The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council was entitled to change Mr X’s contact arrangements with his four grandchildren, who were all in foster care at the time. There was fault by the Council in its communications of the contact changes, which caused injustice to Mr X requiring a remedy.
- Mr X’s complaint is about the Council’s involvement in the care of his four grandchildren. Mr X complains:
- The Council changed the contact schedule with his grandchildren in 2016, without consulting him;
- His grandchildren’s foster parents inappropriately took away stereos and language course CDs, which he had bought them to help with their education, from his two grandsons;
- The Council did not invite him to a meeting in November 2017 where the future contact arrangements with his grandchildren were discussed and agreed;
- The Council failed to tell him his contact arrangements with his grandchildren would be changing.
- To be invited to all meetings about his grandchildren’s welfare;
- To return to having monthly contact sessions with his grandchildren, instead of the bi-monthly ones currently in place.
What I have investigated
- I have investigated issues b), c) and d). I explain at the end of this statement why I have not investigated issue a).
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)
- 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)
- We provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe:
- it is unlikely further investigation will lead to a different outcome, or
- we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants.
(Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), as amended)
- 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)
- 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
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- discussed the issues with Mr X;
- issued a draft decision, inviting replies from Mr X and the Council, and considered replies received.
What I found
- Mr X’s four grandchildren, two grandsons and two granddaughters, are in foster care. Mr X has had frequent and regular contact with them for many months since they have been taken into care. Mr X, and their other grandfather, saw their grandchildren once a month for two hours per session.
- In or around September 2017, the foster carers decided to temporarily take away the two grandsons’ stereos. Mr X had bought each grandchild a stereo and language courses on CD, to help with their education. The carers reported the grandsons had been playing music on the stereos excessively loud. A case note from 25 September states the carers had returned the stereos after a short period, and the grandsons were now using them appropriately.
- The Council held a Child Care Review (CCR) meeting regarding the grandchildren in September 2017. This did not change Mr X’s contact with them, which remained as one monthly session of two hours.
- The Council discussed contact arrangements with the children’s father, Mr Y, on 14 November. At that time, Mr X and the other grandfather were having more contact with the children than Mr Y. Officers and Mr Y agreed Mr X’s contact would change from 12 monthly two‑hour sessions of contact a year to six bi‑monthly four-hour sessions a year. Officers and the children agreed the changes to their contact with Mr X and other family members at the 16 November CCR.
- Mr X complained to the Council. Dissatisfied with their responses, he brought his complaint to the Ombudsman.
- I understand Mr X’s eldest grandson is now 18 and lives with Mr X. So the contact arrangements now apply to Mr X’s other grandson, and his two granddaughters.
Confiscation of stereos
- Mr X’s says the foster carers should not have removed his grandson’s stereos, which he bought for them. I understand the foster parents did this temporarily because the grandsons were misusing the stereos, playing loud music.
- I consider the foster parents are entitled to make day-to-day decisions about the children’s discipline. The fostering of the children and their placement into care means family members have been removed from the daily responsibilities and rights which go with looking after the children. That includes the right to choose what are proportionate sanctions for what they consider to be unacceptable behaviour. I do not consider it was fault for the foster carers to have disciplined the grandsons in this way.
- I note Mr X considers the foster carers treated his grandsons differently as they removed their stereos, but not his granddaughters’. That is true. But the evidence shows the grandsons were misusing the stereos, and the granddaughters were not. So I do not consider the foster carers’ decision to treat the children differently, depending on their different behaviour, was fault.
- I recognise Mr X disagrees with the foster parents’ sanction here. But it is not fault for them to have made a decision with which Mr X disagrees. I do not intend to investigate this part of the complaint further.
Consultation on contact hours – November 2017
- The Council told Mr X that it had been the children’s decision not to invite Mr X to the November 2017 CCR meeting where future contact hours were to be discussed. In February 2018, the Council wrote to Mr X and stated the children:
‘were also asked about who they wanted at [their] review meeting and they choose who attended which is why on this occasion you were not invited to the full meeting’.
- But the evidence shows the Council consulted only two children. Those two children were not concerned if Mr X did not attend. It does not say, as the Council’s February 2018 letter states, that it was the children’s decision for Mr X not to be invited. The evidence is the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) left the Social Worker to decide whether to invite Mr X to attend the meeting, given the two children’s indifference.
- I find it was fault for the Council to tell Mr X it had been the children’s decision that he should not be invited to attend the November 2017 CCR meeting. I consider that fault causes Mr X a significant personal injustice. The Council misrepresented to Mr X the reason why he had not been invited to discuss his contact with them, and stated incorrectly it had been the children’s decision. This would have caused Mr X avoidable distress.
- The Council accepts the Social Worker’s records of their decision, not to invite Mr X, are not clear. I find it was fault the Social Worker did not properly and clearly record that decision on their file.
- The evidence shows the Council agreed to the changes in contact proposed, and agreed them with the children’s father Mr Y before the November 2017 meeting. The Council accepts officers should have spoken to Mr X about the proposed changes to the contact arrangements before putting them in place. I find that was fault which caused Mr X an injustice. He was not afforded the opportunity to be involved in the decisions and make his views known.
- The Council’s faults here are about its communications with Mr X on the changes to his contact hours. But I do not consider it was fault for the Council, in consultation with Mr Y, to make those changes. The faults in communicating the decisions to Mr X do not mean I can require the Council to reverse the changes it made to Mr X’s contact. It is for the Council, as the children’s legal guardians, to make these changes. Even if Mr X had been able to give his views on the changes before they happened, I do not consider I can find they would not have occurred.
- I recommended the Council apologises to Mr X for the failure:
- of officers to explain it was the Social Worker and not his grandchildren who decided he should not be invited the November 2017 CCR meeting;
- of the Social Worker to clearly record their decision not to invite Mr X to the November 2017 CCR meeting on the file;
- of officers to give Mr X an opportunity to give his views on the proposed changes to his contact with his grandchildren.
- There has been fault by the Council causing injustice to Mr X. I consider the matter resolved by the Council agreeing the recommended action and have completed my investigation.
Parts of the complaint I did not investigate
- Mr X complained to the Council in 2016 about changes to his contact with his grandchildren in 2016. The Council responded to Mr X’s concerns in September 2016. Mr X did not pursue the matter until October 2017, when he raised the issue alongside his complaints about events in 2017.
- I consider this part of Mr X’s complaint is late. Mr X could have pursued his 2016 concerns much sooner, if he had remained dissatisfied with the Council’s September 2016 response. I have not seen evidence which gives good reason for the Ombudsman to investigate this late complaint now.
- I also do not consider there is anything to be achieved by Ombudsman investigation of what happened about contact with Mr X’s grandchildren in 2016. Matters have moved on, and new issues about contact have arisen since then.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman