Ombudsman’s findings against Birmingham City Council (reference number 13 010 519)

The facts

Miss P contacted the Council in October 2012 and informed them that she was worried by her son’s (‘J’) unpredictable and violent outbursts, and requested help from Birmingham City Council (‘the Council’). The Council’s records stated that an initial assessment of J’s needs should have been carried out. Social Worker A then visited the family on 11thJanuary 2013 and carried out an initial assessment of needs, before the Council’s files later recorded the case to be closed on 4th February 2013.

On 6th March 2013, Miss P contacted the Council once more. The Council informed her that Social Worker A had closed the case. The Council then recorded that Miss P was ‘very distraught’ at hearing this, and that J’s behaviour had become increasingly aggressive. On 1st May 2013, Miss P wrote to complain that she had not heard from the Council. The Council later recorded that a manager had reviewed the case and found that the case had been closed inappropriately and without proper notification to the family.

The manager requested that Social Worker B completed a brief initial assessment and a core assessment of J’s needs, which was finished on 16th May 2013. J’s school later faxed an initial assessment check form on 23rd May 2013 which outlined J’s obsessive, violent and unpredictable behaviour.

The Council wrote to Miss P on 30th May to apologise for the way that it had earlier carried out the assessment and had closed the case without informing Miss P. During this time, between May and June 2013, J received several fixed-period exclusions from his ‘special school’ following incidents of violence. A copy of the initial assessment dated 21st June 2013 stated that Miss P was looking for local support in identifying local resources and activities for J, and Social Worker B recommended that the Council send Miss P information regarding this.

Miss P complained again on 2nd July 2013 that: 1) the Council already had enough information to complete its core assessment and she was not prepared to have further lengthy questioning at home; and 2) J had been excluded from school for 8 days, and she was struggling to cope with him at home. The Council replied that it would do the core assessment and that Social Worker B might need to visit again (which Miss P rejected as unnecessary).

The Council later visited J at his school in July 2013 and noted that the school no longer felt that they were capable of meeting his needs, that without adequate support his behaviour would continue to put others at considerable risk, that his size and age meant that these problems would only get worse, and that intervention would become more and more ineffectual. In later exchanges, the school pushed for an emergency review of J’s statement on 17th September 2013, and rejected the Council’s requests to postpone it due to the large amount of supervision that J required, and the fact that students and staff at the school had begun to fear him.

Miss P complained on 31st July 2013 to say that she had no response to her complaint and that Social Worker B had not contacted her. Miss P requested a full-time residential placement for J. Having received no reply, Miss P emailed the Council again on 13th August 2013 and stated once more that the family were at ‘crisis point’. She also listed a number of serious injuries inflicted by J on her and other family members.

The Council emailed on 14th August 2013, attaching a copy of the core assessment. Miss P complained on 15th August that this was inadequate, declaring that a school placement was insufficient. She instead stated that J needed a long-term residential placement, before listing further serious injuries that had been recently inflicted by J on her and fellow family members. The Council responded immediately and apologised for the delay in completing the core assessment, and informed her that she would be allowed to request amendments to the core assessment that was being presented to a ‘resources panel’ in September 2013. On 23rd August, Miss P emailed her suggested amendments, and further stressed that she was not coping with the care for J.

The Council emailed on 30th August 2013 to say that it would add Miss P’s amendments to the core assessment; although when the resources panel met, they simply decided that the Council would complete the core assessment. This assessment was eventually signed off on 4th October 2013, with a package arranged for 10 hours of care per month via an agency, plus additional support over the Christmas period if required.

The Council believed that J did not require full-time residential provision, and that the case was a matter of special educational needs until January 2014, when it accepted that social care would also be involved.

Findings

The Ombudsman made a finding of maladministration causing injustice.

1)       Delay in carrying out the assessment

The Ombudsman held that the Council was at fault for:

a.        not completing the core assessment by 2012 after Miss P had approached the Council in October 2012, and taking a further 10 months to do so; and

b.       failing to inform Miss P that it had closed the case on 4th February 2013. She had only discovered this 5 weeks later after calling the Council, and even then no one looked at the case again until she emailed to complain on 1st May 2013.

The delay caused injustice to Miss P and her family in the following ways:

–          the lost opportunity to have J’s needs properly addressed at a time when his actions were becoming increasingly violent;

–          the family members were reporting physical injuries in the meantime; and

–          the distress caused through a lack of assistance, in spite of the repeated attempts to secure help and the two acknowledgments by the Council of its fault.

 

2)       The care assessment

The care assessment took no account of the effect of J’s actions on Miss P, who was often alone with J and much smaller in size than him. It was clear from professional testimony, as well as P’s own emails to the Council, that she was unable to cope with J’s unpredictable and violent actions.

The core assessment failed to take account of the views of professionals and the Council’s accommodation duties under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 in such circumstances. The Council belief that Miss P could cope alone with J during weekends and school holidays, despite repeated protests that she could no longer do so and professional opinion which identified that two trained adults were unable to cope with J’s violent actions during the week, could not be affected as safe and unaffected by maladministration. This amounted to an injustice to Miss P, who had been forced to endure an intolerable situation for 9 months and had to do so, until the Council took action to assist her.

3)       Responses to correspondence

The Council caused delay in replying to Miss P’s correspondence, with Miss P often having to send multiple emails in order to get a response. This caused additional injustice given that the Council still failed to respond in good time to her emails about her ongoing problems.

Remedies

The Ombudsman noted that the Council had already apologised for the delay in carrying out the core assessment. It recommended that the Council should:

–          (having agreed to carry out a fresh assessment of J’s needs) carry out the assessment within one month of the date of this report in order to secure compliance with Section 20 of the Children Act 1989 by ensuring that Miss P was no longer put at risk of violence;

–          apologise for the further failings identified;

–          draft a care plan for J within one month of its re-assessment of his needs;

–          pay Miss P £1000 for the distress caused by its failure to assist her in coping with J’s actions despite her attempts to get help and the supporting testimony of professionals;

–          pay Miss P £250 for the outrage caused by its failure to reply to her correspondence; and

–          review its policies and procedures to ensure it deals with such cases holistically, prioritises such serious cases where there was a risk of harm or danger to family members; and comply fully with legislative requirements.

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