Gloucestershire Council has paid a man £1,100 after “procedural failings” resulted in him being unfairly excluded from the child protection process regarding his son.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found the Council’s judgement about the level of risk Mr F presented to his child was based on procedural failings.
Mr F bought the complaint saying the Council built a false narrative that he was a person who abused alcohol which ultimately led to a flawed decision that he was a risk to his son which, Mr F said, resulted in him suffering serious emotional distress.
Specifically, Mr F alleged:
“Mr F says the Council’s actions led to the break-up of his relationship, time off work and serious emotional distress. As a desired outcome, he wants the Council to amend the record and remove information from the case, including evidence of alcohol misuse. Mr F also wants the Council to apologise to him and provide compensation for a lack of consultation and for not following the prescribed process,” said the ombudsman report.
Mr F’s son came to the attention of the Council after he sustained an injury in October 2020. Mr F’s son was also displaying challenging behaviours.
The Council undertook basic enquiries and a Child and Family (C&F) assessment to inform whether it should initiate s47 enquiries. Concerns were raised by some members of Mr F’s family relating to his alcohol consumption, namely that he is a regular drinker and this results in arguments in the family home. Mr F was not contacted for his views and input on this issue.
The Council held a child protection strategy meeting in mid-December 2020 and decided to initiate s47 enquiries. The record of the strategy meeting shows the Council had regard to a 2006 conviction incurred by Mr F for driving under the influence of alcohol. The Council’s social worker also stated that Mr F’s son had reported seeing his father drinking while in the family home. The Council then formed a view Mr F was “drinking too much alcohol” and this could present a risk to his son’s emotional stability and wellbeing.
The Council undertook s47 enquiries and, as acknowledged by the Council, Mr F was excluded from this process and he was not contacted for his views or input. The Council’s social worker only met Mr F in early January 2021, when the decision to convene an ICPC had already been made. During this initial encounter, the Council’s social worker expressed concern relating to Mr F’s drinking, though this was denied by Mr F who said he was not currently drinking because of the COVID-19 lockdown restrictions in place.
The document outlining the outcome of the s47 enquiries also referenced Mr F’s historical conviction as being evidence of alcohol misuse and domestic abuse and the outcome of the enquiries was to convene an ICPC.
The Ombudsman’s report said: “The report was unequivocal that Mr F misused alcohol and that his son was exposed to this, as well as domestic abuse being perpetrated by Mr F to his then partner. It also said Mr F had admitted drinking too much alcohol, though this is strongly denied by Mr F who told me drinking was only ever a social occasion for him. The conference report was not shared with Mr F until March 2021. However, the Council’s social worker says this, as well as the C&F report, was read to him over the telephone four days before the ICPC.”
In mid-January 2021, the Council convened an ICPC. This determined that the threshold for significant harm to Mr F’s son had not been met and that the case could continue to be managed under a CIN Plan and with supportive strategies being implemented for the family. Mr F raised in the meeting that he had not had a lot of involvement in the process leading to the ICPC. Further, Mr F says he did not receive the minutes of the ICPC until May 2021.
The records show that Mr F was not responsible for the injury that Mr F’s son sustained. It was not until early January 2021 (eight days before the ICPC), that the Council’s social worker first met with Mr F in relation to the process being undertaken. When this contact happened, the decision to convene an ICPC had already been taken, including that Mr F was a person who misused alcohol.
“That there was no meaningful engagement with Mr F until seven weeks after the Council’s involvement was fault. I do not consider Mr F received sufficient support by the Council, nor that he was included in the process as a primary party whose views were essential to understanding the family dynamics,” said the ombudsman’s report.
“Further, in order to gather information about the child’s and family’s history, parents should be interviewed to determine the wider social and environmental factors that might impact on them and their child. In summary therefore, Mr F should have been contacted to ensure his views were fully ascertained,” the report added.
It went on to stress that the available evidence showed the conference report was produced three working days before the deadline and that there was ample opportunity for the Council to consult with Mr F and ascertain his views. The ombudsman said “there was no reasonable excuse for this” and therefore found “the Council was at fault and that this had the effect of undermining the accuracy and rationality of the conference report and s47 enquiries more generally”.
The report outlined that it was “wholly unsatisfactory” that there is no evidence of these issues relating to alcohol use being discussed with Mr F before this judgement was made by social workers.
“I consider this lack of engagement with Mr F to be procedural fault by the Council,” said the ombudsman.
Furthermore, there is no information relating to domestic abuse being perpetrated by Mr F held on police records and therefore the reference to police information in the C&F report is “fundamentally inaccurate”.
“I do consider Mr F has suffered serious distress by reason of the identified failings. I also believe Mr F deserves the right to have the failings acknowledged by the Council and for the formal record it maintains to be amended. I have therefore made a number of improvement recommendations to remedy the injustice to Mr F,” the report concluded.
The Council has agreed to provide Mr F with a detailed written apology at a senior level which acknowledges each area of fault and injustice in this statement, pay Mr F £1,000 to acknowledge the serious distress and emotional difficulty the Council’s failings have caused him as well as £100 for his time and trouble pursuing his formal complaint. All formal reports and written records produced as part of the child protection process should be amended (including the C&F report, Families First report, ICPC report and minutes of the CPC meeting).
At a senior level, the Council will undertake a detailed review into the failings identified in this statement. Additional training will be provided to the Council’s lead social worker relating to each failing identified in this statement and the council’s information sharing procedures will be reviewed to ensure all parties involved in the child protection process are given timely information to prepare and provide input at key milestones.
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