The annual report provides information on children’s services complaints handled during 2020–2021, and includes the numbers received and the types of issues raised. The report also highlights some examples of the many positive things people have said about the provision of children’s services in Medway over the same period, and the service improvements Medway Council has made as a result.
The Children’s Social Care Complaints Manager introduced the report which set out information on the complaints handled during 2020-2021. She highlighted the large reduction in complaints which could have been attributable to a change in use of language in assessments and the signs of safety approach involving families. The number of compliments had also increased.
Members then raised a number of questions and comments which included:
· Complaints to the disability team – although there had been a rise in complaints relating to this team, it was explained that the rise was not statistically significant. However, it was acknowledged that learning was still taken from these complaints and it was also recognised what a difficult year that particular cohort of families had experienced in the pandemic.
· Demographics of complainants – comment was made in relation to the majority of complaints being received from white British and it was asked if this matched the demographics of the cohort of service users or whether this was a result of complaining being made easier for that particular ethnic group. It was explained that this was an area of concern for the Complaints Manager also, although she was able to report that there was an increasing number of Asian people making complaints.
· Attitudes/behaviour of staff – concern was raised about the number of complaints regarding attitudes and behaviour of staff. In response, the Complaints Manager explained that more work was being done in the service to build positive relationships and reflect on use of language. This had resulted in a large drop in complaints of this nature and was therefore an area that had greatly improved. It was also confirmed that only on two occasions had complaints been in relation to the same Social Worker.
· Communication – reference was made to the learning from complaints detailed in the report, particularly around answering emails and phone calls in a timely manner and the sharing of important information at initial placement, such as allergies and medication information. Concern was expressed that complaints had been received on such issues which were considered to be basic and also fundamental. In response, the Director of People agreed with this and ensured that staff strived to ensure this occurred. She added that the complaints were a reminder to staff of the importance of ensuring this happened at all times.
· Benchmarking – it was asked if there had been any analysis with statistical neighbours to understand whether the drop in complaints was mirrored across other local authorities or was unique to Medway. The Director of People confirmed she had liaised with some statistical neighbours and although the reduction was a trend mirrored across other local authorities, it appeared to be greater in Medway, demonstrating the improvements made from the focus by the service in this area.
· First Response Team and Social Workers – it was asked if the complaints were balanced between agency and permanent staff. The Director of People confirmed that complaints regarding the First Response Team tended to be the highest in number as families in contact with the team often found it difficult to come to terms with the involvement of the service.
· Dealing with concerns – comment was made about the recording and learning from concerns raised with the service that may not become formal complaints, including concerns raised by Councillors. In response, officers explained that some other local authorities did report on MP/Councillor enquiries and that there was an opportunity to reconsider the learning from complaints and concerns, whatever the route by which the complainant uses.
· Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) – reference was made to the LGSCO not investigating complaints between March and June 2020. The Complaints Manager reassured Members that although the LGSCO did not investigate complaints during this period because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the impact those investigations would have had on local authorities, complaints were still able to be submitted and were added to a waiting list. She also explained that complaints to the LGSCO often took time and were at the end of a usually lengthy three stage statutory internal complaints process managed within the local authority.
· Advocacy service – a young person has to be offered an advocate when wanting to complaint, but were also support by an advocate for other areas such as in Child Protection Conferences or any other issues where they need or would like an advocate to help them express their feelings. It was not known why 18% did not want to engage, that information had been lifted from the Young Lives Foundation (YLF) annual report.
· Changes in Social Workers – it was confirmed some people did request a change in their social worker and requests usually came from parents and rarely from children. The service was always reluctant to change the social worker where they had built a good relationship with the child.
The Committee noted the report.