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1.6.1 Complaints Procedure

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This chapter outlines the procedure for responding to a complaint made by or on behalf of a child or young person.

RELATED CHAPTER

Advocacy Service for Children in Care

AMENDMENT

This chapter was amended in November 2021 to reflect the Children’s Statutory Complaint Process: Guide for Practitioners (Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman) (see Relevant Guidance (above)).


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Complaints Procedure

    Appendix 1: Key Lessons from Ombudsman Investigations

    Further Information


1. Introduction

  1. A Complaint is any expression of dissatisfaction with the council, however made, which needs a response’ and can provide an opportunity to bring forward a review of a service decision with which a child or young person is unhappy. It can highlight ways of improving performance and better ways of working.

    For a complaint to come within this procedure, it must have a child at its heart or be made on behalf of a child. It may relate, for example, to a decision made in relation to the placement of a child, the outcome of an assessment, the quality of a service, the reduction of a service, unreasonable delay or the attitude of a member of staff.

Who can make a Complaint

  1. A complaint under this procedure may be made by:
    1. A child;
    2. A parent or person with Parental Responsibility;
    3. A local authority foster carer (in relation to services to a child);
    4. Such other person the authority considers to have has sufficient interest in a child’s welfare to warrant a complaint or representation being considered by them;
    5. Care leavers;
    6. Special guardians;
    7. A child in respect of whom a Special Guardianship Order is in force;
    8. Any person who has applied for an assessment for special guardianship support;
    9. Any child who may be adopted, their parents and guardians;
    10. Any person wishing to adopt a child;
    11. Any person to whom arrangements for the provision of adoption support services extend;
    12. Adopted persons, their adoptive parents, birth parents and former guardians

      Where a complaint is made on behalf of a child, the Customer Relations Manager should confirm where possible that the child is happy for this to happen and that the complaint submitted reflects their views. However, as long as the complainant is on the list of 'who can make a complaint', these individuals can make a complaint in their own right and do not need the consent of the child, (but note they do not have the right to access the child's personal data).

      N.B. A Complaint relating to the outcome of a Child Protection Conference will be dealt with under the Resolving Inter Agency Disagreements process of the East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures and Guidance.

Criteria for a Complaint

A complaint may arise as a result of many things relating to statutory children’s social care functions such as:

  • An unwelcome or disputed decision;
  • Concern about the quality or appropriateness of a service;
  • Delay in decision making or provision of services;
  • Delivery or non-delivery of services including complaints procedures;
  • Quantity, frequency, change or cost of a service;
  • Attitude or behaviour of staff;
  • Application of eligibility and assessment criteria;
  • The impact on a child of the application of a local authority policy, and;
  • Assessment, care management and review..

This, and the list that follows, are indicative only and should not be used as a means of restricting matters about which a complaint can be made and responded to. Where there is uncertainty about the validity of a complaint, the Customer Relations Manager should seek legal advice as necessary.

Specifically, a complaint may be about the following:

  • The decision by the local authority to initiate Care Proceedings;
  • The effect of a Care Order and the local authority's actions and decisions where a Care Order is made;
  • Issues relating to contact between parents and children subject to Care Orders;
  • How supervisors perform their duties where a Supervision Order is in force;
  • Actions of the local authority regarding applications for and duties in relation to Child Assessment Orders;
  • Matters relating to applications for Emergency Protection Orders and decisions relating to the return of children who have been removed;
  • The quality or accuracy of social work information or a social work report provided to a Court;
  • The conduct of a social worker in court.

Complaints in relation to Adoption

In relation to adoption, a complaint may be about the following:

  • The provision of adoption support services insofar as these enable adoptive children to discuss matters relating to adoption;
  • Assessments and related decisions for adoption support services;
  • Placing children for adoption, including Parental Responsibility and contact issues Removal of children who are or may be placed by adoption agencies;
  • Removal of children in non-agency cases;
  • The carrying out by the local authority of its duties on receipt of a notice of intention to adopt;
  • The carrying out by the local authority of its duties in respect of:
    • Considering adoption for a child;
    • A proposed placement of a child with prospective adopters;
    • Adoptive placements and adoption reviews;
    • Adoption records;
    • Contact; and
    • Parental responsibility prior to adoption abroad.

Special Guardianship

In relation to special guardianship, a complaint may be about the following:

  • Financial support for special guardians;
  • Support groups for children to enable them to discuss matters relating to special guardianship;
  • Assistance in relation to contact with parents for children;
  • Therapeutic services for children; and
  • Assistance to ensure the continuation of the relationship between the child and their special guardian or prospective special guardian.

The Role of the Customer Relations Manager

The Customer Relations Manager has discretion in deciding whether to consider complaints where to do so would prejudice any of the following concurrent investigations:

  • Court proceedings;
  • Tribunals;
  • Disciplinary proceedings; or
  • Criminal proceedings.

Before the Customer Relations Manager decides not to consider or further consider complaints subject to these concurrent investigations, they should consider if it is possible to investigate some or all of the complaint without prejudicing any other investigation. They must write to the complainant explaining the reason for the decision and specifying the relevant concurrent investigation.

Once the concurrent investigation has been concluded the complainant may resubmit their complaint to the local authority.

Time Limit to Complaints

Local authorities do not need to consider complaints made more than 1 year after the grounds to make the complaint arose. In these cases, the Customer Relations Manager should write to advise the complainant that their complaint cannot be considered, explaining the reasons why. This response should also advise the complainant of their right to approach the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The time limit can be extended at the local authority’s discretion if it is still possible to consider the representations effectively and efficiently and/or where it would be unreasonable to expect the complainant to have made the complaint earlier, for example, where the child was not able to make the complaint or did not feel confident in bringing it forward in the year time limit.

Process for Responding to Complaints

Complaints must be promptly screened and where appropriate, signposted to an alternative procedure to be dealt with if required.

It is important that complaints are fully recognised and not ‘filtered out’ of the statutory complaint system, (thereby not recognising complainants’ rights to have their dissatisfaction formally considered or investigated).

The law says that councils must act swiftly and efficiently when handling complaints, ensuring there are no unnecessary delays. The emphasis should be on a speedy resolution reached locally wherever possible.

  1. The initial decision to log a complaint rests with the Customer Relations Manager.
  2. If the complaint involves issues of race, language, religion, disability or advocacy then advice should be sought before the procedures commence.
  3. In addition, if a complaint raises issues falling within the Disciplinary Procedure the complaints procedure is suspended until those procedures are completed.
  4. All staff dealing with complaints from children/young people should recognise that what may appear to be a simple complaint could be masking other worries for the child/young person. All staff should be aware of how to deal appropriately with possible disclosures. Where a complaint includes an allegation of Significant Harm, the matter must be directed to be dealt with under the East Riding Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures and Guidance and must be referred for this purpose immediately.
  5. When the Customer Relations Manager logs a complaint at the first stage, this is termed local resolution. The complaint or representation will at this stage be logged onto the Feedback computer system. The Customer Relations Manager will send an acknowledgement to the person making the complaint or representation within 2 working days. The Customer Relations Manager will allocate the complaint to try to resolve the complaint by local resolution. The allocated manager will discuss their response with the complainant and send a written response to the complainant within 10 working days of the complaint being logged by the Customer Relations Manager.
  6. If it is not possible to respond within the above time scale - for example where files or records need to be checked or a key member of staff is not available etc. the manager must inform the Customer Relations Manager who will send a holding letter to advise the complainant of the delay.

    However the maximum period for a complaint to remain at Stage One is 20 working days, unless the complainant has agreed to an extension of time.
  7. If the matter cannot be resolved to the complainant’s satisfaction within 20 working days, they can request that the complaint be investigated formally. When the Customer Relations Manager ‘Registers’ the complaint and the Investigation second stage begins, an investigating officer is appointed who should be impartial and not part of the service that is the subject of the complaint. An Independent Person (who cannot be an employee or an elected member of the authority) will be appointed in all children’s services complaints. A report is prepared which will contain recommendations, and this will be submitted to the Customer Relations Manager.

    Upon receiving the Investigating Officer’s report and any supplementary report provided by the Independent Person, the Customer Relations Manager will: :
    1. Send a copy of the report/s to the Adjudication Officer (Service Manager/head of the service complained about).
    2. Arrange to meet the Adjudication Officer as soon as practicable so that their adjudication can be made as to what action they are willing to implement in relation to the recommendations.
    3. Send a copy of the Investigating Officer’s report, any supplementary report prepared by the Independent Person and the local authority’s response to the report(s) to the complainant.
    4. Advise the complainant of the right to request the Customer Relations Manager within 20 working days that the complaint proceeds to a Stage Three Review Panel.
  8. The time limit for this formal stage is 25 working days although it can be extended to 65 working days with the agreement of the Customer Relations Manager.
  9. If the complainant remains dissatisfied with the outcome of the Stage 2 investigation, the complainant has the right to request that the complaint proceed to the third stage of the procedure, which is the Independent Review Panel, chaired by an Independent Person (not the same one used at the 2nd stage). The complainant must make this request to the Customer Relations Manager within 20 working days of receiving the outcome of Stage 2. The panel should be convened within 30 working days of the complainant’s request. The panel recommendations are sent within 5 working days to the Director of Children, Families and Schools. The Director informs the complainant within 15 working days of their decision regarding the recommendations and which officer is responsible for implementing any recommendations. The letter will also contain the timescales in which the recommendations will be carried out and information of the right to lodge a complaint with the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
  10. All staff will attend the necessary training for the various roles they may be asked to carry out.
  11. A copy of the local resolution letter, Investigation Report with recommendations and Independent Review Panel Report should be kept on the case file (and any module files) in the confidential section of the file. This is to ensure that staff members are aware of any recommendations/changes to practice which were or should have been implemented as a result of the complaint.


