The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Council was at fault for failing to consider Mr B’s complaint under the statutory children’s complaints procedure. However, there would be no worthwhile outcome to further investigation of the complaint, because neither the Council nor the Ombudsman would be able to achieve the outcomes Mr B wants.
- The complainant, whom I refer to as Mr B, complains about the Council’s actions during its social work involvement with his son. I refer to his son as C.
- Mr B says the Council refused to consider evidence that C was at risk from his mother’s partner, including text messages and other disclosures from his mother, disclosures from C about his mother and her partner’s drinking, and videos of C being in the pub during the day. He says the Council refused to interview C’s mother’s partner as part of its assessment.
- Mr B says the Council refused to prevent contact between C and his mother, despite evidence of abuse. He says the Council refused to arrange therapy for C, although Mr B asked for it. It then took Mr B three months to arrange it himself.
- Mr B says the Council’s social worker victimised him by using his past against him. He says the social worker lied to his managers, covered up errors, and called Mr B a liar.
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 provide a free service, but must use public money carefully. We may decide not to start or continue with an investigation if we believe we cannot achieve the outcome someone wants, or there is another body better placed to consider this complaint. (Local Government Act 1974, section 24A(6), 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)
- 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.
How I considered this complaint
- I considered information from Mr B and the Council. Both parties had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
What I found
What should have happened?
- Section 26 of the Children Act 1989 says a complaint made to a council by a child’s parent about how the council discharged its duties under Part 3 of the Act (sections 16B to 30A) should be considered under the statutory complaints procedure.
- The Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 say the statutory complaints procedure is three stages: a local response, an independent investigation, and a review panel.
- The Council’s duty to assess a child if it believes the child may be in need of support is under section 17 of the Act.
- Mr B first complained to the Council in June 2020. The Council responded at stage 1 of its corporate procedure. Mr B then submitted a stage 2 complaint, and the Council provided its final response in August 2020. The main points of Mr B’s complaints are summarised in the opening section of this decision statement.
- The Council said, in response to Mr B’s complaints, that it did not ignore evidence – it considered it as part of the assessment and discussed with the Police (who were unable to substantiate Mr B’s allegations). It said it considered text messages from C’s mother but did not agree with Mr B’s interpretation of them.
- The Council said there was no safeguarding risk to C because he was in Mr B’s care, and therefore there was no further role for its social work department; however, if concerns were raised in the future it would consider how to respond.
- The Council acknowledged it would have been better if the social worker had spoken to C’s mother’s partner as part of the assessment.
- The Council said any comments about Mr B’s past were based either on information from the Police or were records of C’s mother’s opinion.
- The Council said that, at the time Mr B said he wanted therapy for C, this was being offered by his school – which is what he ended up receiving anyway. The Council said the school confirmed it had offered therapy to C at the time.
- However, Mr B told us that the support he arranged for C was not, in fact, through his school, but was through his GP.
- Mr B’s complaint was about how the Council acted under section 17 of the Children Act, so the Council should have considered the complaint under the statutory children’s complaints procedure. It was at fault for not doing so.
- However, further investigation by either the Council or the Ombudsman could not achieve anything for Mr B.
- Mr B’s allegations about the conduct of the social worker are better considered by Social Work England, not the Ombudsman. That is because Social Work England is the organisation best placed to consider such allegations.
- Furthermore, I cannot achieve the outcomes Mr B wants by investigating his complaint about the Council’s assessment.
- Mr B was proactively seeking support, he ended up arranging the support without the Council’s help, and there does not appear to have been any concerns about risk to C while he was in Mr B’s care. Because of this, my view is that the Council was not obviously unreasonable in deciding it had no role in C’s case.
- Mr B wants the Council to stop contact between C and his mother (or at least restrict it). But the Council does not have the power to do that. That responsibility lies with Mr B, as C’s father and primary carer.
- If Mr B places restrictions on C’s contact with his mother and she disagrees with those restrictions, she can ask a court to decide what her contact should be. But that is a matter for the courts, not the Council.
- Mr B says C is now receiving ‘early help’ support, which means he is getting support from relevant professionals without social work involvement. If any of those professionals feel the Council has a safeguarding or support role in future, they can ask that the case be ‘stepped up’ from early help. But that is a decision for those professionals, not for me.
- So, in my view, although the Council was at fault for its complaint handling, there was no injustice to Mr B, as further investigation would have been unlikely to achieve the outcomes he wanted.
- Because of this, I do not consider further action necessary.
- The Council was at fault for failing to consider Mr B’s complaint under the statutory children’s complaints procedure. However, there would be no worthwhile outcome to further investigation of the complaint, because neither the Council nor the Ombudsman would be able to achieve the outcomes Mr B wants.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman