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1.8.1 Complaints and Representations

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This is a summary of the procedure covering complaints and representations received in respect of Social Care services for children. 

The full procedure can be found here Liverpool's Children's Services Complaints Procedure.

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 Partnership Inter Agency Procedures.

AMENDMENT

This chapter was significantly updated in January 2014 in respect of the staff who Receive a Complaint against them and the Stages of the Complaint. It should be read in its entirety.


Contents

  1. Who may make a Complaint?
  2. What may be Complained About?
  3. Time Limit to 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.

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.


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; and
  • 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; and
    • 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; and
  • 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; or
  • Criminal proceedings.

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.


3. Time Limit to Complaints

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 Complaint Manager’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 a child was not able to make the complaint or did not feel confident in bringing it forward in the year time limit.


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 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 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.


5. Receiving Complaints

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.

However, where a complaint includes an allegation of risk of suffering or likely to suffer 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.

Local authority staff in the Complaint Procedure

Staff should, at the earliest opportunity when working with children, young people, families and carers, make them aware of the Complaint Procedure and how to make complaints.

At Stage 1 the Complaint Manager will assign a Complaint Officer to work to resolve the matter with the local Team Manager of the service that is subject to the complaint and with the complainant.

They will discuss and attempt to address the complaint as quickly as possible, discuss the issues and exchange information and thinking behind decisions and try to agree a way forward.

At Stage 2 the Complaint Manager will arrange for a full and considered investigation of the complaint to take place as soon as possible. He may also request (in writing) any person or body to produce any information or documents to facilitate investigation.

The Complaint Manager and Investigation Officer will have access to all records and staff. Staff will provide any documents requested within 3 working days of the request. Documents will be released within the bounds of normal confidentiality and with regard to relevant legislation in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 and the Data Protection Act 2018.

A copy of the complaint will be sent via line management to any person who is involved in the complaint, unless doing so would prejudice the consideration of the complaint.

Staff will make themselves available for interview at the earliest possible date and having prepared by reading the case file.

When being interviewed as part of an investigation, staff retain the right to have a colleague, who is not connected to the complaint and who does not hold supervisory or managerial responsibility for them, present if they so request.

Staff can feel confused and intimidated by systems that reinforce an implication of culpability if a member of staff is named in a complaint. Staff should be reassured that they should not be held personally liable for carrying out resource decisions or allocations of service, according to the authority’s criteria. In most cases they will have been named because they are the person best known to the user or carer.

Staff should be aware that consideration of the complaint is separate to any necessary action under the grievance or disciplinary procedures. Staff should be kept informed of progress of the complaint, but not given any details that would breach confidentiality or work against the child or young person’s best interest. Staff will work to implement any recommendations agreed as part of the Complaint Procedure

The Assistant Director for Social Care has agreed that, in cases where the actions described in the stage 1 response are not carried out, or where avoidable delay by staff has caused the complainant to move to stage 2, then the cost of the Independent Person involved in the stage 2 will be recharged back to the service area that didn’t carry out actions agreed in the stage 1 response or that caused the avoidable delay.


6. Stage One - Local Resolution

The expectation is that the majority of complaints should be considered (and resolved) at Stage 1.

If the Complaint Manager or the complainant believes that it would not be appropriate to consider the complaint at Stage 1, they should discuss this together. Where both parties agree, the complaint can move directly to Stage 2.

At Stage 1, the Complaint Manager will assign a Complaint Officer to work to resolve the matter with the local Team Manager of the service that is subject to the complaint.

Staff at the point of service delivery –including the Independent Reviewing Officer where appropriate-and the child or young person (or their representative) should discuss and attempt to address the complaint as quickly as possible. They should discuss the issue and exchange information and thinking behind decisions and try to agree a way forward.

Regulation 14(1) places a 10 working day time limit for this part of the process. Most Stage 1 complaints should ideally be concluded within this time limit.

Where a complete response cannot be provided within 10 working days, a further 10 days’ extension can be implemented at the discretion of the Complaint Manager.

The maximum amount of time that Stage 1 should take is 20 working days. After this deadline the complainant can request consideration at Stage 2 if he so wishes.

The Complaint Manager will inform the complainant that he has the right to move on to Stage 2 if the time scale has elapsed for Stage 1 and the complainant has not received an outcome. It may be that the complainant is happy to put this off for the time being (for example, if the reason that resolution is delayed due to a key person being off sick or on leave), so this period can be extended beyond 20 days with the complainant’s agreement or request.

