Council pays £2,500 for delay acting on best interests decision

Herefordshire council blames "workload pressures" on social work teams for delay moving autistic man from inappropriate care home

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A council has paid out £2,500 after it delayed an autistic man’s move from an unsuitable care home for nearly a year, blaming the failings on “workload pressures” in social work teams.

Herefordshire council apologised to the man and his mother after an ombudsman investigation found he was left in the home for 11 months after being assessed as needing to move. There was “no evidence” the council proactively searched for an alternative, the watchdog said.

The council agreed to implement the ombudsman’s recommendations in full. These included making £2,000 available to the man to spend on activities he enjoys or possessions he’d like, a £500 payment to his mother, and a commitment to improve social work training.

Issuing its report, the ombudsman warned local authorities they had to ensure social workers got “adequate support” to meet their casework needs.

‘Best interests’

The case came to light after the man’s mother complained to the council in March 2016, nine months after a best interests decision was made to move her son to a new placement.

The man lacks capacity to make decisions about his care and his mother is involved in making best interests decisions alongside the council.

The council admitted it had not progressed the case because of staffing issues. The mother was dissatisfied with this response and complained to the ombudsman.

The ombudsman found that in April 2015 staff at the care home had raised concerns about the man’s behaviour. He was becoming increasingly withdrawn, spending a lot of time in his room, and leaving the home unsupervised.

The council applied for emergency funding to increase the man’s one-to-one support on a temporary basis and arranged a best interests meeting in June 2015. The man’s mother, his allocated social worker and the care home manager attended the meeting.

It was decided that the young man should move to another care home with less people, more autistic-friendly stimuli and one that was more able to support his needs. His social worker agreed to find a new home in ‘the medium term’ because this was the least restrictive option – an urgent move might result in a temporary placement.

‘Lack of clarity’

The council claimed that between July and October 2015 it regularly monitored potential vacancies at other care homes through the vacancy management group, a council-run service which lists available placements in the local area. The ombudsman found ‘no evidence’ to support these claims.

The investigation also found the man’s social worker said he was experiencing difficulties with the vacancy management group – he said the group was aware of the man’s need to move in October 2015, but failed to progress his case.

The vacancy management group said it did not progress the case because the social worker had not referred it to the council’s ‘move on’ team, which supports social workers to identify suitable placements and make referrals. The social worker said he thought this service was only for non-complex cases.

“The confusion and lack of clarity about who was responsible for making referrals to the support service and leading on identifying a placement was fault,” the ombudsman said.

‘Workload difficulties’

During the same period, the man’s mother contacted the council on several occasions to check on progress. She was told that no progress had been made because of “workload difficulties”.

On 17 July, the mother told council staff she’d identified a possible new care home, which was near to where she lived and specialised in caring for autistic adults. The council did not acknowledge the email but recorded it on its system as “previous family views”.

In October the council identified a different placement option and invited the man’s mother to visit the home. She raised concerns about the location, explaining it was in close proximity to the man’s birth father, who had previously abused the mother and her son.

Two months later, the mother and council staff visited this care home and agreed it was suitable to meet her son’s needs. A room was due to become available after another service user moved out. The ombudsman found no evidence that the council took action to secure the room. The placement was lost and the young man was added to the home’s waiting list.

‘Injustice remedied’

In January 2016, the mother contacted the council again. She was told that the young man had been placed on a waiting list. Four weeks later, a room became available, but it was not offered to the young man.

The council had not proactively monitored the vacancy, the ombudsman found, and following the loss of the placement told the man’s mother “it did not have the capacity to search for an alternative care home because of workload pressures”.

In May 2016, after the mother had filed a complaint, the council’s funding panel considered the suitability of her preferred choice of care home. The panel found that this home did meet the son’s needs and he moved in on 27 June 2016.

Local Government Ombudsman Jane Martin said: “The council recognises that it should have done more to proactively find the young man a suitable care placement.

“It could have concurrently made enquiries with a number of homes to speed up the process. Care Act guidance states that choice of care should not be limited to placements within a council’s area or those with which they already work.

“The council also acknowledged workload pressures as a factor in the delay; councils need to ensure social workers get adequate support to meet their casework needs.

“I welcome the steps Herefordshire council has now taken to remedy the complaint. The young man has now been appropriately placed and is making positive progress in the new setting.”

Martin Samuels, Herefordshire council’s director for adult social care and wellbeing, said the local authority accepted the ombudsman’s recommendations.

“The council continues to refine its care pathways to ensure they’re delivering safe and effective care, and will continue to prioritise adult social care services to look after vulnerable residents now and in the future,” he said.

“We are satisfied that this was an isolated incident and the council has apologised to the family concerned and paid £2,500 in compensation, as recommended.”

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