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City of Bradford Metropolitan District Council (21 000 194)

Category : Education > Special educational needs

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 14 Dec 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs X complains about the Council’s children social services. She says she asked the service for help and support for her children and the Council did not provide any. She also complains the Council refused to complete an EHC assessment for her youngest child. We find fault with the Council for failing to complete its child in need plans properly. We have made recommendations.

The complaint

  1. Mrs X complains about the Council’s children social services. She says she asked the service for help and support for her children, since 2014. She says the Council has not provided any help and support. She also complains the Council refused to complete an EHC assessment for her youngest child.

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What I have investigated

  1. I have investigated Mrs X complaint about the Council’s children social services from 2020.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended)
  2. The law says we cannot normally investigate a complaint when someone can appeal to a tribunal. However, we may decide to investigate if we consider it would be unreasonable to expect the person to appeal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(a), as amended)
  3. 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)
  4. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  5. 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 spoke with Mrs X and considered the information she provided.
  2. I made enquiries with the Council and considered the information it provided.
  3. I sent a draft decision to Mrs X and the Council and considered their comments.

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What I found

Legislation and guidance

  1. The Children Act 1989 sets out the duties on councils to ensure children are kept safe and their welfare is promoted.
  2. Section 17 says a child is in need if they are unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable standard of health or development without services provided by the council. Councils can provide services for the whole family or for any individual member of the family if it is provided to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare.
  3. When a council assesses a child as being in need, it supports them through a child in need plan. A child in need plan should set out what support is required and why, what agencies will provide the required services, what the child and/or family agree to do, what the expected outcomes are, timeframe of the plan and when it will be reviewed.
  4. Bradford Safeguarding Children Board’s Continuum of Need and Risk Identification Tool
  5. The purpose of this guidance is to help agencies identify a child’s degree of need and respond appropriately. It does not remove the need for works to make professional judgment when considering the identified needs of children.
  6. The guidance sets out the process for the early help assessment and the type of level of early help services to be provided. It also outlines the criteria, including the level of need, for when a case should be referred to local authority children’s social care for assessment and for statutory services under:
    • Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 (child in need)
    • Section 47 of the Children Act 1989 (child protection)
  7. The Continuum Tool identifies four levels of vulnerability, risk and need to assist practitioners to identify the most appropriate service response for children, young people, and their families. These are:
    • Level 1 Universal: No additional needs. Needs are met by universal services such as education, GPs, dental.
    • Level 2 Universal Plus: Children with additional needs. These are children whose health and/or development may be adversely affected and would benefit from extra help to make the best of their life chances.
    • Level 3 Targeted Support: Children with complex additional needs. These are children whose health and/or development is being impaired or there is a high risk of significant impairment.
    • Level 4 Statutory, Specialist and Child protection: These are children who are experiencing significant harm or where there is a likelihood of significant harm.

What happened

  1. Mrs X has two children, Y and P.
  2. In March 2020, the Council’s Early Help team made a referral to the Council’s children services for a child and family assessment. In the referral, the Early Help team noted it had been working with the family for over a year with no significant progress made. It also highlighted there was a history of a lack of engagement from Mrs X to getting the identified support implemented by the Early Help team.
  3. The Council decided to complete an assessment to consider the concerns raised by the Early Help team and to identify if any additional support was needed for the family.
  4. The Council completed its assessment in May 2020. In its assessment, the Council highlighted that overall, the appropriate support was in place for Y and P. The main concerns raised was the discrepancies between what professionals felt the girls need by way of additional support and what the parents felt they needed.
  5. The assessment also noted that due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the family shielding, the social worker had been unable to build an appropriate relationship with Y and P to establish what they feel they need. The assessment record showed the social worker was able to speak with Mrs X about her views on what support the children needed.
  6. The assessment recommended the children be subject to child in need planning. This was due to the social worker not being able to engage with the children during the assessment to identify their wishes and feelings, and due to the complexity of the family.
  7. The Council provided copies of its child in need plans for P which was effective from the end of May until end of October 2020. There was little detail contained within these plans as to what needs P had and what support or services the Council intended to provide to meet those needs.
  8. The child in need plans for Y, effective from May until July 2020 (when Y turned 18), contained some details on her needs and the support she needed from different professionals. It did not detail any information as to what support the Council would provide.
  9. The Council completed child in need visits in May, June, July, and September 2020. The records showed the Council was able to speak with Y and P on most occasions. Mrs X was present for all child in need visits.
  10. At the end of October 2020, a new social worker took over the case. During a review of the case, the social worker recorded their intention to progress a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) child in need plan. The social worker also noted they could identify needs that had not been met with the current plan.
  11. The child in need plan the Council put in place for P for October 2020 until November 2020 outlined P’s unmet needs and what support the Council would provide.
  12. In November 2020, the Council held a child in need review meeting to discuss the work it had completed so far. The records noted the social worker had made two referrals to other agencies to get support for P. These referrals had been declined due to P not meeting their thresholds. The records also showed the social worker had provided resources to Mrs X, such as therapeutic apps P could use. The records also detailed the actions to be taken to progress matters, including further referrals.
  13. In December 2020, the Council received a referral regarding an incident of violence involving P. In response to the referral, the social worker contacted:
    • Mrs X to arrange a visit and to provide relevant phone numbers so Mrs X could support herself, Y, and P.
    • P’s college.
    • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
  14. The records also showed the social worker considered exploring respite options, funding to help pay for an activity which P enjoyed, and the need to speak with the transition team to prepare for adult services. Records also noted due to the complexity of the case, a transfer to the adults team was appropriate.
  15. At the end of December 2020, the Council transferred the case to its adult social services team and the case was closed to the children social services team.