2. Complaints Procedure

Caption: Detailed Procedure
   
1. Any member of staff at any access point of the authority, including Customer Service Centres or the Call Centre can receive a Complaint. (Only Customer Relations Manager to put complaint onto the system). Staff should inform the complainant that the information will be sent to the Customer Relations Manager who will make the initial decision to log the complaint. The Customer Relations Manager will also decide whether it is appropriate that the complaint relates to a child and therefore should be dealt with under this procedure. If a complaint is not to be processed through the procedure the Customer Relations Manager will write to the complainant with reasons for this decision.
2. A complaint can also be received on a Complaints Form. At this stage a complaint does not have to be received in writing from the complainant. However details of the complaint should be taken down and confirmed (by signature of the complainant where possible).
3. Details of the complaint to be sent to the Customer Relations Manager by telephone, fax or e-mail within 1 working day.
4.

The Customer Relations Manager will log the complaint on the Feedback system.

The Customer Relations Manager and local manager will consider whether the complaint raises any matters that should be addressed under the disciplinary procedures. If so they will notify Human Resources. In the event that disciplinary procedures are initiated the complaint will be suspended and the complainant informed by the Customer Relations Manager. Human Resources to ensure local manager is aware of any disciplinary action. If the complaint relates to Child Protection issues the local manager will initiate the East Riding Safeguarding Partnership Procedures and Guidance.

If the complaint relates to the functioning of a Child Protection Conference, the East Riding Safeguarding Partnership Procedures and Guidance should be followed.

If the complaint relates to the cancellation of a service or a significant change in service provision the Customer Relations Manager will consider whether to advise that the service continues or be re-instated until the complaint procedure is complete.

5.

First Stage - Local Resolution

A logged complaint commences the local resolution stage of the Social Services Complaints Procedure. This stage is an attempt to examine the issues and resolve them locally as speedily as possible.

Only issues agreed with the Customer Relations Manager will be looked into. Any fresh issues raised must be considered as a fresh complaint.

6.

The Customer Relations Manager will contact the complainant and clarify the exact nature of the complaint and their desired outcome. Customer Relations Manager will also discuss support and advocacy with the complainant.

If the complaint is from a looked after child/young person the Customer Relations Manager will arrange to meet with the child/young person to discuss the complaint, at which time inform the young person of the role of the Participation and Rights Team regarding complaints and the provision of support and advocacy. Customer Relations Manager will seek permission from the child/young person to pass details of the complaint and their desired outcome to the Participation and Rights Team or other nominated advocacy service.

If it is decided that the complaint can be considered within the complaints procedure the Customer Relations Manager will log the complaint and a letter of acknowledgement will be sent to the child/young person or agreed keyworker within 2 days.
  6.1

If permission is given to share details with the Participation and Rights Team, a member of the Team will make contact and visit the child/young person to discuss the details of the complaint and their situation.

The Participation and Rights Team will relay the child’s/young persons views and opinions back to the Customer Relations Manager.
7. The Participation and Rights Team and Customer Relations Manager will liaise as the complaint progresses. The Participation and Rights Team will continue to offer on-going support to the child or young person at any meeting arranged between Children’s Services or with any other agencies.
8. The Customer Relations Manager will contact the relevant manager to inform them of the nature of the complaint and to discuss the details. The local manager will inform the Customer Relations Manager of the name of the officer who will respond. This Officer will have sufficient authority to take an appropriate decision on the issue concerned and to ensure that decisions are followed through
9. The Customer Relations Manager will write to the local manager attaching details of the logged complaint (from the Feedback system), along with a copy of the acknowledgement letter, any written correspondence from the complainant. A reply slip for the manager to send with their response and a pre-paid envelope will also be provided.
10. The responding officer will contact the complainant. If the complainant is a child this could be in the form of a joint meeting with the young person and the local manager/keyworker. All meetings to be with the consent of the young person.
11.

The responding officer will make the necessary enquiries and provide a written response (settlement letter), enclosing the reply slip and pre-paid envelope, to the complainant within 10 working days. This will be delivered personally and the response explained. If it is not possible to respond within the above time scale - for example where files or records need to be checked or a key member of staff is not available, the responding officer must inform the Customer Relations Manager who will send a holding letter to advise the complainant of the delay. However the maximum period for a complaint to remain at Stage One is 20 working days, unless the complainant has agreed to an extension of time.

The letter will contain details of the next stage of the procedure. A copy of the local resolution letter and any other correspondence to be sent the same day to the Customer Relations Manager.
12. The Customer Relations Manager will record details of the response, including timescales.
13. The complainant has 4 weeks in which to reply. Failure to reply within this time is deemed acceptance of the response and the complaint resolved at the local resolution stage. The complaint will then be closed. The Customer Relations Manager to inform the appropriate manager of the outcome.

14.

Second Stage - Investigation

If the complainant is not satisfied with the response and requests an investigation under the second stage of the Complaints Procedure, the Customer Relations Manager will Register the complaint/representation (even though the Complaints Manager may feel the complaint has been dealt with under Stage 1). The complainant can request for the complaint to commence at Stage 2. (In certain circumstances it may be deemed inappropriate to progress to the second stage. The Customer Relations Manager will decide this with the relevant 3rd tier manager and inform the complainant in writing).

Usually, the issues raised will be those expressed in Stage 1, but it is possible that the complainant may add further issues to their complaint at Stage 2. The Stage 2 investigation should be proportionate to the issues complained about and not, for example, reviewing the council’s entire involvement with the child or young person.

The Complaint’s Manager should make a decision whether ‘new complaints’ should be dealt with under Stage 1 or within the Stage 2 process. It may be preferable to deal with ‘new complaints’ alongside existing ones in order that a consistent approach is taken to the complainant’s matters.

There is no time limit for a complainant to ask for a complaint to move to Stage 2, although the guidance encourages this to be done in 20 working days. The Complaints Manager should consider whether, in each case, there are good reasons for any delays by the complainant and not just rely on a pre-determined deadline set by the Council’s procedure. The primary consideration should be: ‘what is the best way for resolving the complaint?’
15. The Customer Relations Manager will appoint an Investigating Officer who has the experience and authority to take an appropriate decision on the issue of concern and who is off line from the service under investigation. An Independent Person will also be appointed as a requirement under the Children Act 1989. The Independent Person’ role is to oversee the investigation, not to act as an investigating officer.
16. The Customer Relations Manager will notify the complainant in writing of the registration of the complaint, the name of the Investigating Officer and Independent Person and the usual statutory period of 25 working days allowed for the investigation. This may be extended to 65 working days with the Customer Relations Manager’s agreement. (If the complaint is from a child/young person, the Customer Relations Manager will offer to make a personal visit).
17. Where the complaint is from a child/young person who is looked after the Customer Relations Manager will reiterate the role of the Participation and Rights Team.
18. The Customer Relations Manager will provide the Investigating Officer and the Independent Person with all relevant information and documentation necessary to start the investigation and signed confirmation of details of the complaint and desired outcome from the complainant where possible.
19.

The purpose of the investigation is to establish the facts and find out what can be done to resolve the complaint.

The Investigating Officer should arrange interviews and see all relevant documents necessary to complete the investigation and produce a report with recommendations.

20. The Investigating Officer will submit a written report to the Customer Relations Manager, detailing their findings and recommendations. The Independent Person will indicate if they agree with the investigation findings by signing the report and recommendations. If they do not they will inform the Customer Relations Manager and provide a separate report explaining the reasons for the disagreement.
21. The Customer Relations Manager will send the Investigation report/s to the Adjudication Officer (Service Manager/head of service) and arrange to meet the Adjudication Officer as soon as practicable, to consider the response to the report.
22. The Adjudication Officer will then decide on a response and notify this in writing to the complainant, enclosing a copy of the investigation report and identifying how the recommendations will be implemented and the timescales for this, also any changes in practice/service delivery as a result of the complaint report. If a recommendation is not to be implemented then this will be explained in the letter to the complainant with the reasons. The letter will advise the complainant of the right to request the Customer Relations Manager within 20 working days that the complaint proceeds to a Stage Three Review Panel.
23. If the complainant is a child/young person the Adjudication Officer will consider whether they should also visit and explain their response.
24. The Adjudication Officer will keep the complainant informed of any changes in practice as a result of the complaint.
25.

The Adjudication Officer will also ensure that relevant managers are informed within 28 days of the outcome of the complaint and recommendations to be implemented within the agreed timescales.