If the matter is resolved, the assigned Complaint Officer will write to the complainant confirming the agreed resolution and the Complaint Manager should be informed of the outcome as soon as possible.

Where the matter is not resolved locally, the complainant has the right to request consideration of the complaint at Stage 2. This right should be outlined in any response letters sent by the assigned officer at the close of a Stage 1 complaint. Any request to move to stage 2 should be made within 15 working days of the date on the stage 1 response.

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 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.


7. Stage Two - Investigation

Consideration of complaints at Stage 2 is normally achieved through an investigation conducted by an investigating officer and an independent person. Stage 2 commences either when the complainant requests it or where the complainant and the Complaint Manager have agreed that Stage 1 is not appropriate.

If the complaint has been submitted orally, the Complaint Manager must ensure that the details of the complaint and the complainant’s desired outcome are recorded in writing and agreed with the complainant in a Statement of Complaint. This may be achieved either by correspondence or by meeting the complainant to discuss, followed by a written record of what was agreed. Should the complainant amend the written record of his complaint, the Stage 2 timescale will start from the date that the Statement of Complaint is finalised.

The Complaint Manager should arrange for a full and considered investigation of the complaint to take place as soon as possible. He may also request (in writing) any person or body to produce information or documents to facilitate investigation, and consideration should be given to matters of disclosure and confidentiality ( see roles of staff).

Consideration of the complaint at Stage 2 should be fair, thorough and transparent with clear and logical outcomes.

The Complaint Manager will appoint an Investigating Officer (IO) to lead the investigation of the complaint and prepare a written report for adjudication by an Assistant Director.

An Independent Person (IP) must also be appointed to the investigation. This person will be in addition to the IO and must be involved in all aspects of consideration of the complaint including any discussions in the authority about the action to be taken in relation to the child.

A copy of the complaint should be sent via line management to any person who is involved in the complaint, unless doing so would prejudice the consideration of the complaint. Where this may be the case, the Complaint Manager should advise senior management.

The IO will have access to all records and staff. These will be released within three (3) working days and within the bounds of normal confidentiality and with regard to relevant legislation in the Freedom of Information Act, 2000 and the Data Protection Act, 1998.

When being interviewed as part of an investigation staff retain the right to have a colleague, who is not connected to the complaint and who does not hold supervisory responsibility for them, present if they so request.

All confidential information provided to the IP and IO must be shredded on completion of the investigation.

The investigation should be completed and the response sent to the complainant within 25 working days. However, this may be impractical in some cases, e.g. where the complaint involves several agencies, all or some of the matters are the subject of a concurrent investigation, (such as a disciplinary process), if the complaint is particularly complicated or if a key witness is unavailable for part of the time.

Where it is not possible to complete the investigation within 25 working days, Stage 2 may be extended to a maximum of 65 working days. All extensions must be agreed by the Complaint Manager. The important thing is to maintain dialogue with the complainant and where possible reach a mutual agreement as to what is reasonable where a response in 25 working days is not feasible.

The Complaint Manager or IO will inform the complainant as soon as possible in writing of:

  • The reason for the delay; and
  • The date by which he should receive a response.

Where one or more agencies are involved in considering the complaint, it is good practice for these bodies to aim for whichever is the shorter of the timescales to produce their final responses.

Stage 2 Investigation Report

On completion of his consideration of the complaint, the IO must write a report on his investigations including:

  • Details of findings, conclusions and outcomes are against each point of complaint (i.e. “upheld” or “not upheld” or “no finding”; and
  • Recommendations on how to remedy any injustice to the complainant as appropriate.

The report should be written in plain language, avoiding jargon, so that everyone can understand it. It should distinguish between fact, feelings and opinion.

The IP will also provide a report to the Complaints Manager once he has read the IO’s final report. He will comment on:

  • Whether he thinks the investigation has been conducted entirely in an impartial, comprehensive and effective manner;
  • Whether all those concerned have been able to express their views fully and fairly;
  • Whether the IO’s report provides an accurate and complete picture of the investigation; and
  • The nature of the recommendations or make his own recommendations as necessary.

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 the Adjudication Officer  for his or her adjudication, in consultation with others as necessary, and what action the local authority agrees 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, 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:

  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 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.

End