By Angela Owens
Family day care schemes may need to manage a complaint raised by families, children, carers or carers’
families. The issues can range from being a minor concern to a major problem. Dealing with a complaint
about your scheme can be a difficult experience. However, effective complaints handling procedures can help
to resolve issues promptly and turn the situation into an opportunity to improve practice.
Why do complaints occur?
is important for schemes to ensure that change
Complaints are often triggered by poor
processes are transparent and clearly explained,
communication or lack of information sharing
and to be prepared to respond constructively to
between stakeholders, who include children,
families, carers and their families, coordination
It is beneficial to encourage a culture of open and
unit staff and service management. They can
positive communication between stakeholders.
arise when people feel that their ideas and
Maintaining an awareness of stakeholders’
perspectives are not sought or valued by the
thoughts, needs and ideas on a daily basis
scheme. Schemes can reduce these types of
allows schemes to become aware of potential
complaints by ensuring that all stakeholders
concerns before they turn into formal grievances
receive clear information about the scheme,
or complaints. Using effective communication
including its policies and procedures, and specific
strategies can help schemes to reduce the
activities such as children’s excursions or social
number of complaints that may arise due to
functions. It is also important to give stakeholders
misunderstandings of scheme practice or anxiety
genuine and consistent opportunities to provide
feedback and to raise issues about scheme
Developing a complaints handling policy
Complaints often occur during periods of change,
The most effective strategy for managing
for example, when a scheme is undergoing a
complaints is to have a current policy and
change of management or is implementing
procedures that have been developed or
new procedures. This is because people can
reviewed in consultation with stakeholders.
experience fear, anxiety and stress in response to
Stakeholders should be aware of and able to
change, particularly when they are faced with an
access the scheme’s policy and procedures. It
‘unknown quantity’ such as new management or
is a Satisfactory requirement of Family Day Care
new procedures. Negative reaction to change
Quality Assurance that services have documented
often occurs when people have different views
complaints handling policies and procedures.
or when they fear they will be unable to cope. It
The source(s) of the information used to develop
the complaints handling policy should be
clearly written in the policy, and the date it was
developed or reviewed.
While each scheme needs to develop
procedures that reflect their specific needs and
circumstances, all effective complaints handling
• Strategies to deal with the issue quickly and
• Encouragement to raise concerns directly
with the relevant party wherever possible. For
example, many concerns can be raised directly
with and managed by the carer or coordination
unit staff member involved. To avoid over
complicating the process, it is always preferable
to resolve the issue as close to the source as
FDCQA - Factsheet # 20
• A clear outline of the steps that will be followed
Just as for the scheme’s complaints handling
at each stage of managing the complaint.
procedures for adults, it is important that children
are provided with clear information about who to
• Procedures for maintaining confidentiality.
raise concerns with and what will happen when
• Processes for documenting discussions between
they do this. Children may wish to nominate a
the complainant and the scheme.
peer representative who they can speak with
about their concerns or feedback. It is also helpful
• Information about how a complainant can
to provide avenues for children to raise their
contact and raise their concerns with scheme
concerns anonymously, for example, through a
management if they need to.
suggestion box or a confidential complaint form.
• Procedures for keeping the complainant
Play sessions and home visits may also be used
informed of the progress of the complaint.
to provide children with opportunities to provide
• Methods for recording and evaluating the
feedback and to raise issues or concerns with
progress of the complaint.
coordination unit staff.
• A process for evaluating the outcomes of the
Carers and staff need to ensure that children
complaint and for providing recommendations
are provided with frequent opportunities to
for future policy or practice at the scheme.
discuss what they should do if they are upset or
• Information about the right of carer’s and
have concerns. Children should be made to feel
coordination unit staff to seek assistance from a
that the issues they have are considered to be
support person when responding to a complaint
important and will be taken seriously. Encouraging
about them, for example, an interpreter.
children to reflect upon what they don’t like or
don’t agree with in the scheme will help them to
• Details of external agencies for a complainant to decide if they have any issues to raise.
contact if they feel the scheme has not resolved
their concerns. These contacts might include
Working with children to develop complaints
the relevant licensing authority or the National
procedures, and discussing these regularly,
Childcare Accreditation Council (NCAC).
provides carers and staff with great opportunities
to talk about and role model positive negotiation
Carers and coordination unit staff should be
and problem solving skills with children.
informed about any complaints made about
them, and be given the opportunity to respond.
How can stakeholders be informed
about the scheme’s complaints handling
It is also a good idea to include information in
the scheme’s complaints handling procedures
about what is appropriate and acceptable
Stakeholders need to feel confident that any
conduct when concerns are being raised
concerns they may raise with the scheme will
and responded to. A person who is making a
be handled promptly and professionally. This is
complaint may be very angry about the issue, or
supported when they understand the complaints
the recipient of the complaint may be upset by
handling process, and know who they can speak
the concerns being raised. However, it is important to about their concerns.
that all stakeholders are aware that any type of
It is therefore important that all stakeholders are
unfair treatment, bias, aggressive behaviour or
aware of the scheme’s complaints handling
harassment is unacceptable.
procedures and can easily access this information.
How can complaints handling procedures
Complaints handling policies and procedures
be developed for children?
need to be included in the scheme’s handbooks
for families, carers and coordination unit staff.
Where schemes provide care for older children,
This information can also be included in the
and in particular school aged children, it is
scheme’s enrolment and orientation processes for
important that children have opportunities
families and children, as well as in the orientation
to voice their concerns, and for these to be
packages for carers and coordination unit staff.
acknowledged, respected and acted upon.
Handling complaints can be made unnecessarily
To develop procedures that reflect the group’s
difficult when individuals feel anxious or unsure
needs, carers and coordination unit staff can
about raising their concerns. People in this
work in partnership with children to develop
situation may put off raising their concerns until
processes that are suitable to them. As the
these have become far more troubling or complex
children in the group will change over time, it
than they were originally. It is in the best interests
is important to revisit the children’s complaints
of all stakeholders for the scheme to ensure that
handling procedures regularly and to ensure that
its complaints handling procedures are simple,
all children are aware of these.
transparent and easy to access.
Approaching complaints positively
Both parties often experience strong emotions
during the process of raising and responding to
complaints. A person receiving a complaint about
themselves or the scheme may feel resentful,
unappreciated or misunderstood. A complainant,
Children can be encouraged to participate in:
however, may feel nervous or apprehensive about
• Discussions about nutrition
raising their concern, or feel angry or upset about
the issue itself. Sometimes concerns are raised due
• Menu planning and preparing food
to circumstances that are outside the control of
• Preparing and cleaning up meals
the scheme, for example personal issues such as
• Developing service policies and procedures that
illness, grief, depression or family breakdown.
affect their nutrition
Effective complaints handling techniques
and procedures encourage each party to
empathise with the other’s perspective. It is
helpful to promote a positive approach through
which complaints or grievances are seen as an
opportunity to improve practices and relationships
at the service.
How can coordination unit staff support
carers to handle complaints effectively?
To understand a complainant’s perspective:
Carers can often experience a sense of isolation
• Allow the person to talk through their concerns
and anxiety when a complaint about their
practice is raised because they may not have
• Attempt to diffuse emotions by acknowledging
another professional immediately available to
what they are feeling, and state positively that
offer advice and support. Coordination unit staff
you wish to seek a solution to the issue that is
can support carers to effectively manage and
causing their concern.
respond to complaints by:
• Ask questions to help identify or clarify their
• ensuring that carers are familiar with and able
concerns. For example, the statement ‘I never
to access the scheme’s complaints handling
know what is happening with my child’ may
be further clarified by asking questions such as
• using home visits and playgroup sessions to talk
‘What things would you like our scheme to share
with carers about any concerns that have been
with you about your child?’
raised either with the carer or about the carer;
• Ask the complainant if they have any strategies
• encouraging carers to approach complaints
or solutions that they feel the scheme could put
positively by viewing them as opportunities to
in place to resolve their issues.
understand the needs and attitudes of children
Ensuring that they have transparent, practical
and families and to improve practice;
and effective complaints handling procedures in
• modelling a constructive and professional
place will support schemes to manage issues in
approach to responding to any complaints
ways that will benefit all stakeholders. It is essential
raised by carers or families
that families, carers and staff are familiar with the
scheme’s complaints handling processes and
• informing families about the scheme’s
that they have opportunities to contribute to the
complaints handling procedures, and reiterating
development and review of these.
the importance of raising any concerns they
may have appropriately and respectfully with
Children, families, carers and staff will appreciate
carers and staff;
a proactive approach to complaints handling
where a scheme demonstrates a desire to be
• giving carers opportunities to extend their
informed of concerns so that these can be
interpersonal and conflict management skills
promptly addressed and scheme practice
through professional development; and
• providing carers with contact details to access
a coordination unit representative at all times,
including during times when care is provided
outside of coordination unit hours.
The following strategies can support a
Tips for carers raising concerns with
positive approach to resolving complaints
coordination unit staff
• Actively listen to the complainant, and
Carers often feel hesitant about raising a concern
ask questions to clarify or improve your
with their coordination unit. However, this can
understanding of the issues.
be approached by both carers and staff as an
• Avoid responding immediately and defensively
opportunity to work collaboratively to improve a
to the concerns raised. If the issues are complex,
situation or practice in the scheme. To promote
or there are a number of matters being raised
the best possible outcomes for both parties,
at once, it may be beneficial to take notes or
carers may find it helpful to consider the following
to ask the complainant to put their concerns in
• consider the matter to be raised carefully to
• Discuss the issues raised with a colleague
identify the key issue or concerns;
or with service management, ensuring that
professionalism and confidentiality is maintained.
• discuss the issue with others to clarify the
• If the complainant has approached you at
concerns before raising them;
an inappropriate time or place, advise them
• if there are a number of issues, prioritise these,
that you want to discuss their concerns with
and only raise one or two concerns at a time.
them and that you will need to organise a
This may assist these to be resolved more
suitable time/and or place in which to do this.
effectively, and can reduce the likelihood of the
It is important to ensure that this is followed up
recipient of the complaint responding defensively;
• write down the main points of the concern to
• If you are unable to manage the issues raised
help plan how to raise these. It may also be
because they are out of your control, or
helpful to use written notes when speaking with a
because the scheme’s practice cannot be
staff member about the complaint;
changed for ethical, legal or business reasons,
it is important to advise the complainant that
• avoid becoming angry or upset when raising a
this is the case, and to provide them with clear
• aim to provide some suggestions for managing or
• Always ensure that the complainant is informed
resolving the issue, as this may help both parties
about how their concerns have been followed
to begin working toward a solution together.
Family Day Care Quality Assurance
References and further information
• Christine Cross and Sandy Morton Consultancy. (n.d.). Let’s Discuss Managing Complaints. Retrieved February 26, 2008,
• Community Child Care Co-operative Ltd (NSW). (2005). Managing a Child Care Service: 2005 Student Edition. NSW:
Community Childcare Co-operative Ltd.
• Gonzalez-Mena, J. & Stonehouse, A. (2000). High-Maintenance Parents. Child Care Information Exchange. (131) January/
February 2000. WA: Exchange Press.
• Gonzalez-Mena, J. & Stonehouse, A. (2003). High-Maintenance Parent or Parent Partner? Working with a Parent’s
Concern. Child Care Information Exchange. (152) July/August 2003. WA: Exchange Press.
• National Childcare Accreditation Council. (2005). Lodging a Complaint about a Child Care Service. NSW: Author.
• National Childcare Accreditation Council. (2004). Family Day Care Quality Assurance Quality Practices Guide (2nd edition).
• National Childcare Accreditation Council. (2005). Tips for Raising Concerns with a Child Care Service. NSW: Author.
• Network of Community Activities. (2005). Policies in Practice. A Handbook of day-to-day policies for OOSH centres.
(2nd edition). NSW: Author.
• Stephens, S. (2004). Sometimes the Customer Isn’t Always Right: Problem Solving with Parents. Child Care Information
Exchange. (158) July/August 2004. WA: Exchange Press.
For more information on OSHCQA please contact a NCAC Child Care Adviser.
Telephone: 1300 136 554 or (02) 8260 1900
Level 3, 418a Elizabeth St
Surry Hills NSW 2010
© Australian Government 2008. This factsheet may be reproduced by outside school hours care services for the purpose of information sharing amongst staff and families. At all
other times written permission must be obtained in writing from NCAC.