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West Sussex County Council (20 006 357)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 14 Sep 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complained the Council failed to arrange therapeutic support for the three children he cares for and did not offer a sufficient financial remedy for its failure. In addition, he said there were delays in how the Council dealt with his complaint. We found the Council was at fault for delaying the application for the Adoption Support Fund. The Council agreed to pay £500 each to all the children and to Mr X. We consider this is a suitable remedy.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complained the Council has not offered a sufficient financial remedy after it failed to arrange therapeutic support for the three children he cares for. In addition, he said there were delays in how the Council dealt with his complaint.
  2. Mr X would like the Council to immediately put therapy in place for the children and compensate them for the delays in providing the service.

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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. 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. I considered the information Mr X sent me, and I have spoken to him about his complaint.
  2. I considered the Council response to my enquiries.
  3. Mr X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered their comments before making a final decision.

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What I found

  1. The Adoption Support Fund (ASF) provides funds to councils and regional adoption agencies to pay for essential therapeutic services for eligible adoptive and Special Guardianship Order (SGO) families.
  2. To access the ASF a social worker from the Council’s children services department needs to carry out an assessment of the family’s support needs.
  3. Where the Council assesses and identifies that therapeutic services funded by the ASF would be helpful to a family, the Council will apply to the ASF on the family’s behalf. The ASF will then release money to the Council. The Council uses the funding to commission and pay the agreed provider of services.
  4. To be eligible for funding, the Council must apply to the ASF within three months of assessing a family’s support needs. The Council should make a funding application before therapy starts. Retrospective ASF applications are only considered in exceptional circumstances.
  5. The Council has a two stage complaints policy. The first stage should be completed within 10-20 working days from the day the Council acknowledges the complaint.
  6. The Council should complete the second stage of its complaint process within 20 working days from when the complainant requested their complaint to be investigated at stage two.

Background

  1. Mr X has a Special Guardianship Order for the three children living with him S, Y and Z. S and Y are both under 16 and Z was 18 at the time the events took place.
  2. Before January 2020 both S and Y were accessing therapy funded through the ASF, but Z was not. The Council assigned a designated social worker to the children, Officer A.

What happened

  1. In January 2020 the therapy provider held a therapy review meeting. Officer A did not attend that meeting. Mr X said that during this meeting, he and the therapy provider agreed that S and Y should access the ASF funding and begin therapeutic life story provision. Mr X said they also agreed Z’s needs should be assessed to see if they could get the same provision as Y and S. The Council confirmed that it has no record or minutes available from this meeting. The therapy provider contacted the Council following the meeting and said that Mr X wanted the Council to contact S and Y to discuss the possibility of further therapeutic work. Following this meeting Mr X understood Officer A would contact him to assess the children.
  2. The Council’s records show that Officer A started an Adoption Support Assessment for Z in January 2020.
  3. Mr X said that in February 2020 he got an email from Officer A, asking him for the best date to meet with the children to speak about the therapeutic life story provision. Officer A said he also needed to speak to Z to get their consent to the therapeutic life story provision. Mr X said that he responded to the email but then didn’t hear back from Officer A.
  4. In mid-February 2020 Officer A contacted Mr X to arrange a phone call with him. Mr X said that he asked for an alternative time for the call, but he did not get a response from Officer A. He also says that Officer A did not call him at the time he originally proposed.
  5. In March 2020 Mr X complained to Officer A about another matter relating to the children. Officer A passed this complaint to their manager.
  6. Z’s case records dated March 2020 show Officer A tried to get Z’s views about therapy to be able to apply for ASF, but they were unable to do so. Officer A also noted that Mr X said the children were anxious around social workers and that it may be better if the therapy provider spoke to them. The Council said that because of the above reasons Officer A closed Z’s assessment.
  7. Between April 2020 and July 2020 Mr X says he was in contact with the Council, but this did not result in any assessment or visit from Officer A. Mr X said he was not getting replies to his emails from the Council, and the Council said that it didn’t visit because of a lack of replies from Mr X.
  8. In August 2020 Mr X complained to the Council and said the delay in accessing the ASF and lack of therapeutic life story provision had negatively impacted the children.
  9. In September 2020 the Council contacted Mr X and apologised for the delay in responding to his complaint. It said the absence of key members of staff was the reason for the late response and that it would follow shortly.
  10. At the end of September 2020 Mr X chased the Council for a response to his complaint and asked what the next stage of the complaints process was.
  11. The Council issued a response to Mr X in the first week of October 2020. The Council partially upheld his complaint and said that it was already taking corrective action. It said that all children confirmed they wanted to take part in the therapeutic provision and so the Council would make an application for ASF for S, Y and Z.
  12. In November 2020 the Council put in the ASF application for Z; this was approved in December 2020. In the same month Mr X asked the Council to escalate his complaint.
  13. In December 2020 the Council put in ASF applications for S and Y; these were approved in January 2021.
  14. In January 2021, the Council sent Mr X its final complaint response. The Council fully upheld Mr X complaint and accepted that it was responsible for delaying the ASF application process that led to S, Y and Z not accessing the life work therapy. It also acknowledged a lack of records showing the steps the Council had taken following the stage one complaint response and confirmed that stage one investigation should have fully upheld Mr X’s complaint.
  15. The Council considered the guidance on remedies issued by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and offered £500 to each of the children for the delay in making the ASF applications for them. It also offered £500 to Mr X in recognition of the time and trouble he spent in pursuing his complaint and the distress this may have caused him.
  16. It said that in December 2020 it secured ASF for therapeutic life story work for Z. This was due to start in January 2021.
  17. In response to my enquiries the Council said that due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions the therapy provision did not start in January 2021. It had to submit new application in March 2021, and it was approved in April 2021.

