Frequently asked questions on complaints
If you do not get on with your child’s social worker and have already tried the suggestions here, you may decide it is best to ask for a new social worker for your child. You do not have a right to change social workers, but you can ask for different one.
You should first tell your child’s social worker you plan to do this. It may be best to then ask your child’s social worker’s manager (in writing if you can). You should tell them why you think a different social worker would be better for your child. Try not to blame anyone, or make it personal.
Social workers are often very busy, and are out of the office a lot. It can be hard to reach them by phone. But your child’s social worker should keep in touch with you and get back to you when you leave messages. If they don’t, keep a record of dates and times when you tried to contact them. If you talk to your child’s social worker’s manager you can show them this information. If that doesn’t work, you may want to make a complaint.
You should only record a conversation if you have the other person’s permission.
If you ask your child’s social worker or the chair of the meeting and they say no, be prepared to give your reasons why you would like a recording. This might be because:
- You have trouble remembering what happened at meetings and this would help you later
- You have a disability and you need extra help like recordings to help you understand and remember
- English isn’t your first language and you find listening again helps you understand
- You want to make sure you have an accurate record as you don’t like to rely on someone else’s record.
If you are still told the answer is no, you could think about making a formal complaint but you should consider whether this is going to help your child in the long run. Sometimes it can be harder to work with social workers after you have made a complaint especially if your child still has the same social worker. It may be worth discussing this with our advice service.
Parents do not have a right in law to have an advocate, friend or supporter with them in social work meetings. However, they should normally be allowed to come if this would be helpful to the parent and that person is not disruptive in the meeting.
Before you invite someone to go to the meeting with you, you need to:
- Be sure you are comfortable for them to hear confidential information about your family.
- Ask the social worker if this will be all right.
- If you are told you can’t bring someone with you ask the social worker to explain why not in writing.
- Explain to your child’s social worker who the person is and that you agree for them to hear confidential information about your family.
- You may also need to say why you want them at the meeting. You could explain that this person can help you to get your points across during the meeting, remind you of things you want to say and help you understand and remember what happened.
The person who is in charge of the meeting is the person who decides whether you can have someone there. If the answer is no, you may want to make a formal complaint.
The social worker should tell you this. Or, you can call the office reception and ask for the name of the person who manages your social worker.
It might help to ask to see your file so that you can read what information is written on your family’s file records.
This may help you to understand how your case has been handled and be clear about what you want to complain about. However, you don’t need to see your records to make a complaint and it can take a while to get hold of them. For more information see: Advice Sheet 26: Access to Records.
Complaints should normally be made no more than a year after the event you want to complain about.
But a late complaint can still be looked at if there was a good reason for not making it within a year, for example, if you are unhappy about a decision that was made over a year ago but you have only just found out about that decision. If Children’s Services refuse to consider a late complaint, you could think about complaining directly to the Local Government Ombudsman.
It should not count against you. You have a right to complain if you think a social worker has not done the right thing for your child and family. However, sometimes, it can be harder to work with social workers after you have made a complaint especially if your child still has the same social worker. So it may be worth discussing this with our advice service before you make a complaint.
If you do complain, remember the complaints officer, (who looks into your complaint) will not be managed by the same person who manages your child’s social worker. If you reach stage 2 of the complaints process an Independent Person will also be asked to be involved in your complaint.
Not if you don’t want to. You can make your complaint just by telling your child’s social worker or their manager that you want to make a complaint. Just be sure to say that you want it treated as a “formal” complaint.
However it is often a good idea to write out your complaint yourself if you can as it will help you to be clear what you are complaining about and what you want to happen to put things right. It may be a good idea to ask a friend to help you with this and ask them if they think it reads clearly.
You can make a complaint while a case is still in court but it is usually best to take advice from your solicitor before you do so in case it doesn’t help your case. Also Children’s Services may decide not to look at your complaint, if they think the same issues will be investigated and decided in court.
Children’s Services have to tell you in writing if they decided not to look at your complaint, with their reasons.
You could also make your complaint when the court case is finished, but you have to do so within one year from the end of the court case.
Here are some tips about making a complaint:
- Say at the beginning of the letter that you would like your concerns to be treated as a formal complaint.
- You will need to say what you are complaining about, describe what has happened and why you think this has caused a problem for your child. Then write down what you would like to happen next.
- It is a good idea to just write about the most important parts of your complaint. If your letter is too long it may be hard for people to understand your concerns.
Try and stick to the facts of the situation and try not to make things personal or emotional.
You could write a list of smaller mistakes in a separate, attached letter (like the wrong name or date of birth.
If you are not happy with Children’s Services you are always free to contact your MP or local councillor.
Both your and your child’s human rights should always be considered in family law cases, so talk to your solicitor about any human rights issues you are concerned about.
In rare situations where there has been a breach of your human rights you may be able to challenge the actions of the local authority in court. If there has been a breach of your human rights the court can order and injunction to stop something happening or make something happen; they can also award damages. For this you will need advice from a specialist solicitor, or from a specialist human rights organisation such as Liberty or the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
You do not have to appear in person. If you do not feel comfortable going to the Review Panel, you can send someone else to represent you. You could also ask if you can take a friend with you. Or, you can ask the Review Panel to look at your written complaints.
Every Children’s Services area has its own procedures for child protection conference complaints, with different time frames, so ask about those in your area.
A complaint cannot change the decision of the original conference. However it is possible that a complaint could result in a new conference being held (with a new chair) so, a different decision could then be made, but this would be very unusual. Before you make a complaint about a child protection conference you should think about whether this is going to help you and your child in the long run - sometimes it can be harder to work with social workers and other professionals after you have made a complaint especially if they stay involved in your child’s case. All professionals working on the child protection plan should be focusing on your child’s needs, and this should be their priority. Before you make a complaint it may be worth discussing this with our advice service.
What can I do if I make a complaint about the child protection process and I am not happy with the result?
If you are not happy with the result of your complaint about the child protection process, you could complain to the Local Government Ombudsman about this. Or, talk to a solicitor. Bear in mind that courts rarely hear cases about child protection conference decisions.