A council caused injustice to a disabled care leaver after a social worker he had never met refused his request for a brief delay to a placement move while he was grieving the death of his mother, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.
The watchdog found Birmingham council’s transitions team applied a rigid policy that did not take account of the man’s exceptional circumstances in refusing his request on cost grounds without speaking to him. The injustice that the care leaver – known as Mr B – experienced was compounded by failures in the way the council handled his complaints, making him feel he was not being listened to because he was a disabled care leaver.
On the ombudsman’s recommendation, the council has agreed to pay Mr B £500 “for the avoidable distress caused by the council’s fault”, apologise to him, provide him with a single point of contact on the transitions team and train the team in its duties to care leavers.
Shared Lives move
In June, a month before Mr B’s 18th birthday, when he was living in a children’s home, the council’s transition team began a Care Act assessment of his needs.
The assessment found that Mr B, who has diagnoses of autism and physical health problems, needed support with four out of the ten outcomes in the Care Act eligibility criteria – managing nutrition, maintaining home environment, developing personal relationships and accessing work, training or education. The team decided this support could be provided through a Shared Lives placement.
In July 2018, shortly after he moved in, Mr B’s Shared Lives placement broke down and he moved back into the children’s home. The children’s home reported that Mr B had been stressed by how much he had had to pay for the Shared Lives placement.
The Shared Lives service then identified a new placement and took Mr B to visit it and discuss the financial implications. In September 2018, it set up a pre-move meeting, which it said the transitions team needed to attend, but Mr B’s allocated social worker did not attend and sent apologies. The meeting agreed he would move into the placement in November.
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However, in October 2018, Mr B’s mother went into hospital, and he told the Shared Lives service that his placement move may need to be delayed.
His mother died shortly after and Mr B asked for his placement move to be delayed by seven days. The Shared Lives service asked the transitions team if it would fund Mr B’s placement at the children’s home for longer so his move could be delayed, but his transitions team social worker said the move had to go ahead as planned.
The council told the ombudsman that the transitions social worker did not put Mr B’s request to panel on the grounds that funding would not be agreed, as the children’s home was more expensive than the Shared Lives placement.
‘No evidence needs were considered’
However, the watchdog said: “There is no evidence the council considered Mr B’s needs following his mother’s death. The social worker that made the decision not to extend his placement at the children’s home had never met Mr B in person and did not speak to him about it. Indeed, the transitions team had only met Mr B once. The council’s transition team fettered its discretion by failing to consider Mr B’s exceptional circumstances and that his needs may have changed as a result when it decided to reject his request, this was fault.”
The ombudsman also found that the council failed to have regard to the corporate parenting principles set out in section 1 of the Children and Social Work Act 2017, which it is required to do in relation to looked-after children and care leavers. Specifically, the watchdog found no evidence that the council considered Mr B’s views and wishes when it decided not to delay his placement move, nor any evidence that the council considered the impact this would have on his mental health and well-being.
“Extending Mr B’s placement at the children’s home would have given him more time to grieve in an environment he was familiar with and to get his affairs in order before moving,” the ombudsman said.
Mr B then moved into the placement in November 2018, as planned. His placement was reviewed the next month, but his transitions team social worker did not attend, and the team did not review his needs until February 2019, when he was struggling to pay his assessed contribution to the placement.
The ombudsman said the social worker’s failure to attend the 28-day review, and the pre-move meeting, and the team’s delay in reviewing his needs despite significant changes in personal circumstances, were all faults.
Injustice compounded by complaint handling
The watchdog also found fault with the way the council handled Mr B’s complaint, which he made in May 2019.
In the council’s stage 1 complaint response, it said its learning from the investigation was, “the need for the Directorate to offer a sincere apology”. However, the council did not apologise at stage 1, which the ombudsman said was a fault.
In the council’s stage 1 and 2 complaint response, it said the decision not to delay Mr B’s placement move was made in the Shared Lives pre-placement meeting and was therefore out of the transitions team’s control, which the ombudsman found was not the case, as the planning meeting actually happened before Mr B’s mother died.
Wrongly stating the transitions team was not responsible for the decision was also a fault, the ombudsman said, which the council apologised for in its response to the investigation.
The council also did not uphold Mr B’s complaint that his social worker did not attend his 28-day placement review meeting, at either stage 1 or 2, on the grounds that a member of staff from the transitions team attended in her place. However, the ombudsman found this wasn’t supported by the minutes of the meeting, which recorded that no one from the transitions team attended. The council’s response was wrong and this was fault, the watchdog said.
Community Care has contacted Birmingham council for a response and the article will be updated when this is received.