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Ombudsman issues reminder to councils on duties to parents when asking them to leave family home during safeguarding investigations

Newcastle City Council has agreed to review its practices and pay compensation to a man who complained to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) that, following an allegation he had been harming his children, social workers told him to leave the home, but did not make it clear to him this was voluntary.

According to the LGSCO, the local authority did not review the agreement while the accusations were investigated and instead left the man, whose first language was not English, with the distress and uncertainty of not knowing for how long he would be away from his family.

The allegation about the man's behaviour were withdrawn, and the man returned home. Newcastle referred the family to a family support worker but after just seven visits, the support was stopped without warning.

When the man complained, it took the council around seven months longer to complete its investigation than the timeframes in the children's services statutory complaints procedure.

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“During the Stage Three hearing, the investigating officer offended the man by suggesting he may have misunderstood advice given to him when he was asked to leave the family home because his first language is not English,” the Ombudsman said.

“The man was particularly upset because it was not true, it had not been raised previously, and the panel investigating his complaint was comprised only of white members, following an investigation conducted by a white investigating officer.”

According to the report, the officer's comment led to the man losing trust in the objectivity of the council's complaints process. It also led him to believe that his ethnicity contributed to the investigating officer agreeing with the council.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: "Councils have a duty to safeguard children when allegations are made that they are at risk of harm, but they cannot insist on a parent leaving the family home without first gaining their voluntary consent.

"In this case, the events that unfolded left the man feeling distressed and insulted. He says his relationship with his family has been irreparably damaged, so I welcome the council already recognising it had work to do to improve its services before the complaint came to me, and had already gone some way to remedying the situation for the man.

"I hope the further recommendations I have made will ensure this situation cannot happen again to other families in the city."

Newcastle City Council has agreed to apologise to the man and pay him £1,150 in recognition of the time, trouble, uncertainty and distress his family has been caused.

The council will amend its Safety Plan template to ensure signatories understand the agreement is voluntary and to explain any consequences of not following the agreement.

It will also produce a strategy to ensure it meet the timescales for statutory children's complaints and provide guidance and training to relevant staff on unconscious bias and the importance of inclusive and diverse public services.

A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council said: "A complaint was made to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman into the level of service received by a resident.

"Following an investigation, the Ombudsman upheld the complaint and found the council to be at fault. We have apologised and paid compensation to the complainant as ordered by the Ombudsman.

"We are now implementing all of the recommendations contained in the Ombudsman's report.

"We have co-operated fully throughout the investigation. In line with standard procedures, we have made the report publicly available at the Civic Centre, Barras Bridge, and social care offices at Allendale Road, Byker."

Adam Carey

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