Children's care services

This fact sheet is aimed primarily at parents, carers and young people who have a problem with a children’s care services complaint and may be considering making a complaint to the Ombudsman.

I am dissatisfied with the outcome of my complaint about children's care services. How can the Ombudsman help me?

If you’ve made a complaint and the council has looked into it, but you’re unhappy with the result or with the way your complaint has been dealt with, you can complain to us. But please be aware that we cannot look at the merits of decisions which have been properly made. 

There are some kinds of children and family services complaints that we can’t deal with. We can’t look into complaints about anything that has been considered by a court. And we can’t stop a council from taking court action that will affect you, for example if the council starts proceedings to take a child into care, or to have a child adopted.

In the same way, you can’t use a complaint to us as a way of appealing against a court decision. If you want to change a decision a court has taken you need to seek legal advice, and we can’t help you with that.

How do I complain?

Usually, you should complain to us within 12 months of when you first knew about the problem. If you leave it any later, we may not be able to help.

You should normally complain to us within 12 months of hearing what the council’s final decision is. When you make a complaint to children and family services you should be given information about what will happen to your complaint and how long this will take.

In the statutory procedure there are three stages, and generally the time to complain to us is if you’re not happy with the outcome at the end of the third stage, after an independent review panel has considered your complaint. You can however complain to us if there have been significant delays with the councils investigation, at any stage during the statutory procedure.

If the complaint has been considered under the council’s own procedure, there will normally be two stages after which the council should refer you to us.

Social care complaints can take longer than others to complete. But as long as there is evidence the complaint is being actively investigated, and there are no significant delays, we would normally want you to complete the complaints procedure before we would accept the complaint. 

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 can consider my complaint what will the Ombudsman look for?

We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your complaint which has caused you problems. Some of the issues we can look at are if the council:

  • Didn’t sort out an advocate for a child or young person who had a complaint to make;
  • Failed to provide you with information about how it would deal with your complaint and how long this will take;
  • Did not look into all the important issues that you wanted to complain about, even though they are issues it could consider;
  • Failed to keep to the timescales set down for any stage of your complaint;
  • Didn’t check evidence available to it that could support what you say;
  • Produced a report on your complaint that contained mistakes or that came to conclusions that aren’t justified;
  • Upheld your complaint, but then didn’t take the action needed to try to put things right for you; or
  • Didn’t follow the guidance the Government has published that says how complaints about children’s services have to be handled.

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

A lot depends on what kinds of faults we find and how we think you have been affected by them:

  • If we decide the council hasn’t dealt with your complaint properly but that the outcome would have been the same if it had handled it well, then we probably won’t ask it to do more than apologise to you, and perhaps make a payment to you for your wasted time and inconvenience, or
  • If we decide the council should have come to the conclusion that your complaint was justified if it had looked into it properly, we then look at how you were affected by the original faults you complained about and how the council might now put things right for you.
  • If we decide the council has failed to keep to the timescales under the statutory procedure, we may ask it to complete the next stage without delay and in some case we may ask it to make a payment to you for the inconvenience its delays have caused you.

Sometimes things have happened that can’t be undone. But if we find you have experienced an injusticebecause of something children’s social services have done wrong, we will ask the council to take action to make up for this, so far as is possible. As examples, we might ask it to:

  • Carry out proper assessments of needs and reviews, and make proper care plans, involving all the people and agencies who will have a part in delivering them
  • Make sure the services and support provided are appropriate and of a suitable standard
  • Provide extra input, if appropriate, to make up for anything that you’ve missed out on
  • If this is the only way of putting things right, recommend a financial remedy. Whether we ask the council to provide a financial remedy you and how much we ask for will depend on how you’ve been affected by what has gone wrong, or
  • Make changes to its procedures so that the same problem doesn't happen again in the future to you or anyone else. 

Examples of some complaints we have considered

Mr and Mrs X complained that the council removed financial support for their two adopted children without clear reason and without involving them in the decision. The council was at fault because it did not make it clear why it had made its decision and did not give Mr & Mrs X the opportunity to contribute before its decision was made. The council agreed to carry out a new assessment and to reinstate the financial support until that assessment was complete. The council also agreed to pay Mr & Mrs X £300 to recognise the distress it has caused them.
Mr X complained that the council failed to properly support him while leaving the council’s care. The council delayed arranging a personal advisor for Mr X and failed to provide practical advice about his benefit entitlement and renting a home for the first time. The council agreed to apologise to Mr X and pay him a total of £350 to recognise the injustice this caused him.  
Miss B complained that the council delayed arranging respite care for her two children. The council was at fault for failing to arrange the respite care over a period of almost three years and for exceeding the timescales for considering the complaint at stage two of the statutory complaint’s procedure.  It has agreed to remedy the injustice this caused the family by making payments of £2,500 to acknowledge the distress and harm caused to both Miss B and her children and £250 for the time and trouble Miss B went to pursuing her complaint.

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.

June 2023

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