York council criticised for denying parents time with their dying baby

An infant intensive care unit. Photograph: KirillKoriakin on Wikipedia

Parents were denied time with their dying baby because of mistakes by York social workers.

That was the finding of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman revealed in a report today (November 8).

Social workers placed strict supervision arrangements on the parents after injuries were discovered when they took their baby to hospital with breathing difficulties.

The parents told social workers the injuries could have been caused by previous hospital treatment. They were later vindicated when the council found the fractures were not caused by the parents.

But even when the baby’s condition deteriorated, social workers did not relax the restrictions, despite numerous requests.

Some days the parents could only spend four hours with their son. And on one day, lack of supervision meant they were not able to visit him at all.

The baby died nine weeks after his admission to hospital.

Court criticism

As a result of the council workers’ decision, the parents’ two other children had to be cared for by grandparents, while the parents had to be supervised at all times when visiting the baby in hospital.

A month after the baby died, a court relaxed the supervision arrangements with the couple’s other children.

And at a final hearing 11 weeks later, the court criticised the council’s handling of the case, stating the council had decided the fractures ‘cannot have been attributed to parental care’.

The court asked the Home Office to remove any reference markers from the parents’ records relating to child protection concerns.

World falling apart

Local Government Ombudsman Michael King
The ombudsman’s investigation found the council should have reviewed the supervision arrangements or offered third party services to provide supervision in hospital.

It also failed to visit the baby in hospital and the care plan drawn up did not consider the baby’s emotional needs.

The report also criticises the council’s response to the family’s complaint, which was overdue by more than 270 days.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

  • Nobody could criticise the social workers in this case for starting the safeguarding action.

    But what they should have done was keep the situation under review, especially once it became clear there was very little risk to the child, and his condition deteriorated.

    This would have been a horrifically stressful time for the family, at a time when their world must have felt like it was falling apart.

    Social workers should have done more to facilitate the parents’ visits, for example by contacting social workers in the neighbouring authority, or the hospital’s own patient liaison services.

To compound this family’s distress, the council “took far too long to investigate their concerns”.

Instead of taking a maximum 65 days to respond to their complaint, the response took 343.

City of York Council has agreed to apologise to the family and pay them £2,000 for the distress caused by its actions.

“I’m pleased York council has accepted the findings of this report, and hope the remedies recommended will prevent other families going through such a distressing situation,” Mr King said.

City of York Council’s response

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Maxine Squire, interim corporate director for children, education and communities, said:

“We are extremely sorry for the distress caused and have apologised unreservedly to the family.

“We fully accept the Ombudsman’s findings and recommendations. We have already taken action to ensure that lessons are learnt from this case and that our procedures are improved.”

The council has already carried out the following recommendations from the Ombudsman:

  • An apology has been made to the complainants for the failure to review supervision arrangements for their child and for the delays in dealing with their complaint
  • The complainants have been paid £2,000 for the distress caused
  • The council has reviewed its policies to ensure that supervision arrangements can be made available for relatives visiting looked after children in hospital
  • The council has contacted the out-of-area hospital and council involved in the case to develop closer working relationships for when looked after children receive treatment outside York.

The authority is currently reviewing the training needs of council officers at all levels in relation to the statutory complaints process and the handling of statutory children’s complaints to ensure that they are being dealt with in line with statutory timescales, as per the Ombudsman’s recommendations.