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1.4.1 Children's Services Complaints


This procedure covers complaints made under the Children Act 1989 in respect of services to children provided by Lincolnshire County Council.

For information on making a complaint that covers services provided by Lincolnshire County Council (except for services provided by Social Care) please refer to the Corporate Complaints Policy.

Note: Those wishing to make complaints in relation to the Looked After Children Service can, at any time, refer their complaints to the Regulatory Authority, which is OFSTED. For further information on complaints please visit the Ofsted 'How to Complain' website.


GOV.UK, Children’s social care: getting the best from complaints


This chapter was significantly updated in December 2016 to provide a fully revised section defining what a complaint is. Complaints in social care are special to many other sorts of complaints as they are treated separately in law. (See Section 1, What is a Complaint or Making Representation?)


  1. What is a Complaint or Making Representation?
  2. Who may Make a Complaint?
  3. What may be Complained About?
  4. Time Limit for Complaints
  5. Receiving Complaints
  6. Stage One - Local Resolution
  7. Stage Two - Investigation
  8. Stage Three - Review Panel

1. What is a Complaint or Making Representation?

There are two types of complaints:

1.1 Corporate complaints

Corporate complaints which:

  • Cover all services by Lincolnshire County Council except for Social Care;
  • Can be made by any member of the public.

For information on making a complaint that cover services provided by Lincolnshire County Council (except for services provided by Social Care) please refer to the Corporate Complaints Policy.

1.2 Statutory complaints

Statutory complaints that relate to Children's Services and Adult Social Care, which:

  • Are treated separately by law;
  • Can relate to Children in Care;
  • Can be made by the children themselves;
  • Can be made on behalf of the adult or child by their carer, relative or employee.

A Complaint is an expression of dissatisfaction about a service provided to a child. It must have a child at its heart or be made on behalf of a child. It may relate, for example, to a decision made in relation to the placement of a child, the outcome of an assessment, the quality of a service, the reduction of a service, unreasonable delay or the attitude of a member of staff.

A Representation is a more general statement about the Council, its staff or its services and will include comments and compliments.

Representations made on behalf of a group of children about the availability, delivery or nature of services, for example the preventing of children's activities for the convenience of staff/carers or the fixing of meal times in a home to suit staff/carers, will come within this procedure.

2. Who May Make a Complaint?

A complaint under the Children Act procedure may be made by:

  1. Any child who is a Looked After Child or who, although not a Looked After Child, is a Child In Need;
  2. A Parent or person with Parental Responsibility;
  3. A local authority foster carer (in relation to services to a child);
  4. Such other person as the authority consider has sufficient interest in a child's welfare to warrant a complaint or representation being considered by them;
  5. Those who are within the definition of Eligible Young People, Relevant Young People, Former Relevant Young People or Qualifying Young People;
  6. A person aged up to 24 who is or was a Former Relevant Young Person or Qualifying Young Person and whom the local authority may still assist in connection with education and training;
  7. Special Guardians;
  8. A child in respect of whom a Special Guardianship Order is in force;
  9. Any person who has applied for an assessment for special guardianship support;
  10. Any child who may be adopted, their parents and guardians;
  11. Any person wishing to adopt a child;
  12. Any person to whom arrangements for the provision of adoption support services extend;
  13. Adopted persons, their adoptive parents, birth parents and former guardians.

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 his or her views.

It is for the Complaints Manager to determine whether a complaint comes within one of the above categories and therefore should be dealt with as a Children Act complaint.

N.B. A Complaint relating to the outcome of a Child Protection Conference will be dealt with under the Multi Agency Complaints process of the Lincolnshire SCB Procedures Manual, Complaints and Professional Disagreements.

3. 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 is not an exhaustive list and the Designated 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 (see Non Agency Adoption Procedure);
  • 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 Adoption Reviews;
    • Adoption Case Records;
    • Contact; and
    • Parental Responsibility prior to adoption abroad.

In relation to Special Guardianship, 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 Designated Complaints 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 Designated Complaints Manager decides not to consider or further consider complaints subject to these concurrent investigations, s/he must write to the complainant explaining the reason for the 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.

4. Time Limit for Complaints

Local authorities do not need to consider complaints made more than one year after the grounds to make the complaint arose. In these cases, the Designated 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 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.

5. Receiving Complaints

If comments made by users about a service indicate dissatisfaction with the service, the front-line service provider or the line manager should in most instances initially deal with them and attempt to find an early resolution. Such comments, queries or concerns will be regarded as informal complaints.

In relation to all complaints, the emphasis should be on a speedy resolution reached locally wherever possible.

If the matter cannot be resolved to the user's satisfaction, s/he should be advised that they may make a formal complaint and provided with a Complaints Leaflet.

Alternatively, the complainant may specifically request that the complaint be investigated formally from the outset - although this should be discouraged.

NB Comments, complaints and compliments may be made orally or in writing, including by email or text. Some complaints can be received via the Local Government Ombudsman.

Those wishing to make complaints in relation to the Looked After Children Service can, at any time, refer their complaints to the Regulatory Authority, which is OFSTED.

