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1.5.1 Complaints

SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER

This procedure covers complaints and representations received in respect of services to children.

Those wishing to make complaints in relation to a Looked After Child can, at any time, refer their complaints to the Regulatory Authority.

This procedure does not apply to complaints of Significant Harm, which must be dealt with under the West Yorkshire Consortium Procedures.

RELATED GUIDANCE

Getting the Best from Complaints- Social Care Complaints and Representations for Children, Young People and Others

AMENDMENT

This chapter was revised in December 2014; references to the Complaints Support Service were replaced with Customer Relations Service.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Who may make a complaint?
  3. What may be Complained About
  4. Dealing with a Complaint
  5. Time Limits to Complaints
  6. Informing Children about the Complaints Procedure
  7. Dealing with Conflict
  8. What to do if the Problem Cannot be Resolved


1. Introduction

Leeds City Council aims to provide excellent services to its customers, but no organisation is perfect which means that complaints are an unfortunate but inevitable consequence where a service to customers is being provided. This means that we should always be prepared for them and wherever possible deal with them quickly and efficiently. Complaints can be distressing, time consuming, damage our reputation and be costly.

Staff that work with customers at the service delivery level are in a very demanding and challenging position. However, their skill and experience means that they are ideally placed to deal with complaints effectively. This is why it is always best to seek a resolution to a complaint at a service delivery level rather than going straight to stage one. The following information is a guide to help deal with complaints at the service delivery level.


2. Who may make a complaint?

A representation or complaint may be made by:

  1. Any child who is a Looked After Child or who, although not Looked After, is a Child in Need;
  2. A parent or person with Parental Responsibility;
  3. A local authority Foster Carer;
  4. Such other person as the authority consider has sufficient interest in a child's welfare to warrant a complaint or representation being considered by them;
  5. An Eligible Young Person, Relevant Young Person or Former Relevant Young Person;
  6. A Qualifying Young Person under the Leaving Care procedures;
  7. A person aged up to 24 who is or was a Former Relevant or Qualifying young person and whom the local authority may still assist in connection with education and training;
  8. Special Guardians;
  9. A child in respect of whom a Special Guardianship Order is in force;
  10. Any person who has applied for an assessment for special guardianship support;
  11. Any child who may be adopted, their parents and guardians;
  12. Any person wishing to adopt a child;
  13. Any person to whom arrangements for the provision of adoption support services extend;
  14. Adopted persons, their adoptive parents, birth parents and former guardians.

Where a complaint is made on behalf of a child, the Customer Relations Manager should confirm where possible that the child is happy for this to happen and that the complaint submitted reflects his or her views.


3. What may be Complained About?

  • 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 or young person of the application of a local authority policy;
  • Assessment, care management and review;
  • Discrimination/inequality.

This is not an exhaustive list and the Complaints Manager should seek legal advice as necessary.

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 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;
  • Tribunals;
  • Disciplinary proceedings; or
  • Criminal proceedings.

If the Customer Relation Manager decides not to consider or further consider complaints subject to these concurrent investigations, s/he 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 as long as it is within one year of the conclusion of the concurrent investigation.


4. Dealing with a Complaint

If someone says they are unhappy with a service these eight steps can help the process.

Ownership

Take ownership of the complaint and deal with it. Complaints can be very difficult to deal with and time consuming, so it is understandable that we may be tempted to pass them on to someone else to deal with. Remember, the complainant has chosen to come to you for an answer, so to pass them on to another person can give the impression that we don’t care about them or their complaint. Even if we are busy or we are not the right person to deal with the complaint, we can let them know that we will deal with it or that we shall find out who can and will deal with it.

Believe

Believing the complaint is important when dealing with it. This does not mean literally saying, “I believe you” as at this stage you do not know whether the complainant’s view about their situation is correct or not; moreover it is a case of making the complainant feel that the information they are giving is being accepted as an accurate account of what they have experienced. The complainant will, in their opinion, have a valid reason for raising their concerns, so it is important that we are genuine with them and if they are upset we must respect their feelings but it is important to remain impartial throughout the process.

Listen

Take time to listen to their complaint. Natural instinct or unwillingness to accept that our service may be at fault, can make us resist listening to complaints. It is common that when we hear a complaint, we may either begin working out how we will respond, or will not accept the complaint has happened, before we have listened fully. The customer must see and feel that you are listening, so using active listening skills is essential. If the complainant’s first language is not English, you may need to access the appropriate translation services.

Clarify

It is essential to have accurate information and that you confirm your understanding of the complaint with the complainant. This helps us to be able to deal with the complaint in the right way but also demonstrates to the complainant that we have been listening and have heard what they have told us. It also provides us with an accurate record of the complaint and what we did with it. Again using active listening skills helps us to be confident to deal with the complaint.

Detach

Occasionally complainants can be emotional, upset, rude, angry, offensive etc. The complaint may be about Leeds City Council, your department or service or colleagues, but your impartiality must remain constant and you should not criticise whatever or whomever they are complaining about. It is important to be detached from the complaint (remember, the complaint is not about you). However, it is important to avoid appearing unconcerned. Remain calm, balanced and be patient, and do not excuse or justify at this stage (remember, you still do not know whether the complainant’s view about their situation is correct or not). Use the appropriate skills for dealing with conflict, see Section 4, Dealing with Conflict.

Apologise

A sincere apology can diffuse a difficult situation and any frustration that the customer has. We already understand that the complainant has a valid reason for raising their concerns, and will be expecting an apology. We can legitimately apologise about their negative experience without accepting blame or implying guilt. However, skill must be used to prevent the complainant inferring blame or guilt.

For example:

“I am sorry that you are unhappy with the service you have received…”
“We treat all complaints seriously, and I can hear that you are upset and concerned and I am sorry about that…”
“I am sorry for the delay in the service you requested, and will look into this right away…”

Satisfy

Make it right. At this stage we are the judges of what is appropriate but it is important to allow the complainant to feel empowered about their concerns. Find out from the complainant what solution they want specifically, taking into account the parameters that you have to work with. The solution must be:

  • Specific;
  • Fair;
  • Legal;
  • Achievable;
  • Realistic;
  • Prompt; and
  • Recordable.

Thank and Value

At some point in the process, take the time to thank the customer for their complaint. By doing this we demonstrate a number of points:

  • It shows them that we value the feedback they are giving;
  • It demonstrates that we care about our service as their impressions of us are an advertisement to their family, friends, colleagues and associates;
  • It reduces negative publicity and can help build a positive reputation; and
  • It shows that we use complaints as an opportunity to resolve and improve any faults or failings in our service which in turn helps prevent further complaints thus saving money.


5. Time Limit to Complaints

Local authorities do not need to consider complaints made more than one 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 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.


6. 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. Such information must include an explanation of the role of an Advocate and provide contact details for advocates to make complaints on children's behalf.

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, s/he 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.


7. Dealing with Conflict

It is worth reminding ourselves that conflict is a common factor when dealing with complaints and it can become a problem when individuals do not have specific conflict-resolution skills. Without these essential skills, communication can break down and blaming rather than owning responsibility for behaviour occurs. The following skills need to be understood and used if peaceful conflict resolution is to take place:

  • Listening skills;
  • Empathy - the ability to see issues from someone else’s point of view;
  • Self-calming techniques;
  • Clear and planned patterns of thinking rather than emotional outbursts;
  • Assertiveness; and
  • Knowing how to reach a resolution.

There are several factors that can increase conflict:

  • Shouting, swearing;
  • Name calling;
  • Accusing;
  • Interrupting;
  • Not listening;
  • Talking over; and
  • Making unreasonable demands.

In contrast, the following factors can reduce conflict:

  • Listen first; talk second;
  • Active listening;
  • Understanding the other’s point of view, build mutual respect and be courteous;
  • Calm voice with calm non-verbal and body language;
  • Not invading personal space;
  • Finding some common ground;
  • Admitting you are wrong (if you are) with a genuine apology;
  • Keep people and problems separate; and
  • Pay attention to the interests that are being presented.

The following five steps can help reach a satisfactory resolution when dealing with conflict.

Step One: Set the Scene

Make sure that both you and the complainant understand that the conflict may be a mutual problem, best resolved through discussion and negotiation. If you are involved in the conflict, emphasise the fact that you are presenting your perception of the problem and use active listening skills to ensure you hear and understand others’ positions and perceptions.

  • Restate;
  • Paraphrase;
  • Summarise;
  • Use the adult, assertive approach rather than a submissive or aggressive style.

Step Two: Gather Information

Here you are trying to get to the underlying interests, needs, and concerns. Ask for the complainant's point of view and confirm that you respect their opinion and that their cooperation is needed to solve the problem. If possible, try to understand their motivations and goals and see how your actions may be affecting these.

If possible, try to understand their motivations and goals, and see how your actions may be affecting these.

  • Listen with empathy and see the conflict from the complainants point of view;
  • Identify issues clearly and concisely;
  • Use "I" statements;
  • Remain flexible;
  • Clarify their feelings.

Step Three: Agree the Complaint/Conflict

Different underlying needs, interests and goals can cause both parties to perceive problems very differently. Agree the problems that you are trying to solve before finding a mutually acceptable solution.

Sometimes different people will see different but interlocking problems - if you can't reach a common perception of the problem, then at the very least, you need to understand what the complainant sees as the problem.

Step Four: Explore Possible Resolutions

By allowing the complainant to have fair and realistic input in generating resolutions, they are much more likely to feel satisfied with it. They may come up with a resolution that you had not considered before.

Step Five: Negotiate a Resolution

By this stage, the conflict may well be resolved, both parties may have a better understanding of each other’s point of view the position of the other, and a mutually satisfactory solution may be clear to all.

Alternatively, real differences between both parties may have been identified. In this situation a ‘win-win’ negotiation can be useful to find a solution that, to some extent, satisfies everyone.

Three guiding principles to remember are:

  • Be calm;
  • Be patient;
  • Have respect.


8. What to do if the Problem Cannot be Resolved

If you are unable to resolve a complaint, then the complainant has the option of taking their complaint through the complaints procedure. The following is a summary of what we should do with the complainant prior to submitting their complaint at stage one:

  • Inform the complainant what happens next. Offer them the appropriate complaints leaflet and explain it to them. Help (if appropriate) service users to make a complaint (e.g. filling in a complaint form –particularly when someone is not able to write, or if English is their second language (ESL);
  • If the complainant speaks another language that you don't; make every effort to get their name, address, telephone number and the language they speak. Pass this information to the customer relations service and they will make the necessary arrangements;
  • In recording a complaint, ask the complainant what outcome they are seeking. This may not always be possible to achieve but it helps to clarify the nature of the complaint;
  • The complainant has the option of sending the complaint to the customer relations service, the first line manager of the particular team or service or Service Delivery Manager (SDM);
  • The complaint should be sent to the customer relations service who will determine who needs to deal with it.

End