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1.23 Comments and Complaints, Advocacy and Whistle blowing

RELEVANT GUIDANCE

Whistleblowing about children's social care services to Ofsted

AMENDMENT

This chapter was updated in May 2016 when the link to Ofsted guidance was added and the link to Northumberland Council guidance in Section 5, Whistle Blowing Policy was updated.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Comments, Suggestions and Complaints by or on behalf of children, young people and their families
  3. Grievances Raised by Foster Carers about County Council Employees
  4. Complaints and Concerns Raised by other Authorities and Agencies
  5. Whistle Blowing Policy
  6. Aims and Scope of the Guidance
  7. How to Raise a Concern
  8. What Will Happen
  9. Safeguards
  10. Untrue Allegations


1. Introduction

Northumberland Family Placement Service is committed to empowering the children and young people, who are fostered, supporting and encouraging them to express their views, play an active role in planning for their own lives and in playing a role in developing the service for other young people.

Children and young people should be supported to contribute to their LAC reviews, the reviews of their foster carers and to raise any concerns they have.

The service will work with Northumberland’s Children in Care Council - ‘VOICES’ and ‘Making Care Mint’ to develop the quality of foster care services and to achieve young peoples identified priorities. The active involvement of young people in the recruitment and training of foster carers will be actively promoted.

Concerns and complaints by young people will be listened to and responded to promptly and dealt with in accordance with the procedure.


2. Comments, Suggestions and Complaints by or on behalf of children, young people and their families

The Children Services - Comments, Suggestions and Complaints procedure and guidance applies to all staff within Children’s Services who are providing social care services directly or indirectly to children and their families or those providing statutory social services functions.

The Procedure ensures that all our service users have the opportunity to express their views about the quality of the service they have received, and contribute these to service planning so that services can be improving continuously.

The views of service users will be treated in confidence and will be used to evaluate current practice and improve the provision of future services

A complaint is defined as “An expression of dissatisfaction or disquiet in relation to an individual child or young person, which requires a response”

In keeping with this, Children’s Services wishes to provide a service which:-

  • Meets these requirements;
  • Provides a mechanism for listening to the views of users of its services;
  • Takes note of these views in its planning of services and, at the same time;
  • Provides quality management information which can be used to inform and improve practice.

The procedure is based on the following values:-

  • We value the opinions of all service users;
  • All service users have a right to express their opinions about the service in confidence without fear of judgment;
  • All service users have the right to have their opinions listened to, taken seriously and responded to;
  • All service users have an equal right to be involved in consultation and participation regardless of race, religion, disability, background, gender, age or sexual orientation.

It is important, then, that children, young people, parents and carers who receive services should have the means to make their views and opinions known about those services and the way they are delivered, and to know that their views are taken seriously.

Managers welcome this contact and feedback.

Staff and managers of the Family Placement Service will follow the Children Services - Comments, Suggestions and Complaints procedure and guidance when they receive any comments and complaints.

The Family Placement Manager will maintain a record of complaints about the service including Foster Carers and will work with Client Relations to ensure an appropriate response for individuals and to inform future practice.


3. Grievances Raised by Foster Carers about County Council Employees

Introduction

Grievances are concerns, or complaints that Foster Carers raise with their Supervising Social Worker or Family Placement Manager about the conduct of County Council employees. It is not the process for resolving other complaints that should be resolved using the complaints procedures.

This Grievance Procedure is a means of allowing Foster Carers to raise issues with their direct Supervisor or Manager of the Family Placement Service about their role as Foster Carer, working arrangements and expectations or relationships with other professionals that they wish to be addressed and, if possible, resolved. It is impossible to provide a comprehensive list of all the issues that may give rise to a grievance, but some of the more common issues include relationships with other professionals, bullying and harassment, and discrimination.

Grievances raised by Foster Carers may be of a relatively simple nature or of fundamental importance, significantly affecting the Foster Carer’s ability to work effectively.

Unresolved grievances are likely to detract from the achievement and maintenance of satisfactory care standards. All grievances should be examined carefully and dealt with as quickly as possible. Long delays can make the situation worse and may give Foster Carers the impression that their Supervisors or Service Managers are reluctant to deal with their complaints.

This procedure applies to all Foster Carers of Northumberland County Council.

Principles

Foster Carers should aim to settle most grievances informally with their Supervisor or Service Manager, through informal discussion, without the need to invoke the Grievance Procedure.

Some grievances will be of a sensitive or controversial nature and a balance must be struck between the need to preserve confidentiality and the need for informed discussion on the issues raised.

This procedure is designed to address genuine grievances. Issues raised purely out of malice or without reasonable cause might inform decisions around the Foster Carer’s ability to work in partnership with the service and others.

The County Council will not engage in a process which results in favouring one set of beliefs over another. The procedure aims to protect all foster carers and not as an opportunity to pursue personal beliefs or ideology or charter to advance personal crusades or ideology.

Where a grievance relates to another professional, it is essential that all parties are supported during any investigatory process. In this vein, it is important that issues are investigated quickly and grievances are resolved as soon as possible.

Discrimination Complaints

Any complaints by Foster Carers of discriminatory bias or prejudice in contract matters on the grounds of sex, race, disability or other personal factors of a sexual, racial or personal harassment should be pursued through this procedure.

The complaint of discrimination or harassment should normally be taken up with the Supervising Social Worker. In some circumstances, it is accepted that this may not be appropriate. With this in mind, the Family Placement Manager would deal with complaints as a first point of contact and will be able to give information and support to the Foster Carer as the complaint is processed.

When the Family Placement Manager receives a complaint of this nature, they must inform the Service Manager for Looked After Children immediately. The Family Placement Manager, in consultation with the Service Manager for Looked After Children, will make arrangements for the complaint to be investigated and heard by an appropriate person. An appropriate person would normally be an individual that has an understanding of the issues referred to in the grievance.

Representation

The complainant and the person(s) complained against are entitled to be made aware of the information shared in respect of the grievance. The process and subsequent action will be facilitated by the Family Placement Manager and/or the Service Manager for Looked After Children.

Time Limits

Time limits for Foster Carers action and management response are included within the procedure. These are felt necessary, in order to reinforce the need to deal with grievances as quickly as possible, so that the Foster Carer is able to return to full concentration on care duties.

The time limits specified for management to give their decision are a guide, as some grievances will take longer to be dealt with in sufficient depth.

In the event of no management response, the Foster Carer may proceed to the next stage of complaint to the Client Relations Department to direct the Foster Carer of the most suitable route to resolve their grievance. In the event of no response by the Foster Carer, the grievance will be deemed to have been satisfactorily resolved.

Grievance Meetings

Grievances are usually best resolved through direct dialogue between the Foster Carer and the relevant manager. At each stage of the procedure, the Foster Carer is entitled to a one to one meeting with the individual manager dealing with the grievance.

Grievance meetings should be held in private.

The individual Manager may invite someone to attend the meeting to take a record of what is discussed.

The Family Placement Manager and the Foster Carer should raise and deal with issues promptly and should not unreasonably delay meetings, decisions or confirmation of those decisions.

The Family Placement Manager or identified Manager should carry out any necessary investigations to establish the facts surrounding the complaint.

Records

At all stages, records detailing the nature of the grievance raised and actions taken to try to resolve the grievance should be maintained. A written statement of the grievance and subsequent statements made by the Foster Carer in relation to the grievance need to be confirmed and signed by the Foster Carer as a true record of the discussion.  

Records should include:

  • Details of grievance meetings;
  • The nature of the grievance;
  • What was decided and actions taken;
  • The reason for the actions;
  • Amendments to records;
  • Satisfaction feedback.

Records should be treated as confidential and should be kept in accordance with the Data Protection Act.

Copies of meeting records may be given to the Foster Carer, including copies of any formal minutes that may have been taken in relation to their complaints.

