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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?

You should normally complain to the council first. We will not normally consider a children and family services complaint until it has gone right through either the statutory children’s complaints procedure or the council’s own complaints procedure for children's social services

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.

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, we would normally want you to complete the complaints procedure before we would accept the complaint. 

We do not usually look at complaints about delay in the process while it is still on-going, though we may do so if it has broken down or come to a halt. However, we can add concerns about delay in the complaint handling when the complaint does come 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 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.

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

Miss X complained the council failed to investigate her safeguarding concerns about a foster carer who cared for two of her children between July 2016 and March 2017. The council failed to adequately investigate Miss X's concerns and to properly refer some of the matters to another council, in line with relevant guidance and policy. The council also took two years to complete the statutory children's complaints process. The council agreed to apologise and pay Miss X a total of £550 to recognise the injustice caused to her. It also agreed to review some of its internal processes.
Miss X complained that the council failed to provide clear, written information to Miss X about what support it could offer with her housing and what action she needed to take following the granting of a special guardianship order for Miss Y. As a result the process of becoming a special guardian for Miss Y was more stressful than necessary and caused Miss X to take unpaid leave. The council was at fault. It has agreed to remedy the injustice to Miss X by sending an apology, making a payment of £500 to acknowledge the distress to Miss X and reimbursing her lost wages. The council will also review the advice and information it provides to special guardians.
This complaint follows a previous complaint to the Ombudsman in which we found that the council failed to deal properly with Mrs X's requests for social care support for her son since July 2017. The council has now carried out an assessment and put in place a package of support. The council has offered to pay Mrs X £10,000 to recognise the support her family could have had if it had handled her application properly. This is a suitable remedy.

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.

 February 2021