Friday 23 January 2015

A narrow escape - yet another public interest report

The dust had barely settled after this month's meeting of Carmarthenshire County Council when a formal notice appeared on the council's website announcing that a public interest report from the Public Services Ombudsman would appear in due course.

Public interest reports are rare and all the more serious for that. Most concern failings by local health boards, with the most recent public interest report on a council being published in February 2012. That was about Cardiff City Council. Carmarthenshire was the subject of another report just before that in January 2012, giving our county council the distinction of being the only Welsh council to have been the subject of two public interest reports by the Ombudsman in the last three years.

Not to mention the council's unique distinction of being the subject of not one but two public interest reports by the Wales Audit Office last year.

The substance of this latest case is the way the council responded to concerns raised about the welfare of a four year old child who had moved to Carmarthenshire from England with her mother and her mother's new partner. The two adults were known to be drug addicts, and both apparently suffered from mental health problems, with suggestions of domestic violence.

The council's inadequate response echoes catastrophic failings by other local authorities which led to the death of Baby P and a string of other horrific cases. The best that can be said is that Carmarthenshire was lucky this time that the child was eventually returned to her father, and the mother and her partner moved on.

The first concerns were raised by the child's father, the social services department of Warwickshire and, eventually, Dyfed Powys Police following a drugs raid. Here is what the Ombudsman found:

The Ombudsman found that the Council failed to carry out a home visit and missed a number of opportunities to investigate Mr Y’s concerns about the family’s circumstances, which included a number of risk factors. Instead it relied on information from the school, where his daughter was a new pupil. It also failed to investigate properly a referral made from an English County Council’s Children’s Social Services Team where the concerns were similar to those raised by Mr Y and where an “urgent welfare check” was requested. It was several months before the home was visited and this was only after a referral from the police following a drugs raid. An assessment of the child’s needs was not carried out before the child left the Council’s area to return to Mr Y’s care.

The report says that the council has accepted the Ombudsman's findings, is reviewing its procedures and providing appropriate staff training. However, the document suggests that the extent to which the council has taken this criticism on board is open to question.

Here is the substance of the council's response:

In its response to me the Council said that appropriate enquiries were made in reply to Mr Y’s concerns about his daughter’s living arrangements and welfare. It said that attempts were made to obtain the completed IA from Warwickshire and the mother and school had been contacted, when no child protection concerns were identified. When responding to Mr Y the Council said that in the circumstances a home visit was not considered justified.

So while the council is not contesting the report, it does not appear to accept that there was anything wrong with its response.

The events covered by the report took place in 2012, and the Ombudsman's report was published on 8 January. This was just a fraction too late to make it on to the agenda of the council's monthly meeting which took place on 14 January.

For reasons which are not clear, the council waited until 16 January to publish a notice advising all and sundry that it was going to have to publish the Ombudsman's report. Why there was a delay in publishing the report is not known. Also unclear is why the council did not flag the fact that it had received the report until after the meeting of the full council.

This timing is particularly questionable because the meeting of the full council on 14 January considered the annual report of the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) on Carmarthenshire's care and social services for vulnerable adults, the elderly and children.

The CSSIW report was very upbeat and positive. In fact, if you read its conclusions, it is hard to imagine what more could have been said in praise of the council's services (words highlighted by editor):

The council continues to benefit from strong leadership across both children and adult services, senior officers have a clear vision and are implementing plans effectively to ensure people living in Carmarthenshire who require social care services have a better quality of life. The evidence available confirms that the council continues to prioritise the provision of social care services and that its plans remain ambitious despite the financial constraints that it faces. Its budgets are well managed. 

The council has implemented a number of innovative projects and has provided evidence of a range of positive outcomes which have been delivered through its strategic transformation of services. It has signalled its intention to put people in control of the services they receive and to support more people to live independent lives. It is seeking to reduce dependency on its services by strengthening support in communities. 

The council’s annual performance report has been structured to reflect the key components of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act. It is clear that it will be in a strong position to deliver services within the new legislative framework. The council has set out how it will deliver services that demonstrate improved commissioning and integration of services, where the well being and the voice of citizens will be at the centre of service delivery

And there is much more in the same vein, and no mention of any investigations or reports or even an oblique reference to the need for the council to improve its response when child protection issues are raised, even though the council and the Ombudsman had been in discussion for months prior to publication. An interesting question is what, if anything, the CSSIW knew about all of this and why it failed to say anything. 

In other words, the council went ahead with a review of the very positive CSSIW report even though it was sitting on a damning report from the Public Services Ombudsman which sheds a very different light on aspects of the council's services.

If the CSSIW did not know about the case, why didn't it? If it did know about the case, why did it go on to write a report praising the council? What exactly is the CSSIW for?

For all who have been following events in Carmarthenshire in recent years, the latest case has all of the familiar ingredients: refusal to accept criticism ("we responded appropriately") and what looks very much like careful manipulation of the timing of news releases.


Anonymous said...

The public would naturally assume that the CSSIW would have delved quite deeply into what is taking place in the social services department of the CCC before they stood up to praise them to the hilt.

If they do not involve themselves when wrongdoing is brought to their attention and they accept without question the declarations of how robust the W/B and Statutory Complaints Policies are without checking whether the policies are actually being followed; how can they stand up and state how well the CCC is looking after the interests of it's service users?

Cneifiwr, your piece has hit the nail on the head.

The CSSIW should have known what was happening concerning the CCC's continued failures to openly and honestly investigate COMPLAINTS. AS for any mention of the handling of Whistleblowing I don't believe they (CSSIW) had anything to say about that.

By slight of hand the CCC are not recording all Whistleblowing disclosures as being such; how they handle those disclosures then avoid scrutiny of any kind.

What exactly is the CSSIW for? A very good question. Maybe the CSSIW would like to explain how come they praised so highly the Social Services Department and whether they did or didn't know of the OMBUDSMAN REPORT.

Is there a natural reluctance on the part of the Regulator (CSSIW) to be robust in it's duty to regulate and investigate the Social Care Department run services as they both work in partnership when investigating regulated privately run services?

Jennifer Brown (whistleblower)

Jac o' the North, said...

Who encouraged these English drug addicts to move to Wales? Who housed them? To where have they moved on?

Anonymous said...

These types inspecting bodies are naked emperors. They want to give the appearance of doing a fine job to protect the public interest. This justifies their existence. But in reality they're staffed by farties who just want a quiet life and to pick up their salaries. They don't have the balls to challenge bad practice and face a showdown with autocratic and powerful personalities, who will argue black is white. They're eager to clutch at any suggestions of good practice, wherever they come from. They don't want to know about bad as it will lead to confrontation with seniors. It's the whistleblowers who do the work that they should be doing.

Anonymous said...

Exactly anonymous 17.00.Well known culture of "Don't rock the boat."