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Complaints and Representations


This procedure covers complaints and representations received in respect of services to children under the Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006.

This procedure does not apply to concerns in relation to a child who may be in need of protection, (which must be dealt with under the Norfolk Safeguarding Children Partnership Procedures); assessments of potential foster carers and adopters; foster carer registrations and Section 7 and 37 Reports. There are other processes for dealing with these although each complaint should be considered on its own merit. See Section 2, What may be Complained About?


Getting the Best from Complaints


Advocacy and Independent Visitors Procedure


This chapter was amended in December 2021 to reflect the Children's Statutory Complaint Process: Guide for Practitioners (Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, 2021). (See Relevant Guidance (above)).


  1. Who may make a Complaint?
  2. What may be Complained About?
  3. Time Limit to Complaints
  4. Informing Children about the Complaints Procedure
  5. Receiving Complaints
  6. Stage One - Local Resolution
  7. Stage Two - Investigation
  8. Stage Three - Review Panels

    Appendix: Key Lessons from Ombudsman Investigations

1. Who may make a Complaint?

A representation or complaint may be made by:

  1. Any child or young person (or a parent of his or someone who has parental responsibility for him) who is being looked after by the local authority or is not looked after by them but is in need;
  2. Any local authority foster carer (including those caring for children placed through independent fostering agencies);
  3. Children leaving care;
  4. Special Guardians;
  5. A child or young person (or parent of his) to whom a Special Guardianship order is in force;
  6. Any person who has applied for an assessment under section 14F(3);
  7. Any child or young person who may be adopted, their parents and guardians;
  8. Persons wishing to adopt a child;
  9. Any other person whom arrangements for the provision of adoption services extend;
  10. Adopted persons, their parents, natural parents and former guardians; and
  11. Such other person as the local authority consider has sufficient interest in the child or young person’s welfare.

Where a complaint is made on behalf of a child, the Complaints Manager should confirm where possible that the child is happy for this to happen and that the complaint submitted reflects their views.

2. What may be Complained About?

A complaint may arise as a result of many things relating to statutory Children's Social Care functions such as:

  • 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 of the application of a local authority policy; and
  • Assessment, care management and review.

This, and the list that follows, are indicative only and should not be used as a means of restricting matters about which a complaint can be made and responded to. Where there is any uncertainty about the validity of a complaint 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 a 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 Service 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 Complaints Service Manager decides not to consider, or further consider, complaints subject to these concurrent investigations, they 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.

The complaints procedure does not apply when:

  • The person wishing to complain does not meet the requirements of "who may complain" and is not acting on behalf of such an individual;
  • The complaint is not in regard of the actions or decisions of the local authority complained to, or of any body acting on its behalf; or
  • The same complaint has already been dealt with at all stages of the procedure.

3. Time Limit to Complaints

Local authorities do not need to consider complaints made more than 1 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 and Social Care 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.

4. Informing Children about the Complaints Procedure

Children must be informed about the Complaints Procedure in a variety of ways suitable to their age 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 who can support children to make a complaint.

Information about the complaints procedure may be made available to children and their families via social media approved by the local authority.

Where children or those acting on their behalf express a wish to make a complaint, they should be given advice and information regarding 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 children, help should be offered to obtain the services of an Advocate.

Where a child wishes to make a complaint, they should be referred to the relevant manager or to the complaints team.

5. Receiving Complaints

Comments, complaints and compliments may be made orally or in writing, including by email.

Complaints must be promptly screened and where appropriate, signposted to an alternative procedure to be dealt with if required.

The law says that councils must act swiftly and efficiently when handling complaints, ensuring there are no unnecessary delays. The emphasis should be on a speedy resolution reached locally wherever possible.

Where a complaint includes an allegation that a child has been harmed, the matter must be directed to be dealt with under the multi-agency Safeguarding Children Procedures and must be referred to Children's Social Care.

6. Stage One - Local Resolution

If comments made by users about a service indicate dissatisfaction with the service, the front-line service provider or the line manager receiving the complaint should in most instances try to resolve the matter locally and swiftly. In all cases where complaints are received, the complaints team must be informed. It should be remembered that there may be no need to engage the complaints procedure if the matter is resolved immediately.

The expectation is that the majority of complaints should be considered and responded to at Stage One.

