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Cambridgeshire County Council apologises to father and daughter for children’s service response after welfare concerns raised

Cambridgeshire County Council has been told to apologise to a father who raised concerns with children’s services about his daughter’s welfare after she took an overdose.

The man voiced fears about his daughter’s wellbeing for months after she left his home to live with her mother.

New Shire Hall, home of Cambridgeshire County Council
New Shire Hall, home of Cambridgeshire County Council

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said the council should have reviewed the daughter’s situation after events escalated.

The council has accepted the findings and has apologised to the father and agreed to pay him £500 in recognition of the distress caused.

The authority said it is also working to improve its services to minimise the risk of this happening again.

The ombudsman’s report said the father, referred to as Mr X, voiced concern in June 2022 when his daughter, referred to as Y, moved at the age of 16 to live with her mother, known as Mrs Z. A previous court order had said that the couple’s children should live with Mr X until they turned 16.

The council’s children’s services spoke to Y’s school and found nothing to suggest there any significant concerns.

Deciding that Y was not at immediate risk, the council noted that parental conflict could have an impact on her and so carried out an early help assessment.

The ombudsman found no fault with this, but said the initial position should have been reviewed when events escalated.

A therapist privately hired by Mrs Z then told the council in mid-June 2022 that Y had said she had been hit by her father and that he was verbally abusive.

Then in early July, Mr X contacted the council with concerns again after she deliberately took an overdose.

The report said the council considered Mr X was raising the same concerns as before and understood that Y wanted to live with her mum and was unhappy living with Mr X. It decided there were “no safeguarding concerns evident in mum’s care”.

Later that month, the therapist got back in touch with the council with concerns for Y’s welfare, suggesting she was potentially unsafe at her mother’s home and may take another overdose.

The authority also received a report from Y’s school raising concerns about her behaviour.

The council referred Y’s case to its early help service and asked for it to be treated as a priority. Shortly afterwards, a young person’s worker was assigned to Y’s case.

Later, a social worker also visited Mrs Z’s home but had no safeguarding concerns and said Y appeared to be “happy”.

The ombudsman found it “concerning” that the council recorded Y as being “happy” at this visit.

The report said: “I accept this could simply be poor wording, the council having no reason to think Y was not exercising choice in wanting to live with Mrs Z.

“But to refer to a child with known mental health concerns who has just taken a non-accidental overdose as ‘happy’ suggests a cursory approach to the report or reports it had just received.”

In September, the police contacted the council to say Mr X had been in touch after receiving distressing emails from Mrs Z.

Later the council was informed that police had been called to an incident involving Mrs Z and Y, where Y was arrested. She returned to her mum’s home, but the report said there were concerns about whether she could stay there.

The ombudsman said that “clearly” by this point issues had escalated further with the authority made aware of the “increasingly deteriorating relationship between Y and Mrs Z”.

But there was a lack of records to show any detailed consideration of how the council thought about services it could offer Y.

In October, Y’s school told the council she was regularly not attending. There were also reports that Mrs Z no longer wanted her daughter living with her, with Mr X telling the authority in October that Mrs Z had said she would remove Y from her house “by any means necessary”.

The ombudsman said Y returned to Mr X’s care soon after this when the police once again attended Mrs Z’s home.

The report said Y continues to live with her dad, and is now in a stable household. Her school attendance has significantly improved and it said she was not considered to be a child in need by the council.

Mr X accused the authority of “institutional sexism” and that there was an in-built bias against him because he was a father.

The ombudsman said there was no evidence to say the poor service Mr X received was due to him being a man, but said it accepted this evidence might not be recorded.

“I do not consider the council at fault for not intervening more at the outset of these events,” said the ombudsman. “It would have caused more distress to Mr X had he learnt of the allegations made about him, which he only learnt of after he complained.

“While, from early July onward, the council should have undertaken a more thorough review of its position, this too may not have resulted in the outcome Mr X wanted.

“The council’s judgment is that from early July it should have assessed Y and offered services to her as a ‘child in need’. I consider this fair. But it would be wrong to assume this would have led to Y returning to live with Mr X at that time.

“In reaching this conclusion I have also taken account of the published ‘threshold’ document used by the council when deciding what services to offer.

“There is nothing in that which would point to the council being required to undertake a more forceful intervention.

“Over time it had an accumulating body of evidence that Y’s behaviour and actions were becoming more worrying. But even then, her circumstances may not have met the threshold of ‘significant harm’.

“But with all that said I consider Mr X’s distress was still greater than need have been the case.

“It is clear from his own statements that Mr X felt excluded from decision making around his own daughter and felt his concerns were not taken seriously.

“I consider this was avoidable had the council given more consideration to events as they unfolded and communicated better with him.”

The ombudsman said the county council should apologise to both Mr X and his daughter, and to pay Mr X £500 as a symbolic payment due to the avoidable distress he experienced.

A spokesperson for the county council said: “We accept the LGO’s findings and have apologised to the complainant and agreed to pay him £500 for any distress caused.

“The council has also improved the way it delivers services in this complex and sensitive area to minimise the risk of this happening again.”

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