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Complaints

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

Where is the law about complaints found?

The law and guidance about complaints can be found in three main places:

Who can make a complaint?

Complaints can be made by parents, people caring for children and family members involved with a child. Some children can make a complaint themselves too.

The person who is making the complaint is called the complainant.

The detailed lists of people who can make a complaint can be found in the Children Act 1989 (see section 26(3), section 26(3B) and 26(3(C) and in Getting the best from complaints 2006 at paragraph 2.1.6).

The table below provides a summary.

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

What can a complaint be about?

The subject of a complaint can be wide-ranging. Social workers can make many decisions about a child’s upbringing. Children’s services provide a range of services for children and families. But most often, a complaint will either about:

  1. Decisions made or services provided
  2. A child not getting the services or support they need.

Each of the drop downs below share more information and the kinds of decisions or services that a complaint 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.

Child protection

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

Court orders made for the care, supervision or emergency protection of children place duties on children’s services. A failure to carry out those duties can be the subject of a complaint.

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.

See Getting the best from complaints, 2006 at paragraph 2.2.2.

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

See Getting the best from complaints, 2006 at paragraph 2.4.

Adoption services

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.

See Getting the best from complaints, 2006 at paragraph 2.3.

Making complaints

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:

Click on the blocks below for more information about each stage of the complaints process:

Complaining beyond children’s services

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