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Children’s Services Complaints Policy

1. Introduction

1.1 East Sussex County Council values the views of our service users. We are committed to dealing effectively with any concerns or complaints about our services. If we have got something wrong, we’ll apologise, and try to put things right. We learn from complaints to help improve our services.

1.2 Wherever possible, it’s best to deal with things sooner rather than later. If you have a concern, it may be quicker to raise it with the person you are dealing with first. If possible, they will try to resolve it there and then. When this is not possible, we will investigate your complaint in line with this policy.

1.3 This policy takes into account the Council’s Equality of Opportunity and Diversity Policy Statement and the Children’s Services Privacy Notice.


2. Who can complain?

2.1 Our complaints process is designed to give a voice to children and young people. Complaints can also be made by or on behalf of a young person’s family, where they hold parental responsibility (PR). People who can show a sufficient interest in the young person’s well-being may also be able to complain.

2.2 Whilst anyone mentioned above may complain, we are governed by the Data Protection Act 2018. This affects the information we can share with a complainant. So, we may be able to accept your complaint, but we may not be able to provide a detailed response without consent from the PR holder. Where we cannot respond to a complaint, we will always ensure that we provide the information shared with us to the relevant teams for action as appropriate.


3. How to complain

3.1 The quickest way to make a complaint is online via our secure web form. This helps us to keep our phone lines free for people who may be unable to use our online services.

Web form: www.eastsussex.gov.uk/csfeedback

Telephone: 0345 60 80 192 (Open 10am to 3pm Monday to Friday)

Email: Customer Relations Team

Post:

Customer Relations Team

County Hall

St Anne’s Crescent

Lewes

BN7 1UE

3.2 In line with the statutory guidance Getting the Best from Complaints, we define a complaint as “an expression of dissatisfaction or disquiet in relation to an individual child or young person, which requires a response”. This means that we may treat correspondence not received directly by the Customer Relations Team as a complaint and provide a written response. This will be in line with the appropriate complaint route in section 7 below. 

3.3 The Customer Relations Team is the team responsible for managing complaints about the Children’s Services Department and its staff. If someone else, for example an elected member of the Council such as the Cabinet Member or a member of the Council’s senior leadership team such as the Director, receives the complaint, this will be passed to the Customer Relations Team to handle. Where this happens, we share copies of any response to you with the member or officer you originally contacted.


4. Advocacy and support

4.1 Children and young people under 18 years old can get support from a free independent advocate to help you make your complaint. We will usually offer this service at the point that we confirm we are dealing with your complaint.

4.2 If you are 18 and over and need extra help to make your complaint, we will try to put you in touch with someone who can help. The Citizens Advice Bureau offer an impartial service and can advise you if you need any help with making a complaint against us. To find out more, please contact your local branch.  Details are on the Citizens Advice website


5. Validating your complaint

5.1 Before we can respond to your complaint, we need to ensure that it is valid and that we are able to respond. The validation process has five steps:

  1. Confirming your identity and contact details
  2. Confirming the complaint is in time
  3. Confirming there are no other ongoing actions that may interfere with the complaint
  4. Confirming that the complaint, evidence and desired outcomes are clear
  5. Confirming that the complaint is for this authority to deal with

See Annex 1 for full details of the validation process.


6. Complaints that fail validation

6.1 If your complaint fails validation for any of the above reasons, we will let you know and explain our decision. If we can still respond to your correspondence, we will advise you of this. Our response will be general correspondence rather than as a formal complaint response.

6.2 If we are not providing a response, we will do our best to signpost you. We will share advice on other services, organisations or authorities who may be able to help you.

6.3 If you disagree with our decision, you can ask for a Senior Manager to review it. You should explain why you believe your complaint is valid and we should accept it. The Senior Manager will consider your request against this policy and provide a written response within 10 working days. The Senior Manager’s decision is final and will include details of what you can do next if your request is unsuccessful.

6.4 Once a final decision has been made to not accept your complaint, we will not usually continue corresponding with you. If you send us anything else, we will review it for any urgent or safeguarding matters that we may need to be refer on.

6.5 In rare cases if you do not accept that your complaint will not go forward, we may consider ending our involvement or restricting your access to the complaints process. This is set out in section 11 below.


7. Complaint routes

7.1 Once we successfully validate your complaint, there are six routes that it may take. This depends on what the complaint is about. In some cases, your complaint may be considered under more than one route. When we acknowledge your complaint, we will tell you which route or routes your complaint is being considered under.

  • Route 1 – Complaints about non-social care services (departmental process)
  • Route 2 – Complaints about social care services (statutory process)
  • Route 3 – Complaints about Child Protection Conferences (CP process)
  • Route 4 – Safeguarding issues or allegations against members of staff
  • Route 5 – Staff conduct complaints
  • Route 6 – Complaints about information we hold

7.2 If your complaint changes, we may change the route that your complaint is being considered under. If we do this, we will make it clear to you and explain our reasons. Details for each complaint route and their escalation options are set out in Annex 2 of this policy.


8. Timescales

8.1 We aim to acknowledge receipt of all complaints within three working days. Where possible, we will also confirm if the complaint passed validation and the route or routes it will be considered under. If this is not possible within three working days, we will let you know. We will explain why, and when you can expect your complaint to be validated. We may request further information from you to help us understand and validate your complaint.

8.2 We aim to respond to all complaints in the first instance within 10 working days. In some cases, we may require more time. If this is the case, we will let you know and give you an updated target response date. We will usually only extend your response date up to a maximum of 20 working days. After 20 working days, depending on which route your complaint is being considered under, you may have the right to escalate your complaint. See the details in Annex 2.

8.3 If you add to your complaint after validation, the timescale will restart. This is to allow us to consider the new information. If you add additional information more than once, we may suspend your complaint. This is to allow you additional time to consider what you want to complain about. We will then ask you to confirm that your complaint is complete before we continue investigating. Once we re-start this process, we may not accept amendments or additions to the complaint. We may need to consider any new information as a separate complaint once we have responded to the main complaint.

8.4 Sometimes a complaint means we must work with another organisation to provide a joint response. In this case we will work towards whichever response timescale is longer. In most cases this is the external organisation’s timescale.

8.5 If your complaint requires input from a school, and the school is closed due to school holidays, we will usually consider the first day of the term after receipt of your complaint as the complaint start date.

8.6 There are separate timescales and target dates for escalated complaints. Details of these timescales are in Annex 2. We will also advise you of these at the point your escalated complaint is accepted.


9. Investigation

9.1 Your complaint will be assigned to a Complaints Officer who will manage it. In some cases, they may suggest a meeting with the service manager to discuss your concerns. They may also suggest mediation or another method to try to resolve any disagreements.

9.2 If there appears to be an immediate solution to your complaint, we may ask you if you are happy to accept it. For example, where you asked for a service and we see straight away that you should have had, we will offer to provide the service rather than investigate your complaint and produce a written response.

9.3 If you don’t agree or this is not appropriate, we will start the investigation process. The Complaints Officer or appropriate manager will review the available evidence and case records, speak to staff involved and ask for comments from line managers. You will then be sent a response on behalf of Children’s Services. Where the response is sent by the Complaints Officer, this will have been approved by the relevant service manager. Please see Annex 4 for details of how we consider evidence provided to us by complainants.

9.4 If during the investigation, we become aware of circumstances that could lead to a safeguarding risk, we will take advice. We may suspend the complaint until this risk has reduced. We will inform you of this unless doing so would add to the risk identified.

9.5 Your complaint may involve third parties or children old enough to give or withhold consent for their personal information. Our response to you will only include information that relates to you and your involvement with Children’s Services unless we receive a valid consent form. Please see Annex 3 for the consent form.


10. Resolution and improvement

10.1 Once we complete the investigation, we will send a written response to you. It will state whether your complaint has been upheld, not upheld, partially upheld or we have been unable to make a finding. It will also provide details on what we plan to do to put things right where complaints have been upheld.

10.2 The focus of the complaints process is to provide a resolution and we will do our best to achieve this for you. Where a particular outcome cannot be achieved through the complaints process, we will still do what we can to help. We will either signpost you to further support or ensure your views are fairly represented.

10.3 For example, if you disagree with a professional opinion in a report. We cannot change the report, but we can ensure your disagreement is put on the record to be read alongside the report in the future.

10.4 We will explain how and why we came to our conclusions. If we find that we got it wrong, we will apologise and tell you how and why it happened. If we cannot meet the outcomes you asked for, we will explain why.

10.5 We take your concerns and complaints seriously and try to learn from any mistakes we’ve made. Actions to put things right that are set out in your response letter are also logged and tracked by the Customer Relations Team. They are shared on a regular basis with Heads of Service to ensure continual improvement within the department. At least once a year the Council's Governance and Scrutiny Committees also consider a summary of complaints received.


11. Ending our involvement

11.1 The Customer Relations Team is committed to providing a good service that is fair to all who access it. This does mean that in exceptional cases we may need to reduce or end our involvement with a case or person. The reason is to prevent unfair demands being placed on the service that would stop us being able to help people equally and efficiently.

11.2 We recognise that some service users may find it hard to accept that we cannot help them. We will always explain our decisions and give clear reasons why we cannot help. In most cases we will offer signposting advice to services or authorities who we believe are best placed to assist.

11.3 The process we follow is set out below:

Step 1

11.4 When we send a final decision or final response, we will make your next steps or escalation options clear. It is expected that you follow this advice.

Step 2

11.5 If you do not follow the escalation advice, we will re-iterate your options and explain that we will not respond further. At this point, we will read and review any further correspondence for urgent or safeguarding matters but will not respond.

Step 3

11.6 If we continue to receive contact from you, directly or via other officers or members of the Council, we will consider more formal ways to manage the situation. This will be in line with our published Unreasonable Customer Behaviour Policy

11.7 The Customer Relations Team will always treat others with respect and expect that service users treat us with respect too. We have a duty of care to protect our staff. If a member of staff feels upset or distressed by the behaviour of a service user, we may take immediate steps to manage this behaviour. This may be to end a phone call, virtual or in-person meeting, pass the case to another member of staff or start the formal process mentioned in Step 3 above.


12. The Ombudsman

12.1 The regulator for complaints to Children’s Services in most cases is the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman. If you remain unhappy following our response, you can refer your complaint to them.

12.2 The Ombudsman is independent of all government bodies and can investigate the handling of your complaint by the Council. Normally, they will only investigate your case after you've given us the chance to deal with it. However, in some cases we may suggest referring your complaint to the Ombudsman early. Please see Annex 2 for details of the individual escalation options broken down by complaint route.

12.3 Contact details for the Local Government & Social Care Ombudsman:

Phone: 0300 061 0614

Website: www.lgo.org.uk


Annex 1 - The validation process

Confirming your identity and contact details

13.1 We take our responsibilities under the Data Protection Act 2018 very seriously. Before we can investigate your complaint, we need to ensure that we will only share information with people who are entitled to receive it.

13.2 We will use information you provide in your complaint to verify your identity. If we are unable to do this, we will ask for more information from you. This will help us confirm your identity and relationship to the child or children named in the complaint.

13.3 If you are complaining on behalf of an older child or another adult, you will need to provide written consent from them. This will confirm that they agree to you submitting a complaint on their behalf. They need to confirm that they agree with the content of the complaint. They also need to give permission for us to share confidential information with you. Please use the form in Annex 3. Attach this with your complaint to prevent any delay.

13.4 We will only send written responses to postal or email addresses that we know belong to you. If we are unable to confirm an address is valid, we may ask you to provide further evidence. If we are still unable to verify the details you gave us, we may send your response to your nearest East Sussex County Council building.  You can then collect it by providing photo identification.

Confirming the complaint is in time

13.5 Complaints should be made as soon as possible to ensure they can be investigated and resolved promptly. The time limit for complaining is 12 months from the date of the issue that you are complaining about. Separate rules apply for complaints about information we hold. Please see Route 6 – Complaints about information we hold in Annex 3.

13.6 We have the discretion to consider complaints that are out of time. This is only if there are exceptional circumstances to justify the complaint not being made earlier. We may ask for evidence to support any request for discretion to be applied.

13.7 Your legal rights to request access to your records are not affected by this time limit. However out-of-time queries, questions or concerns are unlikely to receive a response through the complaints process.

13.8 If you place a partial or holding complaint within 12 months, the full substantive complaint must also be received within the same 12 months to be considered valid. This also applies if you ask us to pause or suspend your complaint.

13.9 Unless otherwise stated, if we request further information from you in order to validate or investigate your complaint, this information must be received within the original 12-month time limit for making a complaint for it to be valid.

Confirming there are no other ongoing actions that may interfere with the complaint

13.10 Where legal or other action is pending or ongoing, we may not be able to accept or continue with your complaint. This also applies to complaints or enquiries raised on your behalf, for example by your Member of Parliament. The reason for this is that accepting a complaint may interfere with the ongoing action or legal proceedings. This is called “concurrent consideration”. If we believe that your complaint falls into this category, we will let you know. Legal action may be in any court or tribunal and may also include staff disciplinary matters and ongoing police or child protection investigations.

13.11 Once the legal action has ended, you may re-submit your complaint, but this must be within 12 months of the issues complained about coming to light, plus the duration of any concurrent consideration suspension. This is set out in detail in Annex 5.

13.12 If you are complaining about a Council decision where there is a right of appeal, we will not accept a complaint until that appeal process ends. If the outcome that you are seeking is to reverse the appeal decision, we may refer you directly to the Ombudsman. The complaints process is not able to reverse decisions taken by appeal panels.

13.13 Similarly, we are not able to consider complaints about issues that have been considered by a court or tribunal. In these cases, we will likely refer you back to the court or tribunal to have these issues considered.

13.14 If you make a complaint and we are already dealing with a similar matter raised on your behalf, we will not create a new complaint. For example, an enquiry raised by your Member of Parliament or a complaint made by a relative, advocate or support worker. Instead, we will let you know that we are already dealing with the matter. We will provide you with an update on the progress of that complaint or enquiry and continue responding to the original enquiry on your behalf unless you ask us to deal with you directly instead.

13.15 If you complain to multiple organisations at the same time, we will, unless otherwise advised by the third-party organisations open a complaint and respond to you directly. If a third-party organisation, such as the DfE, Ofsted or Social Work England subsequently contact us on your behalf, it is likely that we will send them a copy of the response we have prepared for you. Please see 13.19 regarding copy correspondence.

Confirming that the complaint, evidence and desired outcomes are clear

13.16 We will check to make sure that we understand what you are complaining about and what you would like as an outcome. This is to ensure you get the most detailed and helpful response. We will also check that any evidence you provided is clear.

13.17 If any of these points are not clear, we may ask you to give us more detail. If you do not provide further detail, we will set out the complaint as we understand it and ask you to confirm that our understanding is correct. If you do not confirm this, we will not proceed with your complaint and we will advise you of your escalation rights.

13.18 If any of your requested outcomes cannot be met, we will let you know and explain why. We may also signpost you to other services, organisations or authorities if they are better able to deliver the outcome you are asking for. For example, if you are complaining about a legal decision, we will likely refer you back to court. 

13.19 The complaints process is not an alternative to speaking directly with the front-line service team. We will advise you if we believe that your issue is a request that can be dealt with by the service team and signpost you to the team directly. Similarly, we will generally not consider CC or BCC correspondence as a complaint where the correspondence is addressed to another party.

Confirming that the complaint is for this authority

13.20 We only deal with complaints from service users, their families or authorised representatives about services delivered by the Council. If you complain to us about matters outside our responsibility, we will do our best to signpost you to the right organisation or authority. For example, we do not deal with complaints about schools as they have their own complaints processes. This is usually on the school website.


Annex 2 - Complaint routes

Route 1 – Complaints about non-social care services (departmental process)

14.1 We will acknowledge your complaint within three working days. We aim to respond in full within 20 working days of validation. We will follow the investigation process set out in Section 9 above. If we need additional time, we will let you know why and update you on a revised target date for your response.

14.2 We will send you a written response explaining what we found and whether your complaint has been upheld or not. We will let you know what you can do next as well as letting you know your escalation rights. For this type of complaint, it will usually be to the Ombudsman, their details are set out in Section 12 above.

Route 2 – Complaints about social care services (statutory process)

14.3 Complaints about social care services are covered by a three-stage statutory complaints process. This is set out in The Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 and supported by statutory guidance in Getting the best from complaints. Parts of the Ombudsman’s factsheet on social care complaints are also replicated in this route.

14.4 This route is mainly used to consider complaints by or about children and young people. If your complaint is about how you have been treated as an adult, it will probably be considered under Route 1 above. Complaints about child protection (CP) matters or how the Council assesses families and prepares reports for the Court in private proceedings (Section 7 or 37 reports) are not covered by this route. They will usually be considered under Route 3 for CP complaints or Route 1 for Court reports.

Stage 1 - Local resolution

14.4.1 We will acknowledge your complaint within three working days. We aim to respond in full within 10 working days. We will follow the process to validate and then investigate your complaint in sections 5 and 9 above. If we need more time, we will let you know why and give a revised target date for your response. This will be a maximum of 20 working days from when we received or validated your complaint, whichever is later.

14.4.2 If we are unable to respond within 20 working days, we will explain why and ask you to agree a further extension. You are not obliged to agree an extension. You have the right to ask that your complaint is escalated directly to Stage 2. However, as this process can take over 12 weeks, we would ask you to carefully consider a request to escalate on these grounds.

14.4.3 Once the investigation is complete, we will send you a written response. This will explain what we found and whether your complaint has been upheld or not. We will let you know what you can do next and your escalation rights. For this type of complaint, it will be to Stage 2 of the statutory process set out below. From the date the Stage 1 letter is sent, you have 20 working days to request that your complaint is escalated.

14.4.4 Detailed guidance on the Stage 2 process will be provided to you at the point your escalated complaint is accepted.

Stage 2 - Formal investigation

14.4.5 Most complaints are resolved at Stage 1. Where we have been unable to reach a resolution, you can request that your complaint is formally investigated at Stage 2 of the statutory process. We will acknowledge receipt of your escalation request within three working days. We will ask you to set out the issues that remain outstanding and what outcome you would like if you have not already done so. If we can deliver the outcome you have asked for, we will let you know. We do not normally escalate a complaint where the stated outcome can or already has been met.

14.4.6 If we cannot deliver the outcome you have asked for, or do not accept that there has been fault, a formal investigation will start. We will appoint an Investigating Officer (IO) to undertake the investigation into your complaint. This person may be a member of East Sussex staff who has not dealt with your case previously. But in most cases, it will be an external contractor. We will also appoint an Independent Person (IP) who will always be independent of East Sussex County Council. Their role is to bring further independence to the process and accompany the IO during the investigation.

14.4.7 The IO and IP will meet with you to discuss your complaint and agree a formal Statement of Complaint (SoC). This is the main document used for the investigation. They will ask you to confirm that you are happy with what is written in the statement.

14.4.8 Once the SoC is agreed, the 25-working day timescale will start, and the IO will carry out their investigation. They will take evidence from you; interview members of staff involved in the complaint and raise enquiries with the Council. They will also have access to all relevant case files to allow for a full and thorough investigation.

14.4.9 In many cases, 25 working days is insufficient to carry out the investigation. An extension up to 65 working days may be agreed by the Customer Relations Manager. You will always be kept informed of this and advised when you can expect the investigation to be completed.

14.4.10 Once the investigation is completed the IO will report to the relevant Head of Service with their findings. This report will say whether your complaint has been upheld, partially upheld or not upheld. The report will also set out any recommendations that the IO thinks should be taken forward by the department. The IP will provide their own written report. This comments on the independence and the progress of the investigation.

14.4.11 Both the IO and IP reports are sent to the assigned Complaints Officer for quality assurance. The Complaints Officer will highlight any spelling or formatting issues. They also check that no confidential third-party information is in the report. They then send the draft reports back to the IO and IP for them to review and sign-off as complete.

14.4.12 Once the final signed reports are received, the adjudication process starts. The Head of Service will review the reports and write to you with their response to the investigation reports which will also be sent to you. This adjudication letter will state whether the Head of Service agrees with the findings and if so, what actions will be taken to put things right.

14.4.13 From the date the letter is sent, you have 20 working days to request that your complaint is escalated to Stage 3 of the statutory process. This is set out below.

14.4.14 The adjudication letter may invite you to a meeting to discuss the outcomes in more detail. Or it may suggest alternative dispute resolution, such as independent mediation, to try and reach a positive outcome. If you choose to accept either of these offers, your right to escalate is protected until 20 working days after the meeting or final mediation session.

14.4.15 You will receive detailed guidance on the Stage 3 process at the point we accept the escalation request.

Stage 3 - Independent review panel

14.4.16 If you remain unhappy after receiving the adjudication letter, you have the right to request an independent review panel. This is to consider the adequacy of the Stage 2 investigation and to try and reach a resolution. This request must be received within 20 working days of the adjudication letter or the final meeting of any mediation process.

14.4.17 In some limited cases we may ask if you would like to escalate your complaint directly to the Ombudsman. This must be done with your agreement. It will only usually be offered where the Stage 2 investigation upheld all aspects of the complaint and at adjudication the Council agreed, set out a clear action plan to any recommendations and met the requested outcomes.

14.4.18 If the above does not apply, we will acknowledge receipt of your request within two working days. We will ask for you to confirm your availability to attend a review panel meeting. We will then commission an independent panel. This is made up of three qualified people who are not employees of East Sussex County Council, with one person appointed as Chair. We will aim for the review panel to take place within 30 working days of receiving your request. In some cases, this may not be possible, for example if a key person is unavailable. But we will always aim to arrange the review panel as quickly as possible. The panel may be held virtually by video conferencing or at one of our buildings in East Sussex.

14.4.19 Ahead of the panel, the Complaints Officer assigned to your case will share the relevant documents from Stage 1 and 2 with everyone attending the panel. This is usually in the form of a document bundle containing correspondence and reports from these two stages. You should send any information you would like to pre-submit to the panel at least 15 working days ahead of the panel meeting. This can then be circulated in plenty of time. You should also confirm at this point whether you will be bringing a supporter with you to the panel and provide their contact details.

14.4.20 On the day of the panel the Chair will be responsible for running the meeting. They will call on the various parties in attendance to give evidence and address the panel in the open session. The proceedings are usually audio recorded to help with the production of the minutes from the meeting. Consent will always be sought, and the recording will be deleted once the minutes have been typed. Attendees wishing to create their own audio record of the meeting will need the consent of all those attending. Permission to video record the meeting is at the sole discretion of the chair.

14.4.21 The usual review panel attendees are:

  • 1 x Panel Chair
  • 2 x Panel Members
  • The complainant
  • The complainant’s named supporter (optional)
  • The Investigating Officer from Stage 2
  • The Independent Person from Stage 2
  • The Head of Service
  • The Customer Relations Manager
  • The Clerk for minute-taking

14.4.22 At the end of the open session, the Chair and Panel Members will go into closed session to deliberate the complaint and agree their draft findings. The Customer Relations Manager and Clerk may also be in attendance. They will only be there in an advisory capacity and to share details from the draft minutes.

14.4.23 At the end of the closed session, the Chair will produce a written report of the panel findings. They will send this to you directly within 5 working days. The report is also shared with the Director of Children’s Services who will write to you within 15 working days to give their response to the panel findings. This letter will state whether they agree with the recommendations and set out what actions, if any, will be taken as a result. The Director’s letter represents the final response on behalf of the council and will include your escalation rights to the Ombudsman.

Stage 2 and 3 timescales when contact is not maintained

14.4.24 Once a complaint at Stage 2 or 3 has been accepted, we will move as quickly as possible through the process to ensure a swift outcome is reached. It is also important that you as the complainant do not unduly delay your involvement in the process.

14.4.25 If we contact you for information relating to your Stage 2 or 3 complaint, and more than 20 working days passes without a substantive reply, we will consider that you no longer wish to proceed with your complaint. We will make a reasonable attempt to contact you during the above time period to encourage you to engage and make you aware of the deadline for doing so.

14.4.26 If we do not hear from you, we will withdraw your escalation request and close your complaint. We will write to you and advise you of your escalation options, this will usually be to the Ombudsman.

14.4.27 Any request to continue a withdrawn complaint out of time will need to be supported by evidence showing exceptional circumstances prevented you from contacting us. This will be considered in line with section 6.3 covering complaints that fail validation.

14.4.28 The above provisions are in line with section 3.8.6 of Getting the Best from Complaints and regulation 18(2) of The Children Act 1989 Representations Procedure (England) Regulations 2006.

Route 3 – Complaints about Child Protection Conferences (CP process)

14.5 Complaints about Child Protection (CP) Conferences in East Sussex are governed by the Pan-Sussex Child Protection and Safeguarding Procedures Manual. This is a shared set of procedures used throughout East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton & Hove.

14.6 Full details of this process is set out in the Pan-Sussex Complaints Process but the key information is replicated below. Any changes made to the Pan-Sussex Complaints Process will override information replicated here.

14.7 It is important to note that the complaints process cannot itself change the decision to have a Child Protection Plan. Also, that during the complaints process, the decision made by the Conference stands.

14.8 At the end of the complaints process the outcome will be either that:

  • A Conference is re-convened under a different Conference Chair or
  • A Review Conference is brought forward or
  • The status quo is confirmed.

Stage 1 - Exploration by the Conference Chair and or their Manager

14.8.1 If you wish to make a complaint about a CP Conference you must do this within 10 working days of the conference. You should set out what your complaint is and what you would like to see as the outcome. Complaints made outside this timeframe will only be accepted in exceptional circumstances and at the discretion of the Conference Chair.

14.8.2 Once received and validated, the Conference Chair will aim to meet with you. This will be within a further 10 working days to discuss your complaint and desired outcomes. This meeting may be via telephone or video conferencing and notes will usually be taken.

14.8.3 After the meeting and within a final 10 working days, you will receive a written outcome letter with a copy of any notes taken at the meeting. If you are unhappy with the outcome at Stage 1 you can ask for your complaint to be moved to Stage 2. You should make this request within 20 working days of receiving the Stage 1 outcome letter setting out why you remain unhappy and what resolution you are seeking.

Stage 2 - Formal Consideration

14.8.4 Once a valid request has been received, a Complaint Meeting should be arranged within 28 days. The aim is to try and resolve the areas of concern set out in the Stage 2 request.

14.8.5 The usual attendees for the Complaint Meeting are the Reviewing Manager /Senior Manager for Child Protection Conferences and a note taker. The meeting should try to address areas of dissatisfaction and to resolve them where possible.

14.8.6 After the meeting, an outcome letter will be sent to you within 28 days to confirm what was agreed. If you remain unhappy with the outcome at Stage 2 you can ask for the complaint to be moved to Stage 3. You should make this request within 20 working days of receiving the Stage 2 outcome letter setting out why you remain unhappy and what resolution you are seeking.

Stage 3 - The Complaint and Appeal Panel

14.8.7 Once a valid request has been received the Complaints Officer will aim to arrange a Complaint & Appeal Panel. This will be within 20 working days and will hear the complaint and make a final decision. This panel may be held in person or via telephone or video conferencing.

14.8.8 The panel will consider whether:

  • The relevant policies and procedures have been followed properly and
  • The disputed decision is as a result of the process that was followed or the information that was presented.

14.8.9 The panel will be made up of at least three safeguarding professionals who will not have had previous dealings with your case. You will be invited to attend the panel and give evidence. Evidence will also be heard from the Conference Chair and any other relevant person, such as the Safeguarding Team Manager.

14.8.10 If you wish to pre-submit written evidence to the panel, do this in a letter addressed to the panel. This must be received at least 10 working days ahead of the panel date. It should be one document that is page numbered for ease of reference.

14.8.11 Once the panel has heard all parties it will go into closed session to deliberate the complaint and reach a decision. After the panel has concluded, a letter will be sent to you with the panel’s final decision within 10 working days. This letter represents the final response on behalf of the Council and will include your escalation rights to the Ombudsman or to judicially review the Council’s decision.

Route 4 – Safeguarding issues or allegations against members of staff

14.9 When a complaint includes a safeguarding concern being shared with us, we may consider the complaint either fully or in part under this route.

a)    Safeguarding referrals

14.10 Where there is an open case, we will usually pass details of the concern to the front-line service team who may be working with the child named in the safeguarding concern. If there Is not an open involvement, we will always notify our Single Point of Advice (SPoA) team of the concern and ask that they take the appropriate action.

14.11 When the person making the referral to us does not have parental responsibility (PR) or cannot demonstrate a sufficient interest in the well-being of the named child, our response will be limited. It is unlikely that feedback will be provided to the person making the referral, nor will we be able to confirm whether the child is known to us.

14.12 If there are additional concerns raised, a formal response will be provided to these issues under Route 1 or 2 depending on the nature of the concerns.

b)    Allegations against members of staff

14.13 If a complaint includes an allegation against a member of staff, that allegation will be considered under this route. Details of the allegation will be referred internally to the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO). They will undertake their own investigation into the allegations and take the appropriate action necessary.

14.14 For reasons of employer and employee confidentiality, feedback on LADO referrals will not be provided. However, you can be assured that all allegations are taken seriously, and the relevant action taken.

14.15 As above, if there are additional concerns raised as part of any allegation, a formal response will be provided to these concerns under Route 1 or 2 depending on the nature of the concerns.

Route 5 – Staff conduct complaints

14.16 Complaints about staff conduct are not dealt with by the Customer Relations Team directly. There are separate HR processes covering staff performance and conduct.

