Guide 4: Feedback and raising concerns


How can I let others know what I think?

This is the fourth guide in the Working together for kids series. Download Guide 4 – Feedback and raising concerns: How can I let others know what I think?


The purpose of this guide

The purpose of this guide is to provide you with information about how to provide feedback and raise a complaint regarding services provided by Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS), or one of its partners, in connection to your child in care.

Specifically, this guide will tell you about:

By providing this information we aim to help parents and family members understand how the child protection system works in the ACT so we can best work together for the benefit of children and families.
If you would like to speak to someone, please contact your case worker in the first instance or use the contacts provided.

This is the fourth guide in the ‘Working together for kids’ series. Please contact your case worker if you would like a copy of the other guides:

Thank you

The ‘Working together for kids’ guide series has been developed in partnership between CYPS and the Australian Red Cross Birth Family Advocacy Support Service. Acknowledgement also goes to the Family Inclusion Network ACT who was involved in the original Working together for kids book on which the guide series is based.

Children and young people

In reading this guide, the terms ‘child’ and ‘children’ also refer to ‘young person’ and ‘young people’.

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Contacts

Child and Youth Protection Services

ACT Together

Australian Red Cross Birth Family Advocacy Support Service

Legal Aid ACT

Public Advocate ACT

OneLink

Child and Family Centres

Feedback and complaints

Accessibility

The ACT Government is committed to making its information, services, events and venues, accessible to as many people as possible.

If you have difficulty reading this content and would like to receive this publication in an alternative format, such as large print or audio, please call (02) 6205 0282.

If English is not your first language and you require the translating and interpreting service, please call 131 450.

If you are deaf or hearing impaired and require the TTY typewriter service, please call 133 677 then ask for 133 427.

To access the ACT Interpreter Service for the deaf and blind, please call (02) 6287 4391.

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Commitment to service

Child and Youth Protection Services (CYPS) is part of the Community Services Directorate within the ACT Government, and upholds the Directorate’s commitment to quality services for all members of the Canberra community.

CYPS welcomes and values complaints and has a strong commitment to responding to and resolving complaints, understanding feedback helps contribute to the improvement of the services it delivers.

Speak up

Committed to continuous improvement, CYPS wants to hear about any aspect of the services it provides or the way it provides them. CYPS wants to hear if you think it:

Standards

In responding to your feedback, CYPS will follow the standards of:

Management

Case workers, Care Teams, dedicated complaints teams and when necessary external authorities are committed to hearing and resolving any concerns you may have with CYPS.

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Complaint or decision review?

CYPS, and its partner ACT Together, interact with many members of the ACT community to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the region’s children. This work can be stressful, difficult, confronting and challenging for everyone involved.

At times, dissatisfaction with the services provided does not require the formal complaints process to be initiated. Instead, such feedback can be better addressed through other avenues.

While all expressions of dissatisfaction are complaints, depending on the nature of your concern will determine what response from CYPS will occur.

Internal review of decisions

There may be times during your involvement with CYPS when you would like to have a decision that has affected you or your family reviewed by the area responsible for making it – this is a right you have. This could be because you do not understand why the decision was made or do not agree with it. A request to have a decision reviewed is not the same as a complaint.

To have a decision reviewed, your first step should be to understand the basis for the decision. To get this, contact your child’s case worker (either CYPS or ACT Together) and ask for a ‘Decision Making Statement’ regarding the decision you are questioning.

This statement will explain:

Once you have the statement, you can:

If you have met with your child’s case worker and are still unhappy with the decision, you can escalate your concern by seeking a Review of the Decision.

To be eligible to have a decision reviewed, you must be the person affected by the decision, or a person with a guardianship or parenting responsibility for the child about whom the decision was made. A simple disagreement with the decision on its own is not enough to trigger a review of that decision.

For a decision to be reviewed, it must be related to one or more of the following:

Examples of decisions that may be reviewed include:

To request a review of a decision, contact the CYPS Complaints Unit. They will be able to tell you if your concern meets the eligibility criteria and if so refer your request to the appropriate area within CYPS or ACT Together for the review to be conducted.

Legal review of decisions

Most decisions made by CYPS can be reviewed by the ACT Childrens Court.

As part of the annual review of your child’s Care and Protection Order (which CYPS is required by law to conduct every 12 months), you and any other original party to the order, can apply to the ACT Childrens Court to request the order be amended or revoked. For instance, you may want to change the contact arrangements for your child or argue the order is no longer needed as your circumstances have changed and there is no longer any risk to your child’s safety or wellbeing. Section 466 of the Children and Young People Act 2008 provides more details about this.

