Monday, 16 September 2019

Cyngor Gwynedd Council - Sorry Not Sorry.

The letter of apology from the Chief Executive of Cyngor Gwynedd, Dilwyn Williams, made me think of all the other Mea Culpa's we have received in the past four years.

We have not yet replied to Mr William's letter as we await confirmation that the 'recommendations' of the Ombudsman have been completed. Cyngor Gwynedd have a history of non compliance in this case, with 'recommendations' made by independent investigators and even those of the Ombudsman for Wales.

Gwynedd Council agreed to implement the Ombudsman's latest 'recommendations' within three months. Those three months are now up.

The CEO apologised for the failing to update a child's CIN plan - surely the responsibility for the Director of Gwynedd Social Services, Morwena Edwards. But the apology from the CEO may be more sincere considering it took Mrs Edwards 5 months to officially respond to our Stage 2 complaint - badly. The Ombudsman for Wales 2019 Report calls her decision to then reverse her thinking after the publication of the Ombudsman's 2018 Report 'illogical'.

There has also been an apology from Head of Children and Families, Marian Parry Hughes.

Once again, the sincerity of this apology is in question as Mrs Hughes was the most senior manager at the meeting with the Independent Investigator who reported she felt 'overwhelmed' and 'bullied' after completing her investigation.

Mrs Hughes also played a major part in the case of a Gwynedd social worker in which the social worker raised bullying by her manager, at a recent Employment Tribunal - the case can be found here

Copy and past the address into your browser.

This Tribunal makes mention of Sharron Williams Carter -  who was also in attendance at the meeting with the Independent Investigator of our Stage 2 complaint.

Sharron Williams Carter was also the senior officer tasked with carrying out the 'recommendations' from the Independent Investigation way back in 2010 that was highly critical of senior management. The 'recommendations' were not implemented.

Apologies from the CEO included him apologising on behalf of Melvin Panther. The same manager whose emails about us were censored and withheld. More on that here -

Mr Panther was the manager of the disabled social worker who took Gwynedd  Council to the Employment Tribunal.

We have also received an apology from Senior Operational Manager, Aled Gibbard.

Mr Gibbard has also featured in this blog before - badly handling another complaint. More -

Mr Gibbard was also present at the meeting in which the Investigator felt 'overwhelmed' and 'bullied'.

Delyth Davies - whose inadequate assessment of a child's needs was the main issue of the Stage 2 complaint was also present at this meeting.

Now the Ombudsman for Wales was given evidence that a social worker had lied to Investigators during the investigation and that the authors of the Directors response letter were aware of this deception.

A draft response letter that had Director, Morwena Edwards, asking the two authors - "What if the Ombudsman sees this..."

Marian Parry Hughes has just authored and presented to Council the Complaints Handling Report. Her Report makes nothing of her Department's annus horribilis. For her it is like nothing happened at all. Not even a nod in the direction of the Ombudsman who refers to the number of inaccurate references to legislation that she as Head of the Children and Families Department had made.

It is the same with the Director's of Social Services Annual Report 2019 - 'move along - nothing to see here'.
So how are County Councillors informed of the systemic failings found within Gwynedd Children and Families Department and their mishandling of complaints, year upon year ?

We have informed various committee members...and they choose to remain silent and do nothing.

What of Dilwyn Morgan, Cabinet member responsible for the Children and Families Department ? He has still not responded to us after being sent a copy of the Ombudsman's Report in June.
Something is so very wrong within Gwynedd council.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Cyngor Gwynedd Council CEO Apologises For Children's Services.

In June 2019, we received a letter of apology from Dilwyn O Williams, Chief Executive of Cyngor Gwynedd Council.

Mr Williams confirms the department has accepted the recommendations as stated in the Ombudsman's 2019 report.

He then apologises to us all as "a family on behalf of Gwynedd council for all the failings that have been noted within the Ombudsman's report". 

He goes on to apologise on behalf of the Children's department for the delay in providing a response to our complaint.

