The Head of Children’s Social Care introduced the report which set out the number of representations received during the period of 1 April 2014 – 31 March 2015, including the number of complaints, key issues arising from complaints and overall learning and improvement activity for the department.
The Committee were advised that fewer complaints had been escalated to Stage 1 and that providing advocacy support was important to ensure that children and young people had a voice.
Andrea Valentine, HealthWatch representative, highlighted that the Voluntary Sector worked with the local authority before complaints escalated to Stage 1.
Councillor S. Little expressed concerns regarding the categorisation of ‘concerns’ and ‘complaints’ and felt that the classification of complaints as ‘concerns’ could in turn misleadingly affect the statistics.
The Head of Children’s Social Care explained the differences between ‘concerns’ and ‘complaints’, which was determined by the complainant and dependent on the gravity of the issue.
Councillor Gupta echoed the concerns raised that the concern/complaint system had been devised to reduce the overall number of complaints and questioned whether the complainant thought they were making a complaint but could in fact be logged as a concern.
The Committee were advised that the complainant themselves dictated whether their issue was logged as a complaint or a concern, and that concerns were normally less serious in nature and did not require escalation.
Members were informed that the Children and Families Assessment team by nature of their work were expected to receive a higher number of complaints due to the fact that they were the first point of contact with a family at the height of a crisis when intervention was often not wanted, whereas other service areas had a greater opportunity to build relationships.
Councillor S. Little queried the sliding scale of payment awarded and questioned how much financial remuneration had been granted. In response the Head of Children’s Social Care advised that the service followed guidance from the Local Government Ombudsman regarding the level of payment which should be awarded and stated that he would confirm the total figure of financial remuneration granted during the year 2014/15, and a comparison to previous years, outside of the meeting.
Councillor Halden was concerned that the number of complaints upheld and partially upheld had increased from the previous year and questioned how the Council was getting things wrong, as it was unclear from the report whether the upheld and partially upheld complaints were in relation to small administrative errors or were of a more serious nature. He further queried whether the 4 complaints that were upheld were complaints regarding the same team, as this would be a cause for concern.
The Head of Children’s Social Care reported that the complaints were not significant issues that had triggered a serious case review and provided assurances that a particular team were not over represented in the number of complaints received. He further explained that the data could be further analysed and presented to Members in order to demonstrate the categorisation and nature of the upheld and particularly upheld complaints.
Councillor Halden highlighted the response times for stage 1 complaints and asked for assurances that those response times that exceeded the stated timescale were not in breach of statutory guidelines, to which it was explained that the complainant was contacted by the Complaints Officer and asked if additional time for a response could be permitted for more serious complaints that required greater investigation, and that this practice was not outside the boundaries of the law.
The Committee felt that the report set out many examples of compliments in detail but none of the complaints, and that in the next reporting year text should also be provided to further illustrate the nature of complaints.
Councillor Gamester was concerned that complainants may complain in an attempt to only seek financial recompense, to which it was assured that very few complainants were offered financial remuneration and any vexatious complaints identified.
Councillor S. Little expressed her disappointment that only 20 survey responses were received from the sample of 60 children.
The Head of Children’s Social Care acknowledged that this was a disappointing figure but that more information on participation rates could be circulated to Committee Members as this information had been earlier referred to the Corporate Parenting Committee.
That the Committee consider and scrutinise the report.