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Child abuse - the local authority complaints procedure

This advice applies to England

In a case about child abuse, it can be complicated to work out how best to make a complaint about the local authority’s involvement with your family. This page tells you about the official complaints procedure.

Procedure to make a complaint

Each local authority must have their own procedure in place to deal with complaints. Ask your local authority for a copy of the procedure to follow.

Who can complain

The following people can use an official complaints procedure to complain about child protection procedures or decisions:

  • the child, if they have enough understanding
  • the parent of the child, or anyone with parental responsibility
  • anyone else who the local authority thinks has sufficient interest in the welfare of the child

Getting hold of the records

If you want to make a complaint, it might be useful for you first to get hold of the records that the local authority and other professionals hold about you and the child in question. Generally if a child understands enough, they will need to agree to their records being released. Requests for access to records will be reviewed by the local authority Access to Records Officer.

They might refuse to give you access to records if it's likely to cause serious harm to you or someone else, for example, the child in question. They should give you the reasons for refusal.

If you don’t agree with the reasons for refusal, you can complain to the local authority. You can also complain to them if you’re not happy with the way they handled your request, for example if it was delayed.

If the local authority doesn't resolve your complaint you can either:

Will a child protection plan stay in place whilst a complaint is investigated?

Even if you make an official complaint, any child protection plan will stay in place and continue to be carried out whilst your complaint is investigated. It will only be stopped if your complaint is upheld.

The official procedure to complain about assessments of children in need or children at risk of harm

Complaints about the assessment of a child in need or children at risk of harm can be made directly to the local authority, using their procedure specially set up to deal with children’s services.

The official procedure to make a complaint about a child protection conference

Each local authority will have its own procedure to complain about a child protection conference but all procedures will follow this general outline. You can contact your local authority’s complaints officer for advice about the procedure. Some Safeguarding Partners have their own procedures for making a complaint about a child protection conference. You can find out about their procedures by looking on their website.

If the local authority calls a child protection conference, the social worker should automatically give you a copy of the correct procedure to make a complaint but you can ask your social worker for a copy at any time.

Stage 1

Write or speak to your social worker. If a discussion with your social worker hasn’t put your mind at rest, you should write or speak to the chair of the child protection conference. They should be able to explain how and why decisions were made. Notes will be taken as a record of this meeting and sent to you, with a letter confirming the outcome.

If you aren’t happy with the results of the Stage 1 procedure, you can go on to Stage 2.

Stage 2

If you’re still unhappy, your complaint will be referred to someone in a more senior position to the chair, normally their manager.

If the problem isn’t sorted out at this stage, you have the right to ask for an independent review. This can be carried out by a panel made up of senior officers from the agencies represented by the Safeguarding Partners.

They will first of all look at whether the conditions for making a complaint are met, for example, if you’re within the time limit.  If they think that the conditions aren’t met, they will tell you of this decision, and the reasons why.

If they consider that the conditions are met, they will arrange for your complaint to be heard by the panel.

The panel will consider:

  • your complaint
  • all the papers - including minutes of meetings
  • the response to your Stage 1 complaint

You can go to the meeting to put your views in person and take someone to support you if that is helpful. Solicitors can attend with the parents as a supporter, but there’s no right to be legally represented at the hearing by the panel. If a solicitor does attend, it is just to take notes – they can’t speak on your behalf.

The panel will decide whether:

  • all the correct procedures have been followed
  • the decisions previously made to protect your child were reasonable

If they agree with your complaint, they will pass their findings back to the local authority and recommend either:

  • the child protection plan decided at the child protection conference should be stopped
  • the child protection plan should be continued but that different measures to protect the child should be put in place

However, the panel can’t by itself change a child protection plan.

The panel should inform you of its decision in writing within 7 days. But if it isn’t possible for them to decide within 7 days, they have to tell you of the date when they will decide.

If you’re unhappy with this decision, you can complain to the Local Government Ombudsman on their website.

If you think an unlawful act has taken place, you could seek legal advice about other remedies such as judicial review.

Next steps

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