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LGO criticises failure of council to assess vulnerable young children at risk of harm

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has accused a council of not doing enough to safeguard a family who made multiple appeals for help to protect their younger children from threats of violence made by their teenage son.

Northumberland County Council “didn’t properly consider the needs of the children, it failed to speak to them about what was happening and it did not involve other agencies, such as the police, in assessing the risks to the younger children”, the LGO said.

The family told the authority that the teenager had held a knife to his mother’s neck and threatened to stab the younger children.

“The council failed to take into account the impact the volatile situation had on the young children: the atmosphere in the family home and the fact they were witnessing distressing incidents,” the Ombudsman found.

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“Had social workers spoken to the children and other agencies, they would have been better placed to address the allegations being made and the impact on the children.”

According to the Ombudsman, the situation eventually escalated to such an extent that the boy had to be removed from the home by police, causing significant distress to the family.

Northumberland refused to accept the family’s complaint until the LGO intervened, it added.

Following the Ombudsman’s intervention, an independent investigator appointed by the council upheld a number of the family’s complaints.

However, the LGO said this took more than a year “even though the law says it should only take 65 days”.

The Ombudsman has recommended that Northumberland:

  • pay the couple £1,000 for their time and trouble in pursuing the complaint as well as for their uncertainty, distress and anxiety caused by the council’s failure to carry out an investigation into the children’s welfare;
  • ensure a copy of the independent investigator’s report and other information be kept on the children’s files in the event further information comes to light.
  • provide the Ombudsman with details of measures it will put in place to ensure it meets its statutory timescales for investigating children’s services complaints; and
  • carry out a review to ensure staff and contractors have undertaken up to date training on dealing with children’s services complaints.

Michael King, The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “Northumberland council has continually attempted to minimise the seriousness of the allegations made against the older son. The council was aware of the family’s turbulent situation, but there appears to have been little thought given to the impact this had on the younger siblings, and the potential harm this could have caused.

“Throughout the complaint, the council has failed to acknowledge the voices of the children. I am disappointed it has yet to agree to my recommendations to put things right and would urge them to review my report and consider what actions it will now take.”

A spokesperson for Northumberland County Council said: "This incident originated in 2013. Since that time the local authority has reviewed all its policies and procedures and is confident new arrangements are robust and fit for purpose.

"However the council takes reports such as these very seriously. We do note the Ombudsman's recommendations and are currently reviewing the report so any further action we need to take can be put in place as soon as possible."

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