Council censured for letting down girl with special needs

A girl with special needs was consistently let down by Staffordshire County Council which failed provide adequate educational support, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

Staffordshire County Council headquarters
Staffordshire County Council headquarters

The girl, who has autism spectrum disorder and physical disabilities, moved to a new college from her special school in September 2019. However, because the council had not finalised her Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) the college had out-of-date information about her support needs.

And instead of being available before her transition to college, her new plan was not finalised until May 2021.

The problems stretched back to 2017 when her EHC plan was 32 weeks late which sparked a catalogue of events which saw her family lose the opportunity to appeal the contents of the plans to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal (SENDIST).

Local government and social care ombudsman Michael King said: "Without the opportunity to appeal the council’s plans, the family have been left with the uncertainty that their daughter might have been able to receive extra support had an appeal gone their way. They missed the chance, over several years, to ask the council to reinstate the Occupational Therapy review into the plan.

"The mother says a large part of her daughter’s worsening health is due to the lack of therapies, and, while I cannot say how much this and other circumstances experienced by the family has contributed, it must have caused them stress and frustration."

He added: "I am pleased the council has agreed to my recommendations to put things right for the family, and the wider changes the council has put in place following a critical Ofsted review during this period should remedy the systemic issued raised by this complaint.”

The local government and social care ombudsman explained the council should apologise to the girl and her mother, and pay them £750 each for the uncertainty, missed opportunities, stress and frustration the delays and missed decisions led to.

It will also pay the mother £300 for her time and trouble in repeatedly having to raise the issues and refund her £450 for the costs of the Occupational Therapy report she commissioned.

Jonathan Price, Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for education and SEND, admitted the girl had been let down.

He said: "We apologise for the amount of time it took for this case to be resolved. It occurred at a time when demand for Education, Health and Care Plans (ECHPs) had risen sharply and put staff under great pressure – nevertheless, it shouldn’t have taken as long as it did.

"Since this case we have made extra investment in the team handling EHCPs and appointed additional staff to help clear the backlog. Demand for EHCPs is still high, but we are in better position to be able to meet this demand. We’ve also reviewed our own processes to provide a better, more responsive services to the families that use it."

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