The Act states an application can only be made if you (or the person making the application) believe on reasonable grounds the amendment to the order is in the best interests of your child.

An application to amend or revoke an order can in special circumstances be made prior to the annual 12-month review. This can only happen if the ACT Childrens Court is satisfied there has been significant and sustained change in any relevant circumstances since the last review and order were made.

If you believe your circumstances have changed to the extent where your child’s best interests are no longer served by their current Care and Protection Order, you can make an application to the ACT Childrens Court either through seeking legal representation or representing yourself (if you intend to represent yourself please ask your case worker for a copy of the ‘Working together for kids’ guide, Representing yourself in court). However, as a first step, you are encouraged to discuss your views with your case worker. The easiest way to have an order amended or revoked is to work with CYPS towards achieving a situation where CYPS believes it is your child’s best interests to return to your care.

Similarly, each time CYPS makes an application in the ACT Childrens Court regarding your child (for example initiating Emergency Action or when applying for the Care and Protection Order) all CYPS affidavits filed in relation to the matter can be challenged by affidavits of other parties, the views of your child’s separate legal representative and also the views of the ACT Public Advocate.

Common concerns

Where your child is in care, you may not always agree with the decisions made by CYPS or ACT Together concerning your child’s care. What is important to understand, however, is that all decisions will be based on what is in your child’s best interests. Sometimes what is best for your child is not what you want to have happen.

Below are some common concerns you may experience if your child is in care and what you should do in each case.

You don’t like the case worker assigned to your child

Complaints about individual staff regarding how ‘likeable’ the person is or whether you would prefer a different case worker, are not alone sufficient grounds to request a new caseworker and such requests will not be considered. As with colleagues in a workplace, it is not important whether you like the people in your child’s Care Team. What is important is that everyone involved works together effectively to promote your child’s best interests.

If you are having difficulty working with your case worker, it is recommended you contact an advocacy service (such as the Australian Red Cross Birth Family Advocacy Support Service) to help you to manage the relationship as effectively as possible.

If, however, you have examples of behaviour by a staff member you believe demonstrates unprofessional, unethical or ill-informed conduct, then a complaint can be made through the complaints process. You will need to provide specific information about what the staff member said or did, and when, for your complaint to be properly investigated.

You are not happy with the frequency of contact

Contact frequency is usually determined by either the ACT Childrens Court (with a contact provision), or by a professional assessment conducted by your child’s case worker of what is in your child’s best interests. Changes to contact will only be made if it is believed the change is in your child’s best interests.

The best steps to take if you have a concern about the frequency of contact with your child are to discuss with your case worker:

If your case worker does not agree with you, you can:

It is important to also understand that sometimes specific contact arrangements are stipulated as part of a Care and Protection Order made by the ACT Childrens Court. In these instances, changes may only be made by applying to the Court to amend the existing order.

Contact arrangements are intended to reflect your child’s right to contact with the people who are important to them. It is not about a parent’s right or need. It is also important to balance your child’s right to normality on weekends and to have time for involvement in sporting activities, time with friends, attendance at birthday parties, time to relax, and to participate in their carer’s family events and activities.

You don’t like your child’s carer or placement

Decisions about your child’s care placement are based on a detailed assessment and checking process. This includes a criminal history check and a ‘Working with Vulnerable People’ check, followed by a comprehensive carer assessment process. Sections 64 and 65 of the Children and Young People Act 2008, also provide criteria that is used to help make decisions about who should care for your child.

When making this decision, consideration is given to many factors, including (but not limited to):

Once a carer is approved and your child is placed with them, your child’s case worker (either from CYPS or ACT Together) will visit regularly to monitor your child’s wellbeing and provide any necessary support. Your child’s views and wishes about their carer and placement, should be regularly sought and recorded by their case worker.

If you do not get on with, or like, your child’s carer, it is recommended you contact an advocacy service (such as the Australian Red Cross Birth Family Advocacy Support Service) to assist you in managing this important relationship. A positive relationship between you and your child’s carer is very important to your child’s wellbeing in care.

If your dissatisfaction is because the person you want to care for your child was refused based on their carer assessment (that is they did not meet the criteria to become an approved carer), you can have this decision externally reviewed by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (see External complaints handling processes). If the person was approved but not selected because another person was deemed more suitable, this decision can be reviewed internally. To request this speak to the relevant CYPS or ACT Together manager.

However, if you are concerned about the quality of care your child is receiving, or believe your child may be at risk of harm in their care placement, this is something you should always report to CYPS. You should make a Child Concern Report by calling 1300 556 729, using the online portal from the Community Services Directorate website or contacting the CYPS Intake Team on 6207 6956 and provide as much specific detail about your concerns as possible. CYPS will then respond to your Concern Report through its normal procedures.

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Complaints: what you can expect

During your involvement with CYPS (and ACT Together) you have the right to express your views about the services and decisions it provides concerning the care of your child.

What you can expect from CYPS

In making a complaint to CYPS, you can expect a process that involves:

CYPS will respond to complaints in line with their complaints handling and management process. This process states staff must:

Confidentiality of complaints

Your complaint will be dealt with in a confidential manner and discussed only with the people directly involved in managing and responding to it. As part of the investigation into your complaint, the details of your allegations may be discussed with the specific staff in line with natural justice principles.

Complaint coordination: CYPS and partners

When your child is in care, CYPS works in partnership with ACT Together – a key group of care agencies in the ACT that specialise in child and family support services. This means your child’s day to day care may be managed by CYPS or a member agency of ACT Together. When you make a complaint, it will be investigated and responded to by the agency with responsibility for the action or issue your complaint relates to.

In making your complaint to CYPS, if it needs to be referred to another agency the CYPS Complaints Unit will:

In referring complaints, a single point of contact has been created in each agency to ensure the effective coordination of your complaint. The contact points are:

Agency

Section

Phone

Email

CYPS

Complaints Unit Manager

6207 5294

ocyfs@act.gov.au

ACT Together

Office of the Executive Manager ACT

6228 9500

feedback@acttogether.org.au

Uniting

Head of Uniting Children and Families ACT

9268 3873

cfact@uniting.org

What is expected of you when making a complaint

When making a complaint you are asked to:

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How complaints are managed

CYPS uses a four-level complaints system to determine the most appropriate area to respond. This allows staff to determine the complexity, urgency and risks associated with a complaint in a consistent manner.

The specifics of your complaint will determine its level. The levels range from a concern or enquiry to level three complex complaints.

Concerns and enquiries

Concerns and enquiries are generally a one-off activity based on issues that can be settled quickly by frontline staff – for example your child’s case worker. Examples of possible concerns and enquiries include:

If you have a concern or enquiry, frontline staff will aim to resolve your issue as quickly as possible. Where possible, this will be done at the time you raise your issue with them, or if it cannot be resolved immediately CYPS may notify you once it has been addressed. Concerns and enquiries do not require a formal response be provided to you.

If you are not satisfied with the outcome of your issue at this point, or you want your issue to be treated as a complaint and receive a formal response, CYPS staff will escalate your issue to a level one complaint.

Level one: frontline staff and business areas

Level one complaints are reviewed and responded to within the business area the complaint relates to. The review will be conducted by a staff member identified by the relevant area’s manager or director.

CYPS encourages complaints to be resolved at the ‘local’ level – that is with your child’s case worker or their team leader (frontline staff). Decisions are best understood by those involved in making them, and issues and complaints can usually be resolved more quickly by dealing directly with your child’s Care Team members.

Complaints about unsatisfactory service, especially rudeness or delay, are often more appropriate, and should be able, to be resolved by frontline staff. This may be done by telephone or via a meeting with relevant CYPS or ACT Together staff.

A senior officer may meet with you to hear your side of the situation, and if appropriate offer a formal apology.

Your complaint is considered to be resolved when you and CYPS (or ACT Together) agree on an appropriate response or remedy. Remedies should be implemented as soon as possible. There may of course be occasions when you and the staff involved cannot reach an agreement.

If you are not satisfied by a response provided by your child’s case worker or their team leader, you should speak with the CYPS Complaints Unit and request your complaint be independently investigated or reviewed.

Level two: CYPS Complaints Unit

The CYPS Complaints Unit is responsible for handling level two complaints. These include complaints that have not been successfully resolved by the relevant frontline staff and business area, where the complaint is serious and/or complex and requires an independent investigation, or have been escalated through the level one process.

Typically, family members contact the Complaints Unit because they are dissatisfied with the service they received from CYPS or ACT Together, and want someone outside their child’s Care Team to look into their issues.

Examples of complaints raised with the Complaints Unit include where:

When managing a complaint, the Complaints Unit directly contacts the relevant CYPS or ACT Together team to investigate. Depending on the nature of the complaint it may be necessary for the Complaints Unit to contact either the relevant Team Leader or Operations Manager directly.

Children, parents and carers have a right to contact the Complaints Unit directly, and under these circumstances Complaints staff may interview them to better understand the situation and issues being raised. The Complaints Unit also has a specialised Carer Liaison Officer who may handle complaints from foster or kinship carers.

The CYPS Complaints Unit is independent of CYPS areas responsible for providing the frontline care services children, parents, carers and families interact with, and reports directly to the Executive Director.

