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.
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.
More recent ombudsman investigations
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- Council’s safeguarding failings had ‘serious consequences’ in case of man subject to poor care
- Council breached Care Act duty by failing to offer accommodation within man’s personal budget, finds watchdog
‘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.