Mediation

In exceptional circumstances, the Family Placement Manager may decide that it is appropriate to appoint a mediator to help resolve the grievance. Mediation is a voluntary process where the mediator helps two or more people in dispute to attempt to reach an agreement. The role of the mediator is not to make decisions or judgements in relation to the grievance, but to facilitate the procedure to enable those involved to reach an acceptable outcome.

Mediation is not necessary or appropriate in the vast majority of grievance cases and should not be used as a means of absolving Managers from taking responsibility for a grievance. A mediator may only be appointed with the authorisation of the Head of Service.

Procedure

Most routine complaints and grievances are best resolved informally in discussion with the Foster Carer and immediate Supervising Social Worker. Dealing with grievances in this way can lead to the speedy resolution of problems. Both Managers and Foster Carers should keep a record of any informal meetings that take place. Where the grievance cannot be resolved informally, it should be dealt with under the following procedure.

Where the grievance is regarding the Supervising Social Worker or the Fostering Manager the Foster Care should direct their grievance to the Service Manager Looked After Children

In the first instance, the Foster Carer should raise the grievance, in writing, with his or her Supervisor. The letter should state that the matter is being raised under the formal grievance procedure and include the precise nature of the grievance and any supporting evidence. The Foster Carer should also indicate how they envisage their complaint can be resolved. Although there is no guarantee that the matter will be resolved in the way they suggest, this does at least give the Family Placement Manager an indication of the aggrieved Foster Carer’s desired outcome.

The Family Placement Manager should then meet with the Foster Carer without delay, ideally within five working days of receiving the letter, to discuss the grievance. The Family Placement Manager, the Foster Carer and their Supervising Social Worker should take all reasonable steps to attend the meeting. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the grievance and clarify the facts.

Following the meeting, the Family Placement Manager should carry out any necessary investigations in order for them to reach a decision. The Family Placement Manager’s decision should be communicated to the Foster Carer in writing, without unreasonable delay, and ideally within twenty working days of the meeting.

Where the grievance relates to a County Council employee (e.g. a Social Worker) who is not a member of the Fostering Service the Family Placement Manager will contact the Line Manager of the employee concerned and agree with them a process and time scale for investigating and resolving to the grievance. The Fostering Services Managers role will be to co-ordinate the process.

At any point within Stage 1, a more Senior Manager nominated by the Head of Service concerned may deal with the grievance.

If the Foster Carer is satisfied with the response, they should advise the Family Placement Manager accordingly.

The Family Placement Manager will inform the Foster Carer in writing of the decision and that the decision is final.

The Fostering Service will endeavour to find a solution to the grievance using any appropriate resources.


4. Complaints and Concerns Raised by other Authorities and Agencies

From time to time other Local Authorities and Agencies may have concerns about the work of Northumberland Children’s Services Directorate. It is important that there should be a means of responding to these concerns, addressing them as appropriate and collating information about the concerns and action taken. There is a specific requirement in the Climbie audit for a robust system to be in place to deal with such matters.

It is to be expected that normally when there are such concerns these will be raised with the manager responsible for the service. This however might not necessarily always be appropriate or someone from outside the Authority might not be aware who the appropriate responsible manager is. It has therefore been agreed that however such a concern is made to the Directorate details of it should be copied to the Client Relations Service.

This procedure applies to staff from other agencies making complaints about the service provided by staff employed in Children’s Services.

Any member of staff employed within the Family Placement Service receiving a complaint from another agency, should notify the Family Placement Manager. The Family Placement Manager will follow the Children Services Complaints and Concerns Raised by Other Authorities and Agencies including notifying Client Relations and seeking to address the matter locally, providing a response within 28 days.


5. Whistle Blowing Policy

The County Council welcomes suggestions from service users and employees as to ways to ensure continuous development and improvement of services. Again, in the spirit of continuous improvement, there is an expectation that employees and others who deliver services on behalf of the County Council will report any concerns about possible bad practice. This will usually be facilitated through normal management arrangements, however, where that is not possible, this policy provides an avenue for reporting serious malpractice.

Employees are often the first to realise that there may be something seriously wrong within the County Council. However, in some cases they may not express their concerns because they feel that speaking up would be disloyal to their colleagues or to the County Council. They may also fear harassment or victimisation. In these circumstances it may be easier to ignore the concern rather than report what may just be a suspicion of malpractice. However, the County Council is committed to the highest possible standards of openness, probity and accountability.

In line with that commitment the County Council expects employees, and others who it deals with, who have serious concerns about any aspect of the County Council's work to come forward and voice those concerns. It is recognised that most cases will have to proceed on a confidential basis.

“Blowing the Whistle” can be done without fear of victimisation, subsequent discrimination or disadvantage. This policy is intended to encourage and enable employees to raise serious concerns within the County Council rather than overlooking a problem or 'blowing the whistle” outside.

The right to “blow the whistle” applies to all employees and those contractors working for the County Council.

This policy has been the subject of consultations with the relevant Trade Unions and has their support.

Northumberland County Council Whistle Blowing Policy can be found at the following Link on the Council Website

This guidance should be read alongside the above Policy and is provided as additional supporting guidance for approved Foster Carers.


6. Aims and Scope of the Guidance

This policy aims to:

  • Give Foster Carers the confidence to raise concerns about behaviour and practice;
  • Provide routes to express these concerns and to receive feedback on how they have been addressed;
  • Provide a route to follow if you are not satisfied with the way that your concerns have been dealt with;
  • Offer all reasonable guarantees that you will be protected from victimisation and harassment.


7. How to Raise a Concern

The person with whom you should first raise your concern is your Supervising Social Worker or the Fostering Service manager. If you consider this to be inappropriate, you should approach someone more senior in Children’s Services.

You may use any means of expressing your concern: talking to the individual, writing to them or sending an email to their NCC email address. If you are concerned that nobody else accesses this information, even unintentionally, then the surest method is a personal conversation, as correspondence is commonly opened by administrative staff and senior officers sometimes arrange for an assistant to open their emails.

If you choose to express your concerns by meeting and discussing your concerns with the Service Manager or Supervising Social Worker, you have the right to be accompanied to the meeting by a person who can offer you some support. You can always ask to meet at a neutral venue if appropriate.


8. What Will Happen

The Manager will listen carefully to your concerns, clarify your concerns, ensuring that you feel that they have been accurately recorded, and will investigate them. The investigation will always be done without prejudice and does not imply that your concerns have either been accepted or rejected; they are simply being investigated.

Within five standard working days of the Service Manager receiving your concerns, you will be sent a written response. It will:

  • Clearly define the concerns you have expressed;
  • Say how the Council proposes to deal with it;
  • Say approximately how long it expects this to take;
  • Inform you about any enquiries that have been made and supply you with information on how you can be supported through the process.

Depending on the nature of your concerns, they may be investigated by management, internal audit, or Human Resources. If it is possible the law has been broken, then the investigation may be undertaken by the Police or other external statutory agency, for example, the Council’s external auditor. It is also possible that an internal and external investigation could run simultaneously.

Some concerns may be resolved by agreed action without the need for investigation. If however, your concern appears to be sufficiently serious or urgent to warrant immediate intervention, appropriate action will be taken with immediate effect.

In any event you will be kept informed of progress and any outcome of an investigation.


9. Safeguards

The Council will not victimise anyone who raises a concern under this policy. It will use its bullying and harassment policies vigorously to protect anyone mistreated by their colleagues for raising a concern.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage Foster Carers to express their concerns and to give them protection from any adverse consequences of doing so. Concerns expressed anonymously will be investigated but do not carry the same weight as those that people have put their name to.


10. Untrue Allegations

If you make an allegation or express a concern in good faith, action will not be taken against you if it turns out to be mistaken. An allegation made maliciously or for personal gain, however, may lead to action being taken against you.

End