The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: This complaint alleged fault by the Council because it refused to inform the complainant of the whereabouts of his children and did not include him in children in need meetings on his children. The Ombudsman did not find fault by the Council and closed the complaint.
- The complainant, whom I will call Mr C, says the Council did not tell him where his children were living when they were taken away from his home by their mother and did not include him in children in need meetings even though he has joint parental responsibility for his children.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- The Ombudsman investigates complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. She 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, she may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1))
- If the Ombudsman is satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, she can complete her investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i))
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the documentation provided by the Council. I discussed matters with Mr C on the telephone. I sent a draft decision to Mr C and the Council and considered the Council’s comments in reply.
What I found
- Mr C and Ms X have two children. Their relationship ended in 2011. In March 2014, Ms X went to stay at Mr C’s house following the breakdown of her current relationship.
- Shortly afterwards Ms X left the home and took their children with her. She alleged that Mr C had bitten their daughter and assaulted her.
- Ms X contacted the Council for assistance and the Council placed her in emergency accommodation pending its enquiries. Mr C contacted the Council to find out where his family were. The Council was not able to give him this information due to the allegations Ms X made against him.
- On 20 May Mr C complained to the Council about officers refusing to share information with him.
- In June 2014 the Operations Manager discussed Mr C’s complaint with him. Following this discussion the Council sent Mr C a letter accepting that contact from the social worker had not been as robust as the Council would normally expect given Mr C has parental responsibility for his children. The Council undertook to keep Mr C fully informed and appropriately involved in the children in need process. The letter also explained that the Council had no reason to prevent contact between Mr C and his children because their investigations had not found any fault by Mr C. The decision not to allow contact had been made by Ms X.
- On 23 June the social worker met with Mr C prior to a children in need meeting to ensure that he could have an input into the meeting. Mr C agreed that two children in need meeting would not be necessary. The social worker then met with Mr C after the meeting to share appropriate information from the meeting.
- During a telephone conversation on 28 July Mr C asked for his complaint to go to stage 2 of the statutory procedure. The Council responded by asking a senior manager to review the case rather than proceed to stage 2 as this would take several weeks and Mr C wanted a quick response.
- On 18 August the Council wrote to Mr C to confirm a conversation and agree a way forward. The letter explained that the Council could not involve Mr C in the existing children in need meetings as to do so would breach another party’s confidentiality. The Council offered to hold a separate meeting although they felt this would not be helpful as there would be a limited attendance. It was agreed that the Council would inform Mr C of any education, health or social services issues related to his children. The letter also confirmed that the Council had no safeguarding concerns about Mr C that met the threshold for social services involvement.
- On 29 August Mr C rang the Council to ask if his children were registered at a school and was told the social worker would be meeting him the following week to update him on the information they held.
- The Court asked the Council to provide a report for private court proceeding. The Council had no further involvement with the children and it closed its enquiry after the initial children in need meeting.
- I do not find fault with the Council’s approach to this matter. The Council explained it could not tell Mr C where his children were because his wife had made allegations of assault against him. It also accepted Mr C had parental responsibility for his children and so should normally be involved in children in need meetings. However, given his former partner’s allegations and her request for Mr C not to attend the meeting, the Council decided it would respect her confidentiality.
- I consider the Council acted reasonably in respecting the wishes of Mr X’s former partner. My view is reinforced by the Council’s willingness to share information on proceedings with Mr C away from the actual meeting.
- I closed this complaint because I did not find fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman