The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mx B complains the Council should not have placed their child on a child protection plan (“CPP”). Mx B says the Council did not tell them it was considering a CPP or involve them in the procedure. The Ombudsman does not find fault in how the Council managed this child protection procedure.
- The complainant, who I refer to as Mx B, complains the Council placed their child on a CPP following a referral from a hospital emergency department. Mx B says the referral was malicious and the Council did not investigate this properly first. Mx B says the Council did not tell them about the child protection procedure. Mx B did not know this was happening until after the Council put a CPP in place.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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 information Mx B provided. I spoke to them about the complaint them made enquiries of the Council. I sent a copy of my draft decision to Mx B and the Council for their comments.
What I found
- Local authorities have a duty to safeguard children under the Children Act (“the Act”). If a council receives information of a risk to any child it must hold a strategy meeting with any relevant agencies. Section 47 of the Act then allows authorities to make enquiries and, if they consider a child is at risk, hold an Initial Child Protection Conference (“ICPC”). The ICPC panel of multidisciplinary professionals will decide if a CPP is necessary to protect the child.
- Authorities must consider the Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance (“the Guidance”). The Guidance outlines that local authorities should meet with parents during any Section 47 enquiries. Parents should be involved in the ICPC procedure and have a chance to contribute their views, unless there are good reasons to exclude them.
- The London Child Protection Procedures 2018 also say:
- Parents must be invited and encouraged to participate in all child protection meetings unless it is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child.
- Mx B has a child, C, with a former partner. In mid-2018 the partner attended hospital. At that time, the partner was pregnant. The hospital made a referral to the Council, which said staff had been told Mx B physically assaulted the partner.
- A social worker met with the partner, who said Mx B had not deliberately assaulted her. The Council asked for Mx B’s contact details but these were not shared. It therefore could not contact Mx B.
- The Council decided the information met the threshold to make enquiries under s47 of the Act. It carried out further enquiries and on the information received, decided its concerns were significant enough to refer the matter to an ICPC in August 2018. Again, it did not contact Mx B as it did not have their contact details.
- The multidisciplinary team at the ICPC found it had enough evidence of a risk to Mx B’s child to put in place a CPP. It set out several next steps to be completed, the following of which involved contact with Mx B:
- Core group to decide appropriate intervention or support for both parents to help them understand the impact on C
- Agree on which course on domestic abuse would be most appropriate for each parent to attend
- A written agreement to be drawn up between the Council and each parent as to the expectations of their behaviour around C
- Mx B to meet with social worker to discuss history
- I cannot find fault in the Council’s decision to make enquiries and hold an ICPC following the referral from the hospital. The Council has a duty to safeguard children and investigate any concerns it receives. If it is satisfied there is a risk of harm to the child, it will put in place a CPP to address that risk.
- I cannot see any evidence of fault in how the Council carried out its s47 enquiries. It considered the information received from other organisations and spoke to the people involved. The only exception to this is it did not speak to Mx B, which it normally should have done. However, I accept the reason it did not do so is because it did not have Mx B’s contact details. The Council made reasonable attempts to obtain these details.
- The social workers felt the information was sufficient to hold an ICPC and the multidisciplinary team at that panel found the threshold was reached to put a CPP in place. I am satisfied this decision was based on objective evidence, and made in line with the relevant procedures. As such, I cannot question the professional judgement of social workers, or other members of the multidisciplinary team.
- I have investigated whether the Council did enough to involve Mx B in the child protection procedure.
- In this case the Council did not speak to Mx B as part of its s47 enquiries or invite them to the ICPC. I accept the reason it did not do so is because it did not have Mx B’s contact details. It made reasonable attempts to obtain these details and without them could not notify Mx B of the ICPC. I therefore cannot find fault with the Council for not involving Mx B in the ICPC.
- I note the Council did not contact Mx B to discuss the CPP or complete the next steps identified at the ICPC for two months after it received their contact details. However, it did invite them to the next review of the CPP in November 2018.
- The Council must invite and encourage parents to attend reviews. I cannot see evidence the Council made repeated or concerted efforts to engage Mx B or encourage them to attend the review in November 2018. However, it did invite Mx B to the review. I note Mx B does not appear to have received the letter of invite. However, the Council has provided me with a copy of the letter of invite, so I cannot say it did not send this to Mx B.
- The review would have been the best opportunity for Mx B to give their views on the CPP and for social workers to go through the next steps with them. I therefore cannot find the Council at fault for any delays in contacting Mx B about the CPP.
- I note that since December 2018, a social worker from the Council has been in regular contact with Mx B and tried to arrange a meeting to discuss the CPP with them. Mx B was invited to the next review in February 2018. I therefore cannot find evidence of fault in how the Council has engaged Mx B in the procedure going forward.
- I understand the frustration Mx B will feel from not having been involved in decisions about their child’s care from the start. It is an important part of any child protection procedure to involve parents and get their views. However, based on the evidence available I cannot find this was because of fault with the Council.
- I have not found fault in how the Council managed this child protection procedure.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman