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London Borough of Croydon (19 021 235)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 02 Sep 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained on behalf of herself and her son, Mr Y, about the way the Council handled safeguarding for Mr Y. The Council accepted fault but failed to adequately remedy the injustice it caused. The Council has agreed to implement actions to remedy the injustice. If the Council fails to implement the agreed actions, it will convene an independent review panel, as per stage 3 of the children’s statutory complaint procedure, to look at the outstanding matters.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Ms X, complains on behalf of herself and her now-adult son, Mr Y. She complains the Council has failed to provide the remedy it promised after it upheld all her complaints about the safeguarding of Mr Y when he was a child.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated the complaints process and the outcome of this process.

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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. 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)
  3. We may investigate complaints made on behalf of someone else if they have given their consent. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26A(1), as amended)
  4. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. Mr Y gave written consent for his mother, Ms X, to represent this complaint on his behalf.
  2. I considered Ms X’s complaint and the information she provided.
  3. I considered the information provided by the Council.
  4. Ms X and the Council were given an opportunity to comment on a draft and also a revised draft of this decision. I considered Ms X’s comments and the Council’s comments before making this final decision.

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What I found

Children’s social care complaints

  1. The government published statutory guidance, ‘Getting the Best from Complaints’, which sets out a three-stage procedure that councils follow when considering certain complaints about children’s social care services.
  2. At stage one, the council considers the complaint and should try and resolve the complaint as quickly as possible.
  3. At stage two of the procedure, the council appoints an independent Investigating Officer (IO) to investigate the complaint, and an Independent Person (IP) who is responsible for overseeing the investigation. The council will appoint a senior manager to adjudicate on the findings.
  4. The Investigating Officer’s report (Stage 2 report) should include details of their findings (‘upheld’ or ‘not upheld’), and recommendations on how to remedy any injustice to the complainant. The Stage 2 investigation should be completed within 25 working days. Where this is not possible, Stage 2 can be extended to a maximum of 65 working days.
  5. The purpose of the council’s adjudication on the Investigating Officer’s report is to give its response, its decision on each point of the complaint, and to identify any action to be taken (with timescales).
  6. The complainant can then ask the Council to convene an independent review panel. This forms the third stage of the complaints procedure. The review panel will consider the adequacy of the independent stage two investigation and will decide whether the complainant’s desired outcomes have been addressed.
  7. The review panel should make recommendations that provide practical remedies and creative solutions to difficult situations. It should identify any injustice to the complainant where complaints have been upheld and recommend appropriate remedies. The panel should also recommend service improvements for the council, if appropriate.
  8. As a general rule, the review panel should not reinvestigate the complaints, nor should it be able to consider any substantively new complaints that have not been first considered at Stage 2.
  9. Where the presenting facts indicate that reasonable, appropriate consideration of the complaint has been undertaken at Stage 2 and that further consideration by the Review Panel would not produce a demonstrably different outcome, the complaint can be brought to the Ombudsman.
  10. If a council has investigated something under this statutory procedure, the Ombudsman does not normally re-investigate the original complaints unless he considers that the investigation was flawed. Instead, he will look at whether a council properly considered the findings and recommendations of the independent investigation and review panel.

What happened

  1. In August 2018, Ms X complained to the Council about matters relating to inaccurate information it shared with another Council (Council B) about Mr Y and its handling of the safeguarding process.
  2. Ms X submitted a Stage 1 complaint to the Council in April 2018. The Council responded after 28 working days. Ms X was unhappy with the Council’s investigation of her complaints and the Stage 1 response, so she requested her complaint be escalated to Stage 2.
  3. The Council appointed an independent Investigating Officer (IO) to investigate Ms X’s complaints and an Independent Person (IP) to oversee the investigation.
  4. The IO and the IP had a meeting with Ms X on 25 July 2018 to discuss the stage 2 complaint. However, the statement of complaint was not finalised and agreed until 14 April 2019.
  5. The IO submitted her Stage 2 report in August 2019 to the Council and Ms X. She broke down Ms X’s complaints into six parts and upheld them all.
  6. The IO considered the three outcomes Ms X requested. She agreed with her request for an apology and for the inaccurate information in the records to be rectified. However, the IO was unable to make any recommendations about putting Ms X and Mr Y back in the position they would have been in had the failings not arisen. This was because she could not say to what degree the Council failed to provide Mr Y with the appropriate services and what the impact was.
  7. The IO made further recommendations for the Council to consider including training for its officers on the statutory complaints procedure, improving communication, the need for time planning and that the Council should respond directly with regard to Ms X’s stated desired outcomes.
  8. The IP submitted his report at the end of August 2019. In his report he made reference to his responsibility to ensure that the focus of the investigation remains on the best interests of the child but he was unable to meet with Mr Y. As the complaints were largely in relation to the processes and procedures of the Council, he was satisfied that the findings of the investigation were not affected by not meeting with Mr Y. The IP agreed with the IO’s findings and recommendations.
  9. On 17 September 2019, the Council sent its stage 2 adjudication on the IO’s findings to Ms X. The Council agreed with the IO’s findings and decision to uphold all six complaints. The Council agreed to action all the recommendations made by the IO.
  10. Mr Y was unhappy the Council had not made arrangements for the inaccurate information to be rectified and requested the complaint be escalated to Stage 3. The Council advised Mr Y that a Stage 3 panel would not reinvestigate the complaints and as all the complaints were upheld, it offered to meet with Ms X and Mr Y to discuss matters. A meeting was arranged for 4 October 2019 but Ms X and Mr Y failed to attend because they were unhappy with the Council’s adjudication letter.
  11. The Council advised Ms X it wanted to do its best by engaging with her and attempting an early resolution which is why it arranged the meeting.
  12. On 8 October 2019 Ms X brought her complaint to the Ombudsman. She was unhappy the Council had failed to action the recommendations it had accepted in its adjudication letter.
  13. Ms X met with the Council on 21 October 2019 where it agreed it would make arrangements for her to review the information it had regarding Mr Y. It was also agreed that Ms X would send her desired outcomes to the Council.
  14. A further meeting to discuss progress on the outcomes was held on 7 February 2020. Ms X requested compensation for damages and costs she had incurred. The Council offered Ms X £2400 for the poor service she had received and the impact of this. However, Ms X was hoping for a figure of around £47,000. The Council advised Ms X to seek legal advice because the amount was above and beyond the Council’s complaint policy.
  15. In 2020, the council officers who were dealing directly with Ms X and her complaints left the Council. Unfortunately, this has attributed to some delays and miscommunication with Ms X.
  16. Ms X and Mr Y would like the Council to deliver on the remedies it agreed.

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Analysis

  1. Ms X brought her complaint to the Ombudsman within three weeks of receiving the Council’s adjudication letter where it upheld all her complaints and agreed to all the IO’s recommendations. I do not consider three weeks was sufficient time for the Council to implement the recommendations therefore Ms X’s complaint was initially treated as premature. However, it is now nearly 2 years since the Council accepted the recommendations and Ms X and Mr Y complain there are actions still outstanding.
  2. The Council agreed to provide Ms X and Mr Y with the information it held to enable them to correct the inaccuracies. There were delays in arranging this due to the volume of information and staffing issues. Ms X and Mr Y have since made the amendments but say the Council has not forwarded this information on to Council B.
  3. Ms X also complains the Council has failed to pay for the therapeutic support for Mr Y. The Council says it is awaiting confirmation of bank details and appropriate evidence from the therapist before it makes the payment. I consider this is a reasonable request from the Council.
  4. I note in the desired outcomes and in the minutes of meetings with the Council, Ms X requested it allocates Mr Y accommodation and an apprenticeship due to the impact of the faults. The Council has advised Ms X it cannot promise accommodation and employment, but it can offer advice and support on these matters. I appreciate Ms X would like the Council to go above and beyond advice and support however, I consider the Council’s proposal is an appropriate and realistic response to such a request.
  5. The statutory guidance says the adjudicating officer should ensure that any recommendations contained in the response are implemented. In this case, the adjudicating officer and another council officer actively involved in progressing matters, no longer work for the Council. Although there is evidence the Council has tried to work with Ms X and Mr Y to resolve matters, progress has been extremely slow.
  6. The statutory guidance says the Complaints Manager should monitor implementation and report to the Director on what action has been taken on a regular basis. I asked the Council for information regarding the actions it had completed and those outstanding, but it was unable to provide me with this information.
  7. The adjudication letter sent to Ms X breaks down the recommendations and highlights the Council’s agreement but it lacks timescales for implementation as per the statutory guidance. I acknowledge the Council has gone through a period of significant change and some of the delays are due to council officers who were dealing with Ms X’s complaints leaving the Council. Therefore, I have made recommendations to enable the Council a final opportunity to implement the actions it agreed to in at attempt to resolve these matters which have been ongoing since 2019. The Council has agreed to all the recommendations made.

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Agreed action

  1. The Council has agreed that within four weeks of this decision, it will appoint a senior council officer who reports to the Director responsible for Children’s Services as the Adjudicating Officer.
  2. The Adjudicating Officer will be responsible for devising a plan (action plan) for the implementation of the following actions the Council agreed to:
    • Obtain amendments to Mr Y’s records and provide them to Council B to enable it to update the records it holds on Mr Y;
    • Provide Mr Y with information and support on education and employment;
    • Provide Mr Y with information and support regarding housing;
    • On receipt of evidence of the therapeutic support Mr Y has received, the Council to provide Ms X with a payment to cover the cost of therapy for the agreed fixed period of time;
    • On receipt of Ms X’s acceptance, the Council to provide her with the remedy payment of £2400;
  3. The action plan will also include the Council’s agreement to provide a level of compensation for expenses incurred by Ms X and Mr Y when they moved out of the council area and then returned. The Council will obtain any evidence it requires to make a decision on the level of compensation and then it will communicate this decision to Mr Y and Ms X.
  4. The Council has agreed the timescales in the action plan will be no longer than three months from the date of this decision. If all the above actions are not implemented within three months of this decision, the Council has agreed to arrange a Stage 3 independent review panel.
  5. Within four weeks of this decision, the Adjudication Officer will share the action plan with the Ombudsman.
  6. Fourteen weeks after the date of this decision, the Council has agreed to provide the Ombudsman with evidence it has implemented all the above actions. In the event the Council fails to implement the actions within three months of the date of this decision, the Council will provide evidence to the Ombudsman it has arranged a Stage 3 review panel to consider the outstanding actions.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was at fault for not remedying the injustice it caused to Mr Y and Ms X. The Council has agreed to our recommendations therefore I have completed my investigation and closed this complaint.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I did not reinvestigate Ms X’s original complaints because the Council accepted the fault identified in the IO’s stage 2 report.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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