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London Borough of Bexley (16 016 318)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 15 Mar 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr F complained about how the Council had assessed and supported his family as his young son is disabled. The Council started to investigate his complaint under the statutory children’s social care complaints procedure in 2015. In 2016 Mr F withdrew from this procedure saying he was taking legal action instead but he did not. We would not normally investigate where the statutory complaints procedure has not reached at least the conclusion of Stage 2. In any case, Mr F has now withdrawn his complaint to the Ombudsman.

The complaint

  1. Mr F complains the Council failed to carry out appropriate assessments of his disabled son, his wife as their son’s carer and his older child as the sibling of disabled child. As a result he says the family have missed out on support services and his wife has damaged her back when lifting their son.
  2. He also complains about delays in the statutory children’s services complaints procedure. He says as a result he felt compelled to withdraw during Stage 2 of the procedure in 2016. In addition he believes the Council held a meeting about his complaints in 2015 and it has not informed him what the purpose or outcome of this meeting was.

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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 provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we are satisfied with the actions a council has taken or proposes to take. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(7), 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Mr F. I considered the complaint he made to the Ombudsman in January 2017 and the supporting information he provided.
  2. I considered two previous complaints Mr F made to the Ombudsman in 2015 and 2016.
  3. I considered the Children Act 1989 and the statutory guidance ‘Getting the Best from Complaints - Social Care Complaints and Representations for Children, Young People and Others 2006’.
  4. I gave the Council and Mr F the opportunity to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr F’s son, G, is disabled and has complex physical and medical needs.
  2. In 2012 when G was one year old, the Council carried out a social care assessment of his needs. In December 2014 the Council completed a further social care assessment of G’s needs. These assessments concluded G was well cared for.
  3. In 2013 the Council provided payments to Mr and Mrs F for G to receive short breaks of four hours a week.
  4. Mr F says the Council failed to carry out an adequate assessment of his wife’s needs as a carer for G during these assessments. As a result he says she damaged her back lifting G. He says these assessments were inadequate and failed to consider his older child’s needs too. Mr F says he was unaware the assessment of 2012 was inadequate until he received a copy of it in 2015.
  5. Mr F says he met a local councillor in March 2015 and Mr F mentioned his concerns about the Council. He believes the Council held a meeting about him and his complaints in June 2015 but it will not tell him what was discussed.
  6. Mr F says in 2015 he found out G may qualify for a Continuing Health Care (CHC) Assessment. This is care funded by the health service. Councils can provide an early screening process to determine if a person might qualify for the full assessment process. Mr F says the Council put in place barriers for him applying to the health service for a CHC Assessment of his son by putting in place a superfluous and non statutory pre-assessment stage. Mr F complained to the heath service in 2016 that it had not carried out a CHC Assessment of G. In August 2016 the health service agreed it would carry out an assessment and offered an appointment. Mr F says he was unable to find time for an appointment until January 2017. In January the health service began its assessment and informed Mr F that if it concludes he needs a care package it can backdate the support.
  7. Mr F says the Council are not involving his son and the wider family enough in its assessments. The Council says it has struggled to get Mr F to agree to a time when it can come and reassess G’s social care needs and Mrs F’s needs as his carer. It tried unsuccessfully to arrange a review assessment of G in 2015 and 2016.
  8. Mr F agreed to see the Council in March 2017 to carry out an assessment of his son’s needs and an assessment of his wife’s needs as G’s carer. The Council informs me that Mr X has since cancelled this assessment of his son and family by children’s social care. He now wants only an Occupational Therapist to visit to assess his wife.