S/he will discuss with the managers they have a management responsibility for, how the recommendations are to be implemented (discussion and decisions to be recorded).

26. If the complainant does not respond within the 20 working days response time it will be deemed that the complainant is satisfied at this stage. The Customer Relations Manager will inform the Adjudication Officer and close the complaint. The Adjudication Officer will inform local managers of the outcome.

27.

Third Stage - Independent Review Panel

If the complainant remains dissatisfied they can request a Stage Three Independent Review Panel. (In some circumstances it may be decided, in discussion with senior managers, and Director of Children, Families and Schools that a Review Panel will not be held. In this case Customer Relations Manager to write to complainant with reasons).

The Review Panel will be concerned primarily with the findings of the 2nd stage investigation report and with considering whether the action or decision being complained about was appropriate and whether it is still appropriate. Also whether procedures have been followed. Consideration can also be given to the actual merits of decisions made.
28. The Customer Relations Manager will convene the panel within 30 working days of the receipt of the request and send all relevant documents to the chair and panel members and officers attending the panel.
29. All parties will be informed of the date, time and venue and name and status of all the panel members. The complainant has to be given at least 10 working days notice of the date of the panel and informed of the process for making submissions. They must also be informed of their right to have another person attend with them and someone to speak on their behalf.
30. The Independent Review Panel consists of an Independent Chair Person and two other independent members, who cannot be employed by the Council, nor elected members of the Council, nor a spouse/partner of an employee or elected member. Panel members are appointed by the Customer Relations Manager. The author of the second stage report and, if appropriate, independent person will also attend to speak to their report. The Adjudication Officer will attend to put the Council’s case and to respond. It may also be appropriate for other officers to attend by invitation.
31. Panel papers should be sent to Panel members and other attendees as soon as these have been agreed and no later than 10 working days before the date of the Panel. These should normally include: information on Stage 1 (as relevant), the Stage 2 investigation report(s), the local authority’s adjudication, any policy, practice or guidance information relevant to the complaint, and any comments that the complainant has submitted to the Panel. The papers should also include information on any local practice around Panels, such as conduct, roles and responsibilities.
32.

The Customer Relations Manager will attend the Panel Review throughout to advise and assist the Panel Members. The Panel make recommendations which are included in a written report from the chair of the panel. This is then sent to the Director of Children, Families and Schools within 5 working days of the Review Panel, who will respond to the recommendations of the Panel and make this response known to the complainant within 15 working days of the Panel meeting.

The Customer Relations Manager will send a copy of the Panel Report and recommendations to the complainant (in all but exceptional circumstances) and any other parties with sufficient interest. If the complainant is a child/young person the Customer Relations Manager will consider whether to deliver the copy of the recommendations personally.

The Director of Children, Families and Schools will send their decision to the complainant within 15 working days of the Panel meeting. A copy will be sent by the Director’s office to the Customer Relation Manager and to the Managers with given responsibility for carrying out the recommendations. The Customer Relations Manager will inform the Panel members of the outcome.

Included in the response will be details of how the recommendations are to be implemented, the timescale and the officer responsible for implementation. If a recommendation is not to be implemented the letter will contain an explanation why.

The letter will also include details of how to access the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s office if the complainant feels that mal administration has occurred.

Where a complaint is upheld but recommendations are not carried out, the complainant should be advised in the response letter, to contact the Senior Manager or Director of Children, Families and Schools, rather than this issue being considered as a fresh complaint.


Appendix 1: Key Lessons from Ombudsman Investigations

Do

  • Invest time at the outset to decide if a complaint should be considered under the statutory complaints procedure or through an alternative procedure;
  • Speak to the complainant at stage one to define their complaint and manage their expectations of what an investigation might achieve;
  • Keep the complainant informed of any delays;
  • Keep detailed records at each stage of the investigation, including any decision not to use the statutory complaints procedure or not to accept a late request to escalate a complaint;
  • Signpost to the Ombudsman once a complaint completes the statutory complaints procedure, or if the council decides not to investigate a complaint.

Do not

  • Refuse to investigate a complaint at stage two or three due to a lack of resources or because the council does not think there is merit to the complaint;
  • Switch complaint procedures part-way through. If a council accepts a complaint under the statutory complaints procedure it must complete this to the complainant's satisfaction;
  • Make an early referral to the Ombudsman if the criteria set out in the guidance have not been met.

From: Children's statutory complaint process: Guide for Practitioners (Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman).


Further Information

Good Practice Guidance

Effective Complaint Handling for Local Authorities (Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman)

Children's Statutory Complaint Process: Guide for Practitioners (Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman)

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