Ombudsman finds flaws in Bexley’s handling of child protection case

Bexley Council’s handling of a child protection investigation was seriously flawed, according to the Local Government Ombudsman.

Dr Jane Martin found that council procedures resulted in the mishandling of a girl’s allegations against her mother.

Inappropriate questioning, a failure to implement a clear plan for investigation and failure to properly record evidence and decisions led to the unfair treatment, according to the report.

The ombudsman’s report also found that the council took steps to accommodate the girl without properly considering alternative options and failed to conduct a proper risk assessment when asking for permission for the girl to visit her father.

Martin said: “Councils have a vital role in safeguarding children, which often requires that hard decisions are made in difficult circumstances. Child protection investigations have a profound effect on families and it is important councils follow proper administrative procedures so that investigations are fair.

“The problems I have identified in this complaint do not concern the professional judgment of officers, but significant failures in the council’s procedures and administrative approach to the investigation.”

Bexley Council was ordered to apologise to the mother and pay a total of £12,741.08, which includes the cost of her legal fees. The ombudsman also asked the council to arrange and fund an independent family counsellor to advise the family of counselling services, including any necessary advice as to how best to seek the girl’s involvement in the process.

A spokeswoman for Bexley council said: “Our focus in this case was centred firmly on protecting a vulnerable young person at serious risk. It was the interests of this young person that dominated our approach. We believe that exercising our professional judgment to take her into care was in her best interests.

“We fully accept the findings and will carry out the recommendations in the ombudsman’s report. Some time ago we changed our administrative processes in case a similar situation should ever arise.

“We regret the impact this has had on the complainant. Over the past four years we have made an official apology to her and have also suggested a number of resolutions, including offering independent family counselling and compensation.”