Council pays family £2,500 after issuing care proceedings based on ‘incomplete and flawed information’

Ombudsman finds Richmond council failed to adequately support adoptive mother in caring for disabled son and caused both distress

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A London borough has agreed to pay £2,500 to a disabled boy and his adoptive mother after issuing care proceedings on “incomplete and flawed information”.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that Richmond council had not considered the full range of information available to it about ‘Ms X’ and ‘Y’ at its legal planning meeting before launching care proceedings.

He said concerns recorded by the council – whose children’s services are delivered by arm’s length company Achieving for Children – in the meeting minutes about Ms X’s ability to care for Y “were not factually based”.

Family caused ‘distress and outrage’

The ombudsman said the decision to issue care proceedings caused “distress and personal outrage” to Ms X and Y.

And he concluded that Ms X and Y were not provided with the support they needed to help her manage his very complex needs.

The ombudsman’s findings came after the authority had, following its own complaint investigation, accepted it had not communicated openly or honestly  with Ms X in relation to Y’s support, its case planning was poor and it unfairly blamed her for difficulties caring for her son.

The council had apologised to Ms X in its stage three investigation response to her complaint and offered to pay her £500 for time and trouble.

But the ombudsman said this was insufficient, due to the “significant personal injustice” and distress caused to Ms X and Y.

£2,500 payout

Richmond agreed to pay Ms X £1,000 for causing her “personal outrage”, plus an additional £500 for distress caused to her and £1,000 to Y for distress caused to him.

A spokesperson for Richmond council said Achieving for Children had “carefully considered” the ombudsman’s findings and had “worked to ensure the learning from this case has been used to improve professional practice and the social care services we provide to children, young people and their families”.

Ms X adopted Y as a baby in 2005 and, in 2013, discovered he had been born with an underdeveloped brain; he was subsequently diagnosed with conditions including alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

On two occasions in 2016 and 2017, Richmond council refused to pay for continued therapeutic work for Ms X and Y, that had been recommended by a multi-disciplinary assessment.

‘Limited help with no clear outcomes’

The council offered what Ms X described as “limited help with no clear outcomes or guidelines” before providing family therapy in August 2018.

A month later, Ms X asked the council to find other accommodation for Y because she was “struggling to continue parenting”.

After initially declining an alternative placement, the council and Ms X agreed to a section 20 placement and Y then lived in foster placements from October 2018.

However, though the council and Ms X had agreed for Y to be placed in care for an initial three-month period, after which it would be removed, the council decided to issue care proceedings less than two weeks after the section 20 agreement started.

Failings in relation to care proceedings decision

Richmond’s stage three panel investigation found that this was “a very short time” to have developed an adequate plan for Y’s longer-term care.

It said that there was no record that the council communicated the potential change in the plan for Y to Ms X and neither did it discuss other options for support that were available.

The council agreed that the meeting in which Ms X was told of the authority’s decision to issue care proceedings was not well managed or supportive or the information sensitively communicated.

Prior to its decision to issue care proceedings, the council had done no direct work with Ms X or Y to develop a plan to for him to return home, or explained that it may issue care proceedings if a reunification plan failed.

The council accepted it had caused Ms X and Y “significant personal injustice” and offered £500 to compensate. However, Ms X then referred one aspect of her complaint to the ombudsman – that a council officer had lied at the legal planning meeting where the authority decided to issue proceedings by saying Ms X had abandoned her child.

Council claims ‘not factually based’

Minutes from the meeting showed that it was said that Ms X had abandoned by only wanting him to be in care and, as a result, l the threshold for care proceedings had been met.

But the ombudsman said these concerns “were not factually based”.

It said the council “considered Ms X’s parenting to be a root cause of problems, which has subsequently been shown to be inaccurate”.

“Ms X and Y were not provided with the support they needed and the council proceeded to issue care proceedings after seeking legal advice on incomplete and flawed information,” it said.

The court did not recommend a care order after Y’s guardian noted that some recommendations for support and intervention had been made but had not implemented.

In March 2019, Y returned to live with Ms X and the council agreed further funding for therapy.

