Cambridgeshire County Council has been told to apologise to a father who raised concerns with children’s services about his daughter’s welfare after she took an overdose.

The man raised his concerns over months about his daughter’s wellbeing after she left his home to live with her mother.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said the county council should have reviewed the daughter’s situation after events escalated.

The county council has said it accepts the Ombudsman’s findings, apologised to the father, and agreed to pay him £500 in recognition of the distress caused.

The authority said it is also working to improve its services to minimise the risk of this happening again.

Ombudsman investigation timeline

A report published by the Ombudsman said the father, referred to as Mr X, raised his concerns with the county council in June 2022 after his daughter, referred to as Y, then aged 16 years old, left his home to go and live with her mother, referred to as Mrs Z.

A previous court order had said that Mr X and Mrs Z’s children should live with Mr X until they turned 16.

After Mr X contacted the county council to raise his concerns for his daughter’s wellbeing, the county council’s children’s services spoke to Y’s school and said there was no information to suggest any significant concerns for her wellbeing.

The authority came to the view that Y was not at immediate risk but noted that parental conflict could impact her, so decided to carry out an early help assessment.

The Ombudsman said it did not find fault with the council’s actions up until this point but said this initial position should have been reviewed when events escalated.

In mid-June 2022, the county council received contact from a therapist privately hired by Mrs Z, who said Y had told them she had been hit by her father and that he was verbally abusive.

In early July, Mr X contacted the county council to raise his concerns about his daughter again after she had taken a non-accidental overdose.

The report said the county council considered Mr X was raising the same concerns for Y’s welfare as before and noted its understanding that Y wanted to live with her mum and was unhappy living with Mr X, and said there were “no safeguarding concerns evident in mum’s care”.

Later that month, the therapist contacted the county council to say they had concerns for Y’s welfare, suggesting she was potentially unsafe at her mother’s home and may take another overdose.

The authority also received a report from Y’s school raising concerns about her behaviour.

The county council referred Y’s case to its early help service and asked for it to be treated as a priority. Shortly afterwards, a young person’s worker was assigned to Y’s case.

Later, a social worker also visited Mrs Z’s home and said they had no safeguarding concerns and that Y appeared to be “happy”.

The Ombudsman said it was “concerning” that the county council recorded Y as being “happy” at this visit.

The report said: “I accept this could simply be poor wording, the council having no reason to think Y was not exercising choice in wanting to live with Mrs Z.

“But to refer to a child with known mental health concerns who has just taken a non-accidental overdose as ‘happy’ suggests a cursory approach to the report or reports it had just received.”

In September, the police contacted the county council to say Mr X had been in touch after receiving distressing emails from Mrs Z.

Later, the council was informed that police had been called to an incident involving Mrs Z and Y, where Y was arrested. She returned to her mum’s home, but the report said there were concerns about whether she could stay there.

The Ombudsman said that “clearly” by this point, issues had escalated further with the authority made aware of the “increasingly deteriorating relationship between Y and Mrs Z”.

The Ombudsman said there was a lack of records to show any detailed consideration of how the county council thought about services it could offer Y.

In October, Y’s school told the county council that she was regularly not attending.

There were also reports that Mrs Z no longer wanted her daughter living with her, with Mr X telling the authority in October that Mrs Z had said she would remove Y from her house “by any means necessary”.

The Ombudsman said Y returned to Mr X’s care soon after this when the police once again attended Mrs Z’s home.

The report said Y continues to live with her dad, that she was now in a stable household and that her school attendance had significantly improved.

It said she was not considered to be a child in need by the county council.

Ombudsman conclusion

Mr X complained about how the authority had handled the situation and accused the authority of “institutional sexism” and that there was an inbuilt bias against him because he was a father.

The Ombudsman said there was no evidence it could point to say the poor service Mr X received was due to him being a man, but said it accepted this evidence might not be recorded.

The Ombudsman said: “I do not consider the council at fault for not intervening more at the outset of these events.

“It would have caused more distress to Mr X had he learnt of the allegations made about him, which he only learnt of after he complained.

“While, from early July onward, the council should have undertaken a more thorough review of its position, this too may not have resulted in the outcome Mr X wanted.

“The council’s judgement is that from early July, it should have assessed Y and offered services to her as a ‘child in need’. I consider this fair. But it would be wrong to assume this would have led to Y returning to live with Mr X at that time.

“In reaching this conclusion, I have also taken account of the published ‘threshold’ document used by the council when deciding what services to offer.

“There is nothing in that which would point to the council being required to undertake a more forceful intervention.

“Over time, it had an accumulating body of evidence that Y’s behaviour and actions were becoming more worrying. But even then, her circumstances may not have met the threshold of ‘significant harm’.

“But with all that said, I consider Mr X’s distress was still greater than need have been the case.

“It is clear from his own statements that Mr X felt excluded from decision-making around his own daughter and felt his concerns were not taken seriously.

“I consider this was avoidable had the Council given more consideration to events as they unfolded and communicated better with him.”

The Ombudsman said the county council should apologise to both Mr X and his daughter and to pay Mr X £500 as a symbolic payment due to the avoidable distress he experienced.

The Ombudsman said the county council had also agreed to use Mr X’s complaint to improve its services.

A spokesperson for the county council said: “We accept the LGO’s findings and have apologised to the complainant and agreed to pay him £500 for any distress caused.

“The council has also improved the way it delivers services in this complex and sensitive area to minimise the risk of this happening again.”