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Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (17 012 586)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 22 Mar 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: the Council has not properly assessed D’s needs or produced a satisfactory plan to meet her needs. The Council has agreed to reassess D’s needs, produce a new care plan and review the support D has received since 2015.

The complaint

  1. Mrs M complains the Council declined her request for additional support for her daughter, D. Mrs M does not consider the Direct Payments she receives for three hours’ support per week meet the family’s needs. Mrs M is unhappy that D’s case has been ‘stepped down’ to team around the family support.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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)
  4. 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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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have considered:
    • information provided by Mrs M;
    • information provided by the Council, including assessments and correspondence with Mrs M;
    • Working Together to Safeguard Children, Government guidance issued in 2015;
    • the Children Act 1989; and
    • Guidance on good practice: remedies, published by the Local Government Ombudsman in 2017.
  2. I invited Mrs M and the Council to comment on my draft decision.

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What I found

  1. Mrs M’s daughter, D, is autistic and suffers extreme social anxiety. She has selective mutism and cannot communicate without the support of a familiar carer.
  2. Mrs M requested Direct Payments in 2015 to enable D to take part in activities. The Council completed a Child and Family Assessment on 23 June 2015. The Social Worker who carried out the assessment and the manager who reviewed it recommended Mrs M receive Direct Payments to support D. A senior manager reviewed the assessment on 6 July 2015 and decided D was not eligible for support and closed the case. Mrs M complained. The senior manager reviewed her decision in October 2015 and decided to award Direct Payments. The Council agreed three hours of support per week from November 2015. Direct Payments started in April 2016.
  3. The Council began a review in October 2016. Mrs M wanted an increase in support. In February 2017, the Council decided not to increase the Direct Payments. The Council decided there was no need for children’s social to be involved and D’s case should be managed by a ‘team around the family’ led by a home tutor from the education department. Following an unsuccessful attempt to arrange a child in need meeting, the Council closed D’s case on 30 June 2017.
  4. Mrs M complained. The Council explained there had been ‘management oversight’ which concluded D could be supported by third sector agencies and had no unment social care needs. The Council declined to consider Mrs M’s complaint further.
  5. Mrs M remained dissatisfied and complained to the Ombudsman.

Social care support for disabled children

  1. Disabled children may be eligible for social care support. Any services provided should seek to minimise the effects of their disabilities and give disabled children the opportunity to lead lives which are ‘as normal as possible’. (Children Act 1989, Schedule 2(6))
  2. When a parent requests support, the Council must carry out an assessment. The assessment must carefully and accurately set out and evaluate all the child’s needs so the Council can decide what services (if any) it is required to provide to the child and/or family to meet those needs.
  3. The Council must also assess the needs of carers with parental responsibility for disabled children. These assessments must inform the decision on the support to be provided to the family.
  4. Government guidance says a good assessment should focus on outcomes. The Council must involve the disabled child in the assessment. Failure to involve a disabled child may render an assessment unlawful.
  5. Once the Council has completed an assessment, it must decide whether to provide services to meet the child’s needs. The Council has a duty to provide some services under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Person’s Act 1970, and may also provide services under the Children Act 1989 if they are required to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
  6. When deciding whether to provide services, the Council must act rationally, follow agreed procedures which are explained to the child/family in question and issue a decision for which clear and logical reasons are provided.
  7. If the Council decides to provide services, it must produce a ‘plan of action’ or care plan. The plan should clearly identify the child’s needs, set out what services are to be delivered, and what actions are to be undertaken, by whom and for what purpose.
  8. The parents of disabled children who are eligible for social care support can ask for Direct Payments from the Council to choose and buy the services they need themselves, rather than getting them from the Council.

