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At times families may not agree with the decisions made by children’s services or by individual social workers. In some situations family members may want to raise concerns or make a complaint.
What the law says about complaints and who can complain
Who can make a complaint under the Children Act 1989?
|A child in need||Any child looked after by children’s services||A child subject of a special guardianship order|
|The parent of a child in need||Other persons with parental responsibility for a child in need||The parent of a looked after child|
|Other persons with parental responsibility for a looked after child||A special guardian||Someone who has applied for special guardianship support services|
|A foster carer approved by children’s services||An adopted child||A child who may be adopted, their parents and guardian|
|An adopted child’s birth parents or former guardian||Adoptive parents||Anyone else who children’s services consider has a ‘sufficient interest’ in the child’s welfare|
What complaints can be about
General decision making
Children’s services should discuss with parents, or relevant carers, the decisions they make about a child. A complaint can be about the way in which decisions were made by the social worker or children’s services.
A complaint might be about:
- Information not shared with a family
- The way in which information was reported to a family
- Information not having been given to a family early enough
- A family hearing about the decision in an inappropriate way.
Parents and carers can make formal complaints about the child protection process. How exactly to complain depends on what the complaint is about. For example, whether it is about child protection enquiries and assessment. Or about a child protection conference.
Easy to follow information about this is available in the Complaining about a child protection conference section of our Child protection page. It includes a template letter to support families in making complaints about child protection conferences.
Services or support for a child in need
A child in need, who is disabled or who is likely to have his health or development impaired without the provision of services, is entitled to support. Children’s services can provide extra help for the child in need. Help can also be provided for any member of the child’s family. But extra help for other family members must be with the aim of improving the child’s safety or wellbeing (See section 17(3) Children Act 1989).
Complaints can be made about:
- A failure to provide support to a child
- A failure to provide the support necessary to adequately care for the child.
Decisions following Family Court orders
In relation to a care or supervision order, a complaint can be about:
- The decision by the local authority to bring the court case
- The way that children’s services exercise their parental responsibility for the child under the order
- The control of parental contact with the child in care (dealt with below)
- How supervisors perform their duties where a supervision order is in force
In relation to an emergency protection order, a complaint can be about:
- The decision by the local authority to bring a court case
- Decisions relating to the return of children removed from their home.
Services or support for a looked after child
Children who are in care under a court order or are looked after in the care system under a voluntary arrangement, are able to qualify for support from a children’s service.
Complaints may be about:
- Lack of support for a child who is looked after in the care system
- Lack of support when they return home from care, or
- Lack of support for a young person after they have left the care system.
Decisions about contact
Children’s services departments have a legal duty to promote contact between children looked after in the care system their family members, provided it is safe. Children services cannot stop contact altogether without the permission of a court.
A complaint could be about:
- How often, and for how long, they see a family member,
- The location of the contact
- The measures for supporting contact
- The supervision of contact arrangements.
See our Children in care under a court order page and our Children in the care system under voluntary arrangements (section 20) page for more information about the duties children’s services have to promote contact for children who are looked after in the care system.
See also our advice sheet on Contact orders where a child is in the care system.
Special guardianship services
Special guardians and children under a special guardianship order may be assessed for support or provided with support services.
A complaint can be about:
- The decisions made about whether to provide a particular kind of support
- The decision about how much support to provide, or
- A decision not to provide support
Complaints can be made about:
- The actions and decisions concerning a child’s adoption or
- The support services provided to a child, to their parents or their adopters.
Click on the blocks below to find answers to questions families often have about making complaints.
How complaints are dealt with
There are three stages to the children’s services complaint process. A complaint may be resolved at any one of these stages. The three stages and the timescales for each are explained government guidance (see Getting the best from complaints 2006 at paragraph 3.1.2). They are: