Derbyshire County Council apologises to family for taking nearly two years to handle foster placement complaint

Derbyshire County Council has been asked to apologise to a family for taking 21 months to handle a foster placement complaint.
Derbyshire County Council has been asked to apologise to a family for taking 21 months to handle a foster placement complaint.

Derbyshire County Council has been asked to apologise to a family for taking 21 months to handle a foster placement complaint.

A decision published by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman - a local authority watchdog - found that it caused an ‘unacceptable delay’.

The LGO has asked the council to apologise to the family involved and pay them £250 for the ‘time and trouble caused’ by the delay.

This comes shortly after the LGO found the county council had caused ‘distress’ to another family aiming to get sufficient school support for their child who has special educational needs.

The council was asked to hand over nearly £3,000 and apologise.

Now the LGO has ruled against the county council again.

The new complainants, referred to as Mr and Mrs C, asked the council for help with their adopted children when they moved into the county several years ago.

This included assistance with their adoptive son, referred to as X, who has developmental problems.

In 2016, Mr and Mrs C’s relationship with X, who was 15, deteriorated.

Mr and Mrs C told the council their relationship with X had become ‘impossible’.

They asked the council to find a permanent foster placement for X. They would retain parental responsibility while a search was carried out.

After three weeks, social workers took X to a foster placement in another county with the intention of it being a long-term home.

However, after a month, it broke down and X was sent to another placement in a neighbouring council’s area.

Mrs C met Officer O, the head of the council’s children’s services department for the first time in early May 2016.

She expressed her dissatisfaction with the way the council was handling the matter.

Mrs C registered a complaint that, since X had left, communication by the council had been ‘extremely poor’ and had left the parents feeling as if they were ‘the abusers’.

The LGO found no evidence to support this, finding that council officers believed they wanted the best for the child.

Mrs C said the current foster placement, which was intended to be long-term, was outside the area and left X without therapeutic support and a school place, which had been “very negative”.

She should have had an initial response to her complaint within 20 days at most – but this took 37 days.

Mrs C escalated her complaint to Stage 2 as a result. This should have been concluded within 65 days – but this took until November 2017, 17 months later.

She asked for a review of this complaint adjudication.

A panel at the council should have met within 30 days, but it did not convene until February 2018 - two months later.

In total, the complaint took 21 months, with the council found to be at ‘fault’ for the delay.

The LGO found that ‘the council was at fault for delay in complaints handling but, the complaint was handled fairly. It apologised for any fault found’.

A spokesperson for the county council said: “The ombudsman found our investigation was thorough and fair but we accept the finding that there was a delay in handling Mrs C’s complaint and we have apologised for this.

“We’ve also put practices into place to help ensure cases like this are dealt with within agreed deadlines in future.”

Eddie Bisknell , Local Democracy Reporting Service