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London Borough of Newham (21 008 441)

Category : Children's care services > Other

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 28 Apr 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complains the chair of a child in need meeting bullied her and the Council has delayed in providing respite for her daughter. We cannot come to any view on whether the chair of the child in need meeting bullied Ms X. The Council is not at fault for the delays in securing respite provision for Ms X. But it is at fault for not considering Ms X’s complaint through the children’s services statutory complaints procedure

The complaint

  1. Ms X complains that:
      1. The chair of a child in need meeting bullied and belittled her by raising matters such as Ms X’s time management skills and her relationship with her ex-husband. Ms X considers these matters were irrelevant and should not have been raised. As a result Ms X felt humiliated in front of other professionals at the meeting.
      2. The Council has failed to provide suitable respite for her daughter which was agreed at the Child in Need meeting and has not made any provision in lieu of suitable respite. This has caused significant distress to Ms X and her daughter.

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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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I have:
  • Considered the complaint and the information provided by Ms X;
  • Discussed the issues with Ms X;
  • Made enquiries of the Council and considered the information provided ;
  • Invited Ms X and the Council to comment on the draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Law and guidance

  1. Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 says councils must safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need.
  2. A child is in need if:
  • they are unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development unless the council provides support;
  • their health or development is likely to be significantly impaired unless the council provides support; or
  • they are disabled.
  1. The law sets out a three-stage procedure for councils to follow when looking at complaints about children’s social care services. Complaints about matters such as delays in provision of services and attitude or behaviour of staff can be considered through the procedure. The accompanying statutory guidance, ‘Getting the Best from Complaints’, explains councils’ responsibilities in more detail.

What happened

  1. Ms X’s daughter Y is disabled so is considered to be a child in need. In April 2021 Ms X attended a child in need meeting to consider support for Y. The meeting was held remotely. Other professionals including Y’s head teacher attended the meeting.
  2. Ms X considers the chair of the meeting asked inappropriate questions about her time management and relationship with her ex-husband. Ms X says this made her feel belittled and bullied.
  3. The chair, in response to my enquiries, said she acknowledged it was a difficult meeting and would have been difficult for Ms X. She considered the questions asked about Ms X’s free time and ex husband were relevant to assess the level of support Ms X needed. The chair also considered it was her role to ask sensitive questions as it was vital for parenting and support systems to be explored.
  4. The Council asked other officers at the meeting whether they had concerns about how the chair conducted the meeting. The officers did not have any concerns. The Council also asked a representative of Y’s school as she attended the meeting. The representative said she considered the chair’s questioning of Ms X was repetitive, aggressive and unnecessary. She considered Ms X’s parenting capacity was repeatedly called into question and by the end of the meeting Ms X was visibly upset.
  5. Ms X has said the chair advised at the start of the child in need meeting that it would be recorded. The Council has said it did not record the meeting.
  6. The child in need meeting also agreed a package of support for Y. This included overnight respite care for two nights per month and seven consecutive nights per year. In May 2021 the Council asked a provider if it could offer respite for Y. The provider said it would carry out a risk assessment. The provider subsequently decided it need to assess Y at her school. However the school did not allow visitors until September 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually the provider decided it could not meet Y’s needs.
  7. The Council offered respite at another provider in late December 2021. Ms X visited the provider and raised a number of concerns about the condition of premises and whether the provider could meet Y’s needs. The Council’s records show it carried out an unannounced visit to the provider and found the condition of the premises to be satisfactory.
  8. Ms X suggested other respite providers. In response to my enquiries the Council has said it has contacted the providers and is waiting for a response.
  9. The Council has said Ms X received an additional 25 hours per week in lieu of the respite care via direct payments. Ms X can use these hours to meet the two nights per month and seven consecutive nights per year respite need until the Council can find a provider.
  10. In August 2021 Ms X had an occupational therapy (OT) assessment for Y. She requested a porch to prevent Y absconding. The Council’s records show the OT did not consider this to be an eligible need so Ms X would need to agree this with her landlord and possibly fund the works herself. The Council’s records show the OT informed Ms X in November 2021 that she would have to agree the works with her landlord who is a housing association.
  11. Ms X made a complaint to the Council about the chair’s conduct at the child in need meeting and delays in making the agreed provision. The Council considered the complaint through its corporate complaints procedure rather than the statutory complaints procedure. It did not uphold Ms X’s complaint.

Analysis

Child in need meeting

  1. The child in need meeting was not recorded so I am unable to confirm what was said or comment on the nature and tone of the chair’s questioning of Ms X. There are differing accounts of the appropriateness of the chair’s questioning but I cannot prefer one person’s view over the other without evidence to support their position. I do not consider I can resolve this matter by further investigation so I cannot come to any view on the conduct of the chair.

Respite provision

  1. There has been a significant delay in securing Y’s respite provision. However, I do not consider this to be the fault of the Council. The first provider took a significant amount of time to assess Y and decide it could not meet her needs. The Council’s records show it regularly chased the provider for a decision. The Council then offered a further respite provider but Ms X declined the provision as she did not consider it to be suitable. In response the Council checked the suitability of the provision.
  2. However, the Council has not yet secured other suitable respite for Ms X so it needs to ensure it actively pursues the providers and secures suitable respite provision as quickly as possible. The Council has now provided an action plan detailing how it will secure respite provision by late May 2022. So, I am satisfied it is taking appropriate action to ensure further delays do not occur.

Porch

  1. The Council is not at fault for the delays in arranging a new porch for Ms X. This is a private matter between Ms X and her landlord.

Complaint handling

  1. Ms X’s complaints about the conduct of the chair and delays in making provision are matters which should be considered through the children’s services statutory complaints procedure. The statutory guidance makes it clear that only in exceptional circumstances may local authorities vary from the statutory complaints procedure. So, on balance, the Council is at fault for not considering Ms X’s complaint through the children’s services statutory complaints procedure. Ms X was therefore denied the opportunity to have her complaint considered through the statutory process.
  2. In these circumstances we would normally recommend the Council considers the complaint through the statutory complaints process. But I do not consider it appropriate to do so in this case. This would be unfair to Ms X as it would add further delay to the consideration of her complaint. I have also considered Ms X’s complaint so the injustice to her is limited. Furthermore, the Council’s focus should be on securing respite provision for Y.

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Agreed action

  1. That the Council, by training or other means, ensures officers are able to identify what complaints should be considered through the statutory complaints process. This is to ensure eligible complaints are considered through the statutory process. The Council should take this action within two months of my final decision.

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Final decision

  1. I cannot come to any view on whether the chair of the child in need meeting bullied Ms X. The Council is not at fault for the delays in securing respite provision for Ms X but it is at fault for not considering Ms X’s complaint through the statutory complaints procedure. The Council has agreed to take the recommended action so I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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