The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mr X complains the actions of the Council’s Early Help service have had a detrimental impact on his granddaughter’s familial relationships. There is no evidence that the support the Council provided to Mr X’s granddaughter impacted negatively on her relationships with her family.
- The complainant, whom I shall refer to as Mr X complains the actions of the Early Help service have had a detrimental impact on his granddaughter’s familial relationships. Mr X feels his granddaughter, has lost her identity within the family and would like the Council to provide appropriate therapy to assist her.
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 cannot investigate complaints about what happens in schools. (Local Government Act 1974, Schedule 5, paragraph 5(b), 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)
How I considered this complaint
- As part of the investigation, I have:
- considered the complaint and the documents provided by Mr X;
- made enquiries of the Council and considered the comments and documents the Council provided;
- discussed the issues with Mr X;
- sent a statement setting out my draft decision to Mr X and the Council and invited their comments. I have considered Mr X’s response.
What I found
- Mr X’s granddaughter, Y has lived with Mr and Mrs X since she was born. In September 2015, when Y was 8, Y’s school made a referral to the Council’s Early Help and Preventative Services (EHPS) in relation to her behaviour at school.
- An Early Help Worker (Officer 1) contacted the family and completed an Early Help assessment in early November 2015. The assessment notes that Y would like someone to talk to to help her understand why she behaves the way she does. Mr X also felt Y would benefit from therapeutic support.
- The Family Plan records the actions to be taken as:
- Y to have someone to talk to about the issues she has at school;
- Y to have strategies to help her socially at unstructured times;
- Y to look at what makes a good friend; and
- Y to have opportunities to talk about her feelings and understand her emotions.
“direct work with [Y] on behaviour, how to manage anger, social stories, being positive, steps to success in positive behaviour.”
- The record also notes Mr X had reservations about the support EHPS and the school provided Y. Mr X was happy Y had some support but felt it was not what she needed as it opened up areas of Y’s life they did not want to explore. Mr X disagreed with Officer 1’s view that Y’s behaviour was in line with children who have an attachment disorder. He considered Y had Foetal Alcohol Syndrome rather than an attachment disorder.
- In late 2016 and 2017 Mr X complained to the Council. By this time Y had received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, and her behaviour had deteriorated. Mr X raised several concerns which do not form part of this investigation. He also raised concerns that Officer 1 had worked with Y on her family tree and damaged her relationship with her grandmother, Mrs X.
- Mr X stated that prior to EHPS’s involvement Y had viewed Mr and Mrs X as her ‘parents’. He asserted that Officer 1 and/ or the school had stressed to Y that they were her grandparents and that this had a detrimental impact on her relationship with Mrs Y.
- The Council’s response confirmed Officer 1 was asked to support Y to develop and maintain positive relationships, reduce aggressive behaviours and cope with anxieties. This work focussed on social and emotional issues. Officer 1 used creative and artistic methods to engage Y in discussions about relationships and feelings, and reinforced positive behaviours and coping strategies.
- This included an activity using a picture of a tree with leaves and identifying who lived at home. The Council explained that although it was referred to as a family tree it was not used as a genogram. It was used to identify who was important to her, who was in her circle of trust and who she lives with.
- The Council also confirmed that Officer 1 had not intentionally undermined or devalued Mr X and Mrs X’s role in caring for and supporting Y. Y was aware Mr and Mrs X were her legal guardians and grandparents.
- In further correspondence Mr X acknowledged Y had enjoyed her sessions with Officer 1. But he maintained that Y’s subsequent behaviour suggested either the school or Officer 1 had said or done something to emphasise to Y that Mrs X was not her mother. Mr X was concerned Y had lost her self-identity and self-worth.
- In response, the Council confirmed Officer 1 had not explored Y’s family history and the topic of Y’s biological mother never arose during the sessions.
- Mr X asked the Council to investigate and fund therapy for Y to repair her attachment to Mrs X. The Council would not fund this and suggested Mr X could make a referral to the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Service (CYPMHS) for support and assessment of Y’s needs.
- Mr X remains unhappy and has asked the Ombudsman to investigate. In response to my enquiries the Council states it is not preventing or discouraging Mr X from accessing therapy for Y. But it does not consider it is responsible for funding this. It has suggested Mr X contact CYPMHS who assess, recommend and access intervention for children who have a mental health condition.
- In addition the Council states the professionals involved in Y’s Education Heath and Care Plan (EHCP) have not recommended this therapy. There are therefore no grounds to provide this therapy within Y’s EHCP.
- The Council disagrees with Mr X’s assertion that EHPS caused or contributed towards Y’s familial relationship difficulties. During the sessions Y was asked to describe relationships that were important to her, these included Mr and Mrs X and other family members. There is no dispute that Y was aware, before EHPS’s involvement, that Mrs X was not her biological mother. The Council suggests it is not uncommon for children to make potentially upsetting comments to their parents and guardians, and it cannot be certain what caused this from Y.
- The Council states it cannot identify any intervention from EHPS which may have contributed to the difficulties Mr X describes. It does not accept that its efforts to support the family have damaged the relationship between Y and Mrs X.
- Mr X has responded to the draft decision. He asserts staff at Y’s school wrongly decided Y had an attachment disorder. The school’s referral to EHCP was part of its efforts to try and rectify the attachment disorder. He considers the ambit of Officer 1’s work was to ‘deal’ with the attachment disorder. Mr X maintains that Officer’s 1’s activities on the family tree with Y affected Y’s attachment to Mrs X.
- It is accepted that Y was aware that Mr and Mrs X were her grandparents before EHPS’s involvement. Y also knew and had contact with her biological mother. It is also clear that Mr and Mrs X agreed to EHPS’s involvement and thought Y would benefit from some therapeutic support.
- It is unclear what prompted the change in Y’s relationship with Mrs X, but there is no evidence this was due to Officer 1 or EHPS’s actions.
- The records do not show that there was any discussion with Y about her biological mother, or about Mr and Mrs X being her grandparents rather than parents. The activities carried out focussed on Y’s feelings and anxieties and building friendships. Based on the information available I cannot say it is more likely than not that Officer 1 or EHPS was responsible for the change in relationship between Y and Mrs X.
- I am unable to consider what happened at Y’s school, or the actions of head teacher and/or other school staff as this is outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. The Ombudsman has no power to investigate the internal management of schools.
- There is no evidence that the support the Council provided to Mr X’s granddaughter impacted negatively on her relationships with her family.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman