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New guide released for statutory complaints as departing Children’s Commissioner urges clarity

Ombudsman launches a new guide to help local authorities handle complaints under the children’s services statutory complaints process, as the outgoing Children’s Commissioner for England urges clarity on requirements.

18/03/21

New guide released for statutory complaints as departing Children’s Commissioner urges clarity

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) is today (Thursday 18 March) launching a new guide for dealing with children’s statutory complaints.

Free to download, the short guide shares the lessons from previous investigations about how councils should apply the regulations and statutory guidance.

The Ombudsman says this is the area in which it receives the most queries from local authorities, and the guide will address the common questions received.

For complaints about many areas of children’s services, there is a statutory, three-stage complaints procedure local authorities must follow.

Common questions answered in the guide include basic issues around what areas come under the statutory process along with more detailed questions about young people’s consent, court action, delays and deadlines, and statements of complaint.

“We have published this guide to help local authorities navigate the process, and avoid some of the pitfalls we have seen in previous investigations,” Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said, adding: “It is not uncommon for us to find issues with complaint-handling when we investigate cases about children’s services – and we receive many questions from councils about how to follow the process.”

“Our answer is the statutory complaints process is set out in law so we expect councils to follow the guidance and regulations as they stand, and will hold them to account should they not do so.

“Where they have concerns about the effectiveness of the statutory process, councils have an opportunity to raise those in the Government’s review of children’s services – something which we intend to contribute to.”

The guide has been released just one day after the departing Children’s Commissioner for England urged councils to understand clearly what their statutory requirements for children's services are.

“There needs to be a resetting of expectation of what those statutory requirements are” Anne Longfield said, speaking to the Local Government Chronicle.

“It's not just that point where children are taken into care, it's also that work in supporting families to prevent children having to go into care in the first place and that wider support with children in need.”

In the interview, Longfield also said she disagreed with the Government’s decision to relax some legal duties for children in care early in the pandemic.

"I understood how, in a moment of crisis, people need to take action."

"However, by the time these changes were introduced we were beyond the first few weeks of emergency. It is very clear social care staffing has actually upheld very well. Those safeguards might seem like extra bureaucracy but for kids they're enormously important.”

“I'm here to represent children, which I did throughout the crisis. And what government tended to do throughout was talk to those delivering services to children. And that's not the same. I was disappointed by that,” Longfield said seeming to touch upon a Court of Appeal ruling finding Education Secretary Gavin Williamson acted unlawfully in November.

At the time, Lord Justice Baker accepted the submission, made by Jenni Richards QC on behalf of children’s rights charity Article 39, that the Department for Education had consulted “on an entirely one-sided basis and excluded those most directly affected by the changes.”

He added that had children’s rights organisations been included in discussions, the Secretary of State “would have unquestionably been better informed about the impact of the proposed amendments on the vulnerable children most affected by them.”

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