Council criticised for leaving boy without education for 14 months

Cambridgeshire County Council has refused to apologise to a family after it left their clinically vulnerable son without any education or support during the COVID-19 crisis, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman says.

28/04/22

Council criticised for leaving boy without education for 14 months

A nine-year-old with complex Special Educational Needs was left without education or support for 14 months by Cambridge County Council, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has said.

The boy, whose Special Educational Needs include severe neuro-disabilities and speech and language delay, could not attend his school throughout the pandemic on the advice of his GP. He has had no formal schooling since September 2020 and has only in the last month been provided with some education at home.

The council issued the boy’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan in 2016, and last amended it in 2018. It should have reviewed this annually but has failed to do so, the Ombudsman says, expressing concerns that the boy’s plan no longer reflects his current needs and the support he requires to meet them.

Despite the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigating the complaint and finding the council at fault, Cambridgeshire County Council has so far refused to agree to any of the Ombudsman’s recommendations to put things right for the family.

Councillors are now obliged to review the investigation report at a top-level decision-making meeting and share their formal response with the Ombudsman.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said the family told him they have been “ignored and misled” by the council.

“Nobody from the council has checked on their son’s wellbeing, or their own, and its poor handling of their case continues to cause them significant distress.

“I am concerned that throughout my investigation the council has demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of its role in the SEND process and of its legal obligations and duties towards children in the county.

King said the council’s “poor response” to the Ombudsman investigation was a “major concern”.

“It is an issue highlighted in my recent report about complaints handling during the pandemic, where we saw some councils abandoning high-quality complaint handling.

“I now call upon Cambridgeshire County Council – and the councillors who scrutinise its actions – to reflect upon my report and consider whether this is the way they want services for their most vulnerable residents run in future.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case, the Ombudsman says the council should apologise to the family and arrange alternative provision for the son until he can return to school.

The Ombudsman says the council should also issue an amended EHC plan and advise the parents of their right to appeal to the SEND tribunal, secure the provision in this amended final EHC plan and explain to them how this will be delivered as part of or alongside their son’s alternative education provision, and set a date for an annual review following the issue of this amended final EHC plan. It also recommends Cambridgeshire County Council should also pay the family £7,000 to recognise the lack of education and special educational needs provision from September 2020 to February 2022, and a further £1,000 to recognise the stress, frustration and time and trouble caused to the family.

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