William Eichler 30 June 2022

Council apologises after failing to support autistic girl

Council apologises after failing to support autistic girl image
Image: Alina Kruk/Shutterstock.com.

Suffolk County Council has apologized after an investigation revealed that the local authority had failed to provide occupational therapy for a child with special educational needs.

The council agreed in February 2019 to include Occupational Therapy (OT) support in a draft Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) for a girl with autism and hypermobility.

The girl received some OT support until February 2020 despite the plan never being formalised. It subsequently stopped because of COVID-19 restrictions. The girl then missed out on the therapy for nearly two years until February 2022 when it was reinstated.

After the girl’s mother complained, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigated and found that the council delayed completing the review of the girl’s EHCP in 2019. It should have issued the final plan in May 2019, but did not do so until January 2021.

The Ombudsman also found the council did not take any action to seek alternative provision for the girl when her OT, which was provided by the NHS, stopped. Instead, it wrongly believed it was the school’s responsibility to ensure the provision was in place.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: ‘Councils have a duty to ensure therapies as set out in children’s EHC Plans are delivered. I am concerned the council wrongly believed it could delegate this duty to the girl’s school.

‘This long delay between therapy sessions has had a profound effect on the family. The girl has missed out on vital support: she has become distressed and has had to move schools. Her mother tells me she has experienced anxiety and distress knowing her daughter’s mental health was deteriorating.

‘The changes I have recommended the council make should ensure it has better systems in place to monitor the support it provides to children such as in this case. I urge the council to consider my report thoroughly and look forward to the council’s agreement to the recommendations I have made.’

Suffolk County Council has made a formal apology and paid compensation of £6,350 to the girl’s family.

Allan Cadzow, corporate director for Children and Young People, Suffolk County Council, said: ‘We regret that we were not able to secure the provision for this child and are sorry for the distress this has caused.

‘Lessons have been learnt from this report and we have begun to implement the recommendations made by the Ombudsman.

‘We recognise the challenges we face within Suffolk’s SEND provision and that is why we have embarked on a substantial and all-encompassing programme of reform. This is not an easy feat, especially against the backdrop of a troubled national system, however, we are confident in our plans and are steadfast in our determination to improve the way we do things.’

The latest figures from the Local Government Association (LGA) show that the number of children in England approaching councils for special needs support has increased by almost a quarter in a year, with 170 young people now starting support plans each day.

The LGA yesterday warned that ‘emergency action is needed now’ to help meet the rising demand for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) support.

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