Analysis

  1. The Council has fully upheld Mr X’s complaint and accepted that any obstacles with engaging the children should not have caused a significant delay in the ASF applications. I have not investigated the reasons for the delay any further, but I have considered the suitability of the remedy it offered to Mr X in its final complaint response.
  2. The Ombudsman has published guidance to explain how he calculates remedies for people who have suffered injustice because of fault by a council. Our primary aim is to put people back in the position they would have been in if the fault by the Council had not occurred. When this is not possible, as in the case of Mr X, we may recommend the Council makes a symbolic payment.
  3. When we recommend a payment for distress or time and trouble, we only take account of avoidable distress that is the result of fault by the Council. A remedy payment for distress is often a moderate sum of between £100 and £300.
  4. The Council offered to pay S, Y and Z £500 each. Mr X said the Council’s remedy to each of the children should equal their maximum annual ASF allowance, which is £5000. Although the Council accepted it delayed the children’s ASF applications, it confirmed that it has now approved funding for 24 sessions for all the children and as restrictions lift, the therapy sessions will begin. Therefore, we would not expect the Council to pay the maximum costs of therapy, as the children will be able to access it now. Any remedy we would recommend would be for the avoidable stress and uncertainty the delays have caused.
  5. The Council took about ten months to process the ASF applications, which I consider to be a significant delay. However, it has recognised that in the remedy it offered to Mr X and the children, which is higher than the amount suggested in our guidance.
  6. In addition to the above, I cannot say if all the children would have accessed the maximum ASF allowance had the Council applied for the ASF without delay. Because of this, I consider the remedy the Council offered to S, Y and Z to be suitable.
  7. I note the Council offered to pay Mr X £500 for the time and trouble in pursuing his complaint, and the stress Mr X experienced trying to ensure S, Y and Z had access to the therapy they needed. I consider this is a suitable remedy.
  8. The Council took twice as long as it should have done to consider Mr X’s complaint at stage one. It also delayed its stage two response by 16 working days. This is fault. The Council has already apologised for the delay Mr X experienced and I consider this to be a suitable remedy.

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Agreed action

  1. To remedy the injustice set out above the Council agreed to carry out the following actions within one month of the date of my decision:
    • Pay Mr X £500 for the time and trouble in pursuing his complaint and avoidable distress the delays have caused him.
    • Pay S, Y and Z £500 each for the Council’s delay in making their ASF applications.
    • Confirm what steps the Council has taken to ensure it processes the Adoption Support Fund applications without delay.

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Final decision

  1. The Council acted with fault when it delayed the Adoption Support Fund application for S, Y and Z. It agreed to take action to remedy the injustice it caused. My investigation is now complete.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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