When the complaints team receives a complaint directly, this will usually be considered under stage one and the complaints team will:

  1. Acknowledge the complaint within 3 working days, notifying the complainant that they have received their complaint and explaining the timescales within which a response will be sent;
  2. Notify the appropriate manager;
  3. Request that the manager attempt to resolve the complaint within 10 working days and send a copy of the response to the complaints team, together with a brief resume of any points not covered in the letter.

If it is not possible to respond within the above timescale - e.g. where files or records need to be checked or a key member of staff is not available - the manager (in b) above) must inform the complaints team who will send a holding letter to advise the complainant of the delay. However the maximum period for a complaint to remain at Stage One is 20 working days, unless the complainant has agreed to a further extension of time.

Complaints made by children in foster care or residential care should be recorded as follows:

  • Where the complaint relates to the child's placement in residential care, the fact that the complaint was made and resolved should be noted in the home's Daily Log, and a summary of the complaint and the manner in which it was resolved should be recorded in the Complaints Log and in the child's Daily Record. Where the complaint involves sensitive personal information, such details should not be held in the Complaint Log, which is a public record. The manager should consult the complainant to ensure that the matter was dealt with appropriately before countersigning the Complaints Log;
  • Where the complaint relates to the child's foster home, the foster carer should record brief details in the child's Daily Record. The foster carer should inform the supervising social worker as soon as practicable as well as, where appropriate, the child's social worker. The complaint should be recorded in the Complaints Log held by the Fostering Service and where appropriate in the child's electronic record.

The manager for each team or service should keep a record of complaints dealt with locally and their outcomes. This record should then be shared with the complaints team.

If the matter cannot be resolved within 20 working days, the complainant should be advised of their right to request consideration at Stage Two. The complainant may, however, agree to extend the deadline for the Stage One process.

7. Stage Two - Investigation

Consideration of complaints at Stage 2 is normally achieved through an investigation which is conducted by an investigating officer and an independent person. Stage 2 commences either when the complainant requests it or where the complainant and the local authority have agreed that Stage 1 is not appropriate.

Usually, the issues raised will be those expressed in Stage 1. The Stage 2 investigation should be proportionate to the issues complained about and not, for example, reviewing the council's entire involvement with the child or young person.

The Complaint's Manager should make a decision whether any 'new complaints' added after the original complaint was made should be dealt with under Stage 1 or within the Stage 2 process.

If the complaint has been submitted orally, the complaints team should ensure the details of the complaint and the complainant’s desired outcome are recorded in writing and agreed with the complainant. This may be achieved either by correspondence or by meeting the complainant to discuss, followed by a written record of what was agreed. The complaints team may wish to do this in conjunction with the Investigating Officer and Independent Person appointed to conduct Stage 2. Should the complainant amend the written record of his complaint, the Stage 2 timescale will start from the date that the complaint is finalised.

Action on Receipt of Complaint

Upon receiving a complaint, the complaints team will:

  1. In some circumstances, contact the complainant direct to discuss whether it may be possible to mediate or negotiate a settlement or undertake a restorative meeting;
  2. Record the complaint. At this stage the complaints team will decide whether the complaint should be investigated under this procedure or whether it should be referred elsewhere, for example under staff disciplinary procedure;
  3. Ensure that a copy of the complaint is sent to the manager of any member of staff named within it, unless to do so would prejudice the investigation of the complaint in which case the complaints team should inform the relevant senior manager of this decision;
  4. Appoint an Investigating Officer (who is not involved in the management of the services to the child concerned) and an Independent Person (who is not an employee or an elected member of the authority) to the investigation. The Independent Person is appointed to shadow the Investigating Officer. Under the arrangement, the Independent Person accompanies the Investigating Officer throughout the investigation;
  5. Acknowledge receipt of the complaint and advise the complainant of how the complaint is being dealt with, the timescales and the name of the Investigating Officer.

The complaints team and the Investigating Officer should consider whether it is necessary to halt a particular aspect of the case pending investigation, for example where there are ongoing Court proceedings.

The Investigation

Upon being appointed, the Investigating Officer should:

  1. Conduct an investigation, which may include interviewing the complainant, staff and others as they deem appropriate;
  2. Produce a report of their investigation, where applicable making recommendations about action to be considered;
  3. Send a copy of the report to the complaints team, bearing in mind that this, together with the local authority's response, needs to be sent to the complainant within 25 working days of the receipt of the complaint. If this timescale is not possible, the Investigating Officer should consult with the Complaints Service Manager and agree a timescale for extension. In any event, this extension must not exceed a full response to the complaint within 65 working days.

    The complaints team will inform the complainant of this agreement and the reason for the extension to the timescale, and wherever possible obtain the complainant's agreement to the new timescale;
  4. Staff and carers need to be aware that it is a legal requirement upon the authority to undertake investigations when a complaint is made. It is therefore essential that they cooperate with the investigation and provide information to the Investigating Officer through their verbal responses to questions and access to written material.

Action Following Investigation

Upon receiving the Investigating Officer's report and any supplementary report provided by the Independent Person, the complaints team will:

  1. Send a copy of the report(s) to the relevant manager of the service complained about;
  2. Ask the senior manager for their adjudication, in consultation with others as necessary, and what action the local authority will be willing to take in relation to the investigation's recommendations;
  3. Send a copy of the Investigating Officer's report, any supplementary report prepared by the Independent Person and the local authority's response to the report(s) to the complainant. This must be sent within a maximum of 65 working days of receipt of the complaint;
  4. Advise the complainant of their right to submit a request to the complaints team, which must be received within 20 working days of the date of the Stage Two response, that the complaint proceed to a Stage Three Review Panel;
  5. Monitor the outcome of the complaint in terms of complainant satisfaction with the process and the eventual outcome, and the implications for future service delivery and training.

8. Stage Three - Review Panels

If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, they have 20 working days to ask for the response to be reviewed by a Review Panel. The request should be made to the complaints team and acknowledged in writing within 3 working days. The Complaints Service Manager should assess requests for the Review Panel as they are presented on a case by case basis.

Where a panel is to take place the complaints team should ensure a Review Panel is set up and meets within 30 working days of the complainant's request being made.

The Review Panel must be made up of 3 independent people, who must not be:

  1. Employees of the authority;
  2. Elected members of the authority;
  3. A spouse or partner of either of the above.

One member will be appointed as the Panel Chair. It is good practice that the Chair should not have been employed or an elected member of the authority within the last 3 years. The complaints team should also confer with the Chair, following the Chair’s appointment, regarding arrangements for the Panel.

The complainant should be notified of the Panel's date and location in writing at least 10 working days before the Review Panel meets and be invited to attend.

The complainant should also be informed of their entitlement to be accompanied by another person and for this person to speak on their behalf.

Those persons involved with the investigation at Stage 2 (e.g. the Investigating Officer, and the Independent Person) should also be invited to attend.

The Chair should make the final decision on attendees (including asking the local authority to make specific members of staff available to provide specialist advice or opinion).

Panel papers should be sent to Panel members and other attendees as soon as these have been agreed by the Chair and no later than 10 working days before the date of the Panel. These should normally include: information on Stage 1 (as relevant), the Stage 2 investigation report(s), the local authority's adjudication, any policy, practice or guidance information relevant to the complaint, and any comments that the complainant has submitted to the Panel. The papers should also include information on any local practice around Panels, such as conduct, roles and responsibilities.

The Review Panel's recommendations should be recorded in writing and copies sent to complainant and the Director of Children's Social Care within 5 working days.

The Director of Children's Social Care must respond to the recommendations of the Review Panel and make the decisions known to the complainant within 15 working days, explaining the authority's decision and reasons.

In terms of the Complaints Procedure, there is no further action that the complainant can take to progress a complaint.

Complainants should be advised of their right to make representations to the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman if they are still not satisfied.

Appendix: Key Lessons from Ombudsman Investigations

  • Invest time at the outset to decide if a complaint should be considered under the statutory complaints procedure or through an alternative procedure;
  • Speak to the complainant at stage one to define their complaint and manage their expectations of what an investigation might achieve;
  • Keep the complainant informed of any delays;
  • Keep detailed records at each stage of the investigation, including any decision not to use the statutory complaints procedure or not to accept a late request to escalate a complaint;
  • Signpost to the Ombudsman once a complaint completes the statutory complaints procedure, or if the council decides not to investigate a complaint.