failed to secure legal representation before asking for a review of her complaint. I have considered this argument. While I appreciate Ms Y’s frustrations in failing to locate a suitable solicitor, I do not consider this represents good reason to exercise discretion. I find it unlikely that locating a suitable solicitor would have taken a full 11 months.
  9. Furthermore, Ms Y also tells the Ombudsman that she has now found a solicitor and has started legal proceedings against the Council. Ms Y has not shared with me the exact grounds of her legal case, but based on my correspondence with her I consider there is likely to be some overlap with her complaint to the Ombudsman. The Ombudsman cannot consider matters subject to ongoing proceedings.

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Final decision

  1. I have not investigated the matters Ms Y complains about for the reasons explained in this statement.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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