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BexleyChildren's Services Procedures Manual

Children’s Social Care Statutory Complaints Procedure

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure covers complaints and representations received in respect of services to children.

Those wishing to make complaints in relation to a Looked After Child can, at any time, refer their complaint 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.

RELATED GUIDANCE

The Young Person's Guide to the Children and Families Act 2014

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in October 2017 to reflect Bexley procedures. These include an evaluation as to whether a representative has the capacity or interest to act in young person’s welfare, (see Section 1, Who may make a Complaint?) detail the processes regarding the management of the complaint, (see Section 6, Stage One - Local Resolution and Section 7, Stage Two - Investigation), including that the maximum period for a complaint to remain at Stage 1 is 10 working days (with exception). The contact details of the Local Government Ombudsman are also included.

Contents

  1. Who may make a Complaint?
  2. What May Be Complained About?
  3. Time Limit for Making Complaints
  4. Informing Children about the Complaints Procedure
  5. Receiving Complaints
  6. Stage One - Local Resolution
  7. Stage Two - Investigation
  8. Stage Three - Review Panels

1. Who may make a Complaint?

A representation or complaint may be made by:

  1. Any child who is a Looked After Child or who, although not Looked After, is a Child in Need;
  2. A parent or person with Parental Responsibility;
  3. A local authority Foster Carer;
  4. Such other person as the authority consider has sufficient interest in a child's welfare to warrant a complaint or representation being considered by them;
  5. An Eligible Young Person, Relevant Young Person or Former Relevant Young Person;
  6. A Qualifying Young Person under the Leaving Care procedures;
  7. A person aged up to 24 who is or was a Former Relevant or Qualifying young person and whom the local authority may still assist in connection with education and training;
  8. Special Guardians;
  9. A child in respect of whom a Special Guardianship Order is in force;
  10. Any person who has applied for an assessment for special guardianship support;
  11. Any child who may be adopted, their parents and guardians;
  12. Any person wishing to adopt a child;
  13. Any person to whom arrangements for the provision of adoption support services extend;
  14. Adopted persons, their adoptive parents, birth parents and former guardians.

This is not an exhaustive list and the Complaints Manager will determine whether complaints from individuals outside the above categories fall within the legal definition.

Where a complaint is made on behalf of a child, the Complaints Manager should confirm, where appropriate, that the child is happy for this to happen and that the complaint submitted reflects the child’s views.

The council has the discretion to decide whether or not the representative is suitable to act in this capacity or has sufficient interest in the child’s welfare. The Complaints Manager will discuss this decision with the relevant service managers, as appropriate.

2. What May Be Complained About?

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;
  • Assessment, care management and review.

This is not an exhaustive list and the Complaints 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.

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 (see Placement for Adoption Procedure);
  • 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 reviews;
    • Adoption Case Records;
    • Contact;
    • Parental Responsibility prior to adoption abroad.

In relation to Special Guardianship Order, 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;
  • Assistance to ensure the continuation of the relationship between the child and their Special Guardian or prospective Special Guardian.

The Complaints 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;
  • Criminal proceedings.

If the Complaints Manager decides not to consider or further consider complaints subject to these concurrent investigations, they 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.

3. Time Limit for Making Complaints

If a complainant does wish to make a complaint, it is best to do so as soon as possible after the incident occurs.

The Council cannot normally accept complaints made more than 12 months after the date the matter occurred or the date the complainant was notified of the matter. However, the Complaints Manager will look at any complaints received after the 12 month time limit on an individual basis and determine whether the Council can investigate the matter.

4. Informing Children about the Complaints Procedure

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 by including them in 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 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.

5. Receiving Complaints

Complaints may be made orally or in writing, including by email or text.  Some complaints can be received via the Local Government Ombudsman, if the complainant approaches the Ombudsman before completing the Council’s complaints process.

All comments, complaints and compliments about services to children should be forwarded to the Complaints Manager to record.

In relation to complaints, the emphasis should be on a quick resolution reached locally wherever possible.

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 should not deal with complaints relating to their own practice and must pass such matters to their own manager; guidance should be sought from the Complaints Manager, as appropriate.

6. Stage One - Local Resolution

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 it quickly, where possible. In most cases, complainants will contact the Complaints Team directly if they wish to make a formal complaint. However, sometimes they may send a complaint directly to the service. In all cases where formal complaints are received, the Complaints Manager must be sent a copy of the complaint immediately.

Formal complaints will be considered under Stage 1 of the complaints process and the Complaints Manager will aim to:

  1. Send an acknowledgement to the complainant within 2 working days of receipt, notifying the complainant of who will be dealing with their complaint and when they can expect to receive a response by. If the complaint is from a young person, the Complaints Manager may also establish at this point whether the young person requires an advocate;
  2. Assign the complaint to the appropriate Service Manager to investigate and respond within 10 working days;

If it is not possible to respond within 10 working days, e.g. where files or records need to be checked or a key member of staff is not available, the Service Manager must inform the Complaints Team who will send a holding letter to advise the complainant of the delay. The maximum period for a complaint to remain at Stage 1 is 10 working days (or up to 20 working days in prescribed circumstances, with the agreement of the complainant).

Complaints made by children in foster care or residential care should be recorded as follows:

  • Where the complaint relates to the child's placement in residential care, the fact that the complaint was made and resolved should be noted in the home's Daily Log, and a summary of the complaint and the manner in which it was resolved should be recorded in the Complaints Log and in the child's Daily Record. Where the complaint involves sensitive personal information, such details should not be held in the Complaint Log, which is a public record. The manager should consult the complainant to ensure that the matter was dealt with appropriately before countersigning the Complaints Log;
  • Where the complaint relates to the child's foster home, the foster carer should record brief details in the child's Daily Record. The foster carer should inform the supervising social worker as soon as practicable as well as, where appropriate, the child's social worker. The complaint should be recorded in the Complaints Log held by the Fostering Service and where appropriate in the child's electronic record;

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 complainant’s satisfaction within 10 working days, the complainant has the right to progress their complaint to Stage Two of the statutory complaints process and given assistance to do so as necessary. The complainant may, however, agree to extend the deadline for the Stage One process.

7. Stage Two - Investigation

Complainants should be encouraged to make a written complaint but do not have to do so. A complaint may be accepted in any form. Once the Stage Two complaint is received, an Investigating Officer (IO) and Independent Person (IP) will be appointed by the Complaints Team to investigate the complaint. The Independent Person is appointed to shadow the Investigating Officer. Under the arrangement, the Independent Person accompanies the Investigating Officer throughout the investigation. The Investigating Officer and Independent Person will arrange to meet with the complainant and agree a Statement of Complaint. Once the Statement of Complaint has been agreed by the complainant, the Stage Two process commences.

Action on Receipt of a Stage Two Complaint

Upon receiving a complaint, the Complaints Manager will:

  1. Record the complaint. At this stage the Complaints Manager will decide whether the complaint should be investigated under this procedure or whether it should be referred elsewhere;
  2. Ensure that a copy of the complaint is sent to any staff member named in it and to that person's line manager, unless to do so would prejudice the investigation of the complaint in which case the Complaints Manager should inform the relevant senior manager of this decision;
  3. Appoint and send terms of reference to the Investigating Officer  and the Independent for the investigation;
  4. Acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 2 working days and advise the complainant of how the complaint is being dealt with under the Stage Two process, the timescales and the name of the Investigating Officer.

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.

The Investigation

Upon being appointed, the Investigating Officer will:

  1. Conduct an investigation, interviewing the complainant and staff as appropriate;
  2. Produce a report making recommendations about action to be considered;
  3. Send a copy of the report to the Complaints Manager bearing in mind that this, together with the local authority's response, needs to be sent to the complainant within 25 working days of the receipt of the complaint. If this timescale is not possible, the Investigating Officer should consult with the Complaints Manager and agree a timescale for extension. In any event, this extension must not exceed a full response to the complaint within 65 working days.

The Complaints Manager will inform the complainant of this agreement and the reason for the extension to the timescale, and wherever possible obtain the complainant's agreement to the new timescale;

iv. Staff and carers need to be aware that it is a legal requirement upon the authority to undertake investigations when a complaint is made. It is therefore essential that they cooperate with the investigation and provide information to the Investigating Officer through their verbal responses to questions and access to written material.

Action Following Investigation

Upon receiving the Investigating Officer's reports and any supplementary report provided by the Independent Person, the Complaints Manager will:

  1. Send a copy of the report(s) to the relevant manager of the service complained about and, if the complaint concerns front-line service providers, the staff themselves;
  2. Ask a senior manager, normally a Deputy Director, for his or her adjudication, in consultation with others as necessary, and what action the local authority will be willing to take in relation to the investigation's 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. This must be sent within a maximum of 65 working days of receipt of the complaint
  4. Advise the complainant of the right to submit a request to the Complaints Manager within 20 working days that the complaint proceed to a Stage Three Review Panel;
  5. Monitor the outcome of the complaint in terms of consumer satisfaction with the process and the eventual outcome, and the implications for future service delivery and training.

8. Stage Three - Review Panels

If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, the complainant 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 Stage Three request being made.

The Review Panel must be made up of three independent people, who must not be:

  1. Employees of the authority;
  2. Elected members of the authority;
  3. A spouse or partner of either of the above.

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 three 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 their entitlement to be accompanied by another person and for this person to speak on their behalf.

Those persons involved with the investigation at Stage Two (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 Two 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 Director of Children's Social Care within 5 working days.

The Director 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.

Complainants should be advised of their right to make representations to the Local Government Ombudsman if they are still not satisfied.

The contact details for the Local Government Ombudsman are as follows:

Submit a complaint via the Online Form on the LGO’s website

Telephone: 0300 061 0614 - lines are open Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 5.00pm (except public holidays)