The right to complain

Relatively few children and young people make complaints but does that mean that they are happy with all aspects of their care or life?  A lack of complaints does not mean there are no grievances – more likely, they find it difficult to negotiate the process of making a complaint.

The Office’s Youth Advisors and the Charter Implementation Committee contributed their experiences to this article to better understand the barriers to making a complaint and how they can be reduced.

Organisations that provide services should provide an internal complaints process for young people as well as supporting them if they need to access  an external complaints service.  Organisations have an obligation to protect each young personÕs safety and wellbeing from the start to the finish of their complaint.  Young people who are having ongoing contact with professionals or services involved in their complaint may be particularly vulnerable during a complaints process.

Children and young people frequently will not understand that they can make a complaint, what they can complain about or who to speak to.  A first priority when providing any service is to make sure that the young person knows that the right to complain is an integral part of receiving that service.  They should know how, by letter, email, phone or face-to-face, and who to complain to.

Once the complaint has been made it is important to find out what the young person wants to result from it and how they would like it to proceed and to manage the complaints process accordingly.

Young people will gain confidence in the process when they see confident and accountable decision making. Once started, they should be told exactly how the complaints process will progress.  It should move forward without unnecessary delay and the young person should be provided with regular updates along the way.

Young people will come to the complaints process with a wide range of cultural backgrounds, literacy levels and physical and intellectual competencies.  It is up to the service provider to provide for their differing needs and abilities which might involve arranging access to an advocate or support people with special skills, arranging suitable times and places to meet and making the communications appropriate in form and content.

One of the greatest barriers to initiating and following through with a complaint are the feelings of disloyalty or guilt that the young person might feel in complaining about a worker or service provider.  Help from support persons or professionals may allow them to understand the situation and the feelings they are experiencing and to negotiate the process more comfortably and with important relationships still intact.

The Charter of Rights for Children and Young People in Care states that children and young people should know who to go to if they have a problem or want to complain about something.  Children and young people in the care or custody of the Minister will be involved with many services and professionals throughout their time in care and this high level of contact makes it likely that at some stage, they may wish to voice a concern or make a complaint.

If your organisation has a successful, innovative complaints process that is accessed by children and young people, please email Belinda. The Office would like to hear from you!

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