Complaints in the family courts and beyond

This blog discusses key issues in the complaints processes of our public services, including how to complain.

September 20, 2023

The following information has been compiled by members of SHERA and multiple experts by experience. The flowchart has been developed with all this information by our partner 'Out of his control'. Multiple victim-survivors have raised to us repeatedly, that when they seek to make a complaint about a public service such as a local authority or CAFCASS - Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, they experience a circular process.

It is important to note that we do also hear positive comments about local authorities and Cafcass and other organisations. We have papers underway, which will detail examples of best practice.

In addition to the below flow chart, examples include the following:

I told the Cafcass officer he had made a mistake, that the section 7 report stated a drug test was not necessary, but the previous judge had ordered one. I raised a formal complaint, which Cafcass investigated internally. They replied to me to say that this was something I needed to raise at the next hearing. I raised it at the next hearing and the judge told me it was something I needed to raise with Cafcass. I felt so confused and alone and like nobody was listening to me. My ex-husband never did do a drug test, which goes against what the first judge had ordered. So I raised it with the PHSO and they told me I needed to raise it with Cafcass and in court. I don't understand what the purpose of the complaints system is. The whole sorry process took over a year and on top of work, being a mum and managing the court hearings. I am exhausted just trying to protect my child by getting people to actually follow court orders.
Expert by Experience.

This blog is not to discourage people from making a complaint, as complaints are necessary for people and organisations to learn and if a person wishes to pursue legal action against an organisation, they often need to have exhausted the complaints process first.

It is important that people understand though that the complaints process can be exhausting and often futile.

We have also repeatedly heard the following:

I regret making the complaint. From that day forward they treated me with disdain. Every document written about me was full of lies. It's like they hated me and were punishing me for daring to raise a complaint. They accused me of 'parental alienation' and they took my child from me and I believe it is because I complained.
Expert by experience.

To make a complaint about Cafcass, the information is here.

To complain about Cafcass, your local authority or other organisation please see this website developed by Natasha Phillips at the 'Children and Families Truth Commission'. The website provides detailed guides on how to make a complaint and other useful information, such as making a subject access request (SAR) from an organisation. A SAR is where individuals have the right to access and receive a copy of their personal data, and other supplementary information that an organisation holds about them. This is commonly referred to as a subject access request or ‘SAR’. Individuals can make SARs verbally or in writing, including via social media. A third party can also make a SAR on behalf of another person. In most circumstances, organisations cannot charge a fee to deal with a request.

The following flow chart has been created by 'out of his control':

Flow chart of complaints processes and experiences created by 'Out of his control', 2023.

As can be seen in the flowchart, most complaints are dealt with internally by the organisations who are being complained about. External agencies, who can be complained to after this internal process, such as the PHSO, often have strict timescales. This means if the organisation being complained about take too long to answer, which is often the case, the PHSO will then refuse to investigate the complaint.

We believe that the current complaints processes in many organisations are not fit for purpose and require complete overhaul.

One of our SHERA campaign goals, is to urge government to establish an independent regulator for the family court, who would be responsible for managing complaints. You can read more about our campaign goals here.

Share your story with us and/or find out about membership today!

We welcome input from a wide field of expertise including experts by experience victim-survivors. Get in touch if you would like to contribute.