Mr F’s complaint to the Council

  1. The law sets out a three stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. Stage 1 is a response from a manager in the service. If a complainant remains dissatisfied they can request a Stage 2 investigation. At Stage 2 of this procedure, the Council appoints an Independent Investigator and an Independent Person (who is responsible for overseeing the investigation). If a complainant is unhappy with the outcome of the Stage 2 investigation, they can ask for a Stage 3 review. If a council has investigated something under this procedure, the Ombudsman would not normally re-investigate it unless she considers the investigation was flawed. However, she may look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation.
  2. Mr F complained about the Council’s social care support to his family and about educational matters involving his son in 2015. The Council responded at Stage 1 of the procedure in October 2015. It found:
    • When it carried out a social care assessment in 2012 it gave Mrs F information about the services and support available from the Council’s disabled children’s team.
    • It agreed to give the family direct payments for short breaks in 2013 following a request by Mrs F: two hours a week in February 2013 increasing to four hours a week from September 2013.
    • The Council updated the previous social care assessment in December 2014. The Council apologised this assessment was lacking in information which it blamed on a change of its electronic recording system. It accepted it should have contacted other professionals involved with G to inform this assessment.
    • Once the Council has completed a child and family assessment it could complete a referral form for a CHC Assessment. It would send this to the health service’s Children’s Community Nursing Team for them to determine if the child met their criteria. It said a support package would then be discussed at the Health Complex Cases Panel. It asked him to contact the Council if he wanted it to make a referral to the Children’s Community Nursing Team.
    • It wanted to continue to work with Mr and Mrs F and support them in caring for G. It asked them to contact its disabled children’s team to arrange a time for it to update its social care assessment of G and a carer’s assessment of Mrs F.
    • If he remained dissatisfied it asked him to contact the Council within 20 working days to request a Stage 2 investigation of his complaint under the statutory process.
  3. Mr F remained dissatisfied.
  4. In May 2016 the Council emailed Mr F to say he had met with the Investigating Officer and she had produced a statement of complaint for the Stage 2 investigation. It said it was still unclear what his desired outcomes were from its corporate complaint investigation regarding complaints he had also made about educational matters.
  5. The Council contacted Mr F again in June to explain his statutory children’s social care complaints were being investigated but it had not had a response from him about his corporate complaints. The Council said if it did not hear from him by
    5 July it would assume he no longer wanted to pursue his complaints. Mr F responded two weeks later. He said he had not yet met the Independent Person and had been informed the other complaints he had about his son’s educational needs could not be considered by the children’s social care complaints procedure. (Such complaints are considered by councils’ corporate complaints procedure which is not a statutory procedure.) He wrote to the Council to confirm he wanted it to stop the investigations as he said the matters were now in litigation and he had instructed a solicitor to represent his son G. The Council accepted his withdrawal and said it would not consider any further representations from him about the matters he complained of and formally ended the Stage 2 investigation and the corporate complaint investigation.
  6. In January 2017 Mr F complained to the Ombudsman about the same matters covered by the statutory complaint investigation. Mr F told me in January 2017 that he did not take legal action against the Council despite what he told the Council in June 2016.
  7. In February 2017 Mr F asked to withdraw his complaint to the Ombudsman.

Findings

  1. Many of Mr F’s complaints are about events outside the 12 month time limit to make a complaint to the Ombudsman. Nevertheless, the Council agreed to investigate these matters under the statutory children’s social care complaints procedure in 2015.
  2. The law has set out a procedure for complaints about children’s social care. The statutory guidance explains the Ombudsman does not normally investigate children’s social care complaints until they have completed Stage 3 of the procedure. There is the possibility for an early referral to the Ombudsman after the completion of a robust Stage 2 investigation.
  3. Mr F withdrew from this statutory complaints procedure in June 2016 without completing Stage 2. The reason he gave was because he said he was taking legal action which in the end he did not. Mr F had an opportunity to have his complaint considered at Stage 2 and the Council made all reasonable efforts to do so.
  4. Mr F withdrew before the Council could complete Stage 2 of the procedure and he has now withdrawn from his complaint to the Ombudsman. I have therefore ended my investigation.
  5. In any case I would not have investigated Mr F’s complaint further as he did not use all the options open to him to have the Council investigate the complaint at
    Stage 2 of the statutory children’s social care complaints procedure.

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Final decision

  1. I have ended my investigation into Mr F’s complaint as Mr F has asked to withdraw his complaint to the Ombudsman. In any case I would not have investigated Mr F’s complaint further as he did not use all the options open to him to have the Council investigate the complaint at Stage 2 of the statutory children’s social care complaints procedure.

 

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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