An investigation has revealed gaps in the Special Educational Needs redress system which prevent it from being fully transparent and accountable to parents, carers and young people.
The parents of a child with special educational needs in Dudley were forced to wait 104 weeks for a final Education Health and Care (EHC) Plan, instead of the 20 weeks specified in statutory guidance.
The parents had to make multiple appeals to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) Tribunal before they could secure the final plan from Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King, who launched an investigation into the case, said he was only allowed to look into a small part of the delays because of restrictions on his jurisdiction.
‘We have issued this report to show there are gaps in the system which mean parents, carers and young people are left with restrictions in what we can investigate and put right for them because of the way our jurisdiction operates alongside that of the Tribunal,’ Mr King said.
‘We know from the investigations we carry out that parents often feel like they are left battling the system to get their children the support they are entitled to,’ he added.
Despite these restrictions, Mr King found that the Dudley family had not been treated with ‘dignity and respect’ by the council.
His investigation revealed that when the family complained, the council accepted it was at fault for the way in which it handled the case, but did not apologise. It also took too long to deal with the family’s subsequent complaint.
During the council’s own investigation, it was also revealed that the mother was sent internal documents which suggested some officers had made judgements about the case and pre-determined whether the boy required the support a plan would offer.
Responding to the Ombudsman’s report, Cllr Ruth Buttery, Dudley MBC cabinet member for children’s services, said: ‘We fully accept the findings of the Ombudsman and I would like to apologise to the family for the stress caused. It is clear that the council’s services fell some distance below the standard we would all expect.
‘We are now working to promptly put in place arrangements for this young person that fully meet their needs. More widely, we are in the process of making significant improvements to our SEND services, to ensure young people and their families receive the support they need to achieve the best possible outcomes in their lives.’