Child protection issues

This fact sheet is for parents, carers, children and young people who have experienced problems with a child protection issue and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I have a problem with a child protection matter. Can the Ombudsman help me?

In many cases, yes. Where a child is thought to be at risk of significant harm, the council has a duty to make enquiries.

If you are unhappy with the way the council has investigated concerns raised about child protection or failed to put in place measures to protect a child at risk of harm, we can look into how the council carried out its duties.

There are some things we can’t deal with. We can’t look at anything that has been dealt with in court. So if the council has taken court proceedings, we can’t look at any evidence or reports given to the court or review the court’s decision.

If you want to change a decision a court has made you will need to seek legal advice. But we may be able to look at any steps the council took before starting court proceedings and at services provided after the court case has finished.

We can deal with complaints about Child Protection Conferences or Core Groups where the complaint relates to actions of council employees. However, we cannot usually consider complaints about the actions of individuals from other agencies such as the Police. We cannot overturn a decision to place a child on a Child Protection Plan.

If part of your complaint relates to NHS services, we might conduct a joint investigation with the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

How do I complain?

If your complaint is about the decision of a child protection conference, you should usually complain to the chair of the child protection conference as soon as possible.

If your complaint is about the actions of a council employee outside of a child protection conference (for example, a complaint about a social worker completing a core assessment), you should complain directly to the council.

When you make a complaint you should be told what will happen to your complaint and how long this will take.

We will not normally consider a complaint until it has been dealt with under the local procedures.

Once you have completed the local complaints process you may complain to us. 

If you are thinking of complaining to us, please first read our step by step process for making a complaint. If you have, please use our complaint form to register your complaint. Click contact us for other ways to make a complaint.

If your complaint involves a child, it would be helpful if you could provide their full name and date of birth.

If you are a child or young person making a complaint to us we’ll give you extra help.

We’ll help you make your complaint to the council if you haven’t done that already, and keep in touch with you regularly while it goes through the complaints procedure. Once we are in a position to consider your complaint ourselves we’ll give it priority, and we’ll use the means of contact with you that you prefer – including email or text. If you want us to, we’ll also help you find an advocate to support you with your complaint.  

If you can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it dealt with the child protection investigation and whether this has caused you harm.

We do not act as a body of appeal and cannot review the merits of decisions or professional judgements, where they have been reached properly. We cannot overturn a council’s decision, for example to place a child on a child protection plan. But we can consider how decisions made by the council are reached and whether they have been implemented properly. If we receive information about other people, such as an ex-partner or a child you do not have parental responsibility for, we are unlikely to be able to share it with you. But we can consider the information in coming to our decision. Some of the issues we can look at are:

  • delay in carrying out an investigation
  • failure to follow government guidance, in particular guidance on the key steps in a child protection investigation and the timetable to be followed
  • failure to keep proper records of information gained in an investigation
  • failure to communicate with those involved or to co-operate with other agencies, such as the police, health or education
  • preparing reports that are inadequate, based on inaccurate information or fail to take account of relevant information, and
  • failure to carry out proper assessments, put in place an adequate child protection plan where this is thought necessary, or implement measures set out in the plan.

What happens if the Ombudsman finds that the council was at fault?

If we find that the council has failed to implement a child protection decision, we may recommend that it takes the necessary action to protect a child.

We may ask the council to make a payment to acknowledge the injustice suffered. Whether we do this and the amount we suggest will depend on how you have been affected by what has gone wrong. Even if the council follows its procedures properly, being involved in a child protection investigation is likely to result in some distress. We can only recommend a payment to recognise the additional impact of any fault in in the process.

If a council has failed to record a person’s views in a child protection enquiry or has included inaccurate information, we may ask it to place a note on the file setting out the views or correcting the record.

We may also recommend that the council reviews its procedures so that the problems you experienced don’t happen to others.

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr F complained that the council did not involve him in a child and family assessment as part of a child protection enquiry. He said this meant the assessment was one-sided and inaccurate. We supported the findings of an independent investigation the council had arranged into his complaint. The council had missed opportunities to involve Mr F in the assessment and so he did not have a chance to respond to allegations made against him. We did not consider this affected the outcome of the assessment. But the lack of balance in the report caused Mr F some unnecessary distress. The council apologised, offered Mr F a payment of £500 to recognise his distress, and agreed to add his comments to the files.
Mr W complained about the way the council managed a child protection matter relating to his two children. He said his views were not taken seriously and he was not kept properly informed about the council’s involvement with him and his family. He also said the council’s lead social worker was unsupportive of him and, at times, unprofessional. We did not identify any fault by the council. We found it followed national guidance in involving Mr W and keeping him informed about the child protection process, taking account of his views and inviting him to child protection conferences. Some sensitive information was revealed to his family, but this was not the fault of the council. 

Other sources of information

The NSPCC have some information on their website, see

Our fact sheets give some general information about the most common type of complaints we receive but they cannot cover every situation. If you are not sure whether we can look into your complaint, please contact us.

We provide a free, independent and impartial service. We consider complaints about the administrative actions of councils and some other authorities. We cannot question what a council has done simply because someone does not agree with it. If we find something has gone wrong, such as poor service, service failure, delay or bad advice and that a person has suffered as a result we aim to get it put right by recommending a suitable remedy.

January 2023

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