Autistic girl's family receive apology and £6k pay-out over missed support
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A Suffolk family has been paid more than £6,000 in compensation and received a formal apology from Suffolk County Council after an Ombudsman investigation found the council did not provide occupational therapy to a young girl with autism.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman carried out a review after a complaint was made by the parent of a child with SEND from Lowestoft in 2020.
Suffolk County Council has apologised for the distress that was caused and "lessons have been learnt".
The girl, who has autism and hypermobility, attended a mainstream primary school with support and the occupational therapy (OT), it was agreed she needed, should have helped with her co-ordination difficulties and sensory overload.
Suffolk County Council agreed to include the OT support in a draft Education, Health and Care Plan (ECHP) - the legal document setting out the girl’s needs and how they should be met – in February 2019.
Although this plan was never formalised, the girl did receive some OT support until February 2020 when it stopped because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The girl then missed out on the therapy she needed for nearly two years until February 2022 when the OT was reinstated.
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The girl’s mother asked the Ombudsman to investigate.
The Ombudsman found 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 Suffolk County 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, of the 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.”
SEND services in Suffolk are currently undergoing a wide-scale reform to improve provision.
The all-encompassing programme of reform was implemented from September 2021 and progress includes significant new recruitment, increased SEND budget, the provision of 879 extra special school places and strengthened communication practises, and improvement is being seen.
In the report, the Ombudsman recognised the extent of work ongoing by Suffolk County Council to improve the way SEND provision is delivered, and welcomed the commitment to widespread review and reform.
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 Ombudsman has given the council four months to complete the recommendations made. The case, and the progress made, will be reviewed by Suffolk County Council’s Audit Committee on September 15, 2022.