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Ombudsman report asks if children are being failed by complaints system

The pressures on the complaints system for children’s care services are being highlighted in a new report by the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO).

In a number of case studies the LGO shows some of the common issues it sees in children’s social care complaints, including:

  • failure to recognise a children’s service complaint
  • long delays in the process
  • refusal to go through all stages of the process
  • choosing the wrong complaints procedure

The LGO report adds to an ongoing debate in local government, about whether the current statutory procedure for children’s services complaints is the best way to ensure effective outcomes for children and young people.

In addition to complaints it receives, the LGO surveyed councils to understand experiences at a local level. Councils say that at its best the process is independent, has strict time limits for acting and has clear guidelines on who can complain.

However, they also say the interests of children are often not central to a complaint because only a small proportion are actually from the young people affected. The process can be process driven rather than outcome focused.

Additionally it can cost thousands of pounds per investigation to recruit independent investigators and panel members, with some councils suggesting this is diverting funds from providing vital services.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“The cases from people who complain to us and what we hear from councils, points to a children’s social care complaints system that is creaking under the strain.

“Councils provide crucial support to thousands of young people at difficult and often traumatic times so it essential that if things go wrong, problems are sorted out quickly and openly.

“While we are clear that councils have a statutory duty to follow this process, in this report we are asking whether the process is impacting on the best interests of children and young people.”

Councillor David Simmonds, chair of the Local Government Association’s (LGA) Children and Young People Board, said:

"Councils are committed to listening to the concerns of children and young people, either directly or through their advocates, and will want to reflect on the learning in this report to encourage them to share their views. We recognise there are always areas that can be improved and we will work hard to make the complaints system easier for young people to navigate and ensure that issues are resolved quickly and fairly."

On receipt of complaints by, or concerning, children and young people, councils must follow a statutory complaints procedure. This comprises three stages. Stage one is a local resolution, stage two is an independent investigation to which the complainant can request a report containing the council’s response.  Stage three is an independent review panel.

Each stage has set timescales and the complainant has the right to progress through each stage of the process if they wish. There is limited scope to refer the complaint to the LGO, either at the request of the council or the complainant, before the statutory procedure is complete.

A number of years ago there was a similar debate about the complaints process for adult social care. The policy was changed from being a statutory process to one handled through a council’s normal complaints procedure.



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