SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure covers complaints and representations received in respect of services to children. School Appeal or Tribunal Procedures such as Admissions, Exclusions and Special Educational Needs are subject to their own statutory framework and are not considered as part of this Policy.
Those wishing to make complaints in relation to a Looked After Child can, at any time, refer their complaints to the Regulatory Authority.This procedure does not apply to complaints of Significant Harm, which must be dealt with under the Local Safeguarding Children Board Inter Agency Procedures.
A representation or complaint may be made by:
Where the complaint is made by a young person aged up to 18 years, or from a Care Leaver about a service they received as a child or young person, a Children's Complaints Officer will be appointed to undertake local resolution.
Where the complaint is made by an adult on behalf of a competent child aged 12 years or above the Complaints Manager will seek to confirm that the young person is in agreement with the complaint being made on their behalf and that the complaint reflects their views. If the young person is not in agreement with the adult making a complaint on their behalf the Complaints Manager will inform the adult that their complaint will not be considered and why. The young person will be given information regarding the Children's Complaints Officer and encouraged to make their own complaint if they are dissatisfied.
Where the complaint is made by an adult who has the right to have their complaint considered by the Children and Young People's Department the Complaints Manager will seek to ascertain that any competent young person aged 12 years or over is in agreement with the adult making a complaint and give their consent for their personal information to be accessed and shared via the investigation process. If a competent young person does not want their personal information accessed and/or shared the Complaints Manager will inform the adult as to which parts of their complaint cannot be investigated fully and why.
Where the complaint is made by an adult who does not have a right to have their complaint considered by the Children and Young People's Department, the Department will exercise discretion as to whether the adult concerned has sufficient interest in the child's welfare for the complaint to be considered. If it is decided that the complaint will not be considered the Complaints Manager will write to the adult to inform them of the decision.
Anonymous complaints cannot be considered within the Children & Young People's Department complaints procedures. However, dependent upon the nature of the complaint the Children's Complaints Manager will decide what action, if any, should be taken.
Where a complaint is made on behalf of a child, the Complaints Manager should confirm where possible that the child is happy for this to happen and that the complaint submitted reflects his or her views.
A complaint may arise as a result of many things relating to statutory children's social care functions such as:
This is not an exhaustive list and the Complaints Manager should seek legal advice as necessary.
Specifically, a complaint may be about the following:
In relation to adoption, a complaint may be about the following:
In relation to special guardianship order, a complaint may be about the following:
The Complaints Manager has discretion in deciding whether to consider complaints where to do so would prejudice any of the following concurrent investigations:
If the Complaints Manager decides not to consider or further consider complaints subject to these concurrent investigations, s/he must write to the complainant explaining the reason for their decision and specifying the relevant concurrent investigation.
Once the concurrent investigation has been concluded the complainant may resubmit their complaint to the local authority as long as it is within one year of the conclusion of the concurrent investigation.
Local authorities do not need to consider complaints made more than one year after the grounds to make the complaint arose. In these cases, the Complaints 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 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.
Children must be informed about the Complaints Procedure in a variety of ways suitable to their needs and level of understanding. Copies of relevant leaflets should be provided, for example the Children's Guide which is given to children before or upon admission to a children's home. Such information must include an explanation of the role of an advocate and provide contact details for advocates to make complaints on children's behalf.
Where children or those acting on their behalf express a wish to make a complaint, they should be given any information or advice they require on how to use the Complaints Procedure. Their options must be carefully explained including information and advice on alternative methods for resolving their dissatisfaction. For all complaints made by or on behalf of children, help must always be offered to obtain the services of an advocate.Where a child wishes to make a complaint, s/he should be referred to the relevant manager or to the Complaints Manager.
If the complaint is made by or relates to a child in foster care or residential care, it may also be directed to the regulatory authority.
Comments, complaints and compliments may be made orally or in writing, including by email or text. Some complaints can be received via the Local Government Ombudsman.
All comments, complaints and compliments about services to children should be recorded either by the front-line manager who receives them and forwarded to the Complaints Manager.
In relation to complaints, the emphasis should be on a speedy resolution reached locally wherever possible (within 5 working days).
However, where a complaint includes an allegation of significant harm, the matter must be directed to be dealt with under the Child Protection Procedures and must be referred to the Referral and Assessment Team for this purpose immediately.
Staff may not deal with complaints relating to their own practice and must pass such matters to their own manager.
If comments made by users about a service indicate dissatisfaction with the service, the front-line service provider or the line manager receiving the complaint should in most instances try to resolve them quickly, if they have the delegated responsibility to do so. Wherever appropriate, complainants should be asked to agree to a 'local' resolution. In all cases where complaints are received, the Complaints Manager must be informed.
When the Complaints Manager receives a complaint directly, this will be considered under Stage One and the Complaints Manager will:
If it is not possible to respond within the above time scale - e.g. where files or records need to be checked or a key member of staff is not available - the line manager (in b) above) must inform the Complaints 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.
Complaints made by children in foster care or residential care should be recorded as follows:
The manager for each team or service has to keep a record of complaints dealt with 'locally' and their outcomes. This record should then be forwarded to the Complaints Manager.
If the matter cannot be resolved to the user's satisfaction within 20 working days, the complainant must be advised that he or she has a right to proceed to Stage Two and given assistance to do so as necessary. The complainant may, however, agree to extend the deadline for the Stage One process.
Complainants should be encouraged to make a written complaint, but do not have to do so. A complaint may be accepted in any form. Where a complaint is not in writing, however, the Complaints Manager should arrange to meet the complainant to make a written record of the complaint which is then agreed with the complainant.
Upon receiving a complaint, the Complaints Manager will:
The Complaints Manager and the Investigating Officer should consider whether it is necessary to halt a particular aspect of the case pending investigation, for example where there are ongoing Court proceedings.
Upon being appointed, the Investigating Officer will:
Upon receiving the Investigating Officer's reports and any supplementary report provided by the Independent Person, the Complaints Manager will:
If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, s/he has 20 working days to ask for the response to be reviewed by a Review Panel. The request should be made to the Complaints Manager and acknowledged in writing within 2 working days. The Complaints Manager will ensure a Review Panel is set up and meets within 30 working days of the complainant's request being made.
The Review Panel must be made up of 3 independent people, who must not be:
One member will be appointed as the Panel Chair. It is good practice that the Chair should not have been employed or an elected member of the authority within the last 3 years.
The complainant should be notified of the Panel's date and location in writing at least 10 working days before the Review Panel meets and be invited to attend. The complainant should also be informed of his entitlement to be accompanied by another person and for this person to speak on his behalf.
Those persons involved with the investigation at Stage 2 (e.g. the Investigating Officer, and the Independent Person) should also be invited to attend.
The Chair should make the final decision on attendees (including asking the local authority to make specific members of staff available to provide specialist advice or opinion).
Panel papers should be sent to Panel members and other attendees as soon as these have been agreed by the Chair 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.
The Review Panel's recommendations should be recorded in writing and copies sent to the Head of Children's Social Care within 5 working days.
The Head of Children's Social Care must respond to the recommendations of the Review Panel and make the decisions known to the complainant within 15 working days, explaining the authority's decision and reasons.
In terms of the Complaints Procedure, there is no further action that the complainant can take to progress a complaint.
Complainants should be advised of their right to make representations to the Local Government Ombudsman if they are still not satisfied.
The Children and Young People's Department are committed to dealing with all complaints fairly. However there are a small minority of complainants who hinder the consideration of their or other people's complaints; or use unacceptable behaviour.
Some examples of actions and behaviours which the Department designate as unreasonable or unreasonably persistent are:
When we consider that a complainant is unreasonable or unreasonably persistent the Children's Complaints Manager may take a decision to restrict access to the complaints procedure. Any restrictions imposed will be appropriate and proportionate, the options most likely to be considered are:
In all cases the Children's Complaints Manager will write to the complainant to inform them why his or her behaviour falls into the category of unreasonable or unreasonably persistent, what action will be taken and the duration of such action.
Where a complainant whose complaint is closed persists in communicating with the Children and Young People's Department about it, we may decide to terminate contact with the complainant. In such cases the Children's Complaints Manager will read all correspondence from the complainant but unless there is fresh evidence which affects the decision on the complaint we will simply place it on file.