What do you do to raise concerns about a local authority and you are dissatisfied with the response? Firstly, here is how it should work in theory….

If you have raised a concern with your local authority and are dissatisfied with the response you have received, we advise you continue to raise concerns directly with them. If you are still unhappy after doing so, you can consider making a formal complaint which can be done by writing to either the Director of Children’s Services or the Designated Complaints Officer for the local authority http://adcs.org.uk/contacts/directors-of-childrens-services. They must then consider the complaint, appointing at least one person independent of the local authority to take part in dealing with the issues raised and provide a written response within 28 days. Further details can be found on your local authority website. 

If you remain unhappy with the local authority response, a panel hearing can be requested by writing to the local authority within 28 days of the response. The panel should be chaired by an independent person. 

If you are still dissatisfied with the handling of their complaint under the local procedures and think that the local authority has treated them unfairly as a result of bad or inefficient management and that this has caused injustice (such as loss, injury or upset), you may wish to refer the complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO). More information on making a complaint to the LGSCO is available at: www.lgo.org.uk or by calling the advice line on 0300 061 0614.

If you feel that an individual social worker has acted unprofessionally you can make a formal complaint by contacting the Health and Care Professions Council at: https://www.hcpc-uk.org/contact-us/ 

It’s important to understand that making a complaint is likely to take many months and may therefore not help if you are in crisis as a family – when a critical response is needed. But you may feel you have no other choice. Making a complaint also carries with it a risk to harm relationships with professionals. Organisations can become extremely defensive, closing in on themselves, and closing ranks with other professionals and agencies. It is very easy to get locked in conflict as a parent or guardian with a complaints process that is not about ‘doing the right thing’ – but about ‘doing things right’. Complaints can end up being about role and process. Making a complaint also means re-living the trauma for you. It’s a lot of work to make a complaint.

Ignoring the past

One of the main problems we have as complainants is that for us and our children the past is important – particularly to help us feel there is understanding and trust. Understanding what has gone wrong in the past is vital to helping our children move forwards with the right support in place. To an agency trying to cover up past failings there is clearly a vested interest in ignoring the past. It’s not about what went wrong before and how to put it right and rebuild lost confidence and trust at all. So, you might find yourself having to absorb a great deal of injustice and institutional abuse because it all happened ‘in the past’ when others were involved – and therefore cannot be given consideration – even though the repercussions are still being felt today and will carry on long into the future. This is precisely what happened in the case we describe below.

In this case the request for help from the parent for her child was met with laissez faire negligence. The parent was made to feel a big fuss was being made about nothing. Serious safeguarding concerns, which were reported to the police by the parent, were basically trivialised and ignored. The mother wanted a risk assessment, carers assessment, specialist therapy for her child and respite that worked for him. When help did not materialise, the mother began a complaints process – back in 2012, which eventually went to the LGO for investigation. Perhaps realising that there had been negligence that could be discovered, the local authority decided to go on the attack as the best form of defence. The police were misinformed the parent was mentally abusing her child to get the case into court. The LGO does not consider police records so any investigation will have missed such important information about the mother being victimised. The police did not check their own records (about the mother asking for help from the police) and the child was removed. In court the judge asked if the mother would agree to a psychological assessment to draw a line under the (false) allegations being made about her mental health. The mother readily agreed not realising the whole assessment process would take months to complete and the child, who was 13 at the time, would have to remain in care for so long. The assessor said within ten minutes he could tell the mother was not mentally ill and recommended reunification under a supervision order with mediation. But shortly before the planned reunification the mother was informed of a suicide attempt in foster care. The IRO met with the foster carer and a story was concocted by the foster carer about the child not wanting to go home and trying to hang himself at the thought of it. Of course, this was completely untrue – and the child’s version was that he had been accused of stealing and he was desperate to go home and had lost hope this would happen after five months. The reunification happened under a care order and placement with parents’ regulations. The care order was made due to threshold being met for the child’s anxiety related school refusal (beyond parental control), when the mother contested a supervision order. It was not supported with professional understanding and when the mother requested help again the child was removed again against his wishes. Mediation was stopped by the mediator due to human rights abuses of the child in care – where he was denied his medication under the instructions of the social work manager. The child was put in residential care for the next three and a half years whilst risks were greatly exaggerated by the local authority, CAMHS, the children’s home staff and therapy providers who had a contract with the children’s home, Eventually the child was sent home again after discharge of the care order with another unsupported reunification – this time under a supervision order. This order was discharged before it expired when the Pathway team did not meet statutory obligations. Although the court appointed expert had recommended awards for bravery be given for the ordeal the family were put through, no apologies were given. The findings of the original LGO complaint were ignored under a care order too. It was a waste of time.

Determined to get justice for her son, whose mental health suffered greatly with the draconian approach, the mother tried to raise concerns about what had happened and the appalling treatment they had endured. But the local authority refused to consider the concerns and eventually they were raised to the LGO. However, the LGO officer refused to investigate because, she said, the child had not provided consent for an investigation. It was only when concerns were raised by the child himself, by now 20, to a new DCS, that consent was ever properly sought by another LGO officer – with a signed witnessed consent form. Not hearing from the LGO for months after the form was signed the mother wrote to the chief LGO to explain that nothing was happening. Two days later she received a phone call from a new LGO. She was informed that there could be no investigation of the past and the decision by the previous LGO, who had not sought consent, would stand. He protected his colleague and put the responsibility for obtaining official consent for the investigation onto the mother – not the organisation. The complaint was timed out. Feeling absolutely devastated that after so many years of trying to raise concerns that it would all come to nothing, the mother wrote to the chief LGO Michael King, imploring him to investigate and not time her son out. She explained it was a case of national importance because of her child’s history of such extreme sexual abuse and that CSA survivors should not be victimised by organisations. Mr King instructed the LGO officer who had not sought her son’s consent properly in 2018 to write back to her and block her. This is an organisation with serious problems -where there is a closing in on itself when concerns of a serious nature are raised by citizens.

