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Mr Y complained about delay by the Council in investigating his concerns about his four year old daughter’s welfare, when in her mother’s care.

His concerns were the family’s living conditions, the frequent changes of address and allegations of drug taking. He considered that some of the remarks made by a social worker regarding drug taking and parenting were “inappropriate.”

The Ombudsman found that the Council failed to carry out a home visit and missed a number of opportunities to investigate Mr Y’s concerns about the family’s circumstances, which included a number of risk factors. Instead it relied on information from the school, where his daughter was a new pupil. It also failed to investigate properly a referral made from an English County Council’s Children’s Social Services Team where the concerns were similar to those raised by Mr Y and where an “urgent welfare check” was requested. It was several months before the home was visited and this was only after a referral from the police following a drugs raid. An assessment of the child’s needs was not carried out before the child left the Council’s area to return to Mr Y’s care.

The Ombudsman found that a comment relating to drug taking and parenting made by a social worker was not appropriate given the lack of investigation and assessment of Mr Y’s daughter’s circumstances. He also highlighted very poor complaint handling and found that Council staff were defensive and lacked objectivity in dealing with Mr Y’s representations. The Council failed to deal with the complaint under the Children’s Complaints procedures which it should have done, and missed an opportunity to investigate the service failings in respect of Mr Y’s daughter.

The Council accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendations to:

a) apologise to Mr Y and make a payment of £1,000 for the uncertainty caused by the lack of assessment together with his “time and trouble” in making the complaint,

b) arrange an audit (to be carried out independently of the Council) of referrals to its Children’s Services Teams to review the appropriateness and consistency of its responses.

c) provide training on the Framework for the Assessment of Children in Need and their Families for all staff who deal with referrals and assessments.

d) review its arrangements for dealing with social services complaints, to ensure its compliance with recent legislation and guidance

e) provide training on complaint handling for those staff dealing with complaints regarding the provision of services for children.

A full copy of the report is available below.