Trish Ross (NACCC’s Service Development Manager) writes… “One of my roles at NACCC is to deal with any complaints that come to us at Head Office. Sometimes this is because the complainant is unhappy about the way their complaint has been dealt with, sometimes they wrongly think that we manage all the child contact centres; others are angry, frustrated or upset for all sorts of reasons. I am often able to help parents talk through their concerns or I may need to explain the system, using the centre’s complaints procedures.”
When you consider the number of families using our centres, complaints are rare and the number where NACCC becomes involved is small. However we are getting more of them, not because standards in centres have fallen, but because the world is changing. Kevin Merrell, Customer Care Manager at the National Trust has observed, “In the modern world consumers have got certain expectations… People compare organisation with organisation. It doesn’t matter if you’re a commercial business or a charity; we’re all now on the same stage.”.
Frequent issues that have arisen…
“There’s no point in complaining to the centre. She’s a friend of the coordinator so she’s bound to take her side.”
Many complainants feel they will not get a fair hearing. NACCC consulted with its member centres in December 2015 regarding how they managed complaints and several recognised this problem. Various solutions were suggested:
- A ‘buddy’ system with another centre to investigate each other’s complaints, or a local network.
- An independent person identified – often a management committee member or a local professional with links to the centre.
- A final stage where a panel of committee members, with possibly an independent outsider, review the complaint.
- Paying an independent person to investigate – though most centres do not have the funds to do this.
The emotional context
“They say they are neutral, but I know they are on his side and believe what he tells them. They think I’m a bad mother and won’t listen to me.”
We are working with parents at a difficult time in their lives; they are often hurt, angry, distressed and vulnerable. They may be afraid that they may lose touch with their child or that their ex-partner will turn the child against them. They will often be sensitive and may take things personally or misinterpret comments.
Do listen to complaints, as soon as they arise, and acknowledge the person’s feelings. If they feel they are being taken seriously, they are less likely to escalate the complaint.
A swift response
“It’s been 6 weeks and I haven’t heard a word. My complaint just went in the bin, I’m sure.”
Never put a complaint in the ‘too hard’ tray! It is useful to have some timescales written in your complaints procedures, but in all cases, the sooner you respond to a complaint, the easier it will be to resolve it. People understandably get angry when they feel ignored. Often an early meeting and discussion can nip the problem in the bud and a way forward can be agreed.
If an incident needs to be investigated and a significant person cannot be interviewed for a few weeks, let the complainant know there will be a delay and why. The frustration comes when someone doesn’t know what is happening or assumes that nothing is being done.
Training – new module developed for members
Over the last year NACCC has developed a training module, ‘Managing complaints’, which has now been integrated into the training of centre co-ordinators.
This new training module has been developed in response to feedback from NACCC’s members. It has been designed for those with responsibility for managing or investigating complaints – for example, co-ordinators, team leaders, management committee members. Hopefully it will help develop an understanding of the complaints process and why people act as they do, as well as increasing skills and confidence in dealing with complaints when they arise. Member centres can download the training for free from the members area.
Policy and procedures
When you receive a complaint is not the time to find out that your policy or procedures are not fit for purpose – it is worthwhile to review them regularly and consider whether they can be improved.
Trish hopes that this information will be helpful to centres, saying “Don’t forget NACCC is here to support you, so do get in touch with me if you like to discuss any issues regarding complaints”.