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For adopters and special guardians struggling to get support, so many of us are having to resort to the complaints process it seems. Nearly 40% of the respondents in our Health and Wellbeing Survey had cause to complain with more than 14% having an ongoing complaint. Sometimes we don’t even make formal complaints – but an organisation will look at the concerns as if we have made a formal complaint. We are not treated as equals and able to simply talk about difficulties that are experienced. It has to be in the form of a complaint. Processes and procedures become more important than people.

The system is role focussed when it needs to be task focussed. Vulnerable children don’t get the help they need but everyone did what was required within the parameters of their role. A legacy of misery and despair has been left – but its a case of job done and tough luck. Here are some of the things that can go wrong for us when we do raise concerns. Please feel free to add your own experiences.

  • By the time a complaint is made the damage is already done. We are talking about irreparable harm at a critical juncture in a child’s life. It could also be a parent or guardian who has been put at risk from the child – or a sibling.
  • Raising concerns means re-living the trauma/crisis. Its a huge burden on top of everything else we must deal with.
  • Complaints are not investigated for various reasons. This leaves the complainant having to absorb injustices and it erodes our confidence and trust in organisations and government.
  • Some organisations do not have a complaints process – Mott MacDonald who administer the ASF for example, used to have a seven stage complaints process – yes seven stages! Now they have nothing and the only way to get a local authority to put support in place is court action. Court action where one party has a bottomless purse and the other may not be able to access legal aid – unless children are being removed.
  • Complaints are investigated but the investigation may be partial and poor – its a case of looking the wrong way. Lack of knowledge and understanding can mean harm is done through an investigation that doesn’t factor in context factors. Investigators can appear callous and uncaring.
  • The opinions of professionals are beyond the remit of the complaints process leaving adopters and special guardians vulnerable to derision and character defamation on the basis of professional opinion.
  • Complainants can be depicted and described as  ‘difficult’, ‘disagreeable’. ‘litigious’ and ‘hostile’ – especially in adversarial court proceedings later on when the local authority is looking to scapegoat the help seeking parent/guardian.
  • Complaints processes might be used to conduct ‘covert’ safeguarding investigations – the senior managers charged with investigating complaints might, in our experience, feign ‘concern’ but use the complaints process to build a ‘safeguarding’ case against the parent/guardian to suggest that that they are mentally abusing their children. Children’s self harm can, rather conveniently, be attributed to parental/special guardian cruelty. School refusal is presented as a failure on the part of a parent/guardian to ‘control’ their children.
  • Double standards – Physical manhandling of parents/guardians/children by professionals is tolerated and there will be no change of social worker/professional- but we are investigated as criminals if we defend ourselves – or described as ‘aggressive/hostile’ if we complain – (see above). 
  • It can also be hard to make complaints under public law orders – they may not be investigated by local authorities who will try and argue that the matter was dealt with in court. We might be told it is the child who must complain – but the child is not in a fit mental state to complain and there can be fears of repercussions due to ‘learned helplessness’ resulting from early life trauma and neglect. Children’s vulnerabilities can so easily be taken advantage by organisations that are in ruth more concerned about scrutiny than children.
  • Organisations may lack sensitivity in the way that complaints are dealt with – particularly cultural sensitivity.
  • Issues of consent are problematic when our children are destabilised by care re-entry – and by the time they are able to complain the LGO times them out.
  • Organisations can close in on themselves protecting professionals not the child.
  • Partnership working’ between agencies such as the police and local authority can mean neither agency works in partnership with the parent or guardian.
  • If a complaint is upheld – the local authority doesn’t seem to care – multiple complaints are made, which impose a heavy burden on the complainant – but achieve nothing positive. Working relationships and trust deteriorate.
  • Social Work England cannot take action when senior managers are involved and they are not members of any regulatory professional body. Often with the closing of ranks within and between agencies it is extremely hard to hold one person to account – as many professionals are involved.

For adoption and special guardianship to be ethical social policies we do need to be able to raise concerns when we have not been treated fairly and harm has been done. We need to have these concerns taken seriously and investigated in a timely manner. More importantly, we do not want to have to make complaints all the time to get things done.


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