Level three: Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit

Level three complaints are managed by the Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit – this unit is separate to CYPS.

The Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit provides an independent complaints resolution service relating to complex or persisting complaints, plus an internal complaint review function for the broader Community Services Directorate, which CYPS is a part.

If your complaint has not been resolved to your satisfaction through the level two process, is complex or involves allegations of staff misconduct, it will be referred to the Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit.

Your complaint may be referred to the Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit if:

Where relevant, the Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit will ask you to outline your complaint in writing and why you believe the CYPS Complaints Unit did not resolve it appropriately. Where you are unable to provide a written account, the Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit should act on the information provided verbally and assist you to write down your complaint. This may include face-to-face meetings, gathering information from relevant areas on your behalf and agreement on content and focus of ongoing work.

The Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit will then consider:

If the complaint raises complex and sensitive issues, the Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit may recommend a review be undertaken by an external agency (see External complaints handling processes).

The Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit is also responsible for coordinating complaints raised by external review bodies, such as the Human Rights Commission and Public Advocate, as well as complaints from external agencies and the Minister’s office. However, many of these complaints are also managed directly by CYPS Business Support.

Natural justice

In managing complaints, CYPS will apply the principles of natural justice. Natural justice (sometimes referred to as procedural fairness) means a person, including staff, who might be adversely affected by a decision or process must be given the opportunity of a fair hearing and to state their views on the matter in question before a decision is made.

Generally, this means three aspects need to be considered:

The following table shows how the natural justice principles relate to both decision-making and complaints handling.


Natural justice principles

Complaints

1. Fair hearing

Anyone making a complaint to CYPS is afforded the opportunity, and if needed, supported to do so.

All complaints are given genuine consideration.

2. Unbiased

The person responding to a complaint needs to be impartial, professional and unbiased in considering and investigating the complaint.

3. Notice

The outcome of the complaint needs to be communicated to you, the complainant. The response requires an outline of the reasoning in sufficient detail to allow you the opportunity and means by which to appeal to a higher authority.

Decision-Making

1. Notice

The person to be affected by the decision must be given a written notice which clearly outlines the critical issues and contains sufficient information to be able to allow that person to participate meaningfully in the decision-making process.

2. Fair hearing

The affected person is given a reasonable opportunity to ‘speak or respond’ and the decision maker genuinely considers the affected person’s submission in making the final decision.

3. Unbiased

The person making the decision must act impartially in considering the matter. Bias can be actual or ‘perceived’.

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Reviewing and responding to complaints

All complaints, regardless of level, will be responded to in a timely manner with respect, transparency and apply the principles of natural justice.

An effective response is achieved when everyone involved:

Acknowledgement and response times

When you make a complaint to CYPS, an acknowledgement will be provided to you verbally or in writing within two working days. At that time, you will be told who will look into (review) your complaint and when you can expect a formal response and outcome. The formal response will be provided to you within 20 working days. For level three complaints, a response will be provided within 30 calendar days.

If there is a delay in responding to your complaint, you will be told about this and asked for your agreement to extend the timeframe. This date will be negotiated with you. If agreement cannot be reached, your complaint can be escalated to the next level.

Review: investigation of claims

Reviews, or investigations, into the claims made in your complaint will be conducted in accordance with the ‘fairness principles of investigation’. These principles include:

The staff member responsible for reviewing your complaint will, as a first step, make an initial determination as to whether:

If all these conditions are met, the staff member will then fully analyse and respond to your complaint.

The review must also adhere to the principles of natural justice. It is important that both you and any staff member subject to your complaint are given every opportunity to fully comment on the circumstances of your complaint.

Outcome of review

Following the review of your complaint, the staff member responsible for the investigation will make a decision based on all the information provided. The final decision will be either:

Once the decision is made, you will receive a formal response, by mail or email, outlining:

Any staff member who is the subject of your complaint will also be provided with details regarding the response provided to you.

It may not always be possible to fully resolve your complaint to your satisfaction. This could happen if CYPS policies or regulations are contrary to your views, or if you have unrealistic expectations about the outcome for your complaint.

If your complaint remains unresolved after all avenues within CYPS and the Community Services Directorate have been taken, or if you are dissatisfied with the manner in which your complaint was handled, the Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit should inform you of options for review by an external agency, such as the ACT Human Rights Commission or ACT Ombudsman.

You can refer your complaint to one of the following external agencies at any time:

See External complaints handling processes for further information.

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External complaints handling processes

Like any other ACT Government agency, the Community Services Directorate (and therefore CYPS) is subject to the scrutiny of other Territory bodies. Sometimes it is more appropriate to refer a complaint (especially if it is serious and complex) to an agency such as the Human Rights Commission, Public Advocate, Privacy Commissioner or the ACT Ombudsman.

