Ombudsman criticises social workers for ‘arbitrary’ and ‘misleading’ decisions

A report from the Local Government Ombudsman criticised social workers for not telling a mother her child could not be returned to her care

Photo: Gary Brigden

A council has been asked to pay £7,000 to a family for its “disproportionate, arbitrary and misleading” actions, which saw a woman’s child removed from her without her knowledge.

Social workers in North East Lincolnshire were heavily criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman for removing the young baby from her mother’s care and handing the child over to the father.

Poor communication

The council decided the baby should live with the father on a permanent basis after the mother contacted social services for help suffering with post-natal depression and a number of other conditions. This included threatening suicide.

At the mother’s suggestion, the baby was taken to live with her father, and the mother and her two other children went to live with the children’s grandmother for support.

However, the finality of this arrangement was not communicated to the mother who, throughout the next few weeks, was led to believe that the baby could return to her and the grandmother’s care as long as she was not alone with the child.

Only when social workers turned up to take the child from her care, following a doctor’s appointment that both parents attended, was the mother made aware that the baby was not allowed to be returned to her care.


“Social workers’ grounds for removing the baby included that the mother had driven the baby home without a child seat, and that the grandmother had left the baby in her mother’s care for a few minutes while she bought some nappies,” the ombudsman said.

“At no point had social workers told the mother the baby could not be returned to her care.”

The ombudsman found the council had been “one-sided” in its actions, which meant neither the mother or grandmother knew whether the baby would be able to live with them until a court reached a decision about her residence. This was nine months after the baby girl had been sent to live with her father.

‘Far short of what is acceptable’

Jane Martin, the ombudsman in this case, said social workers fell “so far short of what is acceptable”.

“The actions of North East Lincolnshire council’s children’s services department were disproportionate, arbitrary and misleading and led to months of uncertainty and the mother to feel aggrieved because the council’s support for the father having custody was one-sided,” she said.

She added: “This is why it is all the more important that parents can see they were treated fairly, the process was followed properly, and the outcome was in proportion to the events that necessitated it.”

The council was asked to pay £6,000 to the mother to reflect the “severe” distress, anxiety, justifiable outrage and loss of opportunity she suffered as a result of the council’s handling of the case, and £1,000 to the grandmother who experienced similar distress.

Accepting the findings

Joanne Hewson, deputy chief executive of North East Lincolnshire council, apologised for the distress the council’s actions caused the family.

“As always, we had the child’s best interests at heart in dealing with the matter and believed at the time that balanced steps were being taken to resolve the situation by placing the child into her father’s care. However, while we have some misgivings about the interpretation of some of the facts contained in the report, we acknowledge that in this case our practice did not meet the high standards we expect and therefore we accept the ombudsman’s findings,’’ she added.

“Since 2012, a number of changes have already taken place to address the matters in the report, but nevertheless, we will review its findings in full in and take whatever further steps are necessary to improve our procedures going forward.”

The council agreed to pay the £7,000 to the family.

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