A council has been criticised by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman for missing visits to a child who had multiple changes of social worker.
Lancashire council admitted it was not acceptable to have failed to complete five visits to the child, ‘A’, who had seven different social workers assigned to her over the course of a two-year child protection plan.
The watchdog’s report said the council’s safeguarding had been “undermined” by its failure to check the progress of the plan and risks to A, and that ‘Ms M’, A’s mother, had experienced injustice by being unable to build an effective working relationship with a social worker.
The ombudsman found further injustice in how Lancashire had set about remedying faults it admitted in record-keeping, which had caused Ms M distress by identifying an abusive ex-partner as her current partner.
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It also concluded it was “likely” the authority had cancelled scheduled meetings with the family, which Ms M’s mother, ‘Ms X’, complained had inconvenienced her after she booked time off work.
While Ms X was the complainant, the ombudsman did not find she had been directly affected by most of the issues. The report however found that Ms M had been caused injustice by several of Lancashire council’s actions or failures to act.
The ombudsman said Lancashire should pay the two women a combined £400 for distress and inconvenience caused, and work with Ms M to correct what is recorded on the case files to her satisfaction.
Ms M and her daughter, A, were subject to a child protection plan between April 2016 and March 2018. Ms X put in a complaint to the council in November 2017.
Ms X’s main concern was that Lancashire children’s services had recorded wrong information in paperwork and presented assumptions as facts, as well as misidentifying Ms M’s abusive ex-partner. She also said that social workers’ administration had been poor in terms of keeping to scheduled meetings and sending paperwork when it was supposed to be sent.
The council acknowledged fault in that it had set out details incorrectly and communicated badly, that there had been no consistent social worker because of staffing difficulties and that visits did not take place.
However, Lancashire claimed that case records had been corrected in agreement with Ms X. The local authority could not provide evidence of this and the ombudsman found its account to be in direct conflict with Ms X’s account that this had not happened.
The watchdog also noted that Lancashire could produce no evidence as to when paperwork had eventually been sent out to Ms X.
The distress Ms M had suffered as a result of her ex-partner being incorrectly identified had been aggravated by not providing Ms X or Ms M with evidence of changes it claimed to have made to case records, the ombudsman said.
“The records being amended was the Council’s remedy for the fault,” the report said. “Therefore, Ms M was also caused further injustice as did not get the remedy she should have received.”
The ombudsman said Lancashire had been insufficiently clear in its response as to whether it accepted the complaint that it had recorded assumptions as fact. The council had only acknowledged that “there had been miscommunication”.
“I find that, on balance, the council has accepted it should have been clearer by stating whether information was alleged,” the ombudsman concluded. “The fault identified would have caused Ms M distress, especially as these records are permanently associated with her. This was an injustice.”
‘Lack of evidence’ from council
Turning to the lack of a consistent social worker, the ombudsman observed that “a good working relationship between the social worker and family is important to the success of a child protection plan”.
The report added: “Ms M did not receive the service she should have and there is uncertainty over how this may have affected matters.” It said the child, A, had also experienced injustice.
While the council said there was no record of meetings being cancelled, it did acknowledge there were sometimes issues finding suitable venues. Due to the lack of evidence, the watchdog said “there was no reason not to believe Ms X’s account” and found that on balance meetings had been cancelled, causing Ms X and Ms M injustice.
Responding to the report, a spokesperson for Lancashire council said: “We have apologised to the family involved, paid the £400 compensation and taken the steps recommended by the ombudsman.
“The ombudsman is satisfied with our actions and has now closed their investigation into this case.”
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