SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter explains the Representations and Complaints Procedure and the stages involved and the role of staff at all stages. It also gives information and guidance to all staff about the Representation and Complaints Procedure.OTHER RELEVANT GUIDANCE
This chapter was amended in December 2012. Section 1, Representations and Complaints - Definitions and Overview was amended to include a new bullet point g) in relation to complaints about Section 47 enquiries.
This procedure is for children and young people, or adults acting in behalf of a child who make a representation, which may be a complaint. It also covers representations which are not complaints. For example, children and young people should be able to put forward representations for a change to be made in the service they receive, or the establishment they live in, without this having to be classed as a complaint.
Please see Children's Social Care: Getting the Best from Complaints Guidance, DfE (GOV.UK).
A complaint may be generally defined as 'An expression of dissatisfaction or disquiet in relation to an individual child or young person, which requires a response'. It may be brought about by one or more of the following:
Additional areas of service about which complaints may be made are:
This will mean that complaints can be investigated while Child Care Proceedings are in progress. Discussions between the FRC Team Manager, their legal representative and the Children's Complaints Manager will take place to determine what can and will be investigated. However the principle that the Court is the area for the final ratification of a Child's Plan through a possible making of an order remains firm. Would-be complainants will continue to be advised that the Court is the only setting where a judgment may be challenged.
Complaints arising from the Case Conferencing process may be treated differently.
Those who are eligible to complain are:
Also any persons mentioned in Section 3(1) of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 may complain about the discharge by the authority of such functions under this Act as are specified in regulations. Such persons include:
The role of Special Guardians is set out in the Special Guardianship Regulations which came into force on 30th December 2005.
The following functions of a Special Guardian may be the subject of a complaint:
The complaints procedure does not apply when:
As from 1st July 2006 a Local Authority has the right to refuse to investigate a complaint if more than one year has passed since the alleged issue occurred. In practice Hull Children and Family Services may be willing to look at complaints that predate the one year threshold, especially in circumstances where young people themselves are the complainants. The decision to disqualify a historic complaint can be made only by the Children's Complaints Manager; workers in other teams who find themselves receiving an historic complaint must discuss this with the Children's Complaints Manager, who may in turn seek further advice and will record the decision about the future of the complaint. There may be better avenues in which to steer historic complainants, such as the legal arena.
The circumstances about which there are is a complaint may also be part of the case in Court Proceedings and may need to be treated differently because of this. It is not automatic that a complaint can not be dealt with and if possible the complaint will be dealt with particularly if it is in relation to on going matters such as contact. There are however some things which can never be investigated for example an order of the Court or evidence given in court. There are some things that are so central to a court case they can not be investigated until the hearing is finished for example should a child have been removed into care.
Proceedings are tense times for all concerned. It is understandable that families and children become unclear about whom they should tell of their unhappiness with the situation.
The Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 came into force on 1st December 2006. They apply to England only. Although this statutory instrument provides a clear backbone to the Complaints Procedure, it still leaves the investigation of complaints during Proceedings somewhat of a grey area. It is stated that if the complainant has stated in writing to the local authority that he intends to take proceedings in "any court or tribunal", the local authority shall not consider, or further consider, complaints (or representations as they are called). However there must be certain categories of issues and misgivings, which might be referred to as "complaints", for which it would be in everybody's best interests if they were resolved speedily, or expeditiously - to use the Statue's terminology.
Consider these two possible "complaints" which may arise during care proceedings.
Clearly one can be simply remedied by a practical solution, and the other needs careful consideration by all parties in the court setting and also has child protection aspects. To say to the parent in the first instance "I am afraid that I cannot deal with your complaint while we are in proceedings" would be unhelpful. In practice most complaints received during proceedings will not be as clear cut as the two above. Workers will need to be aware of the following:
Procedure for processing complaints received during proceedings:
Some important considerations:
On receipt of a "complaint" the Complaints Services Complaint Co-ordinator will:
Nobody needs to be told that children and young people's voices need to be heard. This becomes of vital importance when they may be unhappy, dissatisfied or frightened. This may first come to light when they feel able to make a complaint. Recent legislation has sharpened the Local Authorities' duty to provide advocates for children.
Which contains the Get It Sorted document, which is essential reading for those investigating complaints. Note the possible role of the Reviewing Officer (page 19): another person who can play an important role when Looked After Children make a complaint.
When a young person contacts the Complaints Service an immediate referral for advocacy is made to the Rights and Participation - Targeted Youth Support Project.
Legal Gateway Panel's philosophy is "to act solely on behalf of the children and young people whom it represents. Advocacy is a powerful tool when representing views and challenging existing services and policies that have a negative impact on the lives of children and young people. This approach is proven in respect of the team's ability to achieve positive outcomes."