I write in response to your continued emails and copies of emails to Mr King. The correspondence is passed to me as Mr King does not involve himself in day to day casework.
We have previously explained that your complaint is closed and that we will not take any further action on it, on respond to correspondence. I am sorry to disappoint you, but that still stands, no matter who your letters are addressed to. We simply cannot continue to correspond on closed cases.

I recognize that you may continue to disagree with our decision, but I ask you to accept that it will not change.

Please note that if someone does continue to send emails after they have been asked to stop doing so, we do sometimes have to block the email address, as dealing with unnecessary correspondence takes up staff time.

A complaint about a forensic psychiatrist to the General Medical Council investigated in 2019 absolved the professional of any wrong doing but led to a referral to Social Work England. Social Work England said they could not take action because the DCS and the deputy DCS were not registered with the Health and Care Professionals Council. They were not social workers. There were also simply two many professionals involved in the case – there had been seven social workers. three family support workers, at least five other managers and two IROs involved in the case as well as two Cafcass guardians who were both social workers. The professional organisers of a government funded Adoption UK Adopter’s Voice group were also involved and the mother found herself excluded from the group with the exclusion vetoed by the charity’s CEO. The Charity Commission would not investigate this discriminatory exclusion. All professionals had closed ranks against the mother. If one stepped out of line they were removed by the authority.

When the child was in care he was deprived of hope of reunification. His mother kept him going by telling him he would come home at 18 whatever they said. Where else was the child going to go? He had no one else in the world. From the mother’s perspective it was a race to get her son home before he took his own life. Her son told her he would have killed himself if he could not come home. To this day his anxiety levels remain high and he suffers from PTSD – but he had this diagnosis before he went into care – so his suicide attempts in care were easily attributed to his horrific early life abuse rather than the approach taken by agencies.

The LGO who did not properly seek consent was by coincidence involved with another adoptive family in SG&AT where an investigation was also refused by her. This refusal was on the basis the complaint would probably be unsuccessful after a previous complaint (about institutional racism and Islamophobia) was not upheld. The first investigation had missed what needed to be scrutinised, suggesting unconscious or deliberate bias on the part of the LGO officer. This was a case where the Family Group Conference was effectively a waste of time as social workers were unwilling to work with the Mosque. They reasoned that since no child had ever gone into care from the Mosque community, the Mosque would lie to cover child abuse if it occurred – so the child should remain in care. The child was initially removed from the family home by the police as much for the parent’s protection as his own when they reported to the Emergency Duty Team. The child has lost his faith, language and culture and lived with more than 25 foster carers. He was exposed to social harm in care and became addicted to drugs within two years of entering care at 12. Whenever he says he wants to go home or runs away to his parents (kinship adopters who paid the local authority £5k to be assessed for adoption) the professionals ignore him. Senior managers say he will change his mind eventually so shouldn’t be listened to. The child’s loving family continue to battle for justice. It is inconceivable that the leadership of the local authority are unaware of the prejudicial treatment the parents and the child’s community were exposed to, after the parents turned to the authority for support.

A system that covers up failure

The Department of Education is aware of both these cases but the response is always that they cannot become involved with individual cases.

These cases raise concerns for us that there are potentially high level cover ups happening in adoption and permanence when children and families have been failed and children re-enter care. These two cases are not isolated ones as our Working Together to Help Our Children Report shows. The report includes an appendix where respondents describe their negative experiences of services.

Our children can end up feeling that professionals and organisations are self-serving and do not care at all about them. We try to help to help them learn to trust after their trust was shattered and to feel hopeful about their lives – but everything we try to achieve can be so easily ruined by the organisations we rely on for support and there can be no accountability for failings.

The latest Adoption Barometer from the charity Adoption UK estimates that 2k adopted children re-enter care or leave the family home each year prematurely. There are less than 4k adoption orders being made each year. These figures are shocking and should be a call for action. But the government’s priority is always adopter recruitment and the promotion of adoption. Reliable accurate data is not even collected on the number of children re-entering care.

We think there are lessons to be learned for the LGO and the Department of Education from the Kirkup investigation into the death of Elizabeth Dixon (2020) (The Life and Death of Elizabeth Dixon, A Catalyst for Change) and would like the chief LGO and the new chair of the ASGLB (Krish Kandiah) to consider and reflect on the words of Lizzie’s parents:

“Along our 19-year journey to find the truth, we have been failed by every agency possible.  We have had to spend many years working tirelessly ourselves to gather and piece together the evidence of what happened to Lizzie and the 19 year cover-up that ensued.  It is inconceivable to us that not one of these earlier agencies knew, or suspected, the truth.  The evidence was there.  We have been treated appallingly.

If this is how badly we are treated when we try to raise concerns, it is difficult to see how children in care without parents and guardians to fight for them stand any chance at all when organisations seek to cover up negligence and failings and close in on themselves. This is why we are supporting Article 39’s letter to the Secretary of State about the forthcoming Care Review. You can read the letter here

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