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Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council (20 000 861)

Category : Education > Alternative provision

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 04 Feb 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council failed to properly investigate the concerns Mr and Mrs B expressed about the conduct of a mentor who visited their daughter in January. It then failed to properly address their complaint about this under its complaints procedures. The Council will now apologise and take action to remedy the injustice caused.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr B, complains about Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council’s handling of his safeguarding referral regarding the behaviour of a mentor it provided for his eight year old daughter in January 2020. Specifically, he says the Council failed to:
  1. respond properly under its published procedures and policies, to concerns he raised about the mentor’s conduct; and
  2. respond to his complaint about this at stage 2 of the complaints procedure in February 2020 or communicate effectively with him about his concerns or his complaint from the time he reported the matter in mid-January.

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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 considered the written information Mr B provided with his complaint and discussed the complaint with him. I made written enquiries of the Council and considered all the information before reaching a draft decision.
  2. Mr B and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.
  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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What I found

What should have happened

  1. The Council’s procedure for managing safeguarding allegations confirms that where an allegation is made that an employee or agency worker has acted in such a way that a child may have been harmed by them, the Council officer who has been given this information must contact the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) about it.
  2. The role of the LADO is to manage all child protection/safeguarding allegations made against council employees or volunteers working with children or young people in the council area. The LADO undertakes an investigation or decides how to progress the matter. This might include a decision that no further investigation is needed if the allegation is clearly false or that investigation may be needed by the police if there possible criminal offences or the Council under its disciplinary rules.
  3. The Council has a two stage corporate complaints procedure. The Council will investigate and provide a response to the complaint within 20 working days. If the complainant remains dissatisfied it will arrange a review of the complaint and provide a further response within 15 working days.

Background

  1. Mr B’s daughter, X, is eight years old. She has special needs including Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and specifically, a form of this known as Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA). PDA is characterised by very high anxiety levels and challenging behaviour. She also has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

What happened

  1. In mid-January 2020 Mr B emailed the Council to say that he was concerned by a visit made to his daughter by a mentor whom I shall refer to as Mr C. The visit had been arranged in advance but Mr B was unhappy with what had happened, specifically that:
    • Mr C had attended when the family had been told a different mentor, Ms D, would be the person who would visit X. Mr B said he and his wife, Mrs B, had told X that Ms D would be visiting and the change without notification was inappropriate for a child with PDA;
    • Mr C said he would be taking X out to a café shortly after he arrived which Mr B considered inappropriate as X was unprepared for this and she is too young for this in any event;
    • Mr C did not know anything about PDA having only briefly looked at X’s file;
    • Mr B had understood that Mr C was a tutor and only realised her was a mentor when Mr C told him this on the day of the visit; and
    • X told Mr B that Mr C had taken a photograph of her before he left. Mr B considered Mr C should have sought his permission to do this before taking a photograph and said that X was concerned about the photograph Mr C took of her.
  2. When he had not received a reply to his email by late January Mr B contacted the Council again about this issue and other matters related to X’s SEN provision. In relation to the issue that is the subject of this complaint he told the Council that he had been to a meeting with the organisation who had provided the mentor. He told the Council that the organisation said it considered the Council had failed to properly explain to Mr B that a mentor rather than tutor would visit X. Mr B believed that the organisation was providing a tutor as X had been out of full-time schooling for around a year and the family was waiting for a tutor.
  3. In early February the Council emailed Mr B to say that it was progressing the matter as a formal complaint. The Council invited Mr and Mrs B to a meeting with the SEN manager to discuss this. In response Mrs B clarified that the complaint regarding the mentoring service was that:
    • the family was not told that the service was mentoring and not tutoring;
    • the family was not told that the mentor would be taking X out;
    • the family was not asked to provide written consent for such trips or photographs; and
    • the mentor did not seek verbal consent to take a photograph of X on the day of his visit.
  4. The Council contacted the mentoring service provider by email on the same day asking it to provide an urgent update on its provision to X specifically asking it for details of the programme being provided to X, the contact that had taken place and details of any positive or negative feedback from the service, X or her parents.
  5. The meeting with the SEN manager took place around a week later and the Council provided a response to the complaint under its complaints procedure in late February. In this response the Council said:
    • it was clear that Mr and Mrs B were unaware of what service the organisation was going to be providing to X before Mr C arrived on the day and that they were unaware the service was for mentoring and not tutoring. The Council apologised for this;
    • it was a matter for the organisation to address the concerns about Mr C turning up without knowledge of her needs or any agreement or risk assessment having been undertaken. The Council said it believed the organisation had already discussed this with Mr and Mrs B; and
    • with regard to the Council’s actions in the way it handled the safeguarding referral, the council said the matter had been raised with the case worker (to whom the information was given) and his/her manager. The Council said the matter was to be raised again in a team meeting so that staff knew what to do with such concerns. The Council said it would ensure that staff training on safeguarding was up to date.
  6. Mr and Mrs B asked for the matter to be escalated to the next stage of the complaints procedure. This included a query as to whether the concerns about the mentor had been raised as a safeguarding concern. Having not received a response Mrs B chased this up in March and again in April.
  7. In June the Council provided Mr and Mrs B with details of the processes it had in place to ensure that providers of services to children commissioned by the Council had appropriate safeguarding procedures.
  8. In response Mrs B said that her concerns focused on the incident that had happened and the Council’s failure to take action after she and Mr B reported it rather than the existence of procedures that were in place to ensure such incidents did not happen.
  9. In mid-June the Council emailed Mr and Mrs B to say “We are actively monitoring the provider and have made them aware of your concerns. As part of our monitoring we will be discussing with the provider their practice and the induction programme they have in place to ensure it meets our required standards. In light of the concerns you have raised we will of course increase our monitoring of them and ensure strong links and feedback is received from all lead professionals. I am also meeting with internal colleagues to ensure our procedures are in line with guidance and any concerns are fed back to commissioning so they can be dealt with in a timely manner”.
  10. In response Mr and Mrs B went back to the Council by email again stating the Council had again failed to answer their questions and asking whether an independent person had been involved in the investigation and also to say that they believed they should have received an adjudication of the investigation by a service director and requesting escalation to a review panel at stage 3 of the complaints procedure.
  11. The Council responded again shortly after to say that the complaints procedure did not involve an independent person or have a stage 3 level but said that it would continue to look at issues related to how the concerns about the mentoring provider had been followed up.
  12. The team manager responded shortly after to say the Council had contacted the mentoring service to advise it of concerns raised by Mr and Mrs B and that the service had agreed to “revise” their future practice and that he understood the organisation had contacted Mr and Mrs B directly about this. He also said that members of the SEN team would be provided with further training on how to deal with referrals on safeguarding matters such as that made by Mr and Mrs B and said this had already been undertaken. He added that all case officers in the SEN team were provided with full and refresher training on safeguarding.
  13. Mr and Mrs B responded again asking for more information about when the Council had contacted the mentoring service about their concerns and for evidence to support its claim that it had done so and taken action subsequently.
  14. In response the team manager emailed Mr and Mrs B to say that it was his understanding that Mr and Mrs B had agreed to provide the Council with details of the mentoring service’s response to their concerns about Mr C when they received this. He also said the Council contacted the mentoring service to ask that it also provided the Council with details of its response directly to the Council. He said that he understood that one of his colleagues had a conversation with the mentoring service who had advised her that the service accepted Mr and Mrs B’s concerns and that it would be altering its practice to ensure nothing similar would happen again. He said that unfortunately neither the Council nor the mentoring service had any written record of any of this. He apologised for this and said this should have been recorded and he was unable to say why it did not in this case. He said he would follow this up through discussion and training with the SEN team.
  15. Mr and Mrs B then complained to this office.

Was the Council at fault and did this cause injustice?