Mr Williams then apologises on behalf of a senior manager. He writes that the officer has asked for "his sincerest apologies to be passed to us as a family and his reassurance that this was not his intention to offend you as a family".

The Chief Executive adds - "Furthermore, I would also like to apologise for the failure to review *the* Child In Need plan" and ends asking for acceptance of "this sincere apology."

The letter is short and gives no detail of the failings of the children's department and its complaints department. Nor does it mention the behaviour of the senior managers in their treatment of the Independent Investigator in order to whitewash and sanitise the final, final Report.

Now a month later the CEO was in attendance at the Cabinet meeting of the 23rd July, 2019.
This meeting was to receive the Children and Family's Annual Complaints Handling Report, authored by Marian Parry Hughes. Mrs Hughes report contains anoma lies just like the last report (and the one before that and the one before that) but that is for another post.

The Cabinet member with responsibility for the Children's SS department, Dilwyn Morgan, had been sent a copy of the Ombudsman's report for his attention and consideration in June but at the time of writing has not replied. Nor did he attend this meeting where he should have presented the Report.

The Chief Executive made no mention of his letter of apology to the meeting nor did he reference the Ombudsman's report. He did make reference to the Ombudsman on a couple of occasions but not in regard to the report.

The meeting can be viewed here -
(Copy and paste the address into your browser)

As I write there is a problem with the english translation feed so it is only available in welsh but I am confident that this will be fixed shortly.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

7 Managers And 3 Staff Members Have Left Gisda Since 2011 - Amid Bullying Claims.#Gwynedd

More bullying in Gwynedd.

Ten former employees at a homeless charity have said the chief executive's behaviour led them to leave their jobs.
Since 2011, seven managers and three members of staff have left Gisda, with many claiming to have been bullied.
The board of directors at the charity, based in Caernarfon, Gwynedd, said it had confidence in the ability of Sian Elen Tomos.
The youth charity is "committed to creating a healthy work space for its entire staff," the board added.
The BBC has spoken to 10 former Gisda employees who claim Ms Tomos's managerial style was the reason they left.

None were willing to do an interview publicly - but one agreed to speak anonymously.

Eileen - not her real name - said Ms Tomos "could make people feel very uncomfortable".
"Not taking into account what anyone else said, ignoring people and making it obvious in front of other people, turning her back on you as you were speaking to her and walking away," she explained.

"I've seen her walking out of a number of meetings. She would not speak to people for days. Not speaking at all. And she could be nasty to people too.
"I think she worked on people's weaknesses - bullyng, really."

"I didn't want to go to work," she added. "I think it affected young people too. They could see so much turnover.

"There was a feeling that she was untouchable. If anyone disagreed with her she got rid of them - or worked to get rid of them."

A letter sent to the board of directors and seen by the BBC shows a number of staff complained about the situation in 2017.

The BBC understands only three formal complaints have been made since 2011, but a number of former staff said they did not complain formally because they felt they would be ignored.

The letter noted staff felt "suspicious, dispirited, anxious and angry", and the charity needed to act decisively if the board wished "to avoid a morale crisis".
The letter finished by calling on the board to "consider the high level of staff turnover in the organisation".

Later in 2017, an independent report was commissioned by the charity in response to the grievances of two managers.

The BBC has seen a copy of the report, which states the grievances of the two previous managers and the complaints made by the chief executive about her staff, were partly upheld.

Acknowledging further issues at Gisda, the report made a number of recommendations.

These included to arrange mediation between Ms Tomos and the two former managers and the board should review its complaints procedures so complaints were acted upon and not ignored.

According to Eileen, who left months after the independent report was published, the recommendations were not acted upon.

Four other former members of staff who left after the report was published agreed.

To see positive change, Eileen said the charity should appoint a new board of directors and chief executive.

Ms Tomos and the chairman of the board of directors, Tudor Owen, were given the opportunity to respond separately to the claims.

