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4.6 Complaints and Representations

Contents

  1. Objectives of the Procedure  
  2. Informing Children about the Complaints Procedure
  3. Informal Complaints
  4. Formal Complaints 
  5. Guidance for Investigating Officers
  6. Departmental Response
  7. Support to Staff
  8. Review Management and Monitoring


1. Objectives of the Procedure

  1. Children, and particularly children with disabilities, are among the most vulnerable groups that Specialist Children’s Services and Safeguarding try to support. Complaints Procedures are at one extreme a means of trying to mitigate the worst effects of “corporate care” and in a more pro-active light enable or empower the most vulnerable in society to receive the best possible service. Most complaints can, however, be resolved informally and without reference to the more formal procedures.
  2. A representation, although distinct from a complaint, may demand that the local authority justify how services are delivered, the scope of services and the policies that underpin them. In a culture of a needs-led service, (as distinct from resource-led services) the local authority should listen to the opinions of and consider the questions from service users. In so doing, the local authority empowers the service users.

The Complaints and Representations Procedure for children therefore attempts to:

  1. Promote the welfare of children who are Looked After or otherwise In Need;
  2. Defend their interests and mitigate the worst effects of corporate care;
  3. Alert Specialist Children’s Services and Safeguarding to the possible failure to meet needs;
  4. Promote the positive development of user-led services including the development of ethnically sensitive services:
  5. Resolve dissatisfaction as near as possible to the point at which it arose.

Although the procedure is intended primarily to protect the interests of children, it is not intended to act as a device to apportion blame to front-line service providers. Nor should it be developed as a device to abandon the necessary concern for acknowledging resource constraints. Rather, the procedure should enable an examination, evaluation and debate of how services are best delivered and to ultimately defend children who are Looked After or otherwise In Need from unavailable, inconsiderate or damaging services from the local authority.


2. 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 will

include information and contact details about Advocacy services available to them. 

For procedures relating to advocacy services, see Advocacy and Independent Visitors Procedure.

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 dissatisfactions and the option to go straight to a Stage Two Formal Investigation (see Representations, Complaints and Claims Procedure) if the complaint is serious, complex, or at any time, if the complainant wishes to.

In these circumstances, where a child insists that they wish to make a formal complaint, s/he should be referred to the relevant manager or to the Designated Complaints Officer

If the complaint relates to a child in a children’s or foster home, it may also be directed to the Regulatory Authority

An individual may complain via a relative, friend, Advocate, voluntary agency or member of the Council’s staff (as long as the member of staff is unconnected to the area of the complaint.) 

If they request it, or it appears appropriate, children should be given information on additional advocacy or support networks that may help them use the procedure effectively. This should include providing contact details. This information is available from the Designated Complaints Officer.

Assistance in the form of translation and interpretation facilities should also be arranged as necessary.


3. Informal Complaints

Dealing with informal complaints or representations will pose in some circumstances difficulty for staff and carers. Deciding whether a complaint is informal or that it should be regarded as formal can create conflicts for all concerned. 

At every stage of the Complaints, Representations and Claims Procedure the emphasis is placed upon problem solving. Whereas this is proper and well meaning, it is necessary to balance this with the need to promote the best interests of the child. The objective of the procedure is not to convince a child or others on their behalf to accept a less than adequate service. 

Efforts to resolve matters will include discussion and reconsideration as well as explanations of decisions made and actions taken. However, attempts at problem solving should not be used to divert a person from making a complaint if he or she wishes to do so.

In dealing with complaints, the following people should be consulted as appropriate:

  1. The Child
  2. The Parents
  3. Carers and others with a significant interest in the child
  4. The child’s social worker and manager
  5. The child’s Independent Visitor, if appointed
  6. The child’s Advocate

Should there be doubt as to whether a complaint or representation should be regarded as informal or formal, the Designated Complaints Officer may be consulted to help determine the most appropriate manner of dealing with the matter.


4. Formal Complaints

Those who may make a complaint in respect of children are outlined in the procedure.

For ‘Who may make a Complaint under the Children Act procedure’, see Representations, Complaints and Claims Procedure.

The Designated Complaints Officer will determine whether or not a formal complaint is accepted and determine whether the ‘adult’ or ‘child’ procedure applies to each complaint.

Where a complaint includes allegations of Significant Harm, the matter must be directed to be dealt with under London Child Protection Procedures and must be referred to the relevant team for this purpose immediately.

Where a complaint is made on behalf of a child, the child must be consulted (if old enough) in order to ascertain his or her wishes and feelings. Where it is considered that the complainant is not acting on the child’s behalf, the Designated Complaints Officer must decide whether the complaint should be considered under the ‘adult’ or ‘child’ procedure.

Complaints in respect of children require the appointment of an Independent Person to shadow the Investigating Officer for the complaint. The Designated Complaints Officer will appoint the Investigating Officer. The appointment of the Investigating Officer will take account of:

  • The Investigating Officer’s relationship with the subject of the complaint
  • The Investigating Officer’s qualifications and ability to conduct the investigation, including any equal opportunities’ aspect to the complaint (for example race, culture, religion, disability or language).


5. Guidance for Investigating Officers

Approach

The Investigating Officer, together with the Independent Person needs to acknowledge the objective of the procedure, including the need to avoid unnecessary criticism and defence of front-line service providers and managers. A process of problem solving should be the primary objective notwithstanding the need to protect and defend the interests of children.

A complaint may have been made as a result of poor communication rather than any sinister actions or inefficiencies in the provision of services.

Problem solving must not detract from applying a fresh and impartial appraisal of the complaint. Investigating Officers need to achieve a reasonable balance. Hopefully, the non-involvement of the Investigating Officer with the management of the case will contribute to a constructive resolution.

Conduct of the Investigation

The investigation is generally made more difficult where the complaint is personalised. It is sometimes impossible to avoid complaints being directed at individual staff. Whatever the circumstances, the Investigating Officer must ensure that the investigation is as objective as possible.

It is important to establish what exactly a complainant hopes to achieve by making the complaint. The recommendations must address the complaint (and any other issues which become apparent) but should also be mindful of the agreed policies and eligibility criteria of the Social Services Department. 

A suggestion for Investigating Officers is that:

  1. The complainant should first be interviewed and the child, if different, should be consulted. A child may not wish to formalise a complaint even though a complaint has been made on his or her behalf. This must be balanced with establishing whether a formal complaint is within the child’s ability to accept or comprehend (for example, a black child’s ability to relate to the effects of being placed trans-racially).
  2. The relevant staff should be interviewed.
  3. Reference should be made to relevant reports, files and other sources of information.
  4. Consultation should be made as necessary with the Designated Complaints Officer and/or any possible individual or group who may provide advocacy either directly or indirectly to the individual at the centre of the complaint.
  5. Feedback should be given to the complainant and, if possible, a satisfactory way identified to resolve the complaint.

It is essential to keep every-one involved of the developments of the complaint, especially if the complaint is made against an individual or the complainant is particularly anxious.

It may be necessary to hold more than one interview with each of the parties, although the effect of the complaint on all concerned and its investigation need to be borne in mind. It may also be necessary for those involved themselves to have an advocate (for staff: a colleague, trade union representative, supervisor etc. and for complainants: a friend, individual advocate or other person) to help in dealing with the investigation.

Under no circumstances should the lodging of a complaint be the reason for the withdrawal or suspension of services to the complainant or to the person on whose behalf the complaint is made. Likewise, the improvement or provision of a service should not be prevented due to a complaint being lodged.

Complaint investigations need to be conducted in a manner that is mindful of the time limits set out in the procedure. These may be extended by negotiation with the Designated Complaints Officer but there should be no undue delay.

A problem-solving objective requires speedy resolution.

Notwithstanding the need to promote the thorough investigation of a complaint, the Investigating Officer and Independent Person should determine with the complainant the details of the complaint and establish what they see as the pertinent issues.

Establishing what is paramount and essential to the complaint will help in determining what would be in the complainant’s mind as a satisfactory outcome to the complaint. This will target the investigation to the scope and possible resolution of the complaint.

However, whilst problem solving is an important aim of the procedure, the Investigating Officer needs to balance this with the importance of promoting the welfare of children.

The need to balance ‘needs-led’ demands with resource availability requires to be considered. Demanding unreasonable resource provision or undervaluing the demands of service users will eventually lead to dissatisfaction. If the complaint is about a shortfall in resources, the role of the Investigating Officer is to determine whether or not the procedure to determine eligibility has been correctly followed.

The difficulties associated with service provision together with establishing a ‘needs-led’ service is acknowledged as a difficult balance for Investigating Officers to address. Problem solving is therefore often the most that an Investigating Officer and Independent person can hope to achieve.

The Investigation Report

The Investigating Officer must produce a report that reflects the concerns of the complainant (and child, if different), the means of resolving the concerns and any other matter that should be brought to the attention of the local authority. In so doing, this should be balanced with any observations made by the Independent Person. These observations may be annexed to the report. In addition, the Independent Person may annex a separate report.

In constructing the Report, the Investigating Officer should set out the following information:

  1. The date the complaint was received.
  2. The name of the person making the complaint and on whose behalf the complaint has been made
  3. An outline of the complaint, including the background to the complaint, circumstances leading to it and the requested outcome of the complainant
  4. The persons interviewed (by reference to job title, not name) together with the dates of the interviews
  5. The records or sources of information consulted
  6. The criteria used and how the complaint was evaluated, including any references to relevant policies, procedures or legislation
  7. An assessment of the complaint and conclusion, including a Chronology of the relevant facts, the views and findings of the Investigating officer
  8. The recommendations

The Report should :

  1. Be addressed to the complainant
  2. Be as concise as possible
  3. Identify all those (other than the complainant and those directly involved) who should have regard to any particular areas of service provision or management responsibility for individual staff when considering the implications of the investigation
  4. Not include any reference to any form of compensation that may be made, either financially or otherwise. (This is a matter to be considered by the local authority with its insurers.)

In completing the Report, the Investigating Officer should consult and have regard to the views of the complainant (or child, if different) but the Report must contain in essence the Investigating Officer’s and Independent Person’s view of the validity of the complaint, and their recommendations.

The Report should be sent to the Designated Complaints Officer together with notes/records of interviews.

The Report is confidential and should be filed on the relevant case file or management file as appropriate.

The Designated Complaints Officer will then circulate copies of the Report to the relevant parties (not including Trade Union representatives) and take action in accordance with the Representations, Complaints and Claims Procedure.


6. Departmental Response

The appropriate Senior Officer according to the recommendations of the report will determine the response to any complaint investigation.


7. Support to Staff

By the very nature of our work, it is inevitable that from time to time, we will receive complaints about the decisions we have made and the action we have taken. Although it is difficult, complaints should not be seen as negative and we must try to ensure that we do not adopt a defensive stance.

However, being the subject of a complaint can be very stressful and managers of those staff involved, whether directly (as the subject of the complaint) or indirectly (where their practice or action has been queried) should ensure that support and/or counselling are available. Staff should feel able to request such assistance in recognition of the stress engendered by a complaint.


8. Review Management and Monitoring

The Designated Complaints Officer will review all relevant procedures and report annually to elected members on the numbers, nature, outcome and implications of complaints.

The Designated Complaints Officer will review and determine:

  1. The effectiveness of the procedure including the equal opportunities implications
  2. The effectiveness and appropriateness of the Independent Persons’ contracts
  3. With appropriate managers and elected members, the policy, procedure and guidance to facilitate appropriate services.

End