The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X says the Council failed to conduct proper safeguarding investigations into the care of her two grandsons. The Ombudsman did not find fault with the Council’s investigations and so closed the complaint.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mrs X, complains on her own behalf together with her son, whom I shall refer to as Mr Y.
- Mrs X says the Council failed to conduct proper safeguarding investigations into the care of her two grandsons. Mrs X and Mr Y also complain about their dealings with various officers over their concerns and reports of abuse.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
How I considered this complaint
- I considered the complaint and correspondence sent to the Ombudsman by Mrs X and the Council. I discussed matters with Mrs X by telephone. I made enquiries of the Council and considered its comments on the complaint and the background information it provided. I sent a draft decision statement to Mrs X and the Council and considered the comments of both parties on it.
What I found
- Mrs X and Mr Y do not have parental responsibility for her grandsons and so crucial information on the Council’s investigations cannot be disclosed to them. This means I cannot set out the details of the Council’s investigations here.
- However, I have read the papers provided by the Council and assessed them in light of the law and government guidance on child protection procedures. I have seen evidence of the following:
- An assessment of whether the children were at immediate risk of danger when Mrs X and Mr Y made referrals.
- After the decision that the children were not in immediate danger an assessment of their needs and the risk of significant harm.
The Council’s dealings with Mrs X and Mr Y
- Mrs X and Mr Y are dissatisfied with their dealings with officers over this matter. Their complaint includes the following points with the Council’s comments in italics:
- Mr Y says he was told that that one of the boys would be interviewed at his mother’s home but then his mother received a telephone call to say the interview would take place at his school instead at the last minute.
In response, the Council says the initial referral was made to the Police which then passed the information to the Children’s Services out of hours service. The Police initially saw the children in the care of Mrs X. The Council says it does not have any record that Mrs X was told the children would be seen in her care. Its usual practice is to see children in school during investigations.
- The interview was against the headteacher’s recommendation.
The Council says the headteacher was present for the first section of a meeting with one of the boys at his school in January 2017. There is no record of the headteacher stating the interview at the school was inappropriate. The Council says the headteacher provided a venue and supporting staff for the interview.
- Mr Y was given the names of multiple case workers who ‘were running the case’ and one of them was about to go on a week’s leave when the case was allocated to her.
The Council says there were several social workers involved in this matter. It uses a duty system so it can investigate cases speedily. It says other social workers became involved in responding to Mrs X and Mr Y in a timely way for instance when they attended its office unannounced. It says only on one occasion was the case reallocated because an agency social worker moved employment at short notice. It says one social worker was away on leave after the case was allocated but points out the initial concerns had already been triaged by the Police and its Advanced Practitioner.
- They asked a social worker to call them but the response was that she was very busy.
The Council says Mrs X and Mr Y contacted it on many occasions over the period of these cases. It accepts it was possible its business support service may have advised them the social worker was busy and would not be able to contact them immediately. The Council points to its record of about 18 separate discussions between its social workers and the complainants between January and September 2017.
- Mr Y called the safeguarding team eleven times without reply from the team.
The Council referred to its response to the previous point.
- He met with a social worker who took background information from him on the boys. But when he spoke with another social worker she sounded vague and had not read or received the notes compiled by the social worker who took background information from him earlier on.
The Council could not say whether the social worker had read the case record before speaking with Mr Y.
- Information was provided by the school and Mr Y which was ignored with no follow up.
The Council provided a chronology of action taken by its officers including the school’s involvement in meetings.
- The case of one of the boys was investigated by a social worker who was blocked at every turn by a manager.
The Council was unclear about Mr Y’s suggestion but pointed to the manager’s role in supervision of the social worker.
- The manager was abrupt, did not listen to a word Mr Y said and spoke over him constantly.
The Council said there were several face to face and telephone discussions between the manager and Mr Y and Mrs X. It acknowledges some of the discussions were challenging.
- One of the boys made disclosures of abuse three times at a county hospital in May 2017.
The Council accepts one of the boys made comments while at the hospital which were potentially considered to be disclosures of physical harm. However, it provided evidence on the response of medical practitioners to the statements as well as the action taken by the Police and social workers afterwards.
- Mr Y was twice refused the minutes of meetings by the social work team manager and a social worker. Mr Y believes he was slandered during a child welfare conference and this was done to remove credibility from the two cases.
The Council says Mr Y could not have a copy of the minutes because he does not hold parental responsibility for the children.
- There were photographs of injuries which Mr Y has and which were not taken by social workers. The social workers did not ask for the photographs.
The Council says its officers hold photographs of bruising which Mrs X and Mr Y provided through various channels including the county hospital, the NSPCC, the local MP, the Police and the Children’s Commissioner.
- Correct staff at the hospital were not spoken to and social workers did not ask for their notes.
The Council provided medical reports on the children and minutes of meetings it had with paediatricians. It does not consider it failed to discuss matters with the relevant hospital staff.
- There was no communication from child welfare within the first week.
The Council says there were three strategy discussions between health and social care teams and the police in a nine-month period in addition to other contact between all agencies involved in child protection.
- There was no full body scan on either child to check for previous injuries even though they asked officers to do this several times.
The Council provided medical reports showing the action taken by doctors.
- The neighbours of the family were not interviewed and neither were friends and other relatives.
The Council refutes this allegation. The chronology it provided shows contact with other parties apart from the family.
- Staff did not pass information to each other.
The Council says information it gained on the cases were recorded by and shared with its social workers as well as other professionals.
- There was no follow up.
The Council denies this allegation. It cites evidence it provided of inter-agency working and decision making. It says it did not provide information on these outcomes to Mr Y as he does not hold parental responsibility for the children.
- I do not intend to comment on each point raised by Mr Y and Mrs X above. It is clear Mrs X and Mr Y are frustrated because they are concerned for the welfare of the boys. The Council could not provide them with information on its investigations and this fuelled that frustration and their sense of grievance. But I do not consider these matters warrant further investigation by the Ombudsman.
- On the whole, I do not consider these matters amount to fault by the Council. There may be instances where there was a delay before officers contacted Mr Y or he was unable to contact them despite many efforts. But these instances are not significant enough for me to reach a finding of fault by the Council.
- I closed this complaint because I did not find fault by the Council.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman