Disputes with Social Services

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How to complain about children’s social services

Complaints about social services fall into two types:

  1. If you’re not in court proceedings, you use social service’s complaints procedures.
  2. If you’re in court proceedings (for example care proceedings), it will be the court that decides about it.

Using social service’s complaints procedures

If you are not happy with the way that a Local Authority’s children and family services department has treated (or failed to treat) a child or young person, you can make a complaint. Children and young people can make complaints as well as adults. Each Local Authority has a complaints procedure and you can get a copy of it from them.

You should use social service’s complaints procedures when:

  • There are delays in assessing a child’s needs or implementing a plan that’s been agreed;
  • The quality of a service the Local Authority offers such as foster care or educational provision is poor or inadequate.
  • They fail to deliver a service such as an interpreter if needed or to take a child’s cultural background into account
  • Local Authority staff behave badly, such as rudeness, failure to offer the support that’s been promised or not arranging meetings.
  • They discriminate against you. It is against the law for a Local Authority to discriminate against you because of your race or sex or because you have a disability. Most local authorities also have policies to say they must not discriminate against you for other reasons such as your sexuality or because you have HIV.

What if you’re not happy with the outcome?

  • Ask for a review

If you are not happy with the outcome of a complaint, you have the right to ask for it to be reviewed by a review panel. There will be a time limit for this set out in the response to your complaint.

  • Complain to the Ombudsman

If you’re complaint has been reviewed and you are not happy with the outcome, using all of the options in the Local Authority complaints procedure, you can ask the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate.

(If you have used ONRECORD to gather and organise the evidence to support your complaint, you’ll have it all available to use again.)

What will the Ombudsman look for?

The Ombudsman’s website says;

“We consider whether the council has done something wrong in the way it went about dealing with your children and family services 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
  • Asked someone to deal with your complaint who is biased against you, or who hadn’t got enough knowledge or experience to do the job properly
  • 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
  • If in any other way it didn’t follow the guidance that 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 that 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 you a payment for your wasted time and inconvenience, or

If we decide that 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 been harmed by 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 can 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 what’s needed and up to 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, pay you compensation – whether we ask the council to compensate 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.”

What if I’m in care proceedings?

If social services are involved with your family and a court application is possible – but hasn’t yet been made, and you want to complain about what they’re doing, it’s really complicated. Once court proceedings start, with an application by the Local Authority, it’s the court that will decide whether your complaint is justified. Until then, you have to use their complaints procedure.

Cases in court are difficult because you don’t understand what the process is, don’t know the rules and whilst you’re trying to find your way through it, you’re probably feeling criticised and attacked. If you do end up in care proceedings it’s likely to be one of the biggest fights you’ll ever be in, with the worst possible outcome if you can’t produce enough evidence to answer the Local Authority case and to prove you will be able to parent well enough.

Go to our Care Proceedings page.

How can ONRECORD help with complaints about children’s social services?

Gathering evidence is the most important part in any legal case, and when it comes to complaints about children’s social services, it can be hard to get a good result without sufficient evidence and a record of events.

ONRECORD gives you what you need to collect and store important evidence simply and confidentially.


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Useful Websites

Family Rights Group
Family Rights Group offers advice if you are a parent, friend or relative and social workers are involved in your child’s life, or you need extra support from Children’s Services.
Helpline: 0808 801 0366 (Freephone) (Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 3.00pm)

Become provides information and advice for young people in care or those who have recently left care.
Helpline: 0800 023 2033 (Monday to Friday, 10.30am to 3pm)

Voice provides advocacy services for children and young people in care, needing care or leaving care. Their contact details are:
Tel: 020 7833 5792
Freephone: 0808 800 5792 (for young people)