OFFICERS at Northumberland County Council have played down figures that show the number of complaints against the children’s services department increasing.

There were 71 complaints across 2022/23, compared to just 36 in the previous 12 months. However, it was pointed out that very few of the complaints were fully upheld.

A report presented to members of the council’s Family and Children’s Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Thursday (March 7) showed that just eight complaints were upheld – this is where all elements of the complaint are proven and fault is found.

A further 31 were partially upheld, which is where certain elements are proven, while 24 were not upheld – in other words, no fault was found. Committee members were told that when complaints are either upheld or partially upheld, officers look at whether corrective action is needed and what lessons need to be learned.

Speaking at the meeting, complaints manager for children and education Karen Willis added that the council was “more open” to receiving feedback on its services. She continued: “It does look like we have had a big increase in the number of complaints, but that is not necessarily a bad thing.”

Service users were also said to be more aware of their rights and what should be expected of the council.

Of the 71 complaints, 20 were with regards to communication and information from the council. This was picked up by councillors who said more needed to be done to improve this.

Cllr Mark Swinburn said: “I know from being a customer and a member, one of the really frustrating things is a lack of communication. It is really frustrating when you send something in and you never hear anything again.

“It is really key to get back in touch, even if it is just to say you don’t have an update so at least the person knows that they are still important.”

On a positive note, the council also received 96 compliments for children’s services from a range of stakeholders, including court judges.

One compliment provided as an example said that council staff had changed one mum’s life and made her feel “empowered to be me and be a mam”.

Cllr Swinburn added: “I’m really pleased you have got compliments in there. To see that in here is a massive bonus.”