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7 Responses to Council pays family £2,500 after issuing care proceedings based on ‘incomplete and flawed information’

  1. Althea January 19, 2022 at 9:32 am #

    Good to see SWE Regulation and uploading CPD is improving our practice. Good to see justice, honesty, respect and compassion are embedded in social work.

  2. Chris Sterry January 19, 2022 at 12:28 pm #

    We are, these days seeing many problems emanating from both Children’s and adult social care services, but I believe this is only a fraction of the problems.

    Not all cases will be referred to the local authorities (LAs) by families, maybe due to ignorance of what LAs responsibilities are by families, so they muddle through, which in turn could mean more greater problems later on. Here the families could be blamed and in some instances other services such as GPs, etc.

    In some instances it will be the LAs at fault, but not all families take up complaints with LAs, either by ignorance, historical poor experiences, fearing a loss of service if they do, and others. This again could be greater problems later.

    When complaints are made and they are not upheld by the LAs, some families will be reluctant to refer to the, Ombudsman or may be too late to do so when the LAs have taken too long to deal with the complaints, especially if appeals are made. There is a requirement that an Ombudsman referral needs to be made within 1 year of the problem being known.

    Being all said above, can LAs always be blamed, even when they are at fault, for LAs have limited resources, which year by year are reducing due to increased demand on these resources, but in many instances due to lack of Government finance. We are all aware that for 10 years this and previous Tory Governments have been reducing the grants to LAs, originally through austerity cuts, then increased costs due to COVID, but now they are still not being sufficiently financed,

    Social Care has been in decline both on quality and quantity for too many years due to funding, but now the staffing resources are also causing many problems. There has always been a shortage, but due to many reasons including working conditions and pay, restrictions caused by the Immigration regulations, COVID vaccine requirements and many others.

    Most are being caused by Government interventions or lack of, so I feel LAs are being put under circumstances which means failure is all by guaranteed.

    How can all this be solved, well the Government needs to immediately reimburse all LAs for the fundings which have been withheld, relaxation of the Immigration regulations, these will go some way to solve some of the problems.

    But in reality the perceived understanding, recognition and acceptance of Social Care needs to be greatly improved by this Government and the whole population of the UK.

    We all have admiration for the NHS and Social Care should be seen as similar if not more so. Neither the NHS or Social Care can exist without the other and if all Social Care services could be greatly improved, this would relieve many of the pressures on the NHS.

  3. Registered Social Worker January 19, 2022 at 1:03 pm #

    It’s precisely because some social workers and others in social care are incompetent that we need SWE to lead and regulate. It’s precisely because some practitioners are not up to standard that we need the rigour of verifiable CPD. I suggest it’s because some social workers constantly carp on about SWE that we need both to ensure competence. I for one value the work being done by SWE to improve our skills and show the public they can have confidence in our profession. Whilst I don’t want to stop social workers saying different things, this never ending criticism of SWE is unprofessional and harmful. Perhaps Community Care needs to be a bit more discerning about what gets validated for publication.

    • Carol January 20, 2022 at 10:04 am #

      Is vetting opinions for whether they conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and don’t upset the power wielders the definition of valuing diversity and difference now?

      • Sally Brown January 21, 2022 at 10:23 pm #

        Well said Carol.

  4. Henry January 20, 2022 at 9:58 am #

    Is this the SWE where most staff are not social workers and conduct hearings are led by former police officers? Is that the same “professional” regulator?

  5. dk January 20, 2022 at 4:57 pm #

    I would be fascinated to know more about the details of this child’s case. It is easy to point to incompetence, but I wonder what other implicit or explicit forces will have influenced this decision. We know LAs are on the end of very harsh criticism again and again for how they use s20, and particularly where it seems there are or will be long-term difficultues in the child’s life. I’m imagining the reaction I might get from my seniors if I proposed a s20 placement lasting for more than a few weeks and for a child who had already once (I assume) been through care proceedings and had life-long conditions it seemed their carer struggled with … I’m pretty sure the response would be heavily infuenced by that criticism and a desire to avoid more of it, and would not be especially positive about continued s20 use or reunification.

    The overwhelming majority of children open to social workers are open because their parents are attempting to raise children in conditions of adversity, and having the difficulties those conditions create located in them. We often do good work, even when “blaming” parents, but need to reckon with the fact that this is our M.O.