Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Staffordshire Council apologises for educational support failures

Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, has found that Staffordshire County Council failed to meet the educational and care needs of a young man with autism (‘J’).

In a decision welcomed by the NAS, the Ombudsman has asked for the Council to apologise and make compensation.

The complaint was first made by J’s mother, on behalf of her son who has autism, selective mutism and complex learning difficulties. He needs support with his education and personal care, which was provided adequately at his original school. However, after turning 16 he transferred to a new placement in September 2009. At this point, the Council failed to amend his statement of special educational needs. This meant that there was much less support available for him at the new college, leaving him severely stressed and unhappy.

At the end of the school year, the council agreed in principle that J’s needs would be better served at a different school, 15 miles from the family’s home. However, they told J’s mother that they would not help with J’s transport costs until their assessment was complete. By this point, October 2010, the new academic year was beginning. J’s mother enrolled J at the new school and began transporting him there and back herself.

The Ombudsman has ruled that the Council’s failure to keep J’s statement up-to-date meant that his family lost the opportunity to challenge the view that J no longer needed speech and language therapy, to have the statement reviewed by professionals, and appeal against details in the statement.

As well as this, J’s social care arrangements were poorly handled – his transition social worker did not complete his assessment in time for him to make a smooth transition to adult respite care provision. Instead, the transfer after his 18th birthday was rushed and stressful.

The Ombudsman found that the combined lack of educational and care support caused J and his family a lot of unnecessary distress. She said, ‘Transition to adulthood is exceptionally difficult for the parents of a child with complex educational and care needs. It is vital that the proper support is in place to ensure that this transition goes as smoothly as possible, but that was not the case here.’

Staffordshire County Council has acknowledged its failings and apologised. It has also agreed to pay the complainant (J’s mother) £5250 in compensation. Because J has little concept of money, they will be installing a swing-seat in the garden of his home in lieu of compensation.

In making this ruling, the Ombudsman has sent a clear message to all local authorities that they must ensure that they are meeting their statutory duties around transition.