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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