Birmingham City Council (18 006 702)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 29 Nov 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: There was fault by the Council because it did not investigate the complainant’s allegations of abuse by a foster carer when he was a looked after child. There was also unreasonable delay before it responded to the complaint. The Council apologised for the delay and agreed to investigate the allegations.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains about the Council’s decision not to investigate allegations of abuse by a foster carer when he was a looked after child and unreasonable delay before it made its decision.

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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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the complaint and information provided by Mr X. I sent a draft decision statement to Mr X and the Council. I considered the Council’s reply.
  2. 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. Mr X was a looked after child whom it appears was placed with a foster carer as a child up to his adulthood. Mr X left care six years ago. He provided a statement to the Ombudsman setting out the abusive actions of the foster carer. Mr X says the foster carer’s actions had an adverse impact on his mental health and he required therapy to cope with his depressive state. He says it is only now that he is able to report on the terrible experience he and other foster children faced at the time.
  2. Mr X says he complained to the Council about the abuse in 2014 but nothing was done at the time. He says the Council claims it wrote to him in 2014 but he only found out about the letter in 2017.
  3. It appears Mr X complained again to the Council in 2017. He is dissatisfied because the Council took almost 60 days to check its files before it decided that the allegations he made were historic and so could not be investigated.
  4. In its complaint response, the Council apologised for a delay before it responded to Mr X’s complaint.
  5. Mr X wants the Ombudsman to direct the Council to investigate his complaint because it is serious.

Analysis

  1. The complaints page on the Council’s website states that it will acknowledge a complaint and contact a complainant about it, if necessary, within 15 working days. So, if the Council took almost sixty days to compile a response to Mr X then there was unreasonable delay which amounts to fault.
  2. Where we find fault by a council we must consider the injustice to the complainant and a possible remedy for the injustice.
  3. Here, the Council apologised to Mr X for the delay. I consider an apology was the appropriate remedy for the understandable frustration Mr X felt because of the delay. Given the Council’s apology, I do not consider a further remedy is warranted from the Ombudsman.
  4. As to the Council’s decision that the allegations were historic and so could not be investigated, I was concerned the Council did not provide any reasons for its inability to investigate Mr X’s allegations beyond stating they were historic.
  5. The Children Act 1989 directs social services departments to investigate allegations against foster carers in the same way as child abuse allegations concerning birth families or institutions. I am concerned the Council’s reply does not show consideration of its statutory responsibility. The Council may eventually decide the allegations are historic and it does not have evidence to substantiate the allegations. But it cannot simply conclude the allegations are historic and so will not be investigated. If the foster carer concerned still looks after other children in care then there is a further imperative on the Council to consider the allegations.
  6. I found fault with the Council’s handling of the complaint. To remedy the injustice to Mr X, the Council agreed to an investigation of his allegations.

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Final decision

  1. There was fault by the Council. I closed the complaint because it agreed to investigate Mr X’s allegations.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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