Social work failings deny parents time with dying baby, Ombudsman said

The parents of a seriously ill baby were unable to spend quality time with their child in his last few weeks of life, because City of York social workers did not review his case properly, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.

Social workers placed strict supervision arrangements on the parents after injuries were discovered when the parents took their baby to hospital with breathing difficulties. The parents told social workers, and the doctor treating their son, the injuries could have been caused by previous hospital treatment.

As a result of this decision, the parents’ two other children had to be cared for by grandparents, while the parents had to be supervised at all times when visiting the baby in hospital. Even when the baby’s condition deteriorated, social workers did not relax the restrictions, despite numerous requests. Some days the parents could only spend four hours with their son. And on one day, lack of supervision meant they were not able to visit him at all.

The baby died nine weeks after his admission to hospital.

A month after the baby died, a court relaxed the supervision arrangements with the couple’s other children. And at a final hearing 11 weeks later, the court criticised the council’s handling of the case, stating the council had decided the fractures ‘cannot have been attributed to parental care’.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council should have reviewed the supervision arrangements or offered third party services to provide supervision in hospital. It also failed to visit the baby in hospital and the care plan drawn up did not consider the baby’s emotional needs.

The report also criticises the council’s response to the family’s complaint, which took more than 270 days too long to complete.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“Nobody could criticise the social workers in this case for starting the safeguarding action. But what they should have done was keep the situation under review, especially once it became clear there was very little risk to the child, and his condition deteriorated.

“This would have been a horrifically stressful time for the family, at a time when their world must have felt like it was falling apart. Social workers should have done more to facilitate the parents’ visits, for example by contacting social workers in the neighbouring authority, or the hospital’s own patient liaison services.

“And to compound this family’s distress, the council took far too long to investigate their concerns when they complained about their treatment.

“I’m pleased York council has accepted the findings of this report, and hope the remedies recommended will prevent other families going through such a distressing situation.”

When the baby, who had a range of health conditions, was taken to hospital, a doctor treating him noticed injuries to his ribs. The family said these could have been caused by invasive, physical, medical interventions during a previous hospital stay.

Social workers began a safeguarding investigation.

A court granted interim care orders for the other children while investigations were carried out into the baby’s injuries. The court ordered the supervision arrangements be kept under review.

The baby was moved to another hospital in a nearby city when his condition deteriorated. This hospital was not able to supervise the parents’ visits, and the grandparents could not help as they were looking after the other two children. The parents had to rely on other family members to accompany them, which was not always possible. At no point did a social worker visit the baby in hospital to see the situation for themselves.

As the baby’s condition began to deteriorate, the parents asked social workers to relax the restrictions so they could spend more time with their critically ill son. The hospital again said it could not provide the supervision, and there is no evidence the council looked at alternative solutions.

When the court proceedings concluded, it asked the Home Office Disclosure and Barring Service to remove any reference markers from the parents’ records relating to child protection concerns.

The family complained to City of York Council about their situation. Instead of taking a maximum 65 days to respond to their complaint, the response took 343.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services.

In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the family and pay them £2,000 for the distress caused by its actions.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public.

In this case the council has agreed to review its existing policies to set out supervision arrangements to be made available for parents or other relatives visiting looked after children in hospital.

It will also contact the second hospital and relevant council to develop closer working relationships for when looked after children receive treatment outside the council’s area.

To improve its complaint responses under the statutory children’s complaints process, it will review officer training at all levels and will review statutory complaints handled since September 2016 to ensure they are dealt with in line with timescales.

Article date: 08 November 2018

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