More -

Thursday, 1 August 2019

2019 Ombudsman Report On Cyngor Gwynedd Council Derwen Policy.

The Ombudsman for Wales makes comment on Gwynedd council's Derwen eligibility criteria.

 15. The Derwen policy document states that it is the team that ‘provides assessment, intervention and support for disabled children and young people with continuing needs as a result of disabilities or illness.’ It will support families, carers and the wider community in order to promote the health and welfare of disabled children. Derwen’s eligibility criteria sets out those who are eligible or ineligible, for its services. It says that those ‘with ADHD, but who are not disabled or have significant developmental delay’ are ineligible. It does not specifically mention Autism or other similar diagnosed conditions.

Those 'with ADHD, but who are not disabled or have significant developmental delay’are ineligible'.
Inclusive ? - I don't think so. I am not really sure what it even means.
The Ombudsman Recommends -

 70. The Council should review its Derwen policy to ensure its criteria aligns with the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014 and the Equality Act 2010’s definition of ‘disability’, and ensure staff are informed about any changes (within three months).

71. The Council should (within three months) seek specialist input to develop a plan for dealing with future assessment and support requests from/for those suffering with Autism.

We were surprised at the Ombudsman's Recommendation in this respect - it was not part of our desired outcomes and though any review of Gwynedd council and its policies are welcome we are left wondering as to the why.

The Ombudsman employs specialist advisers who could have confirmed immediately whether Derwen's criteria was legal yet the council is asked to review its own policy.

Now I note the " specialist input to develop a plan for dealing with future assessment and support..." but what of the children that have been failed by this department and its officer's for so many years ?

Our correspondence with the Ombudsman for Wales has included our thoughts on the second assessment of the child - only undertaken through a recommendation from a previous Investigation. We did relate the 'suggestion' from the social worker, that had been expressed during the Assessment and our horror and shock at her suggestion.

Both SW's were told that if they had 'suggested' that to a carer in any mental health setting that I knew of a managerial meeting would have been called and the SW reported.The other social worker present said he did not agree with the 'suggestion' but repeated 'it was only a suggestion'.

Was this the reason for the Ombudsman's finding and recommendations ? That it is so blindingly obvious to anyone independent looking at this council that there is a major problem with social workers and how they assess autistic children.

The social workers told us there were no autism services in Gwynedd. But they were both in my house to assess a child's eligibility for services ! How can a child be eligible for services that don't exist ? They can't obviously. Catch 22.

Unsurprisingly, the teen failed to meet the criteria threshold in this assessment(!) too. The SW's main reason was that he had helped cook rice with a teacher FOUR YEARS ago.

The SW's were asked what happens when he forgets he is cooking and walks off ? The SW's bowed their heads and mumbled sorry.

A complaint against this assessment was raised by the father last year - it has not been allowed to progress and is now 'out of time'.

Something is so wrong with Gwynedd council.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

"OMG Will It Never End" - Cyngor Gwynedd Council.

A massive thank you to Luke Clements for highlighting our case. The full Ombudsman's Report can be found on his page -
From his blog -

It is not every day that an ombudsman’s report refers to an investigator’s note saying the above.  Not every day that the ombudsman: asks a council to reflect on its obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights and the Equality Act 2010; refers to the number of inaccurate references a council has made to legislation; concludes that a council gave the impression that it was seeking to influence the outcome of an independent review of a complaint; refers to a council’s claim as being ‘disingenuous’.

For all our misgivings about the inadequate funding of the ombudsmen impairing their ability to hold councils’ to account[1] – the fact that reports of this nature emerge – revealing how some authorities operate in practice – is important.

Hopefully the local authority in question[2] will implement the ombudsman’s recommendations and take a long hard (and reforming look) at the organisational culture that allowed these deplorable events to occur.

In the next section we provide a résumé of the report and this is then followed by a reflective commentary by Paul Kelly – a highly experienced Independent Investigating Officer.

