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Annual Complaints Report Children’s Social Care 2020-21


Last Updated


This report fulfils the council’s statutory duty to monitor the effectiveness of the complaints procedure and produce an annual report for children’s services social care complaints.

The Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 (as amended by the NHS & Community Care Act 1990) requires us to establish a procedure for considering complaints in relation to the discharge of, or failure to discharge, any social services functions in respect of a qualifying individual. The Children Act 1989 Representation Procedure (England) Regulations 2006 provides the legal framework for the procedures in relation to social care functions.

The regulations require the local authority to attempt to resolve complaints as soon as reasonably practicable and within specific timescales. The procedure has three stages, which are set out below, however where appropriate and with the agreement of the complainant the local authority may arrange for alternative dispute resolution to help resolve matters.

  • Stage 1 (local resolution by manager) – 10 working days or up to 20 working days for complex cases
  • Stage 2 (investigation by someone outside of the service area complained about) – 25 working days with maximum extension to 65 working days
  • Stage 3 (independent review) – 30 working days to convene and hold a review panel; then 5 working days for the panel to issue its findings; and a further 15 working days for the local authority to respond to those findings.

All complaints are triaged by the Customer Relations Team to ensure they are suitable for the process. This ensures matters are managed through the correct procedures, should an alternative process be in place. Any matters which are not suitable for the complaints process are filtered out and passed to the appropriate channel.

If the complainant remains unhappy with the outcome of their complaint, they have the right to approach the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman who may choose to investigate their complaint.

The Children’s Social Care Complaints Procedure is administered by the Customer Relations Team, with oversight from the Customer Relations Manager.

The complaints procedure and wider policy are available from the Customer Relations website.

The information in this report is provided in the following context: Due to the unprecedented situation in relation to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the requirement for operational services within Devon County Council to redirect their resources to managing the crisis during the first response phase, and beyond, this impacted on the Council’s ability to deal with complaints.

In line with Ombudsman guidance, Devon County Council assessed individual complaints as they were received, and only accepted those that raised high risk or safeguarding matters. The County Council did not progress any other complaints between 31 March 2020 and 29 June 2020 which is reflected in the information recorded for Quarter 1 (Q1) throughout this report.

The reporting year is split into four Quarter’s (Q): April to June (Q1), July to September (Q2), October to December (Q3) and January to March (Q4). Totals are referred to as Year to Date (YTD).

Feedback received

The graph and table below show the general feedback trends over the last 7 years. Feedback numbers have been fairly static in the last 4 years, suggesting that customers continue to feel confident in raising concerns and escalating them through the relevant stages if they remain dissatisfied.

line graph showing the children's social care feedback trends
DateStage 1Stage 2Stage 3LGSCOMPRepresentationsCompliments

The tables below present data by Service. The Quality Assurance, Reviewing and Safeguarding Service is referred to as QARSS. The Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub is referred to as MASH. Finally, the Special Guardianship Order team is referred to as SGO.

The table below indicates the number of Children’s Social Care Stage 1 complaints received in 2020-2021.

Children’s Social Care Stage 1 complaints 2020-21

Adopt South WestAdoption241411
Children’s CommissioningChildren’s Commissioning10102
Children’s Social CareChildren and Families18302034102
Children’s Social CareDisabled Children’s Service199726
Children’s Social CareEarly Help00213
Children’s Social CareInitial Response91072046
Children’s Social CareIntervention and Care Bank Service10001
Children’s Social CareMASH431311
Corporate ParentingPermanency and Transition4581027
Corporate ParentingResidential1211115
Corporate ParentingSGO team11013
Placements and PermanenceFostering30104
Public Health NursingPublic Health Nursing00404
Children’s Community Health and Wellbeing ServicesChildren’s Homes00011
Quaity and PerformanceQARSS23005
 Grand Total47675592261

The table below outlines the number of Stage 1 and Stage 2 complaints received and the percentage of escalation between the two stages:

Children’s Social Care Stage 1 and 2 complaints 2020-21Stage 1 (Q1)Stage 2 (Q1)% escalation (Q1)Stage 1 (Q2)Stage 2 (Q2)% escalation (Q2)Stage 1 (Q3)Stage 2 (Q3)% escalation (Q3)Stage 1Stage 2 (Q4)% escalationStage 1Stage 2 (YTD)% escalation
Children’s Social Care               
Children and Families18  30  20210%34  10222%
Initial Response9111%10110%7  20315%46511%
MASH4  3  1  3  11 0%
Early Help0  0  2  1  300%
Intervention and Care Bank1  0  0     100%
Disabled Children’s Service11100%9  9  7114%2628%
Corporate Parenting            000%
Permanency and Transition
4  5  8113%10330%27415%
Residential1  2  1  11  1500%
SGO team1  1  0  1  300%
Placement and Permanence            000%
3  0  1     400%
Quality and Performance            000%
2  3  0     500%
Adopt South West2  4125%1  4  1119%
Children’s Commissioning
1  0  1     200%
Children’s Community Health and Wellbeing Services
         1  100%
Public Health Nursing
   0  4     400%

Stage 3 Complaints

There has been a moderate increase in the number of complaints progressing to Stage 3 this year with a total of eight being received, compared to the seven that were received 2019-20.


Capturing compliment data is important for the Council, as they acknowledge provision of excellent service, enable staff to be recognised and the Council to build upon good practice. Unfortunately, this data is not currently available for this reporting period but will be included in the next report.

MP Enquiries

The table below indicates the number of Children’s Social Care MP Enquiries, Representations and Councillor Enquiries received in 2020-21. A representation is a comment or concern that is not intended or eligible to be a formal complaint but requires a formal response.

MP, Representation, and Cllr Enquiries 2020-21MP Enquiries (Q1)Representations (Q1)MP Enquries (Q2)Representations (Q2)Cllr Enquiries (Q3)MP Enquiries (Q3)Representations (Q3)Cllr Enquiries (Q4)
MP Enquiries (Q4)
Representations (Q4)
Children’s Social Care641521971121
Children and Families2171 35 81
Disabled Children’s Service315 12  2 
Initial Response1131 3111 
Intervention and Care Bank Service 1      1 
MASH     11   
Corporate Parenting12 4 12  1
Permanency and Transition12 1  2  1
Residential   1      
SGO team     1    
Public Health Nursing     1    
Health Visitors     1    
Children’s Community and Wellbeing Services     2    
Quality and Performance   1      
QARSS   1      
Grand Total7615711191122

Who complained, including advocacy arrangements

Please see the table at Appendix B which outlines which types of customers complained throughout the year 2020-21.

Devon County Council work with the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) in a joint venture to provide an advocacy service to Children and Young People, particularly for:

  • children in need and looked after children when decisions are made about their lives
  • children in need, looked after children and care leavers in complaints and representation procedures
  • children in receipt of health services (including young people at the Atkinson secure unit)
  • Children and Young People’s Advocacy Independent Visiting Service

There were 32 Stage 1 complaints received from children or young people in 2020- 21, seven of which were supported by a NYAS advocate.

Complaint outcomes

The number of Stage 1 complaints responded to and the percentage partially or fully upheld is outlined in the table below.

Stage 1 outcome 2020/21 (Department)ServiceNo. responded to (Q1)% upheld (Q1)No.responde 2 (Q2)% upheld (Q2)No. responded to (Q3)% upheld (Q3)No. responded to (Q3)% upheld (Q3)No. responded to (YTD)% upheld (YTD)
Adopt South WestAdoption1100%4100%10%1100%786%
Children’s CommissioningChildren’s Commissioning  1100%    1100%
Children’s Social CareChildren and Familes30%1850%1638%1444%5142%
Children’s Social CareDisabled Children’s Service367%838%5100%367%1963%
Children’s Social CareEarly Help    250%250%450%
Children’s Social CareInitial Response1100%743%667%617%2045%
Children’s Social CareMASH  450%10%1100%650%
Corporate ParentingPermanency and Transition  20%771%1169%2063%
Corporate ParentingResidential10%10%10%110%140%
Corporate ParentingSGO team  250%    250%
Placements and PermanenceFostering10%  10%  20%
Public Health NursingPublic Health Nursing    333%1100%450%
Children’s Community Health and Wellbeing ServicesChildren’s Home’s      1100%1100%
Quality and PerformanceQARSS  1100%10%  250%
 Grand Total1040%4850%4450%5165%15354%

The table below outlines the number of Stage 2 complaints responded to and the percentage upheld. There were no Stage 2 complaints closed in Q1 or Q2 due to Covid restrictions on carrying out investigations. The data below is therefore in relation to all closure activity in Q3 and Q4.

Stage 2 outcomes 2020-21No. responded to (Q3)% Upheld (Q3)No. responded to (Q4)% Upheld (Q4)No. responded to (YTD)% Upheld (YTD)
Children’s Social Care      
Children and Families  2100%2100%
Initial Response250%  250%
Permanency and Transition2100%10%367%
Countywide Services      
Disabled Children’s Service366%  366%
Adopt South West      
Grand Total771%367%1070%

Response times

The following tables summarises the number of complaints responded to in Quarter and the percentage of those that were in time across Children’s Social Care. The target date for response at Stage 1 is a maximum of 20 working days from receipt of the complaint (% in time).

Stage 1 Response Times 2020/21 – DepartmentServiceTotal responde to (Q1)% in time (Q1)Total responded to (Q2)% in time (Q2)Total responded to (Q3)% in time (Q3)Total responded to (Q4)% in time (Q4)
Adopt South WestAdoption10%475%1100%1100%
Children’s CommissioningChildren’s Commissioning  10%    
Children’s Social CareChildren and Families3100%1850%1656%1450%
Children’s Social CareDisabled Children’s Service30%850%560%367%
Children’s Social CareEarly Help    2100%250%
Children’s Social CareInitial Response10%771%667%633%
Children’s Social CareMASH  4100%1100%1100%
Corporate ParentingPermanency and Transition  2100%757%1164%
Corporate ParentingResidential1100%1100%1100%11100%
Corporate ParentingSGO team  250%    
Placements and PermanenceFostering10%  10%  
Public Health NursingPublic Health Nursing    367%1100%
Children’s Community Health and Wellbeing ServicesChildren’s Homes      1100%
Quality and PerformanceQARSS  1100%10%00%
 Grand Total1040%4863%4461%5158%

What was complained about

Each complaint received can have several issues recorded against it.

The table below shows the top complaint issues recorded throughout 2020-21 and the percentage of these that were partially or fully upheld.

Top complaint issues 2020/21No of issues (Q1)% Upheld (Q1)No of issues (Q2)% Upheld (Q2)No of issues (Q3)% Upheld (Q3)No of issues (Q4)% Upheld (Q4)No of issues (YTD)% Upheld (YTD)
Other activity1100%1331%1771%1100%3275%
Placement10%617%50%  128%
Safeguarding  1050%10%  1145%
Reviews  7100%    7100%
Finance  475%2100%  683%
Reports  580%  1100%690%
Referral1100%1100%20%  450%

Other Activity in the Table above refers to Social Work activity including Case Management and Signposting and Advice.

A significant number of the complaint issues were about Assessments, Plans Meetings

Following on from the above, the top root causes for the top five complaint issues are outlined in the table below, for 2020/21. This gives a further indication of what people were most concerned about. The issue of highest concern appears to relate to the way assessments are delivered.

Top issues and root causes 2020/21

Assessments – 25

  • Delivery – Inappropriate action or service – 14
  • Delivery – Quality of service provided – 5
  • Delivery – Failure or delay in referring issue – 6


  • Delivery – Inappropriate action or service – 13
  • Staff – Poor communication (to customer) – 10
  • Delivery – Quality of service provided – 5

Other Activity – 12

  • Delivery – Quality of service provided – 3
  • Delivery – Failure or delay in referring issue – 2
  • Staff – Inappropriate activity – 3
  • Delivery – Inapproriate action or service – 2
  • Staff – Poor communication (to customer) – 2

Meeting – 18

  • Delivery – Inappropriate action or service – 10
  • Staff – Attitude/rudeness/inappropriate comments – 4
  • Staff – Poor communication (to customer) – 4

Visits – 17

  • Staff – Inappropriate activity – 2
  • Staff – Attitude/rudeness/inappropriate comments – 9
  • Delivery – Timings of service offered – 2
  • Staff – Poor communication (to customer) – 4

For every fully or partially upheld complaint the investigating officer completes an action plan, so that actions and wider learning are recorded and evidenced. The implementation of agreed actions is monitored by the Customer Relations Team.

There were 92 actions recorded as being required following the completion of complaints in 2020/21. Of these, the top five categories are summarised in the table below:

Change or review service9
Arrange staff training or guidance11
Performance management – staff member6
Change or review policy or operational procedure4
Provide additional information4

Some of the key actions undertaken following complaints concluded in 2020-21 are outlined below:

A Focus Group has been set up to look at improvements and how information can be provided at the right time of each stage of the process.

The Social Worker has been asked to address this as soon as possible, in order for the complainant’s son to receive support for the remainder of the Summer and then an ongoing service moving forward.

A placement information form has been implemented and will be completed for all emergency placements to identify risks and how to mitigate them

To change the Chair’s introduction to the Initial Child Protection Conference so the issue of consent is discussed, and the parent has an opportunity to discuss any objection.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO)

A total of 14 complaints were received in 2020-21 and this is four more than the ten received in 2019-20.

The table below provides the number of complaints responded to by Devon County Council about Children’s Social Care in 2020-21 and the associated outcomes.

LGSCO Complaint Outcomes 2020-21Q1Q2Q3Q4Total
Closed after initial enquiries – No further action205613
Not upheld – no maladministration or injustice 0112
Upheld – Maladministration and inustice 0123
Grand Total207918

There were 18 complaints decided upon by the LGSCO in the same period regarding Children’s Social Care, of which just 3 were upheld. The table at Appendix A provides details of the 3 upheld with injustice decisions and the required actions by the council.

The decision of “Upheld” is applied when the Ombudsman finds there is some fault in the way the council acted. This is termed “Maladministration”. This finding will be made even if the council has agreed to put things right during the course of the Ombudsman investigation or if the council had already accepted it needed to remedy the situation before the complaint was apparent to the Ombudsman.

Contact methods

The following table shows the methods customers used to raise their complaints throughout the year 2020-21.

Contact methodTotal
MOMO app1
Grand total268

Diversity data

In relation to the diversity monitoring, the statutory complaint guidance states that local authorities should, where possible and appropriate, ensure that they ask the complainant to define their own ethnic origin, gender, any disability, and age.

Customers are asked to complete a diversity form on receipt of their complaint however the majority choose not to do so. The available information is therefore only a partial picture, and little can be drawn from it; it has therefore not been included within this report. It is not possible to gather the information from case management systems as this would breach the General Data Protection Regulation due to lack of explicit consent to utilise the data held in this way.

Appendix A – Upheld Ombudsman Complaints 2020/21

Complaint Summary

Miss B complains the Council failed to implement a child protection plan put in place when her son, who is now 15, was a baby. She considers the Council has not provided adequate support to her. She further complains about the way the Council has considered her complaints and the remedy provided. She says it has had an adverse impact on her and her son’s mental health and she has suffered financially by not receiving the benefits to which they were entitled. There was fault which caused injustice to Miss B.

Action required of Council

Pay Miss B £1000 to remedy the injustice. This is in addition to the £300 which has been offered for the injustice from the faults in the complaint handling.

Complaint Summary

Ms X complains that the Council has lost all its records from her time in foster care in the early 1990s. This includes a letter to her from her birth mother, who is now deceased. Ms X also   complains about the way the Council handled her request to access her records and resulting complaints. As a result, Ms X will never know what her mother wrote to her and has no record of her early life.

Action required of Council

The injustice to Ms X is significant and cannot be easily quantified. To recognise this, the Council has agreed to:

  • Apologise in writing to Ms X
  • Pay Ms X £1000

Complaint Summary

The complainant complains about the way the Council dealt with her son Y’s care package and agreed the amount of Direct Payments she received to fund his care needs. Mrs X says:

  • The Council left her without Direct Payments (DP’s) for several months during a difficult time for the family in 2014.
  • The Council stopped the DP’s without warning in 2016 and reduced Y’s care package.
  • A social worker was intimidating and bullying towards her witnessed by another of her children causing Mrs X and the child distress.
  • A Single Assessment document written in 2015 was inaccurate with other professionals pressurised into completing it.
  • A form used by the Council gave an incorrect helpline number to call.

The Council delayed in responding to her complaints about these matters.

Mrs X says the issues occurred while they were pursing an appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal for a school place for Y and ill health within the family. So, the Council’s actions caused added stress to the family. Mrs X requests that, although the level of the care package has increased since 2016, the Council reinstates the care package to the time it was reduced in 2015. Mrs X also seeks compensation from the Council due to the impact onto her and her family.

Action required of Council

  • Apologise to Mrs X for the delay in carrying out its investigation into her complaint at stage 1 and 2 of its complaint procedure.
  • Pay Mrs X £150 to recognise her frustration over the delays in investigating her complaint and her time and trouble in pursuing her concerns further.

Appendix B – Who complained in 2020-21

Bar chart showing who complained in 2020-21