London Borough of Richmond upon Thames (16 008 519)

Category : Education > Special educational needs

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 07 Sep 2017

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: The actions of the Council in respect of an assessment of social care needs, which Ms B had requested to inform an Education Health and Care Plan, were not affected by fault causing injustice.

The complaint

  1. The complainant, whom I shall call Ms B, complains that:
  • after she sought a review of her granddaughter’s social care needs to inform an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP), the resultant assessment report had information which was inaccurate and incomplete, and the Council refused to change it; and
  • the resultant EHCP was unsatisfactory.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  3. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  4. We cannot investigate a complaint if someone has appealed to a tribunal. (Local Government Act 1974, section 26(6)(a), as amended)
  5. SEND is a tribunal that considers special educational needs. (The Special Educational Needs and Disability Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal (‘SEND’))
  6. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
  7. Under the information sharing agreement between the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted), we will share this decision with Ofsted.

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the information provided by Ms B about her complaint. I made written enquires of the Council and took account of the information it provided in response.
  2. I provided Ms B and the Council with a draft of this decision and considered all comments received on it.

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What I found

  1. The Children and Families Act, 2014, sets out that young people with special educational needs should have an Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP). Children who have previously had a Statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN), issued under earlier legislation, will transition to an EHCP by 1 April 2018. The EHC Plan contains discrete sections on health and social care needs related to the child’s special education needs and health and social care provisions reasonably required by the child’s learning difficulties. The local authority must gather advice from relevant professionals about the child or young person’s needs in these areas and where appropriate provide a full package of support across education, health and care to meet a young person’s needs.

Background

  1. Ms B is the grandmother of child A, who lives with her. Child A is registered as disabled and had Statement of SEN. For Child A, the process of transfer from Statement to EHCP was to begin on 13 April 2016.

Request for assessment

  1. An EHC needs assessment is an assessment of the educational, health care and social care needs of a child or young person. If appropriate, this will entail a statutory assessment under social care legislation. The Council’s records show that on 16 March 2016 Ms B contacted the Council and asked it to carry out an assessment of Child A’s social care needs, to inform her EHCP. Ms B reports that the Council’s Single Point of Access (SPA) team told her an assessment would not be done unless there was a child at risk. That advice was not correct.
  2. On 23 March 2016 Ms B contacted the SPA team again requesting a social care needs assessment for Child A, to be included in her EHCP. She was advised by the SPA team that she would have to go through the SEN team in order to get social care advice to feed into Child A’s EHCP. That information was not correct.
  3. As noted above the Council gave incorrect information about this to Ms B. It later acknowledged that the correct process was that the SEN department would request any information it needed from social care to inform the EHCP. Although providing the wrong information to Ms B was fault, the Council apologised and the matter did not cause Ms B significant injustice requiring further remedy. This is because referral for a social care assessment was accepted shortly afterwards on 23 March, and the assessment was subsequently completed.
  4. In the Council’s records of 24 March, the SEN officer noted a further conversation with Ms B which stated she had confirmed the reason for requesting a social care assessment was that the child’s mother could not look after her and therefore needed family support. The record says Ms B also reported that the child’s mother was beating one of the children. Ms B says this was not correct, and that what she reported was that it was Child A who was beating her brother. Ms B made this report in order to try to secure the social care assessment needed to inform the EHCP. The family group included Ms B as grandmother, her daughter, and her daughter’s daughter, and on balance it is likely that there was simply confusion arising from this which led to the error in recording of this information.
  5. A further file note on the same date records that an officer from the SPA team then spoke to Ms B about the request for assessment. The note says Ms B was informed about the social care and EHCP assessments being different processes although any social care input could feed into the EHCP. The note states that Ms B said she understood this and wanted to be assessed as she was struggling with caring for Child A and was of the view that family support services could not benefit her family. No reference was made to any risk to Child A’s brother.

Referral for social care assessment

  1. The request for assessment was allocated to a student social worker and was completed on 6 May 2016. The record of the assessment is noted that its purpose was to assess Child A’s holistic needs and to identify if there was any support which could be offered. It noted also that an EHCP was in the process of being finalised and that Ms B had requested social care input to this based on difficulties she was experiencing in respect of Child A’s care. It noted that Ms B engaged with the assessment process.
  2. The outcome of the assessment was a recommendation that the family receive support from the Family Support Team. This would include an approach by that team to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) for one to one support for Child A around strategies to manage her anxiety and phobias.
  3. The social worker sent an email to the EHCP coordinator on 10 May confirming the social care assessment had been completed and noting that the outcome was that the case had been stepped down to the Family Support Team to provide ongoing support in relation to Child A’s needs in the home and community as well as support for the child’s mother and for Ms B. A review was scheduled for 23 June. The communication with the EHCP coordinator noted that Ms B had been given a copy of the assessment and support plan and had said she would pass on relevant information to the EHCP coordinator after she had met with her independent advocate. On 11 May Ms B advised the Council that she did not want the assessment document shared with the SEN officer. It was therefore not shared.
  4. Ms B is dissatisfied that the social care assessment was not conducted by a social worker from the disabled children’s team (DCT). However there is no requirement for a DCT worker to do the assessment for every disabled child. Councils can set the eligibility criteria for allocation to the DCT and those children who do not meet the threshold for eligibility are assessed by general social care. That is what happened here as the Council considered Child A did not meet its eligibility criteria for allocation to the DCT. The Council was entitled to make this decision and it is not the role of the Ombudsman to question its merits. Ms B is also dissatisfied with the content of the social care assessment and its outcome. However the content of the assessment and the decisions taken in relation to how assessed needs might be met were properly matters for the Council, and I find no fault in its actions associated with this.
  5. In terms of the outcomes from the assessment, recommendations were made for family support and for some respite care. In particular, a recommendation was made for Child A to have four to six sessions one to one with a family support team worker whilst input was obtained from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) to build her independence in preparation for starting secondary school in September 2017. Another recommendation was for respite opportunities to be explored.

Follow up on the recommendations made

  1. With regard to respite, the notes from a Team around the Child (TAC) meeting held on 28 June 2017 record that the children were busy after school with different activities. Ms B was present at the meeting. The Council also considered Ms B and her daughter get respite from looking after Child A and her brother as the children spend time separately with their mother and grandmother.
  2. With regard to the recommendation for work to be done with Child A around safety and independence pending input from CAMHS, a referral was completed in May 2016 for her to access support through the Emotional Health Service. The Council’s outreach worker met with Child A twice on a one to one basis before the initial appointment with the Emotional Health Service on 15 June 2016, which was followed by eleven sessions of cognitive behavioural therapy.

The EHCP

  1. To inform the EHCP, the Council carried out an education and health needs assessment. As part of this, information was requested from social care which advised that the outcome of the social care assessment was family support services. The assessment itself was not shared because Ms B had not given consent for this to happen. The EHCP was produced on 17 August 2016. In the main it accurately summarised the outcome of the social care assessment. The recommendation about one to one sessions pending CAMHS input was not reflected in the EHCP Section H (care provision), but this omission did not lead to injustice because Child A received the input she was entitled to.
  2. For the reasons set out in paragraph 5, the Ombudsman cannot look at any needs not adequately described in the EHCP Section B (summary of special educational needs) as this section carries a right of appeal to SEND, which in this case was exercised.
  3. In August 2016 an update was sought and obtained from the coaching service which had been assigned to work with the family as a result of the social care assessment. An amended EHCP was issued on 15 February 2017, and following an appeal to SEND in respect of the content of the EHCP a final amended plan was issued on 22 March 2017.

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Final decision

  1. Ms B was dissatisfied with the social care report which was produced, which she considered was not an assessment to inform the EHCP process as she had requested. However, the EHCP process meant that the SEN department contacted social care and the family coaching service for information. While there was some minor fault by the Council, there are no grounds for me to conclude that this led to injustice for Ms B or Child A.
  2. While Ms B has some objections to the content of the social care report, the Council in responding to the complaint advised that where factual information such as telephone numbers was identified as inaccurate, it would be put right. In addition Ms B’s comments on the report can be appended to the record if she wishes. I consider that an appropriate action.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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