Watchdog fines borough for failures in process
Council failed to follow its own complaints procedure. Picture: Eugene Regis
June 8, 2022
Wandsworth Council has been ordered to pay £1,450 to a woman after she was unable to adopt a child. The woman, referred to only as Ms D in a council watchdog report, claimed she “lost the opportunity of having her own family”.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found multiple failings in the way Wandsworth Council dealt with the unnamed woman’s adoption process. The ombudsman report reads: “She felt humiliated, unfairly treated, suffered stress, and has the uncertainty of not knowing whether she would have had an older child placed with her.”
The report found the council failed to bring Ms D’s case back to the adoption panel “promptly” and did not pursue one of its recommendations. It also found the council communicated “poorly” with her, failed to give her support and delayed dealing with her complaint and case.
Ms D complained that, despite the council approving her as a suitable adopter in 2015, it did not give her the chance to adopt a child. In December 2018, the adoption panel considered a request to deregister Ms D as an approved adopter because the council was concerned about her finances and relationship with the authority.
The panel deferred its decision after deciding it needed more information. A report for Ms D’s annual review recommended deregistration because of her financial situation and relationship with the department.
But Ms D’s case never went back before the panel, according to the report, and the ombudsman found no evidence of the council trying to explore a reconciliation process with her. The report said this meant no decision was reached on the request to deregister her.
The report says, “Without a decision, it is unlikely any child would be matched to her because it was unknown whether the request would be granted or not. This caused Ms D distress. She suffered from frustration, uncertainty, stress, and lost the opportunity to have a prompt decision made on the request.”
The council stopped being an adoption agency in September 2019 and merged with other councils to become Adoption London South (ALS). The council accepted communication was “limited” with Ms D from September 2019 and that there had been “drift” with her case when it was transferred to ALS, according to the report.
The report also found Ms D had “little support or contact” from any social worker from June 2019 which left her with the “uncertainty of not knowing whether matters might have taken a different path”.
The report says, “I cannot say the identified fault in the way the council dealt with her case lost her the opportunity to be matched to a child. This is too speculative. She is left with the uncertainty, and possible lost opportunity, of what might have been.” It added that the council failed to follow its own complaints procedure.
The council has been ordered to apologise to Ms D and pay her £1,000 for the “failure to deal with her properly following the panel’s decision to defer”, £200 for the “failure to deal with her formal complaint properly” and £250 for the “time and trouble she has been put to pursuing this complaint”.
A spokesperson for Wandsworth Council said, “We have accepted some mistakes were made in the way this application was dealt with and have formally apologised to the complainant and paid a sum of compensation. We will be acting on all the Ombudsman’s recommendations to ensure such mistakes do not happen again.”
Charlotte Lillywhite - Local Democracy Reporter