Opting to apply our early resolution process is more than expedient. Quicker, less formal intervention may also help restore relationships. In the case of Children’s Services, there can be several stakeholders: children; parents; extended family; custodial parents; and Children’s Services itself.
A grandmother termed the treatment she received from the local Children’s Services office “insulting and unprofessional.” Her grandchildren had been apprehended from her daughter and son-in-law. While no-one, including the grandmother, questioned the reasons for the apprehension, the grandmother did object when the Children’s Service’s office imposed a restriction that her visits with the grandchildren be supervised. The grandmother also complained that she was having trouble communicating with the Children’s Services’ office.
Our investigator recognized this sort of ‘service complaint’ might be resolved by encouraging communication. She started by calling the office manager who explained from the Children’s Service’s point of view, the caseworkers wished to work with grandmother, but they had reasons for requiring supervised visits.
The office manager offered to explain to the grandmother why Children’s Services required supervised visits. After the grandmother spoke to the officer manager on the phone, she refused the meeting and wanted written reasons. While face-to-face meetings often restore trust, a request for written reasons was not unreasonable. The investigator encouraged the office manager to comply. The investigator didn’t raise these points with the office manager as they might have sounded coercive, but the investigator had a responsibility to advance the complaint. If the manager had not been willing to respond, the alternatives for the investigator would have been to contact a more senior official in Children’s Services to attempt resolution, or to ask the Ombudsman to open a formal investigation. A formal investigation could have taken months. It would have required a formal written response from the deputy minister, or deputy minister’s delegate. This would have resulted in Children’s Services asking for documents, probably followed by the investigator inspecting the Children’s Service’s files and questioning the Children’s Service’s staff.
The office manager wrote an honest, forthright letter. She said Children’s Services wanted to ensure the visits were positive for the children. Supervision was needed because Children’s Services wanted to avoid further negative comments about the home the children were staying in as well as Children’s Services itself. The manager said the supervisor during the visits would only be an observer and if a number of visits went well, the requirement for a supervisor could be dropped.
Before closing the Ombudsman’s case, the investigator reviewed where things stood with the grandmother in writing, followed by a phone call explaining the situation.
Our office often receives complaints from people experiencing grave personal circumstances. Pursuing the speediest resolution possible brings both the complainant and the organization responsible for the delivery of services together, working in a positive way.