Blackpool Borough Council (19 018 321)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 16 Sep 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained about the lack of contact she has had with her child, who is in care. She says the Council has cancelled sessions at short notice which means it has failed to meet the contact requirements set by the court. Ms X says this has caused her distress. The Council was not at fault.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains about the lack of contact she has had with her child, who is in care. She says the Council has cancelled sessions at short notice which means it has failed to meet the contact requirements set by the court.
  2. Ms X says this has caused her distress.

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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 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)
  3. 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 have considered the information provided by Ms X and the Council. This includes complaints correspondence, court papers and emails between Ms X and the Council.
  2. I provided Ms X and the Council with a copy of my draft decision and gave them an opportunity to comment.

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What I found

  1. Ms X’s child, Z, is the subject of a court care order and is placed with foster carers. The court also decided Ms X’s contact with Z.
  2. In July 2019, the Council returned to court to request amendments to the contact arrangements. The court made an order stating Ms X should have six contact sessions a year.
  3. The Council wrote to Ms X on 30 July 2019 detailing the dates and times of the contact sessions for August to December 2019. The letter also said that for the sessions to take place, Ms X must telephone the contact centre on the morning of each session to confirm her attendance. This was because on a number of occasions, Z and their carer had arrived for the contact session and Ms X had not attended.
  4. In September 2019, Ms X complained to the Council. One of her complaints was that the planned contact sessions had not taken place.
  5. The Council responded on 23 September and said:
    • the session in July had taken place but Ms X had left early due to anxiety;
    • the session in August had been cancelled because Ms X had failed to confirm her attendance; and
    • the session in September had been cancelled, again because Ms X had failed to confirm her attendance. Instead, Ms X had arrived several hours after the session should have taken place.
  6. On the 10 October 2019, the Council wrote again to Ms X to confirm the contact sessions for October and December 2019.
  7. Following complaints with Ms X about these sessions, the Council wrote to her on 24 January 2020 and said:
    • the contact session in October had been cancelled because Ms X had failed to confirm her attendance;
    • Ms X had emailed the Council to say she did not have access to a phone and so could not call to confirm her attendance at the December session. The Council had responded and asked her to arrive 30 minutes before the session began. However, Ms X had arrived at the start time of the session, by which time it had been cancelled;
    • before any further contact sessions were arranged, the Council wanted a meeting with Ms X to explain the effects of her behaviour on Z; and
    • if Ms X was unhappy with the contact arrangements, she should take legal advice.
  8. Ms X remained unhappy and complained to the Ombudsman.
  9. The Council has informed me Ms X has applied to the court over matters related to contact with Z.

My findings

  1. We cannot investigate what contact Ms X should have with Z as the court decided this.
  2. The Council made arrangements for Ms X to see Z six times a year, as ordered by the court. Ms X had failed to attend in the past, which had been distressing for Z. Therefore, the Council said Ms X must confirm her attendance on the day, either by telephone or by arriving 30 minutes before the session began, otherwise the session would not go ahead. The Council made these arrangements in the best interests of Z. There was no fault in its actions.
  3. Ms X failed to abide by the arrangements on four out of five occasions between July and December 2019 and the sessions did not go ahead. The Council was not responsible for this. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was not at fault. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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