Complaints about children’s social care

  1. There is a formal procedure, set out in law, which councils must follow to investigate certain types of children’s services complaint, including complaints about social care support. It involves:
    • a written response from the Council (Stage 1);
    • the appointment of an independent investigator to prepare a report (Stage 2); and, if the person making the complaint requests
    • an independent panel to consider their representations (Stage 3).
  2. Regulations set out the timescales for the process. The Council should provide a response at Stage 1 within 10 working days, at Stage 2 within 25 working days (or exceptionally within 65 working days) and convene a review panel at Stage 3 within 30 working days.

Consideration

  1. The Ombudsman does not decide whether D has social care needs and whether she is eligible for support. This is the Council’s job. The Ombudsman’s role is to check the Council followed the process outlined above and made its decisions properly.
  2. I asked the Council for a copy of the assessment which formed the basis of its offer of three hours of Direct Payments in 2015 and a copy of the care plan the Council produced following the assessment.
  3. The Council sent a copy of a Child and Family Assessment. The assessment describes some of the difficulties D and her family face. I cannot tell from the information the Council provided what D’s needs are, what services the Council considers need to be delivered, what actions are to be undertaken, by whom and for what purpose. The assessment does not meet the essential requirement to carefully and accurately set out and evaluate all D’s needs so a proper decision can be made as to what services (if any) are required.
  4. The records give no indication of the reasons the senior manager decided D was not eligible for support in July 2015. The senior manager’s October 2015 letter, when she overturned her decision and decided to award Direct Payments, sets out her support for Mrs M’s proposal to introduce D to a worker to support her to access more social activities. However, the papers give no indication how the Council decided three hours per week would meet D’s needs.
  5. For these reasons, I find fault with the Council’s assessment and care plan.
  6. The Council began a review of D’s care package in October 2016. The assessment describes some of the difficulties D and her family face, although some of the information is out of date and appears to have been copied from the 2015 assessment. I cannot tell from the information the Council provided what D’s needs are, what services the Council considers need to be delivered, what actions are to be undertaken, by whom and for what purpose. The assessment does not meet the essential requirement to carefully and accurately set out and evaluate all D’s needs so a proper decision can be made as to what services (if any) are required. The papers give no indication how the Council decided three hours of care per week continue to meet D’s needs.
  7. The Council decided D has no outstanding social care needs and her case could be ‘stepped down’ to team around the family support. However, without an adequate assessment or care plan, this decision is unsound.
  8. When Mrs M complained to the Council, she received a letter which confirmed the Council’s decision not to increase her Direct Payments. The Council declined to respond further. Mrs M’s complaint falls within the scope of the statutory children’s services complaints procedure. She was entitled to an independent investigation and, if she remained dissatisfied, to a complaint review panel.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has not properly assessed D’s needs or produced a satisfactory plan to meet her needs. This is fault.
  2. In response to my enquiries, the Council offered to conduct a reassessment to consider whether additional Direct Payments are required to meet any unmet needs. I welcome the Council’s offer to reassess D’s needs. I recommended the Council undertake the reassessment and implement any changes without delay, and within 3 months of my final decision. I asked the Council to send me a copy of the assessment and any care plan it produces.
  3. Following the reassessment, I recommended the Council reconsider whether D can be supported by a team around the family, or whether she needs a higher level of support.
  4. The Ombudsman must consider the impact of the fault on D and her family.
  5. Without a proper assessment, I cannot say whether D has received adequate support since Mrs M first asked for Direct Payments in 2015. Following the re-assessment, I recommended the Council review the support it has provided since 2015 and consider whether it has been adequate. If it has not, the Council should consider how to make amends. Mrs M can complain to the Ombudsman again if she remains unhappy.
  6. The family has now been subject to two unsatisfactory assessments and Mrs M has had complain to the Ombudsman to resolve her dispute with the Council about D’s support because the Council did not consider her complaint properly. I recommended the Council pay Mrs M £250 for her time and trouble.
  7. I recommended the Council consider whether any action is necessary to ensure that in future, disabled children receive adequate assessments and care plans, and eligible complaints are considered under the statutory children’s services complaints procedure.
  8. The Council accepted my recommendations.

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Final decision

  1. The Council accepts my recommendations so I have ended my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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