Publication - Consultation analysis

Regulation of child contact centre services consultation: analysis

This report provides an analysis of the consultation responses to the consultation on the regulation of child contact centre services. This relates to the Children (Scotland) Act 2020.

Regulation of child contact centre services consultation: analysis
Complaints procedures

Complaints procedures

126. The consultation paper noted that one of the key aims of regulating child contact centres is to ensure there is a clear and consistent complaints mechanism that is accessible and child-friendly; and outlined the processes that would be followed whenever specific complaints are made. This part of the consultation sought views on:

  • Complaints about a child contact centre service.
  • Complaints about the body appointed to oversee child contact centre regulation.

Complaints about a child contact centre service

127. Service users would be encouraged to contact the child contact centre provider if they had any concerns about the service provided; if this does not resolve the issue they could then raise a formal complaint with the provider; if this still does not resolve the issue, then a complaint could be raised with the regulator. If the Care Inspectorate is appointed as the body to oversee child regulation, they would be responsible for dealing with complaints, and in the event that the service user is still unhappy about the way in which the Care Inspectorate handled their complaint, they could ask the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman to investigate this. Any complaints about a specific member of staff or volunteer would be dealt with under the child contact centre provider’s own complaints process.

128. Question 15 asked:

Q15: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for raising complaints against a child contact service?’

129. As shown in table 15, a very large majority of respondents agreed with the proposed complaints process (45 agreed and only 4 disagreed).

Table 15: Q15: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for raising complaints against a child contact service?
Number
Agree Disagree Not answered
Child contact service (5) 5 - -
Legal (3) 2 - 1
Local authority (4) 4 - -
Regulator (2) 1 - 1
Representative body (2) 1 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (11) 4 2 5
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (28) 18 (64%) 2 (7%) 8 (29%)
Individual (31) 27 (87%) 2 (6%) 2 (6%)
Total respondents (59) 45 (76%) 4 (7%) 10 (17%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

130. 27 respondents went on to comment about their answer. Many of those who agreed reiterated and reinforced a variety of provisos about the process.

131. A significant minority signalled general approval of the process, saying it was fair, proportionate and enabled the escalation of concerns while allowing the contact centre in question to try to resolve any issues first. A couple of respondents also concurred that the complaints process fell into line with those used for charities, and those normally assessed by the Care Inspectorate. A regulator commented:

“If the Care Inspectorate does become the regulator of child contact centres we would expect the terms of the current MOU (Memorandum of Understanding with the regulator) could still apply. However we would consult with the Care Inspectorate to revisit its terms in light of the new responsibilities they are likely to gain through the incoming regulations. Similarly, if another body is chosen to become the regulator we would welcome discussions to establish a joint working practice.”

132. Similar numbers indicated that the complaints system must be clear, simple, accessible to all and transparent. Slightly smaller numbers of respondents urged complaints to be investigated and resolved quickly, with a suggestion that complainers should be given a firm date for a complaint response.

133. Comments about the necessity for the system to be child-friendly were also made by significant numbers of respondents. Suggestions were made that children should be involved in the design of the process, that this would help support the realisation of children’s rights under UNCRC, and that it was important for children to know how to express their concerns, with a suggestion that this could be via drawings or emails as well as by speaking to an adult.

134. Other caveats expressed by slightly smaller numbers of respondents who predominately agreed with the proposed process overall included that the process must be rigorous with robust internal procedures in terms of record keeping, regulation and monitoring. Respondents suggested instigating peer reviews and submitting statistical reports to the registering body about the number of complaints received and how many have been resolved. There was also reference to the need for complaints to be treated with respect and sensitivity and be taken seriously, although there were concerns about levels of vexatious or reactionary complaints (e.g. spin-offs from high conflict parental disputes). There was also reference to the need for staff to have sufficient training (particularly Care Inspectorate staff who are likely to require training in domestic abuse situations and trauma-informed training).

135. A few third sector / advocacy groups and individuals cited poor experiences with the complaints process, stating that complainers weren’t listened to and were written about adversely in reports. A point was made about how complainers must be protected from recriminations as a result of making a complaint. The process was also perceived as being a harrowing experience for children.

136. Among the few respondents either disagreeing with the proposed process or stating ‘don’t know’, were suggestions that it was cumbersome, suggesting that a system involving advocacy or third party involvement may help remedy the issues prior to going to a formal stage of complaint. A couple of third sector / advocacy respondents suggested that the Care Inspectorate may not be the most appropriate body to handle complaints after the complainer has exhausted the complaints process at the child contact centre. Relationships Scotland or another umbrella body were perceived as alternatives. It was also suggested that complaint handling needed independent members (i.e. other than staff) to adjudicate.

137. Single respondents recommended that contact centres should not have a right to appeal a decision, and that the regulations could set out clearer requirements for complaints processes within contact centres.

138. Question 16 then went onto ask:

Q16: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for raising complaints against individual members of staff and volunteers?’

139. As shown in table 16, a very large majority agreed with the proposal overall (42 agreed and only 5 disagreed); however, the views of third sector / advocacy organisations were evenly split.

Table 16: Q16: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for raising complaints against individual members of staff and volunteers?
Number
Agree Disagree Not answered
Child contact service (5) 5 - -
Legal (3) 2 - 1
Local authority (4) 4 - -
Regulator (2) - - 2
Representative body (2) 1 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (11) 3 3 5
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (28) 16 (57%) 3 (11%) 9 (32%)
Individual (31) 26 (84%) 2 (6%) 3 (10%)
Total respondents (59) 42 (71%) 5 (8%) 12 (20%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

140. 23 respondents made comments about their response and half of these expressed general approval of the process. Remarks noted the system as being appropriate, proportionate and rightly being the responsibility of the child contact service provider. A small number of organisations noted that the process fell into line with their own internal complaints process.

141. However, a significant minority of respondents, being a mix of those who agreed overall with the proposed process and those who did not, cited concerns in scenarios where it proved not possible to resolve a complaint through the child contact service provider. It was inferred that a process for escalating complaints would be required: the regulatory or registering body was suggested by a few respondents as the organisation for further referral, with a third sector / advocacy organisation recommending the SSSC (if staff and volunteers are SSSC registered) so that the regulatory body (e.g. Care Inspectorate) need not have this extra workload. Another third sector / advocacy organisation wished to see more effort to resolve complaints at a pre-formal stage.

142. A number of caveats were expressed by respondents who agreed with the proposed process, many of which reflected responses at the previous question. These noted they had no issues with the system as long as:

  • It is clear, simple and accessible to all.
  • The member of staff concerned has previously undergone any required training to ensure minimum working standards, and also that it is ensured that minimum standards in complaint handling are met.
  • It is clear who the complainer needs to contact (e.g. the manager within the service) and how to complete the process.
  • The system or process is child-friendly.
  • The complainer is protected from recriminations as a result of making a complaint.
  • The internal procedures of the provider are rigorous and robust (e.g. written records are made and kept).

143. A small number of other issues and opinions were also mentioned as follows:

  • Some contact centres exist in small communities and the impact of local relationships may need to be considered when dealing with situations (e.g. it may be difficult to maintain impartiality when handling complaints).
  • Doubts as to whether there is sufficient protection for women, children and young people who have experienced domestic abuse in the process.
  • In this context there is a need to take note of the significant role played by volunteers at child contact centres.

144. Question 17 then asked:

Q17: ‘Do you have any suggestions on how guidance on complaints procedures should be made accessible to children using child contact centre services?’

145. 34 respondents made comments at this question. A significant minority simply agreed in general terms that guidance on complaints procedures should be accessible to children, with several of these respondents urging research into other bodies perceived as having accessible complaints procedures for children (e.g. local authorities, the Care Inspectorate) to get evidence as to the best way to go about it.

146. Reiterating a theme from earlier questions, a large minority of respondents thought children needed to be an integral part of contact service centre processes generally, with the positive result of making complaints less likely in the first place as well as lessening unreasonable parental influence on complaint bringing. An individual noted:

“The potential for a manipulated child to be convinced to make a complaint against a centre in order to disrupt contact is very high.”

147. Similar numbers of respondents perceived that guidance on complaints procedures should be child-friendly, easy to understand and written in plain language; it was purported that this would have the added benefit of making it more accessible to adults (who may be supporting children in taking an action) as well as children.

148. Respondents – again a large minority – pinpointed a need for guidance to be age-dependent, given the different understanding capacities of different age groups, as well as those with additional needs or learning disabilities.

149. A wide variety of guidance information formats and tools were recommended to facilitate child accessibility. Many of these respondents desired guidance to be online (e.g. via apps or websites), though a third sector / advocacy organisation warned it was wrong to assume that all children have online access or use the internet in the same way as adults. Guidance should go through the complaints process and direct children to who they needed to speak to regarding a complaint; there was also a suggestion of using practice examples. The media and tools suggested, each by a few respondents, were as follows:

  • Cartoons or animated videos.
  • Easy Read (for those with learning disabilities).
  • Written information for older children.
  • Hard copy guides / leaflets / booklets / posters or information packs (e.g. provided at the outset of service provision).
  • A helpline.
  • Use of appropriate pictures, flowcharts, colours, visuals and language.
  • Forms and questionnaires (with capacity for smaller children to use stickers to answer).

150. There were also some suggestions that guidance should be co-created with children, perhaps in partnership with specialist services who provide support to children and young people.

151. Several respondents urged information concerning the complaints process to be conveyed via adults they can trust (e.g. professionals, trained staff, those from advocacy services or teachers); likewise, these types of individuals should be used to help convey the complaint.

152. Finally a small number of respondents reinforced the importance of children’s security and confidentiality in accessing guidance procedures.

Complaints by a child contact centre provider

153. The consultation paper noted that a child contact centre provider may wish to complain about the regulatory body and set out the proposed process that would be followed. Ultimately, if a child contact centre provider is unhappy with the decision of a regulatory body, the 2020 Act makes provision for appeal rights to be included in the regulations. Question 18 asked:

Q18: ‘Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for a child contact centre raising complaints against the regulatory body?’

154. As shown in table 17, respondents showed overwhelming support for the proposed process for a child contact centre raising complaints against the regulatory body. Only 16 respondents went on to comment about why they selected their answer.

Table 17: Q18: Do you agree / disagree with the proposed process for a child contact centre raising complaints against the regulatory body?
Number
Agree Disagree Not answered
Child contact service (5) 4 - 1
Legal (3) 2 - 1
Local authority (4) 4 - -
Regulator (2) - - 2
Representative body (2) - - 2
Third sector / advocacy (11) 4 2 5
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (28) 15 (54%) 2 (7%) 11 (39%)
Individual (31) 22 (71%) 1 (3%) 8 (26%)
Total respondents (59) 37 (63%) 3 (5%) 19 (32%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

155. Almost all of those who supported the proposed process went on to reiterate their agreement in general terms, stating that the process was clear and in line with what would be expected for public bodies. Other comments cited agreement that child contact centres should have the right to make complaints and appeal where necessary and that the process seems fair and robust; a legal organisation agreed that the regulatory body should be given an opportunity to address any complaints in the first instance, with involvement of external sources only as a last resort.

156. Among the very few respondents who did not support the proposals, there was a desire to see more remedies and solution-finding prior to formal complaint routes. Two respondents had queries as to whether the Care Inspectorate will be the regulatory body, suggesting that if not, there would be a need for a higher level body to consider complaints. A representative body stated that where court-based or judicial authority is required, the legal parameters, ethics and efficiency of the system instituted should be consistent with that of other regulated care services.

157. Finally, in this section of the consultation paper, question 19 asked:

Q19: ‘Should the right to appeal by a child contact centre of a decision made by the regulatory body be to the sheriff court?’

158. As shown in table 18, a large majority of respondents who expressed an opinion were in favour of the right to appeal by a child contact centre being to the sheriff court.

Table 18: Q19: Should the right to appeal by a child contact centre of a decision made by the regulatory body be to the sheriff court?
Number
Yes No Not answered
Child contact service (5) 3 2 -
Legal (3) 1 1 1
Local authority (4) 2 1 1
Regulator (2) - - 2
Representative body (2) 1 - 1
Third sector / advocacy (11) 2 1 8
Other (1) 1 - -
Total organisations (28) 10 (36%) 5 (18%) 13 (46%)
Individual (31) 17 (55%) 3 (10%) 11 (35%)
Total respondents (59) 27 (46%) 8 (14%) 24 (41%)

(Percentages might not add to 100% because of rounding)

159. A total of 23 respondents gave reasons for selecting their answer.

160. Among those answering ‘Yes’, a majority cited general agreement with appealing to the sheriff court, saying that a court setting was proportionate and may be necessary if no rectification could be found through measures used in other settings. A few respondents said this route was suitable as there was much at stake with major consequences for families and children. Small numbers of respondents made the following supportive points:

  • The sheriff court will give an authoritative judgement (as it knows the rights and requirements of contact centres).
  • The sheriff court is independent of all parties and therefore impartial.
  • The sheriff court is open and transparent.

161. Among those who answered ‘No’ or ‘Don’t know’, the following issues were raised in very small numbers:

  • The costs of appealing to a sheriff court may have an impact on contact centre services (especially those of voluntary organisations).
  • The court system is already congested and overloaded.
  • There may a conflict of interest in situations where the reason a child is visiting a contact centre is via an order granted by the sheriff court.

162. A very few respondents also cited the following views:

  • A desire to see more arbitration and solution finding prior to formal complaint routes.
  • The Scottish Government, as the funder of the regulatory body, should take some responsibility for its standards and conduct.
  • State companies (or private ones working on their behalf) should not have a right of appeal.
  • Referral may depend on the nature of the decision or appeal (e.g. it would be helpful to clarify whether the appeal would be restricted to a point of law or whether it is permissible to examine the facts of the decision).
  • The high up level of appeal is in line with Care Inspectorate regulations.

Contact

Email: family.law@gov.scot