Where a complaint includes an allegation of Significant Harm, the matter must be directed to be dealt with under the Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board Procedures and must be referred to the Referral and Assessment Service for this purpose immediately.

Staff may not deal with complaints relating to their own practice and must pass such matters to their own manager.

6. Stage One - Local Resolution

When the Designated Complaints Manager receives a complaint, wherever possible it will be dealt with under Stage One, i.e. for local resolution.

It is for the Designated Complaints Manager to decide whether or not a complaint should be referred directly to Stage Two.

Under Stage One, the Designated Complaints Manager will:

  1. Request the appropriate manager to deal with the matter informally;
  2. Request that the manager respond to the complainant within 10 working days, and send a copy of the response to the Designated Complaints Manager;
  3. Notify the complainant of the process including the time-scales, the name of the person who will deal with the complaint and advise about advocacy;
  4. Inform staff who may be involved in the complaint.

If it is not possible to respond within the above time scale - for example where files or records need to be checked or a key member of staff is not available etc. the manager must inform the Designated Complaints Manager 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 an extension of time.

If the matter cannot be resolved to the user's satisfaction within 20 working days, the complainant must be advised that he or she has a right to proceed to Stage Two and given assistance to do so as necessary. The complainant may, however, agree to extend the deadline for the Stage One process.

7. Stage Two - Investigation

At the end of Stage One, a leaflet will be made available to the user to explain how to make a formal complaint and what will happen to the complaint. This leaflet will include a Form upon which to make a complaint. Complainants should be encouraged to make a written complaint, but do not have to do so. A formal complaint may be accepted in any form.

Where a verbal complaint is received, it should be written up by the person receiving the complainant, and checked and signed by the complainant.

Anyone may choose to bypass Stage One and make a direct formal complaint without reference to front-line service providers.

The Designated Complaints Manager will deal immediately with all complaints or representations regarding children receiving services, their parents or foster carers in accordance with the following procedures.

Upon receiving a complaint, the Designated Complaints Manager will:

  1. Record the complaint. At this stage the Designated Complaints Manager will decide whether the complaint should be investigated under this procedure or whether it should be referred elsewhere;
  2. Ensure that a copy of the complaint is sent to any staff member named in it and to that person's line manager, unless to do so would prejudice the investigation of the complaint in which case the Designated Complaints Manager should inform the relevant Divisional Manager of this decision;
  3. Appoint an Investigating Officer (who is not involved in the management of the services to the child concerned) and an Independent Person (who cannot be an employee or an elected member of the authority) to the investigation. The appointments will take into account ethnicity, disability and gender;
  4. The Independent Person is appointed to shadow the Investigating Officer. Under the arrangement, the Independent Person accompanies the Investigating Officer throughout the investigation, has access to the files, may see the child concerned alone if considered necessary and produces a separate report at the end of the investigation;
  5. Acknowledge receipt of the complaint within 7 days, and advise the complainant of how the complaint is being dealt with, the timescales, the names of the Investigating Officer and Independent Person, and the right to appoint an Advocate.

The Designated Complaints Manager and the Investigating Officer should consider whether it is necessary to halt a particular aspect of the case pending investigation, for example where an admission or discharge from the Looked After Service is contested and would be effected before the investigation is complete.

The Investigation

Upon being appointed, the Investigating Officer will:

  1. Conduct an investigation, interviewing the complainant and staff as appropriate;
  2. Produce a report making recommendations about action to be considered. The report must name those involved by title and not by name;
  3. Send a copy of the report to the Designated Complaints Manager 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 Designated Complaints Officer 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 Designated Complaints Manager will inform the complainant of this new timescale and wherever possible obtain the complainant's agreement to the new timescale;
  4. During the investigation, the Investigating Officer should consult with the Designated Complaints Manager if it is felt that the involvement of the Police, Child Protection Procedures or Disciplinary Procedures is required;
  5. 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 Designated Complaints Manager will:

  1. Send a copy of the report/s to the senior manager of the service complained about and, if the complaint concerns front-line service providers, the staff themselves;
  2. Ask the senior manager for his or her adjudication, in consultation with others as necessary, and what action they are able or willing to implement in relation to the 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 the right to request to the Complaints Manager within 20 working days that the complaint proceed to a Stage Three Review Panel;
  5. Monitor the outcome of the complaint in terms of consumer satisfaction with the process and the eventual outcome, and the implications for future service delivery and training.

8. Stage Three - Review Panel

If the complainant is not satisfied with the outcome of the complaint, s/he has 20 working days to ask for the response to be reviewed. The request should be made to the Complaints Manager and acknowledged in writing within 2 working days. The Designated Complaints Manager will appoint and convene a Review Panel 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 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 his entitlement to be accompanied by another person and for this person to speak on his 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 Designated Complaints Manager will attend the Review Panel meeting to keep a record of the meeting and advise the Panel as necessary.

The Review Panel's recommendations should be recorded in writing within 5 working days of completion of their deliberations and formally sent to the Director of Children's Services, the complainant and any other person with sufficient interest in the complaint.

The Director of Children's Services must respond to the recommendations of the Review Panel and make the response 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 Ombudsman if they are still not satisfied or of their right to seek legal advice about other legal remedies such as judicial review.