Mark Whitehead 04 October 2017

Council ‘failed’ to protect children from dangerous sibling

Northumberland County Council failed to protect vulnerable young children at risk of harm, the local government ombudsman has ruled.

He found that despite several appeals by a family for help to protect their younger children from threats of violence made by their teenage son, the council did not do enough to safeguard them.

Local government and social care ombudsman Michael King said the council did not properly consider the needs of the children, failed to speak to them about what was happening and did not involve other agencies such as the police.

Eventually the boy had to be removed from the home by police, causing 'significant distress' to the family.

The council refused to accept the family’s complaint until the ombudsman intervened.

Following the ombudsman’s intervention, an independent investigator appointed by the council upheld several of the family’s complaints, but this took more than a year even though the law says it should only take 65 days.

Mr King has ordered the council to 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.

It must 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.

It must 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.

Mr King 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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