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Gloucestershire County Council (20 004 771)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 16 Mar 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains about the care of his daughter in foster care, about the Council’s unjustified restrictions on his contact with her and about the Council’s poor communications and complaints handling. The Council is only at fault in its communications. It had already remedied its fault with an apology to Mr X before he approached us.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Mr X, complains about the care of his daughter in foster care and about restrictions the Council has placed on his contact with her, which he feels are unjustified. He also says the Council’s communications have been poor and it has not handled his complaint appropriately.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated the Council’s actions in relation to Mr X’s daughter and its complaint handling.

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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 spoke to Mr X and considered information provided by Mr X and the Council. I sent Mr X and the Council a copy of this draft statement and considered their before finalising my decision.
  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

Children Act Complaints Procedure

  1. The Children Act and statutory guidance ‘Getting the Best from Complaints’ says complaints about some children’s services must be handled according to a three-stage procedure.
  2. If the complaint is primarily about how the Council has treated an adult, it can be considered under the Council’s own procedure.

What happened

  1. Mr X has two children, A and B. In 2019 they were removed from their mother’s care and place in foster homes. They are subject to care orders. After the Council raised concerns Mr X was passing unchecked messages to B, it decided Mr X’s contact with her should be supervised. Mr X complained to the Council about this in July 2019. He also complained about poor communication from the Council and a failure to provide information about his daughter. At the same time, he applied to the family court for unsupervised contact with B, which was refused. The Council responded to Mr X and apologised for its poor communication, but he was not happy with the response.
  2. In September, shortly after the court decision, the Council reduced Mr X’s contact with B from once a fortnight to once per month, along with telephone contact. Mr X complained that he was not given warning of this or an explanation. He said he had asked for a copy of the Council’s assessment of his request for unsupervised contact, but that he had not received this. He also complained that B, who was now 13, was not being brought up in line with his preferred religious tradition, contrary to his wishes.
  3. The Council apologised to Mr X for failing to send him the assessment, which it said had identified that contact with her father was having a negative effect on B. It added that B did not wish to follow Mr X’s religious tradition, and it had to take her views into account.
  4. In January 2020 the Council imposed further restrictions on Mr X’s contact with his daughter. Mr X met the Council and later complained about this in writing. He told the Council that B was unhappy and that the Council was controlling her. In its response the Council explained that Mr X’s actions during recent contact with B had led to reduced contact.
  5. Mr X made a further series of complaints relating to his previous contact with B, to which the Council responded. In April 2020, the Council advised Mr X that emails were having an adverse effect on staff and asked him to refrain from continuing to raise the same issues. Mr X then came to us.
  6. One of the issues the Council raised with Mr X was his tendency to use his contact sessions to ask B to write letters on his behalf.
  7. In response to my draft decision Mr X told me the Council was lying about his daughter’s wishes. He played me a recording of his daughter in which she stated her name and date of birth and said a Council staff member was stopping her seeing her father.
  8. The Council did not follow the statutory three-stage process for Mr X’s complaint. Although Mr X had complained about his daughter’s care, the complaint was primarily about the way Mr X had been treated. It therefore used its corporate complaints procedure.

Analysis

  1. I can see no fault in the Council’s decision to impose contact restrictions on Mr X. The Council has provided documents which explain its view that Mr X has acted inappropriately in contact sessions and that contact should therefore be restricted.
  2. Mr X disagrees with the Council’s view and believes it is lying about his daughter’s wishes. I cannot accept the recording Mr X has presented as evidence that B is being wrongly prevented from seeing him. I do not know the circumstances in which the recording was made. The Council has provided evidence it is acting in B’s best interests.
  3. I see no evidence of fault in the Council’s provision of care for B or in its handling of Mr X’s complaint.
  4. The Council is at fault in failing to communicate adequately with Mr X and provide him with certain reports about B. This caused injustice to Mr X. The Council has apologised, which in my view is an appropriate remedy.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation with a finding that the Council is at fault but had already provided a suitable remedy before the complaint was made to our office.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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