Fostering. Looked after children. and SGOs
Upheld in whole or in part
Non-public interest report issued: complaint upheld
Powys County Council
Mr & Mrs A complained on behalf of their son, B, that the Council failed to satisfactorily safeguard and promote his welfare as a looked after child (“LAC”).1 They also raised concerns about the Council’s handling of their complaint.
The Ombudsman found that the Council failed to follow the correct administrative process when it accepted a transfer of care provision for B from another local authority in January 2017. Contrary to the relevant statutory framework, the Council accepted the transfer without informing Mr & Mrs A, and altered the statutory basis on which it continued to make the care provision without re-assessing B’s care and support needs, or updating his care plans. The Council also failed to make any record of, or plan for, the transfer and could not explain or evidence why it had taken place.
In January 2018 a decision was taken to manage B under the statutory procedures for LAC, because the amount of time he was in Council arranged accommodation increased significantly following the transfer of care provision. The Council’s decision was based on its understanding that any child who spent more than 120 days each year out of the family home was automatically a LAC according to the Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (Wales) Regulations 2015. The Ombudsman found that the Council’s interpretation of the law and guidance around B’s looked after status was wrong. The Council also assumed parental consent for B to be looked after on a voluntary basis without properly explaining Mr & Mrs A’s parental rights.
The lack of transparency and administrative failings around the transfer of care provision, and its impact on subsequent decision making, caused an avoidable breakdown in the relationship between Mr & Mrs A and the Council. The Ombudsman also considered that the failings engaged Mr & Mrs A’s and B’s rights to a fair process under Article 6 of the Human Rights Act, and to respect for their private and family life under Article 8.
The Ombudsman identified a number of failings around the Council’s handling of Mr & Mrs A’s complaint which was not in accordance with timescales, definitions and principles set out in the statutory Complaints Procedure for Social Services. Significantly, numerous aspects of the complaint relating to staff conduct and the care proceedings were investigated when they should not have been, and there was a failure to appoint an independent person to oversee the handling of representations made on B’s behalf. Avoidable delays were also caused when the independent investigation was deferred while the Council pursued care proceedings, although many aspects of the complaint could have been investigated without affecting the proceedings. The Council also failed to respond to the independent investigation report for several months until it was prompted to do so by the Ombudsman. The process went on for over 2 and half years without properly addressing Mr & Mrs A’s concerns and significant learning from the complaint was missed.
The Ombudsman recommended that the Council should apologise unreservedly to Mr & Mrs A for the failings identified and pay £1,000 to them, and a further £1,000 to B, in recognition of the impact of the failings and injustice caused. The Ombudsman also recommended a number of improvement actions, including organisational learning, staff training and process reviews, in relation to record keeping, complaint handling and rights-based considerations in social work practice.