Council to train social workers on better involving families in section 20 cases after watchdog report

Ombudsman rules Waltham Forest council failed to keep a woman informed around decisions relating to her grandson’s care, and did not properly investigate her complaints

Image of dictionary definition of the word 'ombudsman'
Picture: aga7ta/fotolia

A council is training its social workers on how to better involve parents and guardians in its decision-making after the local government watchdog found it failed to communicate adequately with the grandmother of a child in its care.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found Waltham Forest council failed to properly investigate the woman’s concerns and took decisions regarding her grandson, who has Down’s Syndrome and other medical conditions, without involving her, despite her retaining parental responsibility.

It said the council should pay the woman £750 and apologise for the faults identified in the report, which it said caused her distress and led to her having to complain.

Concerns over grandson’s care

Local authorities must provide accommodation for any child in need within their area who appears to require accommodation because a person who has been caring for them has been prevented from providing them with suitable accommodation or care, under section 20 of the Children Act 1989. The legislation – the misapplication of which has been at the centre of a number of court judgments – says any person who has parental responsibility for a child may at any time remove the child from accommodation provided on behalf of the local authority.

Ms B has a special guardianship order for her grandson. In February 2018, after deciding she could no longer cope with caring for him, she signed a section 20 agreement for him to be placed in foster or residential care and in March he moved into Cameron House, a residential placement.

In June, Ms B removed her grandson from the facility after raising repeated concerns about how he was being treated there, telling the council she wanted him back at home but would need some additional support. Later that month, though, she called the police when he attacked her.

In July, the council told Ms B about two potential placements for her grandson, one of which, Potton Homes, she selected.

But the council did not arrange for the child to be placed there as the cost was more than it would normally pay. In August, the local authority arranged for Dartford House, the other option, to have Ms B’s grandson after she signed a further section 20 agreement.

Ms B removed her grandson from the placement in December 2018 after disagreements with the council over contacts, before agreeing for him to return later that month after he again attacked her. He eventually moved on to another placement in 2019.

Communication failures

The ombudsman found the council to be at fault over its failure to clearly communicate a number of processes with Ms B about her grandson’s care, as well as issues with the support it offered and its record-keeping.

These included:

  • The council should have held a strategy meeting after Ms B raised concerns about the care Cameron House provided to her grandson.
  • It should have offered short-break support to Ms B more quickly than it did after her grandson’s initial placement at Cameron House broke down.
  • The council failed to provide a full explanation to Ms B, detailing its discussions with another care provider, Leyton Green, about her grandson not being able to access respite care there.
  • The council’s communications with Ms B around arrangements for her grandson leading up to his placement at Dartford House were “confusing”, and it did not adequately document its reasoning for choosing the site over the alternative Potton House.
  • The council was at fault for not recording a decision in writing not to send Ms B’s grandson to a residential school.
  • The council told Ms B it would hold a placement planning meeting for Dartford House after she returned from a holiday but instead did so while she was away, misleading her.
  • A social work report prepared for a looked-after children review relating to Ms B’s grandson contained inaccuracies and contradictory statements.
  • The council did not inform Ms B before contacting officials about benefits relating to her grandson.

The ombudsman also found the council delayed responding to Ms B’s stage one and two complaints for several months and declined to carry out a stage three investigation after initially agreeing to do so.


Waltham Forest accepted the ombudsman’s findings and recommendations to:

  • Place on the file a copy of Ms B’s, comments about the inaccuracies in a placement plan, care plan and social work report for her grandson.
  • Train social workers on section 20 placements in terms of involving those with parental responsibility in decision-making, particularly around contact.
  • Train social workers on the procedure to follow when concerns have been raised about treatment of young people in placements.
  • Remind officers to make detailed case recordings to explain the council’s decision-making when identifying a suitable placement, including a record of why alternative placements have not been considered appropriate.

“The Council failed to follow the right process when investigating the concerns about one of [her grandson’s] placements and did not investigate the concerns about the second placement, made decisions about contact without involving Ms B when she retained parental responsibility for her grandson,” the ombudsman said.

“[It] gave Ms B misleading information about the options the council was considering and when a placement planning meeting would take place, failed to properly document its decision-making, produced inaccurate documents and failed to properly consider her complaint,” the watchdog’s report added.

“An apology, payment to Ms B and training for officers is satisfactory remedy.”


2 Responses to Council to train social workers on better involving families in section 20 cases after watchdog report

  1. Andrew August 28, 2021 at 8:16 am #

    So having completed a Masters, uploaded annual CPD, adhered to the high standards demanded by SWE, social workers still need to be trained to better involve people in the decisions made about them? Next time someone proudly proclaims social work is a profession, remind them that actually social work is Alice in Wonderland amplified by 11.

  2. Katie September 7, 2021 at 7:11 pm #

    Alice was never asked to spell her name.