The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council failed to provide Ms X with reasons for ending support to her and her son. The Council also referred Ms X for mediation which was not suitable for her needs and she was caused distress as a result. The Council should pay Ms X £300 to recognise the distress caused and offer to provide Ms X and her family with further support.
- Ms X complains the Council failed to provide her with a proper mediation service when she separated from her husband. Ms X says the Council failed to tell her it only offered a limited service and information provided was misleading.
- Ms X also complains the Council ended support for her family through its Targeted Youth Service in November 2018 and has not provided her with a reason why.
- Ms X says the Council actions have caused her distress at a particularly difficult time in her life.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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 have spoken to Ms X about her complaint and considered the information she provided to the Ombudsman.
- I have also considered the Council’s response to my enquiries. This includes records of contact with Ms X and its comments on the complaint.
- I have taken account of the Ombudsman’s Guidance on Remedies.
- I have written to Ms X and the Council with my draft decision and given them an opportunity to comment.
What I found
- Ms X has separated from her husband. They have two children, a son, whom I shall call Y and a daughter whom I shall call Z.
- Ms X’s son, Y, was referred to the Council’s Children’s Service’s department by Community and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in August 2018. The referral said Y had been “low in mood” following his parents separation 2 years previously. The referral said there was an incident of domestic violence and Y’s father had been removed from the family home. The referral said there was a risk of family breakdown if support was not provided and Y’s unhealthy lifestyle could “lead to health issues and further depression”.
- Y was accepted for support from the Council’s Targeted Youth Support (TYS) service on 13 September 2019. The Council says that an adolescent support worker met with Ms X and Y on 28 September, 17 October and 21 November 2018.
- The Council says there “was a good level of engagement… and [the adolescent support worker provided] guidance and information around implementing clear boundaries and consequences for [Y]”.
- On 3 October 2018 the adolescent support worker referred the family to the Council’s Family Group Conference service. The reason for referral was given as “poor communication between parents”.
- A manager from the Family Group service contacted Ms X on 20 November 2018 to discuss the referral. He explained the service would only offer one or two mediation sessions and this would be between Ms X and her son. He explained that any mediation had to directly benefit the children in the family. The Council sent Ms X a consent for her son to complete so it could proceed with mediation. Ms X says she was not told that mediation would just be one to two sessions and says she was left with the understanding that more sessions would be provided if necessary.
- On 22 November 2018 the adolescent support worker discussed the case with her manager. The worker said Ms X and Y had benefited from support form TYS but Ms X was confused about the nature of the mediation. The Council says the worker has been absent since November 2018 but her manager understood that there was no further role for TYS. Ms X says the Council never sought her opinion about whether the support should be ended.
- Ms X e-mailed the Council on 29 November 2018 and said she had spoke to TYS and had understood the medication would be between her and her husband rather than her and her son. Ms X provided the Council with contact details for her husband.
- On 6 December 2018 the TYS contacted Ms X via telephone to say her case would be closed as it had referred the family to the Family Group service. Ms X did not answer. The Council says it left her a voice message and sent her a text message but Ms X did not make contact. Ms X says she never received any messages from the Council.
- The Council says the Family Group service contacted TYS to ask it to contact
Ms X to explain mediation would only be provided if it directly benefited the children in the family.
- Ms X telephoned the Family Group service on 7 January 2019 to ask that mediation take place with her husband regarding contact with their daughter, Z. Ms X gave the Council her consent for it to speak to her husband about this.
- The Family Group service spoke to Ms X’s husband who agreed to take part in mediation but said he would not be in the same room as Ms X.
- Mediation sessions took place separately with Mr X and Ms X at the end of January 2019.
- On 29 January 2019 Ms X e-mailed the Council with her proposal of how to proceed. The Council sent this to Mr X on 30 January 2019 and Mr X replied on
5 February 2019. The Council sent this to Ms X on 6 February 2019.
- Ms X says she was upset at language used by her husband and says the Council should not have shared the e-mail with her in its original form. She says the Council should have either asked Mr X to consider his choice of language or the Council should have provided her with a summary of points he raised.
- The Council spoke to Ms X by telephone on 14 February 2019. The Council explained the mediation would be a one off session. Ms X said this was not her understanding. She said she had been told the service was too busy and would closing her case. Ms X said she felt the session had “opened old wounds and left the situation up in the air”.
- Ms X was unhappy with the service provided by the Council and complained on 27 February 2019. The Council replied on 12 March 2019. It said:
- the referral from TYS to the Family Group service did not contain sufficient information and should have been returned to TYS for further information to be provided.
- it decided to proceed without further information due to staff absence. The Council said this should not have happened and Ms X and her husband should not have been offered mediation.
- it was correct to signpost Ms X to other services which could assist her reaching an agreement with her husband regarding the children.
- The Council has accepted the TYS did not provide enough information to Family Group service when it referred Ms X and her son for mediation. The Council accepts the Family Group service should not have accepted the referral.
- The TYS also failed to properly explain to Ms X why she was being referred to Family Group service and why it was ending its support to her. It seems likely the TYS contacted Ms X to say it was ending it support. However, it should have put this in writing explaining its reasons which would have included the reasons why it was referring her to the Family Support service. A voice message and text message were not sufficient. Failure to properly communicate the TYS’s reasons for ending support is fault.
- As a result of this Ms X was left feeling confused about why she had been referred to the Family Group service. The Council has been unable to provide evidence showing what information it gave Ms X about the service as the adolescent support worker has been absent from work for a prolonged period. Based on the evidence available it seems likely that Ms X was not given any information about the service. The Council should have robust supervision processes in place to ensure continuity of service when staff are absent.
- The Council has accepted the Family Group service should not have offered mediation to Ms X and her husband. The Council says the Family Group service should have passed the referral back to TYS.
- Taking account of the history of Ms X’s relationship with her husband I can understand why she would have found this process distressing. Ms X explained the history of her relationship to the Family Group service during mediation at the end of January 2019. At this point the Council should have considered whether it was appropriate to continue with mediation given the limited service it could offer and the circumstances of this case. Failure to do so was fault. As a result of this Ms X has been caused distress.
- Following my recommendations the Council has agreed to take the following action to remedy the injustice caused to Ms X as a result of the fault I have identified:
- Write to Ms X to apologise for failure to end TYS support without proper explanation and for failing to properly refer her to the Family Group service.
- Pay Ms X £300 to recognise the distress she was caused and uncertainty when the Council withdrew its services. This amount includes the £100 the Council has already offered to pay Ms X.
- Write to Ms X to offer to provide further support to Ms X and her children through the TYS if she wishes to access this and feels it would be beneficial. When the Council believes the support is no longer required it should write to her to explain why.
- Review its processes to ensure it provides people with a written explanation when it ends support provided through its TYS.
- Remind officers of the need to keep accurate and up to date notes to ensure continuity of service in case of prolonged absence from work.
- I have completed my investigation as I have found fault causing injustice. The action I have recommended provides a suitable remedy for this.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman