Complaints, Compliments and Representations
This chapter should be read in conjunction with Hertfordshire Children's Services 'Have Your Say' Factsheets - See Complaints Leaflets for Children and Young People.
Information for public about how to complain, with access to a factsheet is available here.
Considering complaints, compliments and other representations from service users and others is important in helping develop and improve our services. Responding promptly, fully and sympathetically is essential in order to reassure service users that we take their concerns seriously.
The Children's Services Complaints Policy informs this chapter.
This chapter was entirely revised and updated in December 2017 and should be re-read in full.
This chapter is currently under review.
1. An Outline of the Children's Complaints Regulations
|An outline of the Children's Complaints Regulations|
|Generally complaints made by and on behalf of Children & Young People that relate to Services provided for them. This includes services commissioned by HCC that are provided by another organisation.|
|Stage 1||Concerns should be resolved and responded to within 10 working days unless an extension is implemented (up to a further 10 working days).|
|Stage 2||An investigation that produces a report & an adjudication within 25 working days (max extended period = 65 working days). The investigation will be undertaken by an Investigating Officer and an Independent Person.|
A Panel of 3 Independent Persons, convened within 30 working days of complainant's request - to scrutinise the Stage 2 process.Director's response to complainant within 20 working days of the Panel.
2. Management of Compliments and Complaints
To support the positive and consistent management of compliments and complaints the Children Services'. See Children's Services Complaints Policy. In particular staff will be assisted by Section 5, Guidance for CS Staff regarding the Complaints Procedure.
This procedure contains full details of the complaints process, advice to staff affected by complaints and a toolkit for managers to support the effective management of complaints and responses to them.
Responsibility for responding to a Stage 1 complaint rests with operational managers for the service(s) complained about. The level of manager appropriate to sign the response to a Stage 1 complaint will depend upon the level of staff complained about (and be senior to the staff complained about). First line operational managers for the service complained about will respond to the majority of Stage 1 complaints.
Responsibility for the decision on the response to a request for a Stage 2 complaint investigation rests with the Complaints Manager. The Complaints Manager will inform the relevant Operations Director and Head of Service of complaints that are raised to Stage 2 and indeed Stage 3. The Complaints Manager will liaise with relevant Operations Director regarding the appointment of an Adjudicating Officer to adjudicate the complaint on behalf of the local authority and meet with the complainant at the end of the Stage 2 process. The Complaints Manager will also consider whether a Senior Management Review should be undertaken, as an alternative to a lengthy Stage 2 investigation. More information about this can be found in Paragraph 7.
In exceptional circumstances (e.g. where a complaint relates to matters which occurred many years earlier) and where the complainant and the local authority agree, a complaint can move directly to Stage 2 of the complaints procedure. An implication of this approach is that the team complained about loses the opportunity to respond to the complaint at Stage 1. The manager and staff member will however have the opportunity to prepare their response, within the supervisory process, to the complaint, during the Stage 2 process.
Responsibility for responding to a request for a Stage 3 Complaint Review Panel rests with the Complaints Manager. The Stage 2 Investigating Officer will attend the Panel and the Adjudicating Officer at Stage 2 will act as the Management Presenting Officer for the Panel.
3. Local Government Ombudsman Investigations
Responsibility for responding to a request for information from the Local Government Ombudsman rests with the Complaints Manager. The Complaints Manager will require information from operational senior managers about the services complained about. The operational senior manager(s) for the service(s) complained about must liaise with the Complaints Manager. They will provide him/her with information to inform the response to the Ombudsman, which will be issued on behalf of the Chief Executive, by the council's legal section.
Guidance can be found within Children's Services Complaints Policy and advice can be obtained from the Complaints Manager.
4. Information for Children and Their Parents about Making a Complaint
Factsheets and leaflets are available for adults and children, which explain the complaints process. Complaints may also be submitted using the council's online complaint form and via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The adults' version of the 'Have your say' factsheet is available by clicking the highlighted link.
The children and young people's version of the 'Have your say' leaflet is available by clicking the highlighted link.
Information about advocacy services is given within the 'Have your say' factsheet and 'Have your say' leaflets. Advocacy support is available for children wishing to make a complaint - please see Advocacy for Children and Young People Making a Complaint Procedure.
5. Guidance for CS Staff regarding the Complaints Procedure
CS recognises that front-line staff and their managers should have regular training to include:
- How to handle initial problems;
- Giving full and clear explanations of the procedures used;
- Avoiding jargon;
- Identifying complaints;
- When and how to acknowledge complaints;
- Apologising promptly and if appropriate to explain in a sympathetic manner why a particular service cannot be offered.
5.2 Complaints and YOU
- You need to feel that you will be treated fairly if you are complained about. The following guidance has been prepared to acknowledge the difficulties of such a situation and to assist you through the process;
- Being the subject of a complaint may be an unpleasant experience. Anxiety, loss of confidence, self-doubt, indignation and anger are feelings commonly experienced when people are criticised;
- If you are interviewed as part of a complaint investigation be clear about what you did and why. Staff should be honest and open in exploring issues in detail and confident in explaining the reasons for decisions made in the course of interventions. Staff should be prepared to engage in the challenge that a complaint may be and be able and clear to explain why service was provided;
- Please bear in mind that the Guidance to the 2006 Complaints Regulations says the following The complaints procedure should be a useful tool for indicating where services may need improving. It is a positive aid to influence service improvements, not a negative process to apportion blame.
6. Storage of Complaints Information
Members of staff may see the LCS Casenote - Complaint which informs them of the complaints documents that are stored on Livelink, and if they are directly involved in the complaint should be informed of it. However, the Complaints Folder in Livelink is only accessible to the Complaints Team, as it would not be appropriate for these letters to be viewed by all.
- Contact details for the Complaints Team: email@example.com.
6.1 Process for Recording the Complaint
The Complaints Team will upload any complaint letter received onto Livelink in the Complaints Folder and complete an LCS Casenote - Complaint. The case note is copied to the Social Worker, Team Manager, Service Manager and any other relevant member of staff. The Team Manager of the relevant team will respond to the complaint and send a copy of it to the Complaints Team.
The Complaints Team will upload it onto Livelink and complete an LCS Casenote, informing the Social Worker, Team Manager, Service Manager and any other relevant member of staff that the response has been sent, e.g. "A complaint response/complaint has been uploaded to Livelink in the Complaints Folder, on date. Access to this response can be gained via Children Services' Complaints Team."
The same process will be undertaken for other stages of the Complaints Process i.e. other correspondence relating to the complaint, requests for consideration of the complaint at Stage 2 or Stage 3, Stage 2 Report and Recommendations and Panel Recommendations, Adjudicating Letters.
6.2 Process for Staff to Access Complaints Information
If a member of staff needs to see a copy of either the complaint, or the response, a request will be made by the relevant Team Manager to the Complaints Team regarding Stage 1 letters and responses. The Complaints Team will usually provide copies to the Team Manager, to discuss with the member of staff as appropriate.
If the complaint has been considered at Stage 2 or 3 of the process, the Service Manager should request copies of relevant papers and the Complaints Team will usually provide copies to him or her. The Service Manager will consider how the content should appropriately shared with the Team Manager and, or member of staff.
7. Stage 1 of the Children's Complaints Procedure
Good Practice in Responding to Complainants at Stage 1 (for managers):
- It is important that the complaints procedure is promoted by staff;
- Be aware of the timescale available (10 working days to respond for most complaints and 20 working days for the most complex complaints);
- Work closely with the advocate where appropriate;
- Keep the complainant/advocate informed of progress and, if necessary, request an extension, before the deadline is up, to complete a response. Say why you need the extension;
- Make the Complaints Team aware of complaints you are dealing with that you have received directly;
- Consider the setting/location meetings are conducted in - some places may be intimidating or distressing for children and young people in particular;
- Explain the Complaints Procedure to the complainant;
- Allow the complainant to explain how he/she feels (in order that they feel their complaint is being genuinely considered);
- Ensure that you get clarification of exactly what the complainant is complaining about (in all its individual parts);
- Ask what the complainant wants in terms of solution or outcome;
- Check whether the complainant needs support during the process e.g. an advocate, HertsHelp;
- Familiarise yourself with the background to the complaint before trying to write a response to it;
- Use plain English and avoid jargon, acronyms and abbreviations;
- Address all the concerns the complainant has raised;
- Apologise for failures, errors and misunderstandings;
- Avoid defensive or assertive remarks;
- Write a response which you would be happy for the Ombudsman to read, if (as happens sometimes) the complaint gets that far;
- If you expect that the complainant will not be satisfied with your response express regret about this whilst pointing out that their concerns have been considered carefully;
- Explain that, after Stage 1, a complainant may request a Stage 2 investigation (and that they should contact the Complaints Manager to request this);
- For additional advice and guidance on how to respond to complainants, refer to the HCC Customer Service Standards;
- The response to a Stage 1 Complaint will be placed on the child's LCS File as a Complaints Casenote, by the manager who wrote the response, and the member of staff will be able to read and discuss with his or her line manager.
Senior Management Review (SMR)
A Senior Management Review can be a better option than a Stage 2 investigation because:
- It is normally completed within 20 working days (4 weeks), whereas a Stage 2 usually takes up to 65 working days (13 weeks);
- It has the potential to tailor resolution to a complainant's particular circumstances.
Timescales for a SMR:
- Acknowledgement of complaint within 3 working days;
- Response within 20 working days (4 weeks).
A Senior Manager (SM) is normally appointed to undertake the Review. The Complaints Manager will confirm in writing the details of the Manager and the expected completion date.
The SM may during the investigation contact the complainant to clarify any points of the complaint or desired outcomes.
The complainant will be kept updated on the progress of their complaint. If more time is required in order to complete the review this will be communicated to the complainant with the new completion date.
On completion of the review the SM will write with the outcome. This response will also give further direction on options if the complainant remains dissatisfied. Where appropriate the complainant will be offered a meeting to discuss their concerns. Consideration will be given as to the most appropriate time for the meeting to take place (beginning or end of the investigation).
If the complainant is dissatisfied with the response to their concerns then they may write to the Complaints Manager (within 20 working days of the Stage 1 response) confirming what their outstanding concerns are and their desired outcomes.
Complainants who remain dissatisfied following a Senior Management Review of their complaint may request that the Complaints Manager considers commissioning a further investigation at Stage 2.
8. Stage 2 of the Children's Complaints Procedure
8.1 The Investigative Process
For information regarding accessing Stage 1 complaint information, please see PGN – Access to Complaints and Allegations Documentation in LiveLink (dated April 2017) for further guidance.
Investigation of Social Care complaints under Stage 2 of the Children's Complaints Procedure involves both an Investigating Officer and an Independent Person working together. Normally a Stage 2 investigation should be completed, (including Adjudication by a Head of the Service), within 25 working days. In certain circumstances the Local Authority requires a time extension up to 65 working days. See Appendix 3: Access to Complaints and Allegations Documentation in Livelink.
Stage 2 complaint investigations are often conducted by an Investigator external to the council.
The Investigating Officer will notify the relevant managers in writing of the complaint and which members of staff initially appear likely to need to be interviewed.
The Investigator (and Independent Person) will review the Department's records, case files, policies and procedures and will interview the complainant, staff and managers with direct involvement or relevant information.
8.2 The Report and Adjudication
The Investigator and Independent Person write reports at the conclusion of their investigation. The Investigator's report will make findings in relation to each complaint (Upheld, Partially Upheld, Not Upheld or No Judgement). The report normally includes recommendations for the Department.
A Head of Service (or other senior manager) acts as Adjudicating Officer in relation to complaints.
The Complaints Team will send the Investigator's and Independent Person's reports to the Adjudicating Officer. Prior to completion of the adjudication the Adjudicating Officer will liaise with the Head(s) of Service for the teams implicated in the complaint outcomes, concerning the likely Actions to be included in his/her adjudication.
The Adjudicating Officer sends the reports of the investigation to the Complainant, with his/her letter of Adjudication. The Adjudicating Officer will inform the line management if there is an issue of individual performance, inadequate procedures, or operational activity that require addressing. The line manager will record outcomes of a complaint on supervision records.
The Complaints Manager ensures that Actions included in an adjudication are completed.
If you wish to discuss the Investigator's report you should approach your line manager.
8.4 Your Rights and Responsibilities
You have rights to:
- Have complaints dealt with confidentially (provided this does not conflict with line management responsibilities, child protection, criminal or disciplinary proceedings);
- Be treated courteously and fairly;
- Be given an opportunity to put your side of the situation;
- Be supported by your line manager or other manager through the process;
- Approach your Union, Human Resources, your Professional Association and/or Complaints Team for support;
- Complain about the investigation including the investigator and/or the Independent Person if you feel they have treated you inappropriately. You should do this through the Complaints Manager;
- Complain about the Complaints Team: do this through your line manager;
- Have a friend or advocate with you to support you at an investigative interview. The friend or advocate must be someone whom the Department considers would respect confidentiality. They must not be someone involved in the complaint investigation or your line manager and the facility must not delay the investigation;
- Receive feedback on the outcome of the complaint, from one of your managers.
You have the following responsibilities:
- In normal circumstances you will make yourself available to meet the Investigating Officer within two weeks of the request;
- You should take your notes and the case file to interview with an Investigating Officer;
- You should refresh your memory of the case before the interview, so that you can give the investigator as much information as possible. It is useful to consider the complaint before the interview and any specific comments you wish to make;
- Remember that external investigators are costly for the council. Accordingly, you should be punctual and set ample time aside for the interview;
- If you receive the complaint, you should check with HR to ensure no concurrent HR process or investigation is underway.
You should expect the following:
- The Investigating Officer should inform you of the content of the complaint prior to your interview. If you wish to discuss the complaint, or the complaints process, you should speak to your line manager or the Complaints Team;
- The Investigator will contact you to make arrangements for the interview - where two or more staff are the subject of a complaint they will be interviewed separately;
- The Investigator will normally have a number of staff to see, in a specific order and work to a statutory timescale;
- It is important that the interview is conducted in private and without interruption;
- A written record is kept; any information you give may be quoted in the Investigator's report. You may wish to keep a record yourself of what has been discussed;
- You should not mislead or be defensive. You should expect to have important statements that you make checked with you, by the Investigating Officer;
- The Investigator will send notes of the interview to you. This gives you the opportunity to suggest corrections and amendments. You will be asked to confirm the record as accurate. You should ensure that you confirm the notes of the interview within 10 working days, at the latest, otherwise the initial notes will be assumed to be correct.
What Happens Next
- The Investigating Officer will be able to explain what happens next regarding the investigation;
- The Complaints Manager is responsible for ensuring that any agreed actions are carried out;
- When a Stage 2 Investigation is completed, and the Adjudicating Officer has written to the complainant, the Complaints Manager will ensure that this is placed on the Child's LCS File as a Complaints casenote, and that the full report and letter is held by the Complaints Manager.
9. Stage 3 of the Children's Complaints Procedure
The purpose of a review panel is to:
- Undertake an independent review of complaints considered at Stage 2 of the complaints procedure, where, following the investigation, the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome;
- Report to the Director of Children's Services confirming or amending the original findings and recommendations.
The Director of Children's Services will write to the complainant with her adjudication in relation to the panel's recommendations. She will note any actions to be undertaken, arising from freshly upheld complaints, and inform the line management of any issues of individual performance, inadequate procedures, or operational activity that require addressing. The line manager will record outcomes of a complaint on supervision records.
The Complaints Manager ensures that Actions included in the Director of Children's Services' adjudication are completed.
When a Stage 3 Panel is completed, and the Director of Children's Services has written to the complainant, the Complaints Manager will ensure that this is placed on the Child's LCS File as a Complaints casenote, and that the full report and letter is held by the Complaints Manager.
10. Disciplinary Action
- Neither the Adjudicating Officer nor the Review Panel can recommend disciplinary action. If there are serious concerns arising from the investigation of a complaint, they may recommend that the Department reviews the conduct of a case and any disciplinary implications;
- Members of staff must make themselves available to the Investigating Officer investigating a complaint at Stage 2 of the complaints procedure.
This guidance should not be taken to be exhaustive.
Appendix A: Social Work England External Complaints - Information for Managers
This information is primarily to assist managers to support their employees in the situation where their Fitness to Practice is being investigated by an external body (e.g. Social Work England).
Sometimes Social Work England receives information from the public, the police or another source about the Fitness to Practice of a registrant. Social Work England does not pursue or investigate every alleged incident or minor mistake but will occasionally need to investigate the concerns that have been brought to their attention.
Social Work England Process
When Social Work England are first made aware of a case, they will assess it to decide whether it falls within their powers and is about fitness to practice. If it is then, in summary, they will do the following:
- Allocate a case manager who will be the main contact during the process;
- The case manager will assess the information already provided and will determine what additional information, if any, is needed;
- The case manager will write to the registrant to tell them that a fitness to practice concern has been raised about them and will carry out the investigation which may include asking HCC for documents and information;
- The case manager will also write to the complainant to tell them what is happening;
- Once the investigation is completed, all the documents and information gathered is sent to the registrant together with details of the allegations against them;
- The registrant has 28 days to respond to the allegation before the case goes to an Investigating Committee Panel to determine if there is a case to answer;
- If there is a case to answer, the case will be referred to a hearing for consideration and a decision. Click here for further information about the Hearing.
N.B. Unless Social Work England ask for information from us or they apply for an interim order (which prevents the registrant from practising) they have no responsibility to inform us that one of our employees is being investigated. They must however, inform HCC once they have determined there is a case to answer.
Social Work England have powers to demand information under the Health Professionals Order 2001, Article 25(1). HCC must supply the information requested.
Other employees of HCC, may also be approached to supply witness statements and be asked to come to the hearing to give evidence. Social Work England has the power to summons this information/attendance if they deem necessary.
Where can my employee go for support and information?
Employees can get support from their Union or their professional body (if they are a member of either), or the Citizens Advice Bureau. They may also, if they wish, get legal representation at their own personal cost.
Further information is also available on the Social Work England website and from the case manager assigned to the case in the Fitness to Practise (FTP) Department.
It is strongly advised that employees consider taking out membership of a professional body such as the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) in order to support their professional registration.
What practical support can I give my employee?
Managers should discuss the needs and requirements with their employees and make decisions on a case by case basis. Examples of support include the following, (not an exhaustive list):
- Flexible working practices e.g. reduced hours, reduced workload;
- Consideration of the re-allocation of case work;
- Increased opportunity to have supervision/support from a line manager;
- Ability to work from home, if suitable and appropriate;
- Consideration of a reasonable amount of time off to prepare their response;
- Access to pertinent information and materials as required in order to create a response to the allegations being raised;
- Meeting between you and your employee/HR/complaint investigator if appropriate to debrief and discuss questions you may have;
- Supporting input for a letter to Social Work England (if appropriate) from HCC;
- Referral to Occupational Health.
What else should I consider as a line manager with an employee being investigated by Social Work England?
In addition to the practical and supportive measures outlined above, the line manager should also give consideration as to whether the matter is a potential Disciplinary matter for investigation via the internal HCC Disciplinary Policy. This could mean suspension in cases of potential gross misconduct.
What advice can be given to employees who are asked to provide a testimonial for a colleague whose fitness to practice is being investigated?
- HCC is aware that on occasion employees will be asked to provide a Testimonial in relation to the matter before Social Work England for a colleague being investigated;
- Employees are not obliged to provide a Testimonial and cannot be compelled to do so. If your staff member feels unable to respond to the request they are under no obligation to do so;
- If you wish to respond then you will be doing this as an individual professional and not as a representative of HCC and should not provide this impression;
- The request that has been made is for the views of professionals who have worked with the individual on their competency and not for information from their employer. This is the normal process in these matters as its felt by those assisting individuals in these matters that the views of fellow professionals are evidentially important;
- Any response needs to be as factual as possible. Where you express your views to Social Work England, you should be sure that you can evidence them, as you will be providing your views as a professional, subject to a Code of Conduct;
- It is acceptable to provide a testimonial to Social Work England even if you were not involved in the matter of concern, where you feel able to base a testimonial on other experience of the staff member under investigation;
- If you are unable to answer all the questions Social Work England asks of you, your response should make this clear;
- Your response to Social Work England should make clear that you will only be expressing views from your own personal knowledge and experience.".
N.B. Employees of HCC, may also be asked to supply witness statements and be asked to come to the hearing to give evidence. Social Work England has the power to summons this information/attendance if they deem necessary. There is however, no responsibility to comply if requested by an HCC colleague.
What is the role of the FTP Case Manager?
A case manager is allocated to every case. They are neutral and their role is to manage the progress of the case and gather relevant information. They are the contact for everyone involved and can give explain how the process works and what panels consider when making decisions.
What should I do if I become aware that a temporary agency worker in my team is subject to a Social Work England fitness to practice investigation?
You should inform and alert the employing agency to the matter and consider whether it is appropriate to continue with the temporary placement.
What are the potential outcomes of a Fitness to Practice hearing?
The panel can:
- Take no further action or order mediation;
- Caution the registrant;
- Put practice conditions on the registrant;
- Suspend the registrant from practising;
- Remove the registrant from the FTP register.
Other Sources of Support
Social Work England
Social Work England
1 North Bank,
Occupational Health and the Wellbeing at Work Policy
The Occupational Health service provides impartial confidential advisory service for managers, which is tailored to the needs of the organisation. This is a nurse led service that:
- Provides screening and assessments as required, by telephone interview or by appointment;
- Provides referrals for advice in relation to long term sickness absence, intermittent absence and ill health retirement;
- Delivers health promotion events in line with HCC's health and wellbeing strategy;
- Manages all medical and other sensitive information in accordance with industry best practice standards.
Occupational Health Unit,
County Hall CHO 151,
Tel: 01992 588763
Carewell (HCC Employee Assistance Programme
Carewell aim to answer your questions immediately, or refer you to the most appropriate advisor, counsellor, or source of information - all completely confidentially.
Phone free: 0800 731 0905 (or on minicom 0800 854 739) 24 hours, 7 days a week.