The investigation concerned a complaint by a family (Mr & Mrs A and their 16 year old son X), for whom the ombudsman had already (a year earlier) upheld a complaint relating to a connected matter.  Problems persisted and a further complaint was made alleging (among other things): that the council had failed to assess X as a disabled child; had failed to assess Mrs A (as a parent carer); and had inappropriately influenced the role of the Independent Investigation Officer (IIO).

The complaint was made on 25 May 2017 and related to assessment failures that occurred in September 2016.  These dates are important, as the events in question post-date that coming into force of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 (which occurred on the 6 April 2016).
The council had a policy, known as the ‘Derwen policy’, which stated – in effect – that children with ADHD, but who were not ‘disabled’ or did not have ‘significant developmental delay’ were ineligible for assessment / support as ‘disabled children’.  X had Autism and Pathological Demand Avoidance and although the Derwen policy did not specifically mention these conditions it is clear from the complaint, that the council also treated them in the same was as it treated ADHD.

The IIO investigated the complaints and in due course prepared a draft report which was overseen and approved by an Independent Person.  The draft report was shared with the council’s officers.  The officers were unhappy about the report – stating (among other things) that is was ‘very one sided’.  A meeting with the council was arranged and before this took place the investigator received a ‘flurry of documentation’ that she had not been shown during the investigation.

It was at this stage that the IP observed ‘Omg…will it never end’. The IIO was so troubled that she telephoned the Ombudsman’s Office for advice as to what to do at the meeting as (in her words) ‘it doesn’t seem right to me’.[3]

The IIO attended the meeting but had not anticipated being met by six senior council officers.  She felt ‘a bit overwhelmed’ and that she was being ‘bullied’. In this respect the ombudsman notes that there was an ‘imbalance in the number present at the meeting’ and that this was ‘sufficient to make her question, as she has, whether the independence of the process was being compromised’.   The council however stated that it was not seeking to influence the IIO into changing the report, ‘rather it wanted to make sure that “inaccuracies” were corrected’.  In this respect the ombudsman’s report concludes:

… the overall impression when viewed, objectively, is that the Council was unhappy with the findings. By acting as it did, it gives at least the impression that it was seeking to influence the outcome even though I have no hard evidence that this was its intention (bearing in mind it has denied such). However, that was how Mr & Mrs A saw it. Perception is often enough. On the evidence before me, bearing in mind the Council has not identified anything specific by way of ‘inaccuracies’, despite ample opportunity to do so, I find that it did act inappropriately.

The council refused to accept most of the recommendations in the final report (signed off by the IIO and the Independent Person) and in particular refused to undertake the recommended assessments of X and Mrs A.  In its opinion ‘X did not need care and support beyond that provided by his parents’ and that his needs did ‘not meet the criteria as a disabled child under the Equality Act 2000’.

Not only did the council get the year of the Act wrong – it also fundamentally misunderstood the law (not least – it seems – that the key Act was not the Children Act 1989 – as the material parts of this Act had been repealed by the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014).  X had a Statement of SEN; the Council had accepted (in an earlier ombudsman complaint) that he required a specialist Autism assessment; and X was in receipt of the highest level of the disability related benefit (PIP).  The ombudsman also observed (as had the IIO) that X’s ‘child in need plan’ had not been reviewed for some time and so questioned how the council could confidently say he was ‘not disabled or had no unmet needs’.

This report is incredibly troubling on many levels – not least that a local authority had so clearly failed to understand its legal obligations.  What is (to an outside observer) of most concern, is the level and nature of challenge experienced by the IIO.  We are well aware of families being fearful of the consequences of complaining – fearful of retaliatory action by authorities[4] – but for a local authority to behave in the way described by the ombudsman towards independent investigators is shocking.  Complaints’ investigators are acting on behalf of Chief Executives / council members.

For a culture to develop where such an investigator considers that she is being bullied and for the ombudsman to agree that the impression given was of a council seeking to influence the outcome of an independent review – strikes at the very heart of the review process.

