The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman ordered the council to apologise after finding a “sufficiently independent and robust investigation” into the complaint had not been carried out and said the council was “at fault” for failing to investigate the complainant’s – known as Mr X – concerns about the care homes he lived in.
The ombudsman’s decision said the failure to do so had caused Mr X “avoidable distress”. The county council has said “valuable lessons” were learned following the investigation.
The ombudsman’s report explained that Mr X became a looked after child in the early 2000s, first living in a foster home and then in a number of children’s homes before deciding to live with his mother again before he turned 18. Mr X complained to the council about its care throughout 2015 and 2018.
He said that throughout the period he was a looked-after child, he was subject to neglect, abuse, was not protected from harm and was poorly supported by the council.
Following an investigation, the council found it had failed to properly safeguard Mr X from risks when he was living with his family, and that his foster home – identified only as Home A in the ombudsman’s report – was unsuitable for his needs and that there was a ‘significant delay’ in removing him from the home, with it taking 15 months to remove him.
The investigating officer felt Mr X was “Not appropriately safeguarded overall from potential risk or harm” but that there was no fault in the behaviour of staff in their attempts to care for him.
Further complaints, including serious allegations the council exposed Mr X to neglect and abuse, were not upheld. The complainant was left unsatisfied with the conclusion, having previously stated he wanted the council to investigate all organisations involved in his care including the police, local fire and rescue service and Ofsted.
The council later received a letter stating that Mr X intended to begin court proceedings over allegations it exposed him to abuse and neglect, although the ombudsman’s report noted he has not yet taken further action.
The ombudsman’s findings stated that while there was “no evidence to suggest the investigation was insufficiently thorough or that the council hindered it by providing tampered records,” the investigation did not consider the part of Mr X’s complaint regarding the accommodation he stayed in after Home A.
As the council had not explained its reasons for the omission, the ombudsman said the authority was at fault and “caused Mr X avoidable distress.” However, due to the length of time since the issues and the fact Mr X intended to pursue compensation via the courts, the ombudsman stated that it would not be reopening the investigation.
It added that the ombudsman cannot make “findings of neglect” in the way a court can.
The report added that the upheld complaints “appropriately remedied the injustice to Mr X and are suitable to prevent the fault occurring again,” and agreed that the council should apologise for failing to investigate the concerns regarding the children’s homes.
Cath McEvoy-Carr, Executive Director of Adult Social Care and Children’s Services, Northumberland County Council, insisted lessons had been learned since the issue.
She said: “Safeguarding the welfare of our vulnerable residents is paramount and we take all complaints about the services we provide extremely seriously.
“In this case, we accept the Ombudsman’s findings and have apologised to the complainant for the shortcomings identified in the investigation of the complaint and the distress this has caused.
“Our practices have moved on greatly since this complaint was made with valuable lessons learned and we will continue to ensure all complaints are investigated to the highest of standards.”