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THE number of complaints made against social services in Cardiff saw a “notable rise” in the last three months of last year.

The children’s services department of Cardiff council received 48 complaints between October and December; a sharp increase from 12 between April and June, and 27 between July and September.

Most of the complaints were due to delays in providing services or a lack of communication. One council boss has suggested staff should be talking more to parents who complain.

Despite the recent increase in complaints, social services is expected to receive fewer complaints throughout the whole of the last financial year than the previous year, when 146 were received.

The number of complaints was detailed in a recently published report to the council’s corporate parenting advisory committee, which met on Tuesday, March 9. The report suggested the increase in complaints meant a “more engaged customer base”.

It said:

“While the increase in complaints during quarter three, and so far during quarter four, maybe a concern to some, we are moving away from the simplistic notion of an increase in the number of complaints representing a worsening service.

“On the contrary, we feel a growth in complaints is more indicative of an engaged customer base, who are more likely and more able to tell us when we are doing something well or poorly.”

The department also saw an increase in compliments: 54 between October and December, compared to 41 between July and September; and 30 between April and June.

The report found the main theme of complaints was people “feeling ignored”.

It said:

“Pressure from work can mean that communication is not always as robust as it could be, and this may be more about managing expectations about the level of contact that social workers can provide, rather than increasing communication.”

Deborah Driffield, assistant director of children’s services, suggested to the corporate parenting advisory committee that staff responding to complaints should talk to parents who complain, rather than just responding in writing.

She said:

“I have been looking at reviewing the way we respond to our stage one complaints. We get them in the written form, even if it’s a phone call. And then we do a written response back.

“I have been wondering recently, with parents feeling as you would — completely distraught by the situation they find themselves in — whether we should perhaps be spending just a little more time doing a verbal response, having a conversation with people.

“I’m not saying we don’t do that every time, but a lot of them are written responses. It has become a little process-driven.

“I was reflecting recently on whether we should have a conversation with staff about having that verbal communication with people, having a conversation — and listening, just giving them the opportunity and being able to listen.”

She added many of the complaints were made by parents who struggle to “come to terms” with the decisions made by social services about their children.

She further stated :

“It’s always quite a tricky subject because quite a considerable number of complaints are in relation to parents who are really, really finding it difficult to come to terms with some of the decisions that have been made.

“That gets expressed in a number of different ways. They don’t write a letter saying ‘I’m deeply traumatised by the decisions that have been made about my children’; they normally would complain about quite concrete things which they feel they can still be in control of.

“So sometimes it’s quite difficult to separate out what people really are aggrieved at and the process they’re going through. So a lot of [the complaints] are in relation to the process that parents find themselves in.”

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