Children and young people face multiple barriers to complaints systems in mental health and sexual health services
12 July 2012
This is one of the many concerns highlighted by children and young people in the Office of the Children's Commissioner's report "It takes a lot of courage". The report by Cernis, commissioned by the OCC, follows months of research, focus groups with children and young people and in-depth interviews with key health stakeholders such as GPs, Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and the Patient Advice and Liaison Services (PALS).
The title of the report itself was taken from a young person's feedback describing the difficulties faced making a complaint in the health system. The report found that some children and young people want to make complaints about vital mental health or sexual health services but are unable to.
The research found the barriers to children and young people making a complaint include:
- Complaints systems being too complicated, taking too long, relying too much on written skills and being overly formal,
- Staff in mental health, sexual health and GP services are not trained to receive and act on complaints made by children and young people,
- These staff often regard complaints as negative rather than something to learn from,
- Complaints are not always treated in confidence and sometimes young people are labelled as troublemakers,
- Children and young people are generally unaware of advocacy and its availability is patchy.
A number of recommendations are made in the report to address these concerns. At a time of major change in the health service it is crucial the receivers of the service are able to give their feedback. Good practice examples are highlighted in the report to show how a responsive service is possible and accessible complaints systems can markedly improve services.
Maggie Atkinson, Children's Commissioner for England said "As Children's Commissioner I have a statutory duty to consider the operation of complaints procedures for children and young people. The research my office commissioned has identified worrying findings. Many children do not know how to voice their concerns nor do they have faith in the current complaints process. Some are worried about losing access to those services if they do make a complaint. The report includes recommendations to the sector on how we can ensure children and young people can access child-friendly complaints processes. This will not only aid children through the process but services can also develop and improve when gaining this feedback."
Two young people told the researchers:
"They look at you, they make assumptions about you, it's the whole stereotype because of your age."
"I'd worry that they would give me bad service if I complain."
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