1.6.1 Complaints, Compliments and Representations
SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This procedure covers complaints and representations received in respect of services to children and Young People.
This procedure does not apply to concerns in relation to a child who may be in need of protection, which must be dealt with under the Northamptonshire Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures.
In February 2021, information contained in this procedure was reviewed and refreshed as required.
1. Who May Make a Complaint?
A representation or complaint may be made by:
- The child;
- A parent or person with Parental Responsibility;
- A local authority Foster Carer;
- Any other person the authority considers has sufficient interest in a child's welfare to warrant a complaint or representation being considered by them;
- Care leavers;
- Special Guardians;
- A child in respect of whom a Special Guardianship Order is in force;
- Any person who has applied for an assessment for special guardianship support;
- Any child who may be adopted, their parents and guardians;
- Any person wishing to adopt a child;
- Any person to whom arrangements for the provision of adoption support services extend;
- Adopted persons, their adoptive parents, birth parents and former guardians.
Where a representative makes a complaint on behalf of a customer, the Local Authority must be satisfied that there are reasonable grounds for the complaint to be made by the representative.
Any decision that a complainant is not a qualifying complainant will be made by the Complaints Manager, in consultation with the appropriate Service Manager, and the complainant informed in writing.
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, 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 any uncertainty about the validity of a complaint the Complaints Manager should seek legal advice and / or advice from the Regulator as necessary.
Where the complainant is unhappy about the application of a Council policy, they will be informed at the point of raising the concerns if these will be dealt with as a corporate complaint under the Council's complaints procedure or under the statutory complaints procedure.
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 a 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;
- Disciplinary proceedings; or
- Criminal proceedings.
Complaints which will not be considered under this procedure:
- A complaint by a Local Authority, NHS body, Primary Care Provider or Independent Provider;
- A complaint by an employee of a Local Authority or NHS body about any matter relating to that employment;
- A complaint which is made orally and is resolved to the complainant's satisfaction by the end of the next working day after the complaint was made;
- The person wishing to complain does not meet the requirements detailed in the section 'Who may complain', or is not acting on behalf of such an individual;
- The complaint is in regard to actions and decisions of another Local Authority department, agency or body (e.g. Police or Court decisions);
- It concerns the level of resources available;
- It concerns a Policy that has been endorsed by the County Council;
- The same subject matter has previously already been investigated at all stages of the procedure and a formal response from the Local Authority has been issued;
- It regards services for which an alternative statutory appeals/complaints process already exists, e.g. Complaints/ appeal against registration on the Child Protection Register;
- A complaint the subject of which is being or has been investigated by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
Getting the Best from Complaints, 2007, states further reasons or scenarios where a complaint may be considered by the Local Authority.
Under Part 4 of the Children Act, 1989:
- The decision by the local authority to initiate care and supervision orders;
- The effect of the care order and the Local Authority's actions and decisions where a care order is made;
- Control of parental contact with children in care;
- How supervisors perform their duties where a supervision order is in force.
Under Part 5 of the Children Act, 1989:
- Matters that do not relate to the Court and which are specifically actions of the Local Authority can be considered, regarding applications for and duties in relation to child assessment orders;
- Matters relating to applications for emergency protection orders and decisions;
- Matters relating to the return of children who have been removed.
Where social work information or a social work report has gone to Court, the child or young person can make a complaint about the report, for example its quality or accuracy, distinct and separate to the subsequent actions of the Court. If this complaint is upheld, the Local Authority should advise the child or young person what action it proposes to take with regard to the Court action.
With complaints about regulated services under the Care Standards Act 2000 and where services are delivered on the Local Authority's behalf or through an internal service that is regulated, the Local Authority will need to satisfy itself that the complaint can be considered under this procedure.
Complaints may raise issues which need to be dealt with under other procedures, for example:
- Conduct that should be investigated under disciplinary or grievance procedures and tribunals;
- Allegations of criminal offences which should be investigated by the Police;
- Where legal proceedings are pending in relation to the substance of the complaint.
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.
3. Safeguarding and Complaints
If at any point it becomes apparent that there are elements of the complaint that should be addressed through other procedures, that part of the complaint will be suspended and moved to another procedure as appropriate. However, wherever possible, complaints will be progressed alongside other procedures as long as that does not compromise any other process.
