Counselling Service User Complaints
The purpose of this policy is to augment the Blue Knot Foundation Complaints Policy to support the effective resolution of complaints related to the organisation’s counselling programs. This includes the National Counselling and Referral Service and the Blue Knot Helpline and Redress Support Service. The aim is to optimise the delivery of quality counselling services.
A clear and accessible complaints mechanism is essential for quality assurance of the counselling programs, as well as for upholding the rights of service users, counsellors and all Blue Knot staff.
The Blue Knot Foundation Complaints Policy applies to all service users, staff and contractors. It outlines the way that complaints are managed.
Blue Knot treats all complaints seriously. It encourages feedback as part of its ongoing quality improvement process. Complaints help identify issues with service delivery and ways they can be addressed.
This policy focusses specifically on complaints related to its counselling services. The Blue Knot counselling programs are committed to a positive complaints culture. It is a supplementary policy which recognises that all complaints need to follow due process. This complaints process is consistent with the rights-based principles embedded within the United Nations Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It provides a foundation for quality complaints frameworks.
A well-handled complaint shows the complainant that their concerns have been taken seriously. In the context of complex trauma and/or traumatic transference, service users may express anger and be critical of a counselling service and/or a specific counsellor. This can make it hard to establish when a complaint needs to be formally registered and investigated. A hasty or defensive response to complaints may heighten, rather than soothe a heightened service user. All counsellors need to use professional judgement to determine how to `hold’ the interpersonal space when the dynamic becomes challenging.
This policy guides members of the counselling teams around managing complaints and responding to feedback from service users. When engaging with feedback or a complaint it is important to always:
- Listen deeply to the issues raised
- Not be defensive
- Provide a safe space in which feedback, criticism and complaints can be safely expressed.
- Paraphrase what you have heard to the person and ask them to clarify the issues further if needed
- Approach the issue with compassion, curiosity and a desire to understand the service user’s perspective.
- Empathise with the person’s distress or criticism
- Assess if and when to apprise the service user of the complaints process
- Check with the person if they would like to make a formal or informal complaint or provide feedback
- Take the feedback/complaint seriously and let the person know that it will be well investigated
- Follow due process in a timely manner
- Treat everyone fairly, regardless of their presentation or the number of times they have lodged a complaint
Who can make a complaint?
Anyone can make a complaint about our counselling services. It is important to remember that any complainant has the choice to have a support person with them. People with disability have a right to have a representative, family member or friend make a complaint on their behalf.
What might a Service User complain about?
This may include the following related to any aspect of the service:
- General dissatisfaction with the service
- A belief that they were denied fair access to our services
- A belief that they have been excluded from decisions involving them
- Perceived breaches of confidentiality and privacy
- Feedback about how we might improve our services
If possible, encourage the service user to talk to the person with whom they have an issue. This is important for everyone, but especially for people who have experienced trauma. It is also important for every service user to be able to safely raise their concerns and have the opportunity to resolve the complaint and repair the relationship rupture if possible. This outcome may not be possible for a range of reasons including the nature of complex trauma and its impacts.
What should be included in a complaint?
To effectively assess, investigate and resolve a complaint it is important to obtain as much information as possible. This includes:
- A description of the problem/issue
- The ways the problem/issue has impacted the person
- How the service user thinks the problem/issue can be addressed
- Any information or evidence that supports their complaint
- The desired outcome or resolution
- The method by which the service user would like to be contacted about the complaint (e.g. return telephone call, email, letter or no response needed)
- Remember to obtain permission to leave a message if they would prefer a return telephone call
Making a complaint
- Service users can make a complaint without leaving their name. However, it may not be possible to fully investigate an anonymous complaint and resolve it.
- Blue Knot will keep every complaint confidential. We will only inform the people who need to know about the complaint to help us investigate and address it
- People are welcome to have a support person with them.
- The person managing the complaint must also assess any potential conflicts of interest, including their own biases or role, within the complaint.
If the complaint, assessment or investigation reveal possible misconduct, malpractice or breach of policy from an employee of Blue Knot, the President/CEO or Deputy CEO and a HR representative must be consulted.
Guidelines for service users to make a complaint are available in the Blue Knot Foundation Complaints Policy. The policy can be found on the Blue Knot Complaints Policy together with an online form on which to lodge the complaint
Counsellor process when suspects a complaint may be lodged
When a counsellor is concerned that a service user may lodge a complaint, they should follow this process:
- Make comprehensive notes on the counselling database as per usual practice
- Enter the complaint onto the relevant Complaints Register.
- Send an email is to be sent to the relevant counseling leadership team
Counselling Complaints Review Committee
A Counselling Complaints Review Committee will review all counselling complaints on a quarterly basis. The Committee may also consult around any complex or sensitive investigations.
The purpose of the Committee is to:
- ensure the effective and efficient management of counselling complaints according to policy and procedure
- Identify any service improvements.
The Committee will consist of:
- President/CEO or Deputy CEO
- A member of the leadership team of each of the counselling services
- Make a complaint (complaint received)
- Investigate or not investigate
- Update and final outcome including options for redress
- Follow up
- Close the complaint
Procedures – Investigating and responding to a complaint
The following procedures provide additional information to the content contained in the Blue Knot Foundation Complaints Policy. (add link) All steps including the timeline are to follow the process as outlined in the Complaints Policy.
Making a complaint (complaint received)
A complaint may be received as outlined in Blue Knot Complaints Policy. This includes making a complaint to a counsellor during a call. If this occurs the counsellors should
- confirm that the service user wishes to formally lodge a complaint.
- Seek the complainant’s permission to record the complaint (audio).
Record the complaint
- document the complaint with as much detail as possible
- notify a member of the counselling team’s leadership team.
- leadership team will allocate a member to handle the complaint
- The allocated member of the leadership team will notify the Complaints’ Officer
- Complaints’ Officer will enter the complaint in the complaints register.
Once the complaint has been fully assessed and investigated, the allocated member of the leadership team will provide a report on the complaint to the Complaints Officer. This will include the actions taken to resolve the complaint and the outcome.
The allocated member of the leadership team will advise the complainant and counsellor who was the subject of the complaint (if applicable) of the outcome and actions to be taken including the timeline for completion.
If the report highlights possible malpractice, they will consult with the Manager of the service as well as the President/CEO or Deputy CEO, considering the Professional Conduct Standards of the relevant Professional Association prior to raising this with the counsellor.
A written report of a complaint, and the actions taken will be provided to the complaints’ officer and logged into the complaints register.
If matters of policy, procedure or practice improvement arise from the shared reflections steps will be taken to implement these. If a counsellor is not satisfied with the way a complaint is managed, they should raise their concerns with their manager. If this is not possible or does not resolve the concerns, then the counsellor is able to raise this with the President/Deputy CEO.
Related policies and other documents
Blue Knot Foundation Service User Complaints Policy
Employee Complaints and Disputes Policy
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol, United Nations.
Disability Discrimination Act 1992
Part 1: Key service principles
3.1 Call management
3.2 Email management
3.5 Unsafe calls
4.7 Incident reporting
5.7 Clinical supervision
NDIS Quality and Safeguards Commission – Effective Complaint Handling Guidelines for NDIS Providers, Commonwealth of Australia (Department of Social Services) 2015
Last reviewed: August 2021
Scheduled review: August 2023