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Dorset Council (20 010 257)

Category : Children's care services > Looked after children

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 29 Jul 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains that the Council has prevented him from contacting a child, B, who he previously cared for under a Special Guardianship Order. He also says the Council has told his partner not to mention Mr X’s name to B and has not provided an explanation for this. The Council is not at fault.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, who I refer to here as Mr X, previously cared for his partner’s grandchild, B, under a Special Guardianship Order (SGO). After the Council removed B from his care Mr X says:
      1. He was wrongly prevented from contacting B; and
      2. The Council also told his partner (Ms Y) not to mention Mr X’s name to B and has not provided an explanation for this.
  2. Mr X also says respite care which the Council offered when he and Ms Y began caring for B and his sister never materialised.
  3. Mr X says he has suffered injustice as his relationship with B has been damaged. The lack of explanation for the Council’s actions has caused him additional distress.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated Mr X’s complaints about the Council’s actions in relation to his partner’s grandchild, B.

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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. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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 by the Council. I have shared my draft decision with Mr X and the Council and considered their comments before finalising my decision.

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What I found

Special Guardianship Orders

  1. Special Guardianship Orders are made by the Family Court. They state that a child or young person should live with someone other than their parents on a long-term basis. The person with whom the child is placed then becomes the child’s Special Guardian, with parental responsibility for them.

What happened

  1. For many years B and his sister lived with Mr X and B’s grandmother Ms Y under a Special Guardianship Order. In 2018 the Council removed B from Mr X and Ms Y’s care due to an allegation by B’s sister and concerns about the care B was receiving.
  2. In 2019, when B was 13, the family court discharged the Special Guardianship Order and removed Mr X’s parental responsibility for B. The court order stated that B did not wish to see Mr X and that Mr X accepted this but wanted the situation kept under review. The local authority agreed to monitor the situation. B continued to have contact with Ms Y.
  3. The Council has shared records showing that B does not want any contact with Mr X. Mr X does not accept that B does not wish to have contact with him. He told me B had informed Ms Y that he did want contact.
  4. In February 2020 Ms Y passed a phone to B which contained Mr X’s phone number. Following this incident, the Council asked Ms Y not to mention Mr X in her conversations with B unless B specifically enquired about him.
  5. During a phone call in December 2020 Ms Y suggested to B that she would ask his social worker about arranging a Skype call with Mr X. The Council wrote to Ms Y to say that B had been distressed by the suggestion. It asked Ms Y not to mention Mr X in conversation again. The Council’s letter reminded Ms Y that B did not want contact with Mr X.
  6. The Council has provided a record to support the fact that B was distressed by Ms Y’s suggestion.
  7. In response to my draft decision Mr X told me that the Council had sent Ms Y a text asking her to be alone or out of the house when she talks to B, and that the social worker would listen to the conversation. Mr X questioned the necessity for this. Although Ms Y has not complained about this on her own behalf, I decided to investigate further as Mr X felt he would have to go to his shed if his presence in the house during Ms Y’s phone calls was a problem.
  8. The Council shared the text sent to Ms Y which stated that B may feel more comfortable speaking to her alone or out of the home with the social worker supporting the call. The text asked Ms Y if she agreed with this. The Council told me Ms Y had not responded.

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Analysis

  1. The Council has shared records showing that B, who is now 15, does not wish to have contact with Mr X, by phone or otherwise, and that he was distressed by Ms Y’s references to Mr X in conversation. Ms Y was informed of this, and Mr X has seen their communications. There is no fault by the Council.
  2. Ms Y was given the option of agreeing or disagreeing to the proposal about being alone when she speaks to B. Mr X is under no obligation to leave the home during his partner’s conversations with B. There is no fault by the Council.

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Parts of the complaint I did not investigate

  1. I did not investigate Mr X’s complaints about support from the Council during the period he and Ms Y were caring for B. This is because the complaint was made too late.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation with a finding that the Council is not at fault.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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