Wednesday 21 January 2015

A damning report from the Ombudsman

The Ombudsman's report which I referred to the other day, and which is a public interest report, has now been published and can be found on the council's website here;

Ombudsman's Report

Public Interest reports are rare and are only issued when there are matters of significant public importance. The council has to publish it.

This one is no exception and involves a complete failure to follow child safeguarding procedures and describes the council's shortcomings in the handling of the complaint as "inexcusable and fundamental". In short, the council failed to investigate risks to a four year old girl.

The details of the case can be read in the report and it was clearly a sensitive case. The complaint was brought by the father of a four year old child who was concerned about the welfare of his daughter who was living with her mother and partner.
The family had moved several times and the previous local authority, Warwickshire, had contacted Carmarthenshire Council highlighting several concerns in an 'urgent' email. There were issues of drug taking and concerns about possible domestic violence in the home.

The Ombudsman concluded that there was an "abject failure to appreciate the significance of, or investigate properly, the referral from Warwickshire Children’s Services, requesting “an urgent welfare check.”

The report details the ensuing catalogue of failures by the council to properly respond to the child safeguarding issues that were present and which the father, quite rightly according to the Ombudsman, insisted should have been properly assessed. It was not until months later when the police carried out a drugs raid did the council decide to visit the child's home and even then failed to implement the proper safeguards.

At one point, in 2013 the council sent the father details of an investigation; According to the Ombudsman "There was no evidence of any investigation carried out".

The Ombudsman also highlighted "very poor complaint handling and found that Council staff were defensive and lacked objectivity" in dealing with the father's complaints. 

"The overall impression is that staff were either blocking [the father's] complaint or did not understand the objectives and requirements of the process"

The Council failed to deal with the complaint under the Children’s Complaints procedures which it should have done, and missed an opportunity to investigate the service failings in respect of the four year old child. A complaint that a social worker had made inappropriate remarks was also upheld.

The Ombudsman was clearly concerned with the council's responses to his own investigations and also concluded that;
"the Council has failed to acknowledge what should have been obvious shortcomings. Complaint handling is a process through which its service users can express their concerns and feel they have been listened to and taken seriously.... this case the Council’s poor service performance was compounded by inadequate and
ineffective complaint handling and the Council missed an opportunity to put things right." 

He has made several recommendations to the council including a full independent audit of referrals to its Children's Services Teams and a review of it's complaint handling procedures. They have also been told to apologise to the father.

This is a very critical report and aside from the grave child safeguarding issues, will undoubtedly strike a chord with many who have embarked on Carmarthenshire Council's complaint procedures; and neither is it the first time those procedures have been slammed by the Ombudsman.


Anonymous said...

I have read your blog with interest. Nothing is changing in this council. The way the council have been allowed to continue to deliberately mishandle complaints to cover up wrongdoing is staggering.

The Ombudsman knows how many times they have failed, it's brought to his notice. WAG knows and fails to take action. WAO is aware of this council's failings. Yet there is not one body who will do anything meaningful about it.

We the public pay our public servants to look after all our interests. We do not pay them to turn a blind eye to the wrongdoing by other public services/bodies. Sure we have these "damning" reports. They make the guilty party feel a little uncomfortable for a short while but not enough to make them decide to actually change their ways and start to follow policies and procedures in place to safeguard the public interest. No! It's their own reputations they must protect.

It is becoming more difficult for them to rely on the public having short memories or not even realising damning reports have been published. The reason for this is the social media and bloggers who take an interest and allow the public to make comments about what is taking place.

There are lots of groups and individuals out there; all trying to make these public bodies and their CEOs be made accountable for their failures. Until that happens nothing will change.

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Anonymous said...

The protection of a child's well-being is one of the most important responsibilities that a local authority carries. Mistakes can prove to have tragic results. It is vital that social workers carry out their roles in an assiduous manner. But in a department with ever more scarce resources, increasing workloads, poor staff morale and perhaps a cynicism derived out of soul-crushing experience, the poor service received by Mr Y might be forgiven, if not excused.

But what really infuriates me is the obstructive, incalcitrant, patronising and bloody-minded attitude of the Council towards the complaint made by Mr Y about the poor service that he received.

Is it too much to ask that where the Council has failed, they apologise at once and correct things? Or has the doctrine of the infallibility of senior management spread throughout the Council?

Unknown said...

I can only concur wholeheartedly with Jennifer Brown's comments! The case of this child is a reminder that the recalcitrance, incompetence and bloody-minded arrogance of senior elected and appointed Council officials does not merely translate into inefficiency and impropriety and poor public services. It is often a question of life and death. The Council itself continually demonstrates, by its behaviour, and inability to reform itself. It is therefore incumbent upon the statutory organisations, such as the Welsh Audit Office to hold the Council to account, but they lack the teeth and/or backbone to do so. This combined failure of the Council and the regulatory institutions amounts to an abject failure in democracy itself.

Anonymous said...

What worries me, and to be fair I don't just mean with respect to Carmarthenshire, is that at least this kid had someone who cared for them pushing against the system.

What hope for those who are wholely within the care of that system?