Why is it that social services have such a bad
press? To my mind, there can be no greater stress-creating
situation than that of responding to an urgent cry for help, as a
domestic situation arises in a deprived council estate where the
family structure is invariably complex, the environment often
threatening and the truth is difficult to find. These, and many
other unexpected but equally daunting situations all too often draw
the social worker away from any pre-planned work programme – both
physically and mentally. Work planning and time management go out
of the window.

All too often formal complaints are the result
of crisis management situations and overworked teams, and many will
have been prompted by minor, unintentional indiscretions by staff,
such as a broken promise to get back to the service user, non
return of a telephone call, or even the tone of voice or look in
the eye. For vulnerable service users living out in the community,
seeking urgent help and often unloved and lonely, such a breakdown
in communication, albeit unintentional, can generate a feeling of
isolation, leading to fear and anger. The service user is not to
know that every effort is being made to resolve the situation by
the case worker back at the department.

Naturally, it can be upsetting for a social
worker to learn that a service user has lodged a formal complaint,
particularly if the allegation relates to the actions of the social
worker. But complaints can be used positively to take an
organisation forward. This is the all-important factor. Each
complaint gives the department an opportunity to review its
procedures and, if necessary, improve its performance. Letters of
complaint are more important to the future of an organisation than
letters of praise.

It should also be remembered that a complaint
against an individual is a complaint against the department. All
staff should be ready to accept personal responsibility for any
complaint that arises. That is one of the fundamental elements of
team work.

In order for staff to feel happy working
within a representation and complaints procedure, they must be
confident that they will be fully involved and treated fairly. The
procedure can involve an internal investigation and, if the
complainant persists, a further investigation by an independent
investigator. For many staff, the involvement of independent
investigators might give cause for concern. But it must be
remembered that they are not appointed to represent the
complainant, but to conduct a fair and balanced investigation of
the complaint and at all times to take people’s feelings into
account as well as the facts. Surrendering judgement to an
independent investigator requires a degree of trust on the part of
both parties concerned. We, in turn, must endeavour to keep that

Neil Davies is an independent

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.