A council has been fined more than £12,000 for a flawed child protection investigation, including an attempt to take a girl into care without considering other options and only seeking her mother’s agreement after the decision had been taken.
The Local Government Ombudsman criticised the London Borough of Bexley over its handling of the case, claiming the mother had been caused “an understandable sense of outrage” by the investigation into allegations of abuse by her daughter.
A statement by the ombudsman said: “The problems I have identified in this complaint do not concern the professional judgement of officers, but significant failures in the council’s procedures and administrative approach to the investigation.”
The council had failed to resolve an earlier informal child protection investigation into the complaints and only took action because of a reference request from another authority.
The ombudsman said workers had not produced and implemented a clear investigation plan, had undertaken inappropriate questioning, had failed to quickly pursue reasonable lines of enquiry and had failed to properly record and evidence decisions.
“The council took steps to accommodate the girl without properly considering alternative options, and sought her mother’s agreement after the girl had already been told by officers she was to be removed and taken home to collect her belongings,” the Ombudsman found.
“The council failed to explain the full circumstances when asking the complainant to agree to the accommodation and failed to properly record the extent of her agreement. It did not provide necessary information about the arrangements for the accommodation and failed to respond properly to her comments that she withdrew her consent to the accommodation.”
The mother was asked to agree to the girl visiting her father without conducting a proper risk assessment, did not provide clear contact plans and was slow in making a referral for a parenting assessment. The mother also had restrictions placed on parenting her other daughter in an “unreasonable manner”.
Bexley was ordered to apologise to the mother and pay £7,741 for her legal fees and £5,000 in recognition of her distress, outrage and inconvenience. It must also instruct an independent family counsellor to make detailed proposals for family counselling and reunification between the mother and daughter.
A Bexley Council spokesperson said: “Our focus in this case was centred firmly on protecting a vulnerable young person at serious risk.
“It was the interests of this young person that dominated our approach. We believe that exercising our professional judgement to take her into care was in her best interests.
This case is more than four years old. It was a complex situation made particularly difficult by the fact that the parent worked for the Council in a social work team in Children and Young People’s Services.
“We fully accept the findings and will carry out the recommendations in the Ombudsman’s report. Some time ago we changed our administrative processes in case a similar situation should ever arise.
We regret the impact this has had on the complainant. Over the past four years we have made an official apology to her and have also suggested a number of resolutions, including offering independent family counselling and compensation. We will be offering this once again in light of the Ombudsman’s recommendations.”
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