Following procedures prevents litigation.

In reference to the recent rulings against Bedfordshire and
Newham social services (News, page 3, and Comment, 17 May), there
need be no fears for any social services who investigate all
referrals at the time, and listen to the children regardless of
age. (A child as young as four or five is quite capable of giving
facts provided the person speaking to them does so in language and
vocabulary appropriate to their age.)

However, if the social worker ignores facts, then they have only
themselves to blame if the case goes to the European Court of Human
Rights. If they have investigated the case properly and presented
all the facts, from all the sources, they have nothing to fear,
regardless of the outcome.

As Mary Marsh, chief executive of the NSPCC puts it, warning
against a move towards more defensive practice, they should have no
fear if they have acted as laid down in the Children Act 1989.

John Bell
Both Parents Forever

Problem-solving stage is a myth

When is a complaint not a complaint (“Cause for complaint”, 10
May)? The Children Act 1989 complaints procedure is very clearly
set out in section 26 of the act together with associated
regulations and blinding guidance. It has two stages. The first
stage must include an independent person and the second stage is a
panel of three persons that must include an independent person.
Both stages have a time limit of 28 days.

There is no “informal” or “problem-solving” stage. The guidance
is very clear: “However, attempts at problem-solving should not be
used to divert an eligible person from lodging a complaint under
the statutory procedure” (Paragraph 5.13 Volume 4, Children Act
Guidance and Regulations). Yet this is exactly what is happening
all over the country.

Local authorities tell service users that they must begin at
stage one, the “informal stage” and much of the publicity
information repeats this. There are no timesclaes or rules for this
stage, and complaints are investigated by the persons being
complained about.

This is among the reasons why the Children Act complaints
procedure has lost the trust of those entitled to use it and why it
is very close to losing any credibility as a means of holding local
authorities accountable for their actions in relation to vulnerable
children and families. It is particularly important as service
users cannot challenge local authority decisions through judicial
review unless they have first exhausted the complaints process.

It is disappointing that your article repeats and therefore
reinforces the “stage one” myth. The current procedure may need
improving but no procedure will be effective while local
authorities are permitted to ignore the basic rules.

Noreeen O’Faolain
Advice and advocacy co-ordinator
Family Rights Group


Care with captions

I realise space is limited, but why should a photograph caption
name a councillor and the project manager of the scheme run by
Brixton social education centre (News, page 10, 24 May) and not any
of the adults with learning difficulties who do all the work?

Graham Hopkins
Milton Keynes

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