14.17 Where a complaint contains issues relating to staff conduct, we will advise you that they are being considered under this route. We will then pass details of the conduct complaint to the relevant line manager for their information and action as appropriate. Depending on the nature of the complaint, we may also pass details to the LADO as mentioned in Route 4 above.

14.18 For reasons of employer and employee confidentiality, feedback on staff conduct complaints will generally not be provided. However, you can be assured that all complaints are taken seriously, and the relevant action taken.

14.19 If there are additional concerns raised as part of any conduct complaint, a formal response will be provided to these issues under Route 1 or 2 depending on the nature of the concerns. Please be aware that multi-part complaints may be subject to the suspension if there is “concurrent consideration” such as disciplinary action. Details on what concurrent consideration means is set out in s13.10.

Route 6 – Complaints about information we hold

14.20 When a complaint is made that includes a concern about information that we hold, we may consider the complaint fully or in part under this route. We will always notify the Children’s Services Information Governance Team of the concern and we will deal with the matter in one of the following ways:

a)    Individual Rights Requests

14.21 If your entire complaint is considered to be a request in relation to information sharing, accessing your records, rectifying your records, or erasing your records, it will be passed to the Council’s central Customer Services Team. They will take it forward as an Individual Rights Request under data protection legislation.

14.22 The central Customer Services Team will acknowledge your request and explain the timescales involved, in accordance with data protection legislation. The complaint will then be closed to the Children’s Services Customer Relations Team.

b)    Information governance complaints

14.23 Where a multi-part complaint includes concerns about the information we hold about you, these concerns will be considered under this route.

14.24 We will work with the Children’s Services Information Governance Team to investigate the concerns you have raised. We may also liaise with the operational team involved in creating and processing of the information that you have complained about. The findings will be sent to you in a single complaint response, which will be in line with Routes 1 to 5 above. We will explain what we found and whether your complaint has been upheld or not, wholly or in part.

14.25 We will also let you know what you can do next as well as letting you know your escalation rights, which for information governance complaints will usually be to the Council’s Data Protection Officer.


Complete this form when: 

  • the complainant does not hold Parental Responsibility (PR) for the child or children involved in the complaint or
  • a complaint relates to a person who due to their age is required to give their consent.

This explicit consent is required to enable us to respond to the complaint and share confidential information.

See our consent form pages to proceed or call us on 0345 60 80 192 (open 10am to 3pm Monday to Friday).


Annex 4 - Considering evidence provided by complainants

16.1 Where a complaint has been made, we welcome evidence that may help support or demonstrate the point being complained about. It is your responsibility get this evidence to us safely. Your complaint may not be validated until we safely receive your evidence.

16.2 To ensure the efficient processing of the complaint please make it clear what point you believe your evidence is making. If this is not clear, we will ask you to clarify what you believe the evidence demonstrates. If you do not provide us with this information, we may not be able to attach appropriate weight to the information you have submitted.

16.3 Our systems will not allow attachments over 20MB in size. If you plan to send us large files, you may need to consider using a file transfer service. Any information you send us is sent at your own risk. We cannot guarantee the security of your information until it has been safely downloaded into our systems.


Annex 5 – Timescales following concurrent consideration

17.1 When we have not accepted your complaint due to “concurrent consideration” (s13.10) you retain the right to complain once the concurrent issues have come to an end. For example, you might complain about a matter that is in court. Whilst we cannot accept the complaint at that time, when the proceedings have ended you may re-submit your complaint for a formal response.

17.2 When a complaint is subject to concurrent consideration, we will pause the timescale at the point that we become aware of the concurrent consideration. This means that when the concurrent consideration has ended, you will have the remainder of the original 12-month time limit to re-submit your complaint.

17.3 It is your responsibility to resubmit your complaint in time. The only exception to this is if the concurrent consideration was not related to you. For example, if the concurrent consideration was ongoing disciplinary matters that you were not involved with.

17.4 It is important to note that whilst you can still complain, the complaints process cannot undo or over-rule a legal or appeal decision. If you are asking for this in your complaint, you may be referred straight to the Ombudsman, the court/tribunal service or advised to consider taking independent legal advice.

17.5 You should also be aware of the deadline for re-submitting your complaint. Complaints must be made in full within the remainder of the 12-month time limit. By “in full” we mean that partial or holding complaints do not extend the deadline, and the full detail must be received in time to be considered valid.

17.6 All re-submitted complaints will be validated in line with our validation process set out in section 5.