Councils' care of 'looked after' children

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at parents and young people who have concerns about the way a child or young person is being cared for by the local authority and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

The council is not looking after a child in its care properly. Can the Ombudsman help?

In many cases, yes. A child may be ‘looked after’ by a council either as a result of a care order made by the court or on a voluntary basis. Either way, the council has certain duties and we can consider a complaint that a council has failed to carry out those duties.

For example, the council has to carry out a detailed assessment of the child’s needs and prepare a care plan, setting out the proposed arrangements, as well as regular reviews of the arrangements for a child (a ‘Looked After Child Review’ or ‘LAC Review’). We can look at how these things are done.

There are some things we can’t deal with. We can’t look at anything that has been dealt with in court. So if the council has taken care proceedings we can’t look at any evidence or reports given to the court by a council or review a court’s decision.

If you want to change a decision a court has made you will need to seek legal advice. But we may be able to look at any steps the council took before starting court proceedings and at services provided after the court case has finished.

How do I complain?

You should normally complain to the council first. We will not normally consider a children’s services complaint until the council has dealt with it under the children’s services complaints procedures.

When you make a complaint to children’s services you should be told about what will happen to your complaint and how long this will take.

There are three stages, and normally the time to complain to us is if you’re not happy with the outcome at the end of the third stage, where an independent Review Panel considers your complaint.

You should normally complain to us within 12 months of getting the council’s final decision.

Social care complaints can take longer than others to complete. But as long as there is evidence that the complaint is being actively investigated, we would normally want you to allow the council's procedure to be completed before we would accept the complaint.

To complain to the Ombudsman phone our helpline on 0300 061 0614 (8.30am to 5.00pm, Mondays to Fridays). You will be able to discuss your complaint with one of our advisers. You can text us on 0762 481 1595.

You can complete an online complaint form. If your complaint involves a child it would be helpful if you could provide their full name and date of birth.

If you’re a child or young person making a complaint to us we’ll give you extra help. We’ll help you make your complaint to the council if you haven’t done that already, and keep in touch with you regularly while it goes through the complaints procedure. Once we’re in a position to consider your complaint ourselves we’ll give it priority, and we’ll use the means of contact with you that you prefer – including email or text, if you like. If you want us to, we’ll also help you find an advocate to support you with your complaint.

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We do not review the merits of decisions or professional judgements about someone’s needs or the services to be given to them.

We consider whether the council is at fault in the way it carries out assessments, prepares care plans and provides services and whether this has caused you harm. Some of the issues we can look at are:

  • delay in carrying out an assessment, preparing a care plan or carrying out a LAC Review
  • failure to follow Government guidance; in particular guidance on how assessments and LAC Reviews should be done
  • failure to keep proper records of information
  • failure to communicate with those involved or to co-operate with other agencies, such as health or education, and to ensure that health and educational needs are addressed
  • preparing assessments or care plans that are inadequate, are based on inaccurate information or that fail to take account of relevant information, and
  • failure to monitor the arrangements for a looked after child, to make sure their needs are being met, or to respond properly when concerns are raised by the child or someone else.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

The Ombudsman cannot usually overturn a decision. But if we find that something has gone wrong in the way the council has assessed the child’s needs or prepared a care plan, we may ask the council to carry out a review.

If the council has failed to provide the right services we may recommend that it take the necessary action to make sure the child’s needs are met.

We may ask the council to make a payment. Whether we do this and the amount we suggest will depend on how you and/or the child have been affected by what has gone wrong.

We may also recommend that the council review its procedures so that the same problems don’t happen to others.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

A young person with autism, complained that the council failed to look after him properly. We found that the council put him in placements that could not meet his needs, he was moved from one placement to another too often, and was too far away from his family. The council failed to monitor his care properly and took too long to take action when he complained about things. At some placements he suffered abuse. For long periods he had little or no education. We recommended that the council make a pay totalling £12,000 to recognise the inadequate care and loss of education, and take various actions including – reviewing his files; arranging for a fresh assessment by an independent medical expert; deferring any further decisions until the outcome of that assessment; reviewing its procedures and its provision for autistic children. The financial remedy was to be held in trust.
Ms A, whose grandson is in local authority care, complained that the council was not involving her sufficiently in the planning and review meetings relating to her grandson’s foster care and education. We found that the council invited her to biannual looked-after-child review meetings, invited her to school events, provided school reports, and organised regular contact sessions between her and her grandson. There was no evidence of administrative fault in how the council dealt with Ms A, so we were unable to question the merits of the service she received, even though she found it lacking. We decided there were no grounds to continue the investigation.

Other sources of information

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman provides a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result the Ombudsman aims to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

April 2016

;