One of our members has just been through a five year ordeal with her local authority to try to get help with parenting her adopted daughter. The battle has left the family broken apart with all intervention coming between parent and child. Five years on the situation is worse than ever and and Ms X has been treated for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. A complaint has been upheld by the Local Government Ombudsman – see below – but it doesn’t seem to make any difference. Irreparable damage had already been done by the time the Local Authority had completed the unsatisfactory three stage complaints process that is required for the LGO to investigate.
There are no models for reunification in the situation Ms X and her daughter Y found herself in and this must change.
The Local Government Ombudsman’s Findings were:
Y’s placement under section 20
There is significant fault in the way the Council supported the family and planned for Y’s future. The initial plan was for Y to return home however there is no evidence of any work taking place to facilitate this or any timescales set as to when a return home was expected to happen.
During this period Y’s behaviour in the children’s home and at school deteriorated culminating in the police being called when Y absconded and Y being excluded from school. There is also evidence that Y was at significant risk due to her behaviour on social media.
Despite this the Council did not have any firm plans for Y’s future accommodation until 23 March 2015 when the Council decided to look at moving Y to foster care and obtaining a care order. At this point Y had been in a children’s home for 2 years with no long-term plan for her future.
The delays in developing a long term plan for Y were exacerbated by fault in the LAC review process. Agreed actions were vague and were not linked to any long term plans for Y’s future. There were also very few timescales put in place by which action should be taken or decisions reached. The minutes of the LAC review meetings were also not circulated after the meetings in line with guidance which says they should be produced within one month. In one instance, it took 5 months for minutes to be circulated. The Council says an “outcomes report” from LAC reviews are place on its systems within 5 working days of the meeting however I did not see these when I viewed the files at the Council’s offices.
Delays in the LAC review process contributed to a lack of action in Y’s case as professionals lacked formal records of what actions had been agreed at review meetings.
Although the Council decided to consider obtaining a care order in March 2015 there is no evidence it did anything about this until it was contacted by Ms X’s solicitor in October 2015. Ms X should not have had to instruct a solicitor to force the Council to take action regarding a long term plan for her daughter.
When Y moved out of the children’s home into the placement with the foster family it is notable that her behaviour improved and she was more settled. Overall Y was in the children’s home for almost 2 and a half years.
The Council was also at fault for stopping Ms X’s contact with Y in September
- Y was accommodated under section 20 of the Children’s Act 1989 and the Council had no legal basis for stopping contact. However, there were times when Y did not wish to see Ms X and so this limits the injustice caused to Ms X. I could never say if Y would have returned to Ms X’s care if the Council had planned her long term future when Y was first accommodated. However, it is clear that the uncertainty about Y’s future over such a prolonged time has had a significant, detrimental and irreparable impact on Ms X and Ys relationship with one another.
As a result of the Council’s failure to properly plan for Y’s long-term future both Y and Ms X have been caused significant distress and Ms X has had to resort to seeking legal advice to force the Council to take action.
Council’s investigation of Ms X’s complaint
The Council took almost a year to investigate Ms X’s complaint at stage 2 of the complaints process. This is fault. The Council has offered to pay Ms X £l50 to recognise the impact this had on her and says it has put resources in place to ensure this does not happen again.
The payment of El 50 is towards the lower end of what the Ombudsman would normally recommend. Given the extent of the delay a higher financial remedy would be appropriate given the time and trouble Ms X was put to pursuing her complaint.
There is also fault with the stage 2 investigation. The investigation identified a number of faults in the way the Council had handled the case including that Y had been without a social worker for a period and had more social workers dealing with her case than would be normal. However, only two recommendations were made in the form of an apology to Ms X and for contact between Ms X and Y to continue. There was no consideration of the impact a lack of support might have had on Ms X and Y.
Statutory guidance says it is good practice for stage 2 investigation reports to contain the investigator’s comments on a complainant’s desired outcomes. However, this is missing from the stage 2 report in this case.
There is also fault in the way the stage 2 and stage 3 investigations considered Ms X’s complaints that the Council said it had let Y down during court proceedings. The stage 2 investigation said there would be no documents that would refer to this. The stage 3 panel said the investigating officer would not have had access to the court transcript.
Ms X has obtained a copy of the court transcript which confirmed the Judge stated the Council had accepted it had let Y down. I would not expect the investigating officer or stage 3 panel to ask for copy of a court transcript.
However, I would expect both the investigating officer and stage 3 panel to have considered documents the Council submitted to the court. In a statement to the court the Council said it accepted there “has been inexcusable drift and delay in bringing this case to the attention of the court to help ensure that timely decisions of permanence could be made for [Y] t Failure to consider this evidence is fault. The fault I have identified casts doubt on the findings of the investigating officer and stage 3 panel. Therefore, I have investigated what happened.