Complainants will be kept informed of any decisions by the Complaints Manager or Service Manager in this regard.
The safeguarding of children or young people takes precedence over any complaint. The Complaints and Compliments Team work very closely with the MASH to ensure that any complaints that suggest an act of abuse has occurred are reported and investigated under the correct procedure. If it is believe that the complaint raised has identified a potentially abusive or neglectful situation ensure that the matter is reported immediately to the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) and, if required, the Police.
If it is necessary for the situation to be investigated, the complaint may be suspended until this work is completed. Where possible, issues of relating to the complaint not otherwise addressed as part of the Child Protection procedures, will continue to be processed through the complaints procedure.
4. Complaints Relating to the Designated Officer
Any complaint relating to a DO is likely to be linked to other investigation processes - whether this is a safeguarding investigation, an HR investigation being carried out by the organisation involved, or possible criminal investigations. In such instances, Complaints and Compliments Team may continue with investigations into a complaint regarding the actions of the DO if it is reasonable to do so and will not interfere with other investigation processes. Decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis.
Complaints about the DO will follow the three-stage process set out in this Procedure.
All access to the investigation by the DO would need to be facilitated through a subject assess request, this would be risk assessed to protect potential victims or media attention.
5. Complaints Relating to a Child
Where eligibility is not automatic, the Council has the discretion to decide whether or not an individual has sufficient interest in the child's welfare to justify raising a complaint. In reaching a decision, the Complaints Manager Team will check with the child or young person (subject to their age and understanding) that they are content for the complaint to be made. If consent cannot be satisfied, a Best Interest Decision is made.
6. Complaints made by a Child
Subject to the child/young person's understanding, the Council will always confirm whether the complaint is being made on their behalf and that the complaint submitted reflects their views.
Where a complaint is received from a representative acting on behalf of someone in these circumstances, the Council has the discretion to decide whether or not the person is suitable to act as a representative or has sufficient interest in the individual's welfare. If the Complaints Manager considers that the representative is unsuitable or does not have sufficient interest, they must notify the complainant in writing, explaining that no further action will be taken. The Complaints Manager should discuss this decision with relevant operational managers as appropriate.
7. Complaints made by a Child or Young Person
The Local Authority takes complaints made by children and young people very seriously. The Local Authority has a dedicated Complaints Practitioner who takes the lead on resolving complaints made by a child or a young person.
The Voice of the Child is monitored throughout all complaints and the learning from them is recorded and reported back to senior managers within the Children and Young People's Services department.
If a young person wishes to make a complaint they will be offered an Advocate. This person will assist them in making their complaint and will explain about the complaints process. The Children's Rights Service will make the necessary arrangements to engage an Advocate. In addition, where required, an interpreter can be engaged.
8. 'On the Spot' Complaints Resolution or Local Resolution
If a person does not wish to make a formal complaint, but wishes to share a problem they are experiencing, the Council wants to hear from them.
The Council would therefore record this as a local resolution complaint. All staff receiving such complaints are asked to record them so that they can monitor feedback which assists the Council in its future planning and development of services. In the main these Complaints can be dealt with quickly (within one working day). Often, for young people this is all they want, hence dealing with a problem as a local resolution at this point is far easier and better for the individual.
All staff are encouraged to deal with routine difficulties as they arise. These procedures are not intended to detract from staff's ability to use their initiative to solve problems informally, efficiently and effectively for the benefit of both service users and the service.
9. 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 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 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.
10. Informing Children about the Complaints Procedure
Children must be informed about the Complaints Procedure in a variety of ways suitable to their age 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 who can support children to make a complaint.
See the Young Northants Children’s Rights page for age appropriate information how to make complaints, compliments and comments on our TEXT service.
Information about the complaints procedure may be made available to children and their families via social media approved by the local authority.
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, they 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 (Ofsted); although they may not be able to accept the complaint unless the local complaints process has been used first.
11. Receiving Complaints
Comments, complaints and compliments may be made orally or in writing, including by email.
In relation to complaints, the emphasis should be on a speedy resolution reached locally wherever possible.
Where a complaint includes an allegation that a child has been harmed, the matter must be directed to be dealt with under the multi agency Safeguarding Children Procedures and must be referred to Children’s Social Care.
Staff may not deal with complaints relating to their own practice and must pass such matters to their own manager.
12. Stage One (10 to 20 working days) - 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, if they have the delegated responsibility to do so, try to resolve them quickly. 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.
The expectation is that the majority of complaints should be considered and responded to at Stage One.
When the Complaints Manager receives a complaint directly, this will be considered under Stage One and the Complaints Manager will:
- Acknowledge the complaint within 3 working days, notifying the complainant that they have received their complaint and explaining the timescales within which a response will be sent. The complaints manager should establish whether the complainant has, or requires, an Advocate;
- Notify the appropriate line manager;
- Request that the line manager attempt to resolve the complaint within 10 working days and send a copy of the response to the Complaints Manager, together with a brief resume of any points not covered in the letter.
If it is not possible to respond within the above timescale - 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 and contact the complainant to advise them 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:
- 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 at Stage One 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 20 working days, they must be advised that they have 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.
13. Stage Two (25 to 65 working days) - Independent Investigation
Consideration of complaints at Stage 2 is normally achieved through an investigation which is conducted by an investigating officer and an independent person. Stage 2 commences either when the complainant requests it or where the complainant and the local authority have agreed that Stage 1 is not appropriate.
Action on Receipt of Complaint
Upon receiving a request to escalate a complaint to stage 2, the Complaints Manager will:
- In some circumstances, contact the complainant direct to discuss whether it may be possible to mediate or negotiate a settlement;
- Record the continued dissatisfaction;
- At this stage the Service Manager will decide whether the complaint should be investigated under this procedure or whether it should be referred elsewhere, for example under staff disciplinary procedure;
- 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;
- Appoint and prepare terms of reference for an Investigating Officer (who is not involved in the management of the services to the child concerned) and an Independent Person (who cannot be an employee or an elected member of the authority) to the investigation. The Independent Person is appointed to shadow the Investigating Officer. Under the arrangement, the Independent Person accompanies the Investigating Officer throughout the investigation and may see the child concerned alone if considered necessary;
- Acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 7 days, and advise the complainant of how the complaint is being dealt with, 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.
Upon being appointed, the Investigating Officer will:
- Conduct an investigation, interviewing the complainant and staff as appropriate;
- Produce a report making recommendations about action to be considered;
- 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;
- 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 report and any supplementary report provided by the Independent Person, the Complaints Manager will:
- 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;
- Ask the senior manager for their 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;
- 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;
- Advise the complainant of their right to submit a request to the Complaints Manager within 20 working days that the complaint proceed to a Stage Three Review Panel;
- 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.
14. Stage Three (convened within 30 working days from request) - Independent Review Panels
If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, they have 20 working days to ask for the response to be reviewed by an Independent Review Panel. The request should be made to the Complaints Manager and acknowledged in writing within 3 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 (subject to the availability of all parties).
The Review Panel must be made up of 3 independent people, who must not be:
- Employees of the authority;
- Elected members of the authority;
- 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 Panel will consist of:
- An independent Chairperson;
- Two independent panel members;
- The Complaints Manager who acts as the advisor to the panel on Policy and Procedures within the Council;
- A Clerk (representative of the Chief Executive) who will ensure that the complaint is dealt with objectively within guidance, and that a true and accurate account of proceedings is taken.
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 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 complainant and 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.
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 and Social Care Ombudsman if they are still not satisfied.
15. The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsmen
A Stage Three Complaints Review Panel marks the end of the Statutory Complaints Procedure. If at the end of the Council's Complaints Process you are not satisfied, you can refer your complaint to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman is independent of all Government departments, councils and politicians. It gives a service which is confidential and free of charge. The Ombudsman has the same powers as the High Court to obtain information and documents.
The Ombudsman will normally only accept a complaint if the Councils Complaints Procedure has been correctly and fully followed, however a self-referral can be made at any time, as well as an early referral when there is agreement between the complainant and the Complaints Manager that this is the best course of action.
Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman
Tel: 0300 061 0614
In the majority of cases if a complaint is upheld, an apology will be offered and information will be given to the complainant as to what action the service will take to ensure the same situation does not arise again, for the complainant or future service users. The apology would be given by the Manager on behalf of the service complained about.
If maladministration has occurred causing an injustice to the individual, consideration will be given as to whether or not a financial remedy would be appropriate. Any financial offers made will be taken in consideration of the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman's guidance.
17. Other Forms of Representation
If you wish to make a comment, either negative or positive in relation to a policy decision, practice or service, this will be recorded and your comment will be acknowledged within 3 working days.
The relevant Director of the Service will be notified to enable them to take any action if necessary. When we review our Policies, we take into consideration any comments made about a Policy.
We will take negative feedback seriously and where appropriate and in negotiation with the customer, we will log this as a complaint and as such, a Complaints Practitioner will encourage you to allow a service manager the right to reply and also to feedback to you what action the Local Authority has taken to put the situation right.
If you wish to express a compliment this will be recorded and shared with the Service and/or member of staff it relates to.
All compliment statistics will be reported in Monthly, Quarterly and Annual Reports, and the information gathered from them will assist in improving our service to all our customers.
18. Learning from Complaints
It is a vital part of the process that services learn from the representations that are made about their provision. The process that addresses complaints will identify any areas for improvement or learning and will make suggestions for the actions that will be taken.
This will be addressed in the response. Where necessary, action plans will be drawn up and responsibilities assigned. Staff guidance will ensure that this learning is central in the process and the service improvements made as a direct result of complaints and compliments will be shared with customers via our annual reporting.
19. Unreasonably Persistent Complainants
From time to time we will come across complainants who seek to raise a number of complaints or who become unreasonable in their conduct or expectations around contact with officers of the Local Authority.
Whilst every effort will be made to address objectively any concerns that are raised, we must also seek to be proportionate and not to expose our staff to unreasonable behaviours.
When the relationship has become unworkable, the Complaints Manager together with the Director of Children Services will consider the matter.
20. Record Management and Data Protection
All aspects of this Complaints Policy and Procedure meet the requirements of the legislation regarding Data Protection and Freedom of Information.
Any personal information obtained in relation to a complaint is only to be used for that purpose (see Northamptonshire County Council website, Information policies for more information regarding UK General Data Protection Regulations - UK GDPR).
21. Glossary of Terms
Advocate - An Independent Person who will assist children and young people through the complaints process, ensuring that their views are heard. Advocates may be those that are appointed by the Children's Rights Service, or nominated by the young person themselves.
Approved Social Worker (ASW) - A Social Worker who has appropriate competencies in dealing with people who are have mental health disorders.
Children's Rights Service - A part of the Children and Young People's Service. The Children's Rights Service is responsible for the management of the formal Advocacy Service.
Complaints Manager - An officer of the Council with the designated responsibility for ensuring that the Council has a clear and easily accessible Complaints Procedure. The Complaints Manager is independent of operational line management and of direct service providers (e.g. children's social work).
Complaints Practitioner / Senior Complaints Practitioner - Complaints Officers within the centralised Complaints and Compliments Team responsible for the administration and monitoring of customer complaints.
Independent Person - A person who is neither an Elected member nor an employee of the Council, nor a spouse of an elected member or employee. They are appointed to provide an objective element in the Complaints Procedure at Stages Two and Three, with a specific focus on capturing and reflecting the Voice of the Child.
Investigating Officer (IO) - Person with overall responsibility for investigating the complaint at Stage Two. Where the Investigating Officer is a member of staff, the Investigating Officer should not be within line management of the service being complained about.
Panel - A group of three people, which includes an Independent Chair and two Independent Panel Members, who are appointed by the Council to consider a complaint, at the request of a complainant who remains dissatisfied. The Panel may make recommendations to the Director of Children Services for consideration and action.
Registered Complaint - Refers to a complaint made or recorded in writing and sent or referred to the Complaints Manager with designated responsibility for assisting in the co-ordination of the Complaints Procedure.
Team Manager - Person, at local service level, responsible for investigating and responding to Stage One complaints.
Senior Manager - Person with overall operational responsibility for the management of services.