A council has been criticised for reducing the care and support packages of two brothers without telling their mother the reason for the decision.
The brothers, aged 10 and 11, both have autism and were receiving care packages from Lewisham council’s children’s services, which each included seven hours a week in short break payments, and 24 nights a year in respite accommodation.
The Local Government Ombudsman found that a social worker had reviewed the boys’ care without giving the mother a chance to comment, and had taken the report straight to the council’s care package panel, which decided to reduce their care.
The panel decided that the younger boy did not need respite accommodation, and also cut his direct payments from seven hours a week to four. It also reduced the older boy’s respite stays from 24 nights to 12, the investigation found.
The ombudsman criticised the council for failing to give the mother a copy of the assessment, or the reasons for the changes to her sons’ care, and for its delay in taking her complaint through the statutory children’s complaint procedure.
He told the council to pay the woman £550 in recognition of the distress caused to her and said it should make the panel decision-making process more transparent.
The council has accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations.
The ombudsman’s investigation found that in early 2015, the council wrote to the mother to confirm the original care package for the younger boy.
However, a few months later, it contacted her again to say that the respite provider could not say when the boy would get this provision because of its waiting list.
In January 2016, a social worker from the council’s children with complex needs team undertook the review of both boys’ care. At the end of that month, she took the assessment to the care package panel, which is made up of managers from the service.
The ombudmsan investigation found that the social worker had failed to involve the mother in the assessment, or provide her with a copy to check. The social worker also gave “no explanation or reasons” for the panel’s decision to reduce the boys’ care.
“The failure to give reasons meant she [the mother] had no understanding of why the council wanted to change her sons’ care package,” the ombudsman’s report said.
“This caused frustration and a loss of confidence in the council.”
The mother complained to the council in February 2016.
The ombudsman found the council at fault for responding under its corporate complaints procedure, when it should have used the statutory children’s complaints procedure.
When the ombudsman challenged this, the council was slow to arrange for the complaint to go through the correct procedure, the report said, and it also failed to keep the mother updated on what was happening with her complaint.
The ombudsman also criticised the council for missing the statutory timescale for dealing with the complaint. The ombudsman found that it took eight months, from the council accepting it had used the wrong procedure in August 2016, for completing stage 2 of the process (the investigation). This should normally take 25 days working days (or up to 65, in exceptional circumstances).
The ombudsman’s report recommended that the council conduct a review of the operation of its procedures for identifying and dealing with complaints involving children and young people, to ensure it meet its statutory duties in the future.
It also said that the council should make the care package panel decision-making process more transparent, by sharing assessments with all parties before the panel meets, and ensuring that the panel gives written reasons for its decisions.
‘No input in review’
Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “In this case, the children’s situation had not changed, but Lewisham council reduced the level of care it provided. The mother has been left upset about not knowing why their support was reduced, or having any kind of input in its review.”
He added that councils “should know by now” how to identify a children’s services complaint and use the correct process, which has been in place for over 10 years.
A Lewisham council spokesperson said: “We accept the ombudsman’s findings and we are acting on the recommendations and have apologised.
“We have already reviewed our processes and procedures that are in place to ensure this situation doesn’t happen again.”