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Middlesbrough Borough Council (19 011 462)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 24 Mar 2020

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council did not comply with a court order about contact with his son, care planning meetings and expert recommendations. I have discontinued my investigation because the matter is due to go back before the Court. Mr X’s complaint can be re-opened if he remains unhappy once the outcome is known.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained the Council did not comply with a court order, in particular relating to contact with his son, care planning meetings and recommendations of experts. He said the Council was biased in favour of his ex-wife, who is a Council employee. He also complained the Council would not investigate his complaint.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. 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)
  2. We have the power to start or discontinue an investigation into a complaint within our jurisdiction. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we think the issues could reasonably be, or have been, raised within a court of law. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 24A(6) and 34B(8), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. As part of the investigation I have considered the following:
    • The complaint and the documents provided by the complainant.
    • Documents and comments from the Council.
  2. Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on a draft of decision and I considered their comments before making a final decision.

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What I found

  1. Mr X’s complaint relates to an order made by the Family Court in July 2017, about contact arrangements with his son, who I shall refer to as Y.
  2. The Court found Y was distressed because he was at the centre of a parental dispute. Mr and Mrs X had to give assurances to the Court about their interactions with Y.
  3. The Court ordered the Council, Mr X and Mrs X to agree the recommendations of the child psychiatrist used in the case.
  4. In addition, the Council had to provide support to Y and Mr and Mrs X. This included regular care planning meetings for a minimum of 12 months, involving Mr and Mrs X, a social worker, an advocate for Y and Y’s school.
  5. The Court set out a staged plan for Mr X to have contact with Y, starting with supervision from the Council.
  6. The Court ordered Y was to live with Mrs X, who must ensure Y can spend time with Mr X in line with the staged contact plan. Proceedings were transferred to the Court of Protection, along with a requirement for the Council to disclose the order and expert reports to Y’s doctor.
  7. Mr X told me the Council failed to comply with the Court order. He said it cancelled care planning meetings, withheld information from him, did not follow recommendations of the court approved psychiatrist, withheld medical information and prevented Y from seeing his brother or Mr X.

Analysis

  1. During my investigation, Mr X told me the Council carried out a new capacity assessment with Y about his ability to decide whether he has contact with Mr X.
  2. It has come to light the matters complained about are due to go before the Court of Protection imminently.
  3. The Ombudsman does not normally investigate matters which are being considered by the Courts. For the sake of clarity, it would not be helpful for me to continue investigating whilst the Court is also considering the matter. I do not want to confuse matters or make findings which may be contrary to the findings the Court may make. I consider it is appropriate in the circumstances to wait for the Court to decide.
  4. The Court has the expertise to examine the issues and make enforceable judgements. If the outcome does not resolve the matter for Mr X, he can take his complaint back to the Council or the Ombudsman.

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Final decision

  1. I have discontinued my investigation because the matter is due to go back before the Court. Mr X’s complaint can be re-opened if he remains unhappy once the outcome is known.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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