Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council (18 004 319)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 18 Dec 2018

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council will not let him and his wife see their children without meeting with the Council first. Mr X also complained the Council refuses to consider his complaint at stage 2 of its procedures. There was no fault in the Council’s actions.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council will not let him and his wife see their children without meeting with Council officers first. Mr X says he gave the Council some dates but the meeting has not gone ahead.
  2. Mr X also states that when he complained about this the Council refused to consider it at Stage 2 of its complaints procedures and closed his case.
  3. Mr X says the Council’s actions have caused him and Mrs X unnecessary distress because they have not seen their children for five months.

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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. 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 considered the information in Mr X’s complaint.
  2. I spoke to the Council and considered the information it provided.
  3. I wrote to Mr X and the Council with my draft decision and considered their comments before I made my final decision.

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What I found

  1. A Care Order is given by the Court and allows a council to take a child into care if it believes they are suffering or are at risk of suffering significant harm.
  2. Although parental responsibility with the council is shared, the council can restrict the exercise of parental responsibility by others by virtue of the Care Order.
  3. A Placement Order is made under s21 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002. This allows councils to place a child with prospective adopters. A Placement Order suspends the child’s Care Order and transfers parental responsibility to the adoption agency (which is usually the council).

What happened

  1. Mr and Mrs X have four children who were made subject to full Care Orders and Placement Orders on 4 July 2017. Therefore, the children do not live with their parents. The arrangement originally was that Mr and Mrs X could have contact with their children once a month.
  2. In April 2018, Mr X complained to the Council that it would not allow him and Mrs X to have contact with their children. The Council responded on 20 April and said:

“You are unhappy that contact has been cancelled... I can assure you that contact has not been cancelled. On the 14th March 2018, the children attended contact however neither you or [your wife] were present for contact... we do hold full care orders for [the children] and take each child’s wishes and feelings seriously. As you are aware there have been issues raised during looked after children reviews and direct work regarding the impact on the children having monthly contact.

I would therefore like to meet with you and [your wife] along with the allocated Social Worker ... and the Independent Reviewing Officer ... this is to explain the plan for contact for the best interest for each child... Should you wish to raise any concerns or are not happy with this response you have the right to an independent review into your complaint”.

  1. Mr X complained again and said he wanted his complaints escalating to Stage 2 of the complaints process. The Council appointed an officer to carry out the investigation. The officer was new to the Council and had had no previous dealings with Mr and Mrs X’s case.
  2. The investigation officer wrote to Mr X on 6 July 2018 to arrange a suitable date to meet Mr and Mrs X. The Officer gave Mr X a number of dates and times. A mutually convenient time and date was not found.
  3. The investigation officer emailed Mr X on 9 July and suggested four further dates. The investigation officer said they would change any prior appointments to hold the meeting at a time convenient to Mr X.
  4. The investigation officer heard nothing further from Mr X and so emailed him again on 27 July and asked him to provide three dates when he was free to meet. Mr X did not reply.
  5. Mr X complained again to the Council and asked that it progress the complaint he had made earlier in the year to Stage 2 of the complaints procedures. Mr X was unhappy that the investigation officer worked for the Council. He said the Council must appoint someone who was completely independent to carry out the stage 2 investigation.
  6. The Council responded on 10 August and said that before it would consider any complaint, it needed to meet with him. This would provide the opportunity to discuss both Mr X’s complaint and the safeguarding issues around contact with the children.
  7. Mr X provided no further details of his complaint or dates to meet to discuss contact with his children and complained to the Ombudsman.

My findings

  1. Mr X believes the Council’s email dated 10 August demonstrates the Council’s refusal to consider his complaint at Stage 2 of its procedures. That is not the case. The Council asked him for details of his complaint in order to try to resolve the matter at a service level. These are appropriate actions to take.
  2. The Council attempted to deal with Mr X’s complaint at Stage 2 of its procedures by appointing an investigation officer who made appropriate efforts to meet with Mr X to discuss the matters he is complaining about. I cannot hold the Council responsible for the meeting not taking place. Mr X has not returned to the Council and engaged in this process. There is no requirement for the Council to appoint an officer outside the Council to investigate Mr X’s complaint as long as the officer has not dealt previously with Mr and Mrs X. There is no fault in the Council’s actions.

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Final decision

  1. There was no fault in the Council’s actions. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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