Analysis

  1. The Council’s Continuum Tool identifies four levels of vulnerability, risk and need, Different responses are given depending on the assessed level. It is for the Council to assess the needs of the children to identify what is the most appropriate service response for the children and their families.
  2. The evidence shows the Council completed an assessment in May 2020 following the referral received from Early Help. This was appropriate as the Council needed to understand Y and P’s circumstances to identify what service response to provide.
  3. The records do show the Council was not able to build an appropriate relationship with Y and P to establish what they feel they need. This is not good practice as the assessments should be child centred. However, this was due to the Covid-19 pandemic preventing face to face meetings. Therefore, I am satisfied it was the exceptional circumstances of the time that prevented the social worker from establishing the relationship with the children. I do not consider this to be fault in the circumstances.
  4. There is no other evidence to suggest the Council did not complete its assessment properly. Therefore, we cannot criticise or find fault with the Council’s decision to proceed with child in need planning. The Council was entitled to make this decision after completing its assessment.
  5. The evidence available shows both Y and P had child in need plans. Y only had a child in need plan in place until July 2020. This was due to her turning 18 in June 2020. Y’s child in need plan is slightly more detailed than Ps, outlining her needs and the support required to meet those needs.
  6. However, the plan does not set out any support or services the Council intends to provide. While it notes that other professional agencies will provide services, the Council does not identify any role for the social worker. Given the Council had assessed Y as having needs which meet the criteria for a child in need plan, it would be reasonable to expect the Council to have identified some role for itself in supporting the child.
  7. P’s plan is less detailed than Y’s and again, does not outline any services or support the Council will provide. As above, it would be reasonable to expect the Council to have identified some role for itself to support P given it had assessed P as meeting the threshold for a child in need plan.
  8. Therefore, the evidence suggests the Council’s child in need plans for Y and P were not completed properly. At this stage, this is fault.
  9. I consider the fault identified will have caused some uncertainty for Y and P. This is because I cannot say what would have happened if the Council had completed the child in need plans properly.
  10. The evidence shows the Council appeared to recognise P’s child in need plan was not suitable in October 2020. This is because the new social worker created a new plan which contained more detail and identified a role for children services and the support and services they will provide. Therefore, I am satisfied the Council did remedy the fault for P in October 2020 when the new plan was issued.
  11. Both Y and P’s case were transferred to the adults services team in July and December 2020 respectively. I have not investigated the actions of the adult services team as Mrs X’s complaint was about the actions of children social services.

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Agreed action

  1. To remedy the injustice caused by the faults identified, the Council has agreed to complete the following:
    • Apologise to Y and P for the injustice caused by its failure to complete the child in need plans properly.
    • Pay Y and P £100 each to recognise the uncertainty caused by the fault identified.
  2. The Council should complete the above within 2 weeks of the final decision.

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Final decision

  1. I find fault with the Council for failing to complete its child in need plans properly. This caused uncertainty for Y and P as we cannot say what would have happened if the Council had completed the plans properly. The Council has accepted my recommendations. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. I have not investigated Mrs X’s complaint about the Council’s children services actions between 2014 and 2019.
  2. The evidence shows Mrs X was in contact with the Council between 2014 and 2019 and was consistently raising concerns about the lack of help and support. It is also clear from the records Mrs X was unhappy with the actions taken by the Council’s children social services with regards to her children. Mrs X was also in contact with the Ombudsman about her complaint on another matter in 2016.
  3. Although Mrs X told us she could not complain earlier because her health and circumstances prevented it, I am satisfied she could have complained to us sooner.
  4. Therefore, Mrs X’s complaints about the Council’s children services action between 2014 and 2019 are out of time.
  5. There is also evidence the Council declined to assess Mrs X’s youngest child for an Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan in December 2019. The Council provided Mrs X with information on how she could appeal this decision to the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). The evidence shows Mrs X did not appeal the Council’s decision.
  6. Therefore, Mrs X’s complaint about the Council refusing to assess her youngest daughter for an EHC plan is outside the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. This is because she had an alternative remedy available, and it was reasonable to expect Mrs X to have used this alternative remedy.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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