Child protection issues

This fact sheet is for parents, carers, children and young people who have experienced problems with a child protection issue and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I have a problem with a child protection matter. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In many cases, yes. Where a child is thought to be at risk of significant harm, the council has a duty to make enquiries.

If you are unhappy with the way the council has investigated concerns raised about child protection or failed to put in place measures to protect a child at risk of harm, we can look into how the council carried out its duties.

There are some things we can’t deal with. We can’t look at anything that has been dealt with in court. So if the council has taken court proceedings we can’t look at any evidence or reports given to the court or review the court’s decision.

If you want to change a decision a court has made you will need to seek legal advice. But we may be able to look at any steps the council took before starting court proceedings and at services provided after the court case has finished.

We can deal with complaints about Child Protection Conferences or Core Groups where the complaint relates to actions of council employees. However, we cannot usually consider complaints about the actions of individuals from other agencies such as the Police. We cannot overturn a decision to place a child on a Child Protection Plan.

If part of your complaint relates to NHS services, we might conduct a joint investigation with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

How do I complain?

If your complaint is about the decision of a child protection conference, you should usually complain to the chair of the child protection conference as soon as possible.

If your complaint is about the actions of a council employee outside of a child protection conference (for example, a complaint about a social worker completing a core assessment), you should complain directly to the council.

When you make a complaint you should be told what will happen to your complaint and how long this will take.

We will not normally consider a complaint until it has been dealt with under the local procedures.

Once you have completed the local complaints process you may complain to the Ombudsman. 

To make a new complaint please complete our complaint form. Click contact us for other ways to make a complaint. If your complaint involves a child it would be helpful if you could provide their full name and date of birth.

If you’re a child or young person making a complaint to us we’ll make reasonable adjustments for you.

We’ll help you make your complaint to the council if you haven’t done that already, and keep in touch with you regularly while it goes through the complaints procedure. Once we’re in a position to consider your complaint ourselves we’ll give it priority, and we’ll use the means of contact with you that you prefer – including email or text, if you like. If you want us to, we’ll also help you find an advocate to support you with your complaint.  

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with the child protection investigation and whether this has caused you harm.

We do not act as a body of appeal and can’t review the merits of decisions or professional judgements, where they have been reached properly. But we can consider how decisions made by the council are reached and whether they have been implemented properly. Some of the issues we can look at are:

  • delay in carrying out an investigation
  • failure to follow government guidance, in particular guidance on the key steps in a child protection investigation and the timetable to be followed
  • failure to keep proper records of information gained in an investigation
  • failure to communicate with those involved or to co-operate with other agencies, such as the police, health or education
  • preparing reports that are inadequate, based on inaccurate information or fail to take account of relevant information, and
  • failure to carry out proper assessments, put in place an adequate child protection plan where this is thought necessary, or implement measures set out in the plan.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

The Ombudsman cannot overturn a decision. But if we find that something has gone wrong in the way the council handled an investigation, we may ask it to carry out a review. If the council has failed to implement a decision we may recommend that it take the necessary action to protect a child.

We may ask the council to make a payment to acknowledge the injustice suffered.  Whether we do this and the amount we suggest will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong. We may also recommend that the council review its procedures so that the problems you experienced don’t happen to others.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr F complained that the council failed to safeguard his children when it placed them with a Special Guardian. The children’s school and others raised concerns about their welfare several times. We found that the council did not follow up all of these referrals properly. It failed to assess the risk posed by the Special Guardian’s partner. It did not properly assess whether the children should be moved. This meant the children were left at risk of harm, although we could not say whether they would have been moved if the council had acted properly. The council agreed to apologise to Mr F and make a payment to him for his distress and time and trouble in making his complaint. It also agreed to pay the children £250 each to recognise its failings.
Mr J complained that the council failed to deal with his referral about the safety of his children properly. The children were living with their mother. Mr J said the child and family assessment did not consider all the evidence, and the resulting report was inaccurate, biased and contained flawed conclusions. We found the council had acted in line with national and local safeguarding guidance and procedures in carrying out the assessment. The social worker had seen the children and spoken to family members and school staff. The assessment concluded there was no need to carry out a child protection investigation, but the council agreed a safety plan with the children’s mother. Although Mr J was not happy with the outcome of the assessment or the safety plan, the Ombudsman could not question the council’s decision as there was no fault in the way it was reached.

Other sources of information

The NSPCC have some information on their website, see www.nspcc.org.uk/preventing-abuse/child-protection-system/england/

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

October 2020

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