  1. There is no evidence that the Council took action to consider Mr and Mrs B’s concerns under its safeguarding processes. In its comments to me the Council accepts that it did not consider this under its safeguarding processes as it understood the matter was about the service provided. I consider the information Mr B provided in January did amount to a safeguarding issue and that the information in his email was clear on this point. I therefore consider the failure to follow the safeguarding procedures and refer the matter to the LADO amounts to fault. If there was any confusion about this I consider it would have been reasonable for someone to have called Mr and Mrs B to discuss this with them. I do not consider the failure to follow the safeguarding procedures caused any ongoing injustice to X as a different worker was provided to work with her immediately. But, without any investigation or proper consideration of Mr C’s actions it is possible that he may have acted in a similar way towards other children and the Council has not considered this behaviour as it should have done. The Council does not appear to have obtained any information directly from the mentoring organisation to confirm what investigation or action it undertook or whether it changed its procedures though I accept that it says it asked for this.
  2. The apparent failure to keep any records of discussions that officers had about this matter with the mentoring organisation also amounts to fault. In the absence of these records there is no evidence that the matter was raised with the organisation at all.
  3. I do not consider the Council’s responses to Mr B’s complaint properly addressed his concerns about Mr C’s actions. The Council’s initial actions in contacting the mentoring service to ask what action it had taken did go some way to addressing the matter but did not comply with the procedure outlined in the safeguarding processes addressed above. The Council did investigate some parts of the complaint and apologised that it had been unclear about the nature of the service being provided by Mr C, said it was a matter for the organisation to have been clear about what service it would be providing and advised that it had reminded staff of the process for investigating safeguarding concerns. But it has never properly addressed the fact that the matter originally referred has not been investigated. The initial response to the complaint was provided promptly. The subsequent request for further consideration under the procedure was very delayed however and Mr and Mrs B had to chase the matter up on several occasions. I recognise that this period was during the Covid restrictions and the Council says its staffing was affected by this. However, I consider that had the complaints process timescales been adhered to, the matter should have been completed by late March and, in any case, the Council could have advised Mr and Mrs B that delays in April and May were related to staffing problems arising from Covid but did not do so. On balance, therefore, I consider delays in the handling of the complaint amount to fault and that these delays caused Mr and Mrs B injustice in the form of frustration and avoidable time and trouble in having to chase the matter up.

Agreed action

  1. Within one month of the date of the final decision on this complaint the council will:
    • apologise to Mr and Mrs B for the failure to investigate the concerns they had about Mr C’s behaviour when he visited X in January; and
    • apologise to Mr and Mrs B for the failure to address their complaint about the lack of investigation of their concerns about Mr C’s conduct and for the delay in considering the complaint under the complaints procedure. The Council will also pay Mr and Mrs B £150 to recognise the avoidable frustration and time and trouble they were caused as a result of this.
  2. Within two months of the final date of the decision it will:
    • ensure that these concerns are now addressed and provide me with the outcome of the investigation. I recognise that some time has passed since the incident took place but I consider it important that the matter is addressed properly with Mr C now to ensure that all concerns have been properly looked into both in relation to this incident and to ensure that it does not happen again in future. In response to my draft decision on this complaint the Council said it passed the concerns raised by Mr and Mrs B about Mr C’s conduct to the LADO. The LADO has confirmed that, whilst s/he acknowledges that Mr C’s actions could cause concern, none of the concerns raised by Mr and Mrs B would have met the threshold for action by him/her because there was no indication of criminal intent to harm X or that she may have been seriously harmed. S/he has said that s/he would have recommended that the matters should be investigated by the Council. The Council has accepted that the LADO should have been contacted for advice and that officers should have followed this advice;
    • provide me with the outcome of its active monitoring of the provider after it told the provider about Mr and Mrs B’s concerns in June 2020. The Council also said that it would be discussing the provider’s practice and induction programme to ensure it met the Council’s required standards, that its procedures were in line with guidance and that any concerns were fed back to the commissioning team so they could be dealt with in a timely manner. The Council will also provide me with details of this discussion and any follow up action; and
    • provide me with evidence of the action it says it has taken to remind Council staff of the correct procedure for dealing with such concerns in future. It will also provide details of what action it has taken to ensure better record keeping.

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Final decision

  1. The Council failed to properly investigate the concerns Mr and Mrs B expressed following the mentoring visit by Mr C in January 2020 and that it then failed to properly address their complaint about this under its complaints procedures. The Council will take the action agreed above to remedy the injustice this caused.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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