If this course of action would serve you better, the Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit, will let you know.

It may also be possible for your complaint to be heard by the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT). Applications to ACAT may be made in respect to reviewable decisions.

Reviewable decisions

Reviewable decisions are defined by Section 839 of the Children and Young People Act 2008. You can request these decisions be reviewed by making an application to ACAT.

In reviewing these decisions, ACAT will be guided by the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1989, which states government decision-makers have a legal responsibility to be accountable for decisions made and for the basis of their decision-making process.

Reviewable decisions include:

If you would like to progress an application to ACAT for a decision to be reviewed, you are encouraged to seek legal advice.

External oversight agencies

CYPS recognises people who use its services, plus their families and guardians, are free to make complaints directly to external oversight agencies, such as the Human Rights Commission, and supports their right to do so.

It is CYPS’ preference that you first try to resolve your complaint directly with the relevant area, and if needed the Community Services Directorate’s Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit before raising your concerns with an external oversight agency. However, you have the right to seek external assistance at any time.

The Public Advocate of the ACT

The Public Advocate of the ACT has broad functions and powers under the Human Rights Commission Act 2005, as well as the Children and Young People Act 2008 and criminal matters relating to youth justice.

The Public Advocate may undertake individual advocacy if requested by a child, believes a child is in need of care and protection or if requested to do so by a court or tribunal.

The Public Advocate may also be heard in a proceeding concerning a child, as permitted under the Court Procedures Act 2004. These proceedings may include care matters or youth justice matters.

The Human Rights Commissioner

The Human Rights Commission Act 2005 states a person may complain to the Human Rights Commission about a service for children if they have formed a view that the service is not being provided appropriately.

In responding to these complaints, the Commissioner is empowered under Section 865 of the Children and Young People Act 2008 as an ‘investigative entity’ to request documents and information that is both protected and sensitive.

The Human Rights Commission Act 2005 also provides the Commissioner with powers to obtain information or documents. Section 48 of the same Act also allows the Commission to consider a matter without a complaint (Commission initiated consideration) if the Commission is satisfied it is in the public interest to do so.

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How to make a complaint

If you would like to make a complaint or provide feedback to CYPS the following steps will help you bring your matter to their attention.

  • Raise your concerns early. This allows your concerns to be resolved as quickly as possible and to avoid issues becoming bigger and more complex.
  • Speak directly with your child’s case worker or Care Team to try and address your issue informally.
  • Provide as much information as possible to explain your concerns, and if possible, what outcome you are wanting.
  • If you would like a formal response, or are not satisfied with a response you have already received, contact the CYPS Complaints Unit and request your complaint be independently reviewed.
  • If you are still not happy with the response, escalate your complaint through one of the other avenues, for example the Quality, Complaints and Regulation Unit.
  • You can also make an anonymous complaint by contacting the CYPS Complaints Unit. In this situation however, you will not receive a response. It is also possible that your concerns will not be resolved if adequate information is not provided at the time you make the complaint to properly investigate your claims.

Who to contact

The following contacts can help you if you want to make a complaint or provide feedback.

  • CYPS: Complaints Unit, 6207 5294, ocyfs@act.gov.au
  • ACT Together: Office of the Executive Manager ACT, 6228 9500, feedback@acttogether.org.au
  • Uniting: Head of Uniting, 9268 3873, cfact@uniting.org
  • Community Services Directorate: Quality, Complaints and Regulation, 6205 0473

There following external agencies can provide some assistance in certain cases and types of complaints.

ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal (ACAT)

Handles a wide range of civil disputes, requests for review of administrative decisions and professional and occupational disciplinary matters.
Level 4, 1 Moore Street,
Canberra ACT 2601
P: (02) 6207 1740
E: tribunal@act.gov.au
W: www.acat.act.gov.au

ACT Human Rights Commission

Handles complaints of discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification (on the grounds of race, sexuality or HIV/AIDS status) or victimisation.
Level 4, 12 Moore Street,
Canberra ACT 2601
P: (02) 6205 2222
TTY: (02) 6205 1666
E: human.rights@act.gov.au
W: www.hrc.act.gov.au

Public Advocate of the ACT

Responsible for matters related to guardianship and advocacy, particularly in relation to the delivery of services on behalf of adults, children and young people who are unable to advocate for themselves.
Level 3, 12 Moore Street,
Canberra ACT 2601
P: (02) 6207 0707
E: pa@act.gov.au
W: www.publicadvocate.act.gov.au

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