Every staff member who works for Children and Family Services has a duty to record details of a complaint after ascertaining that the person making the complaint is eligible to do so and wishes it to be dealt with in an official capacity.
Once the details of the complaint have been received and recorded they must be passed to the Children & Young People's Complaints Service as a matter of priority. Where practicable this should be done via the member of staff's Line Manager. It is quite acceptable to advise the complainant to contact the Children & Young People's Service on 300300. If this course of action is taken details of the complaint must still be passed to the respective Line Manager.
Once the complaint has been formally received it becomes a "logged complaint".
The Children and Young People's Service Complaints Service will:
The Investigating Officer will contact the complainant to discuss their complaint with them. The discussion should be about the recorded complaint and not any unrelated matters or further complaints. If further complaints are made these should be reported to the Children & Young People's Service Complaints Service and dealt with as a separate complaint. The standard letter may be used, although consideration should be given to composing perhaps friendlier, age appropriate text to children and young people.
At Stage 1 the Investigating Officer has 10 working days of the date the complaint was received, to attempt to resolve the situation informally.
A further 10 working days extension can be utilised with the agreement of the complainant. If the complaint can be resolved, the details will be put in writing to the complainant. Even if the complaint has been resolved the letter must contain details of the next stage should the complainant change their mind.
The Investigating Officer will forward a written report to the Children's Complaints Manager with details of what actions have been taken and whether the complainant was satisfied with the outcome.
The Children & Young People's Service Complaints Service will then send a general feedback document with a SAE to the complainant, using a standard letter format.
A copy of the Department's printed document seeking feedback on the complaints and representation process will also be sent.
If the complaint can not be resolved at this stage the Children & Young People's Service Complaints Manager needs to be informed and a Stage 2 formal investigation considered (although, as can be seen in the Satisfaction letter, the complainant has the right to register his or her dissatisfaction with the outcome, and choose not to proceed to Stage 2).
Nothing in this procedure should preclude either the complainant or the local authority from suggesting Alternative Dispute Resolution. If agreed by both the complainant and the Complaint's Manager, the local authority should explore this option.
The complainant has 20 working days from the date the local authority sent their Stage 1 response to request a Stage 2 formal investigation.
At this point, The Children & Young People's Service Complaints Manager will review the complaint and decide whether the complaint will be progressed.
One option that the Children & Young People's Service Complaints Manager will occasionally choose is to place the request for a Stage Two investigation on hold. This may well be against the complaint's wishes, and usually legal advice will be obtained and the reasons for this, recorded and shared.
The type of circumstances where this is helpful is if there are current Children's Court activity, or if the complainant is unwell and could be deemed not to be able to take part in a complaints investigation. When a Stage Two investigation is placed on hold, the Children & Young Person's manager will review the circumstances on a three monthly basis with a view to proceeding when it becomes possible. It is incumbent upon those practitioners working with the child and family during this period to tell the Children & Young Person's Complaints manager of any changes.
If, as will normally be the case, the complaint is to be progressed, an Investigating Officer will be appointed. The Investigating Officer may be employed by the local authority (grade 11) but must not, however, be in direct line management of the service or person about whom the complaint is being made.
The Children & Young People's Service Complaints Manager will start completing the appropriate Notification form to record the commencement of the Stage 2 Process. This is then sent to the Investigating Officer, and a copy to the Independent Person with the complaint case file.
The first one is to be used when the complaint is made by a child receiving a service other than being looked after (Child in Need).
The second one is to be used when the complaint is made by a child who is looked after.
The third one used when the complaint is made by a Parent/carer/guardian/ foster carer/other in relation to a child who is using any service (as or child in need or looked after).
The Children & Young People's Service Complaints Manager will also appoint an Independent Person (IP) to the investigation (see next section on IP's). This person will be separate and in addition to the Investigating Officer and will have full access to all aspects of the investigation and will ensure its fairness and transparency.
The Children & Young People's Complaints Manager will write to the complainant using the standard letter which explains the Stage 2 process and who the Investigating Officer and the Independent Person will be.
Five copies in all will be sent: to service user, Investigating Officer, Independent Person, Area Team, IRO Team (if a Looked After Child).
The Children & Young People's Service Complaints Manager or the Investigating Officer will record in writing the details and scope of the complaint and the desired outcome. This will be achieved by correspondence and meeting the complainant to discuss (effectively being a starting off point of the stage 2 investigation), a written record of what was agreed will be made. It is at this point that the stage 2 timescale commences:
A comprehensive written report will be produced by the Investigating Officer using wherever possible the same format as the pro forma.
The investigation should be completed where possible and the response sent to the complainant within 25 working days from the date on which the scope of the Stage two was agreed. The 25 'working day' time limit may be extended up to a maximum of 65 working days. The Children & Young People's Service Complaints Manager must ensure that this is communicated to the complainant and updates on the progress of the investigation are provided.
The Children & Young People's Service Complaint's Manager, the Investigating Officer and the Independent Person should plan how the investigation is to be carried out and to ensure that all those involved in complaint investigating are informed.
Note: If the complaint raises a disciplinary or possible criminal issue, the complaint process must be suspended and the complainant notified. Consultation with the Children's Complaints Manager must take place before suspending an investigation.
The Investigating Officer and the Independent Person will investigate the complaint and prepare a written report for adjudication by the local authority.
The Children & Young People's Complaints Manager should ensure that the complaint is investigated thoroughly and within time constraints by liaising with the Investigating Officer and Independent Person throughout the investigation.
The Independent Person will also:
The Investigating Officer's findings, conclusions and recommendations, and the Independent Person's response and the complainants desired outcomes will then be passed via the Children's Complaints Manager to the Adjudicating Officer. The Adjudicating Officer will normally be a Senior Manager, reporting to the Head of Children & Young People's Services, i.e. Assistant Had of Service.
The Adjudicating Officer will:
The Children & Young People's Complaints Manager will then send a general feedback document with a SAE to the complainant, using a standard letter format. The first is for a response by Young People, who will generally be in the Looked after category, the second for adults (who will usually be parents or carers):
If the complainant decides to take up their right to a review panel, within 20 working days, they will inform the Children's Complaints Manager who will initiate the review panel stage. A complainant may also request a review panel if the local authority have not correctly complied with stage two of the complaints process or have exceeded the time limit allowed for a complaint at stage two. The Complaints Service will advise the complainant of their rights to proceed to the Review Panel.
The Children's Act 1989 Section 26(4) requires Local Authorities to involve an IP in all stage 2 complaints.
(See the OPSI website).
The person appointed must not be:
Former members of the local authority staff may be IP's after three years.
Also an IP cannot perform any other roles within the investigation of a particular complaint, e.g. Advocate, Review Panelist.
The key tasks for the IP within a given complaint are:
The Children's Complaints Manager is responsible for processing the Independent Person's expenses, and will supply this form.
A complaint may be withdrawn orally or in writing at any time (or stage) by the complainant or his advocate. Upon receiving this information the Children & Young People's Complaints Manager will write to the complainant (and advocate) confirming withdrawal and also make the decision on the following options:
The role of Review Panel is to examine the complaint, the investigation process and the Department's response; its purpose is not to mount another parallel investigation of the complainant's issues.
The Review Panel should be alert at all times to the importance of providing a demonstrably fair and accessible process for all participants. It is important that the Panel is customer focused in its approach to considering the complaint.
Panel members should be mindful of the following objectives and requirements:
The Local Authority, represented by the Children & Young People's Complaints Manager is responsible for managing a pool of independent panelists.
To hear a given complaint The Panel will consist of three people who are independent. That is they must not be:
Those eligible to sit on the panel could include employees of other local authorities, or Health bodies as long as they are independent.
One panelist will chair and be aware of his duty to use discretionary power to suspend or defer proceedings in exceptional circumstances which might include the health and safety of those present.
It is not possible to Review a complaint unless an investigation has been concluded at Stage 2.
The Children & Young People's Complaints Service will acknowledge receipt of the request for a Review Panel in writing within 2 working days.
A mutually convenient date for the Review Panel will be agreed and the following people invited.:
(The complainant must be given at least 10 working days notice in writing of the meeting).
The Children & Young People's Complaints Manager will also consider if any further documentation, procedures or guidance is required to assist the panel. Also she may decide that other members of staff should attend the Review.
The Review Panel may proceed to consider the complaint if the complainant does not attend if either, the complainant requests this, or has failed to attend more than once before.
Panels should be conducted as informally as possible, but in a way which assure a professional outcome.
Usually the Panel activity will be divided into three parts:
This is an opportunity for the panel members (excluding the complainant and his supporters) to meet in closed session to set out the order of business. Getting the best from Complaints 3.16.3, is helpful here stating "This is an opportunity for the Panelists and their administrative support to meet in closed session to discuss the order of business and any other relevant issues (e.g. taking legal advice). No deliberations on the complaint should commence at this meeting".
The full meeting will take place. The Chair will begin with introductions and explaining its purpose. The focus must be maintained on the agreed complaint investigation which took place at Stage 2.
The Complainant or advocate will be able to speak. When the Chair is able to see that information and views have been shared and the Panelists are in a position to reach their findings and make recommendations he will draw matters to a close.
The Panel will then go into closed session with the Children & Young People's Complaints Manager and clerk. Findings and recommendations will be produced.
The Chair of the Review Panel is responsible for seeing that a written record of the Panels findings, recommendations and reasons for these are sent to the Complainant and the Children & Young People's Complaints Manager within five working days of the meeting.
The Children & Young People's Complaints Manager will, following the Review Panel forward the recommendations immediately to the Head of Children & Young People's Services. She must also confirm that the Complainant knows of his right to take the matter, if still dissatisfied, to the Ombudsman.
The Head of Children Young People's Services will inform all parties of his decision within 15 working days of receipt of the Panel recommendations.
The Local and Social Care Government Ombudsman has the power to investigate most of a Local Authority's work. Further information may be obtained from their website (See the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman website).
The Ombudsman will set out his own process for conducting the investigation. It may include an examination of documents generated by the Local Authority's own investigation through to examination of case files and interviewing staff at all levels. The Ombudsman should be directed to contact the Children's Complaints Manager as a first point of contact.
The local office is:
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman
Tel: 01904 380200
It is important that a complaint is viewed by workers at all levels as a learning exercise. It is frequent that a complaint has been caused by a procedural shortcoming, a communication breakdown or a training issue. It is incumbent upon workers, investigating officers, and the Children & Young People's Complaints Manager to pick up issues emerging from investigations and feed them into the appropriate forums to bring about positive changes in the way we work. The Children & Young People's Complaints Manager is happy to advise staff on how to progress issues which arise.
A quarterly e mail synopsis of issues arising from complaints and how these may impinge on policy and procedures is produced. The document also encourages positive feedback as well as didactic matters.
The Children & Young People's Complaints Manager will monitor implementation of recommendations arising from complaint investigations and report to senior managers on a regular basis. A quarterly performance and monitoring of complaints report will be produced and shared with senior managers as well as an annual complaints report.
A complaint can be dealt with under the child protection conference complaints procedure if it concerns:
The complaints procedure is not an appeal process against a decision that the would-be complainant does not agree with. It cannot be used to reconsider and overturn a decision which has been arrived at in a fair, reasonable and proper manner.
The circumstances for a representation may arise when a service user requests a re-evaluation of existing or new information which reasonably might have changed a conference decision. The Conference Chair must be initially made aware of this, who will discuss the situation with the IRO Manager. The discussion will be noted, and the reconvening of the conference will be a possible option. In no circumstances may a child protection plan or registration be modified until formally changed by a child protection conference.
A complaint should be put in writing and sent to the Chair of the Child Protection Conference. If it has been sent to the Children & Young People's Complaints Manager, s/he will redirect it.
The Conference Chair and the Children & Young People's Complaints Manager will attempt to resolve the complaint by meeting with the complainant.
The Children's Complaints Officer will write to the complainant within 5 working days of the meeting, summarising the findings. The complainant will be invited, if still dissatisfied, to make a response to the Children & Young People's Complaints Manager within 5 working days of receiving the letter. If this is the case, an inter-agency panel will be set up to further examine the complaint.
Note: If the complaint was about the conduct of the Chair or the manner in which s/he conducted the child protection conference, the complaint will be investigated by the IRO Manager.
The panel will be set up by the Children's Complaints Officer within 15 working days. Panel members will be representatives from the agencies participating in the Hull Safeguarding Children's Partnership Guidelines and Procedures.
The Panel will consider:
The Panel will decide if the complaint is upheld and, if so, make recommendations.
If the complaint is not upheld, the Panel Chair will write to the complainant, giving reasons for the decision within 5 working days of the meeting.
If the complaint is upheld, the child protection conference will be reconvened with the same participants and a new independent Chair. The new conference must be held within 15 working days of the Panel meeting. The reconvened conference will consider the recommendations of the Panel and decide whether the condition for registration is met, and the relevant category.
If the complainant remains dissatisfied after the reconvened conference, he may request that the Inter-Agency Panel reviews the position. The Panel will be convened as before within 15 working days of the request for review. An independent person will chair this meeting. Again the complainant will be informed by the Chair within 5 working days of the outcome: the decision of the panel is final.
For the purpose of this Policy the term used to identify people who constantly complain regarding services they are receiving will be vexatious.
The terms Habitual and Serial Complainant are also acceptable terms.
A complainant will/may be deemed to be vexatious if:
Only valid for 48hrs