Ultimately senior legal officers and council members are responsible for the organisational culture of their authority – and these officers / members should take a long hard look at this report.

We wanted to know if this sort of action by a local authority was unique – or whether complaints’ investigating officers encountered this on other occasions.  We therefore asked Paul Kelly – an expert Independent Investigating Officer of over 14 years to comment on whether, in his experience, overt pressure of this kind was sometimes placed on investigators – and for his general comments on the shortcomings of the social services complaints process as it currently operates.
General information about the social care complaints’ process in Wales is provided on the Rhydian pages – click here to access this note.

Personal reflections of Paul Kelly – Experienced Independent Investigating Officer.

I was lucky: the first local authority to take me on as an independent investigator in 2004 was the best of the twenty or so I encountered (until finishing this role in 2018). After many years in the probation service, I knew about writing reports, but not much about the world of social care. That first authority gave me a good grounding, including encouragement to make strong statements in my Stage 2 reports. The complaints manager knew her job inside out and was confident in her level of independence from social care structures. There was joint training with the local government ombudsman and with social care managers.

Much turned on the qualities of that complaints manager and I relied on her for advice and guidance. Not only that, reports did not get past her unless the arguments and quality stacked up: she never sought to influence findings. As a matter of routine there was a meeting with the adjudicating officer (i.e. the senior manager responsible for the local authority’s response to the complaint) after reports were submitted. Some probing was to be expected. Overall, it was a good thing: it kept me on my mettle and I had a reasonable sense of what the local authority was going to do about my findings and recommendations.

Even within that system there were some awkward moments but nothing serious, except perhaps when the authority did not want to accept a report I had written in Easyread (or as close as I could get to it). My view was that the report needed to be accessible to the person with learning disabilities who had made the complaint: the authority’s view was that the report should have been conventional but with separate interpretation for the complainant. My mistake was not discussing that properly with the complaints manager beforehand.

What if there is no complaints manager or if there is somebody in the role without the strengths of the manager I have described above? In my experience, only a handful came anywhere near the standards set in that first local authority, which in any case began to dismantle as austerity-driven cuts began and the manager left.

I have illustrated the good, what about the bad? Have I ever experienced anything as bad as the case discussed above? Yes, up to a point but not very often. One local authority tried to put a stop to an investigation I was carrying out. Among various machinations, they consulted their legal department about grounds for removing me as independent investigator and attempted to include a senior manager in our interviews with service delivery staff. The independent person objected to that and together we produced our reports that, in the end, a disgruntled head of service had to accept and agree. The independent person was heavily involved and enormously helpful: I concentrated on the complaints while he watched over the process, reporting on the heavy-handed and inappropriate actions of the authority. I had been on the point of taking the matter to the chief executive (complaints arrangement are under that person’s responsibilities) but we got through without needing to do that.

Why could this have happened? The complaints manager had recently departed. She and her staff had previously encouraged investigators to be thorough and probe hard but fairly. They did not like to re-employ investigators who produced half-hearted or poorly argued work. They were actively pursuing early resolution work and had nurtured a group of high quality independent persons. The good work of previous complaints managers unraveled when a new hardline regime of disruptors took charge, so creating confusion, misunderstanding and not a little mayhem. The independent person and I were among the first to feel the chill. 

Did we get any further work from that authority? I think the answer to that question will be obvious.
I could describe two further examples of local authorities that behaved badly. Both involved directors bypassing adjudicating officers, getting too heavily involved but ultimately having to give ground. Both instances also included newly appointed complaints managers who were administrators rather than complaints professionals. The role of the complaints manager is crucial, without one – or without a good one – I think it is far more likely that things will go wrong. Complaint investigations are often serious and complex: local authorities need steady hands on the tiller.

Out of my more than 90 enquiries, three featured overt attempts at undue influence by local authorities. I checked with a colleague who has much more complaints experience than I: we agreed that in the main, local authorities respected the independence of investigators and did not seek to influence findings and recommendations.

Thee overt attempts were three too many. I am inclined to think that covert influencing is more prevalent. Well-run independently focused complaints sections provided me with plenty of work. Those repeat commissions dried up when regimes changed. Was that anything more than coincidence?

With experience of a very well-run complaints section, I was used to having all records readily available and staff interviews arranged for me. Legal advice was available and training provided. It was a shock to do work elsewhere where nothing very much was made available and investigators had to go hunting for records. Typically there was no training and no legal advice despite some tricky legal questions being involved in an investigation. Interviews with staff were variable: some were very cooperative and came fully prepared, others were unprepared and vague giving apparent compliance and little more. I made notes of all meetings and they went to interviewed staff in draft form, but all too often without reply. More than once key staff who had moved on to different authorities refused to be interviewed, even though they had been centrally involved with the matter complained about. And social care records? I am afraid, criticising them could be no more than shooting fish in a barrel.

I have worked on Stage 3 review panels: they are, in effect, an appeals process for complainants dissatisfied with Stage 2 outcomes. Poor quality independent investigator reports have been a recurring feature. Examples have included: local authorities’ versions being too readily accepted; descriptions of legal positions being wrong; key complaints information being omitted; absence of meaningful analysis; reports being padded out with unnecessary narrative (20,000 words on occasion) and the investigator and independent person declining to look at relevant supporting material offered by complainants.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Always Someone Else's Fault - Cyngor Gwynedd Council.

Paragraph 40 of the Ombudsman for Wales 2019 Report into Cyngor Gwynedd Children's Services -

"...However, the Council was of the view that it was not required to share any draft with
Mr & Mrs A. It said that the Regulations did not specify this. In support of its
view, it said that it had sought information from other councils in North Wales
about their practice, which accorded with the Council’s position.

The Council said that it was the IIO that had requested a meeting to discuss the
Second draft. The Council had referred the IIO to documents already
provided to review those inaccuracies it had pointed out. It said that ‘extra
copies’ of those documents were provided to her.

Only one additional (new) item was produced, which the Council had initially felt to be irrelevant to the IIO’s investigation, as it related to an earlier complaint made in 2010. The
Council said that the sole purpose of the meeting was to ensure the report’s
accuracy. It was not an attempt to influence the IIO.

The Council added that it had to chase the IIO to obtain the Final report. It was not sent until
11.13pm on 2 January 2018 (despite assurance it would reach Officer 1 by 29 December 2017).
This was ‘...unfortunate and highly disappointing that
the IIO’s reluctance to respond to [Officer 1’s] requests for a corrected
draft...during December further added to the delay’.

So Gwynedd Council told the Ombudsman that other County Council's in North Wales do not share Independent Investigation 'draft' Reports. I wonder if proof of this was provided to the Ombudsman? In any case, the usual procedure is that the Council accept the IO's Independent report and write a response letter and if they do not agree with findings and recommendations to say so in that response letter, not seek to change or remove things from the IO's report before they accept it.

The IO and IP stated that this course of action is NOT usual.

How can complainants challenge any inaccuracies in a Report if they are not allowed sight before publication ? I am astonished that the Ombudsman permitted this 'excuse' without challenge - especially as we pointed out that the Report does contain one inaccuracy that we would like correcting and asked what was to be done to correct this.
The question was ignored.

Gwynedd Council like to blame anyone but themselves, but to claim to the Ombudsman that the Council had to chase the IO to obtain the Final Report is disingenuous in light of the fact that this was the third report that she had submitted.

Bearing in mind, the Ombudsman was kept informed of the Council's behaviour during this time it is confusing the Ombudsman has not made more of this point. The Ombudsman even attempted to speed up the process by writing to the council to ask what had happened to their 'delayed response'.

A process that should take 25 working DAYS took 7 MONTHS.

And who is Officer 1 requesting a 'corrected draft' ?
Highly disappointing ? For whom ?

Something is very wrong within Gwynedd council.