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Ombudsman upholds complaint about failures made by Ealing Council

Ealing Council says it has accepted the findings of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman which upheld a complaint by a foster carer over delays from the Council in dealing with her complaints to them over a matter concerning the removal of two foster children from her care. 

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said that it found fault with Ealing Council by stating: “we are clear any fault we have found is attributable solely to the Council.”

In its conclusions, it stated: “The protracted and ultimately fruitless interaction between the Council and National Fostering Agency has meant Mrs X has been left in a situation where her complaints have still not been fully investigated by the Council.”

The Ombudsman commented on the delay in addressing the issue and highlighted many concerns it had with Ealing Council as Mrs X made the original complaint to the council in June 2020. “Mrs X has been waiting since July 2020 for the Council to consider her complaints under stage two (and if needed stage three) of the statutory complaint procedure; a process which at stage two should take a maximum of 65 working days to complete.”

In another complaint made to the Ombudsman by Mrs X in 2021 which it also upheld, the Ombudsman said: “In December 2019, an incident occurred involving one of Mrs X’s birth children, which led to the Council removing the two foster children from Mrs X’s care. On 8 June 2020, Mrs X made a stage one complaint to the Council about its decision to remove the foster children from her care and the lack of support she had received while fostering from the Agency.”

In its latest findings which has upheld Mrs X’s latest complaint, the Ombudsman further highlighted the distress Ealing Council has caused. It said: “The significant delay in progressing this complaint has caused distress, uncertainty and frustration for Mrs X and her family. This was fault by the Council, as was its failure to robustly, promptly and effectively deal with the difficulties it encountered with obtaining information from NFA, including its inability to consider its own contractual and/or statutory rights to the information.”

In its recommendations to “remedy the injustice caused”, the Ombudsman told Ealing Council to:

“apologise to Mrs X for the delay in responding to her complaints, pay her £500 to recognise the distress, time, trouble and frustration caused by the delay; arranges to obtain the outstanding information from the National Fostering Agency and the Independent Review Mechanism Panel to enable investigation of Mrs X’s stage two complaints without further delay; and
“review its information sharing arrangements with the NFA and other fostering agencies about unfettered access to personal data relating to children it has placed in foster care. The Council should take whatever formal steps it can to encourage the organisation responsible to make any appropriate changes to the cross-borough independent foster care contract the Council uses to strengthen the information sharing clauses.”

At a Council Cabinet meeting on 29 March 2023, Councillor Kamaljit Nagpal, cabinet member for a fairer start said: “The Local Government Ombudsman has completed a complaint investigation against the council which found in favour of the complainant. Occasionally the Ombudsman asks the council to formally report the findings of a complaint which has been upheld to Members, and has done so in this case.

“Full details of the complaint and the Ombudsman’s findings are in the appendix to the Cabinet Report, and we have accepted these findings and the Ombudsman’s recommendations.

“This complaint was made against the council in 2021, and since then we have reviewed data sharing arrangements with partner agencies to ensure timely wraparound support, and have put in place structures to ensure that complaints are followed up at the earliest opportunity. We are committed to best practise, and under this administration we’ve had two focus visits from Ofsted, we’ve had a visit from the Department for Education, and we have been commended on our progress and on all the work that we are doing.”

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