Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 09 Dec 2021
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: Mrs X complained the Council failed to properly plan for her daughter, F’s, transition from children to adult care services. The Council was at fault. It did not properly plan for F’s transition and failed to issue her amended Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan naming a post-18 placement in line with statutory timescales. The Council agreed to apologise and pay Mrs X a total of £600 to remedy distress, uncertainty and time and trouble caused. It also agreed to review F’s EHC Plan without delay in preparation for naming her post-18 placement in time for the 2022/23 academic year.
- Mrs X complained the Council failed to properly plan for her daughter, F’s transition from children to adult care services. She said the Council failed to amend and issue F’s Education, Health and Care Plan in line with statutory timescales prior to her starting post-18 education.
- Mrs X says the Council’s lack of planning and preparation caused F and the wider family distress, uncertainty and time and trouble. She said the lack of planning means F still does not have a post-18 placement.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- 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)
- 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)
- 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.
How I considered this complaint
- I spoke to Mrs X about her complaint and considered information she provided.
- I considered the Council’s response to my enquiry letter.
- Mrs X and the Council had the opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered comments before I made a final decision.
What I found
Moving from children’s social care to adult social care
- Until the age of 18, services for children and young people with long term health conditions are provided by child health and social care services. From the age of 18 they are usually provided by adult services. Between the ages of 16 and 18, the child will start a transition to adult services. For children with an Education, Health and Care plan (EHC Plan), transition planning should begin when a child is in year 9 at school.
- A transition assessment must be conducted for all those who have likely needs, however the timing of this assessment will depend on when it is of significant benefit to the young person or carer. When a child or young person approaches their 18th birthday, they may ask the Council for a transition assessment. A parent or carer may also ask for an assessment on behalf of the child or young person. The Council has a duty to carry out this assessment.
- The transition assessment should support the young person and their family to plan for the future by providing them with information about what they can expect. All transition assessments must include an assessment of:
- Current needs for care and support;
- Whether the child or young person is likely to have needs for care and support after they turn 18;
- If so, what those needs are likely to be and which are likely to be eligible needs.
- The outcomes the young person or carer wishes to achieve in day-to-day life.
- The Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice (‘The Code’) sets out how councils and health services should work with young people and their families to prepare for adulthood. The Code says councils must place the young person and their family at the centre of their planning and anticipate the needs of young people. The Code says councils must:
- Support and involve the young person and their parent in decisions and have regard to their views, wishes and feelings including their aspirations for adult life.
- Make joint commissioning arrangements with other services about the education, health and care provision of young people to secure positive outcomes for young people with special educational needs.
- Review EHC plans, embed transition planning in the plans and have regard to whether the outcomes in them have been achieved.
- Ensure that for young people moving between post-16 institutions that the review process is completed by 31 March where the young person is expected to transfer to a new institution in the new academic year.
- Ensure the transition to adult care and support is well planned and integrated with the annual review of the EHC plan.
- Put in place effective exit planning when an EHC plan is due to come to an end.
Reviews of EHC Plans
- Council’s must review EHC Plans at least every 12 months. Where a young person is moving between post-16 institutions, the review process should normally be completed by 31 March, but in all cases, the Council must review and amend the Young person’s EHC Plan at least five months before the transfer takes place.
- If it becomes apparent that a planned placement is no longer suitable, the Council should review the EHC Plan as soon as possible to ensure that alternative options are agreed and new arrangements are put in place as quickly as is practicable.
- F has a rare condition and as such has complex learning difficulties including severe communication and social interaction difficulties. F lives at home with her parents and siblings where her mother, Mrs X is her primary carer. F has an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan and in 2019 attended a special school (School 1) which was named in her plan. F received specialist 1:1 support at School 1 at all times. Council records and F’s EHC Plan recorded that F did not transition well and is reliant on routine and structure.
- F turned 18 at the end of 2020 and therefore was due to transition to post-18 education in time for the start of the 2021/22 academic year in September 2021.
- Records show the F’s case for transition to adult care services was allocated to a social worker at the end of 2019. In May 2020, the social worker carried out a needs assessment with F. Mrs X is recorded as saying she wanted F to transition to a post-18 placement which could provide access to overnight stays. The assessment noted further actions to determine an appropriate residential placement for F when she turned 18 at the end of 2020.
- The Council carried out an annual review of F’s EHC Plan in May 2020. The review identified F’s planned leaving date of School 1 was July 2021. The review identified actions to look for potential placements for F.
- Records show Mrs X told the Council in September 2020 at a transition review that she wished for F to go to a specialist residential placement where she could stay over at weekends but live at home Monday to Thursday.
- The Council carried out another review of F’s EHC Plan in September 2020. The review recorded F required a well-managed transition to post-18 education. It recorded F struggled with transitions and needed emotional and verbal support. The review recorded Mrs X had identified a specialist residential setting, School 2, which she felt was a good fit for F’s needs. The review said officers would consult with School 2 within the appropriate timescales. The Council notified Mrs X in October 2020 of its intention to amend F’s EHC Plan.
- The Council said in response to my enquiry letter that the amended draft EHC Plan was delayed due to gathering information from both children and adults social care teams.
- Records show the Council did not start consulting with various post-18 providers, including School 2 until the end of February 2021. Case notes show School 2 gave the Council residential costings in mid-March 2021 and indicated it could provide weekend residential care for F. Case notes show the other placements could not provide weekend services or could not meet F’s needs.
- Records show Mrs X spoke to School 2 at the end of March and asked it to consider F stopping over there Friday to Sunday in term time and 7 days a week during school holidays.
- The Council held a meeting at the end of March 2021, attended by the social worker, Mrs X and representatives from School 1. A few days later School 2 confirmed it could meet F's needs, as identified in her EHC Plan. School 2 gave some further information about staffing for F and said they would vary depending on shifts.
- Mrs X complained to the Council about the lack of planning and support for F. The Council responded and acknowledged there had been a lack of communication between adult social services and children’s services around F’s transition. The Council said there was no clear plan for F and it apologised.
- In late March 2021 the social worker recorded that School 2 confirmed it could provide residential care for F. The social recorded they would continue looking for other residential placements for F.
- Records show the social worker looked for other placements for F. At the end of April 2021, the social worker spoke with Mrs X about possible other residential placements The social worker recorded Mrs X told her that School 2 had already accepted and that the social worker was ‘dragging her feet’. Mrs X asked the Council to allocate F a new social worker. Social worker B started working on F’s case during May 2021.
- The Council agreed funding for F’s placement at school 2 at the end of May. In June 2021 It issued F’s final amended EHC Plan, naming School 2 from September 2021. Social worker B wrote to Mrs X confirming F would have transition days over the summer holidays for School 2 and Schools 1 and 2 would work on a joint educational plan. They said F would spend her weekends staying over at School 2 initially until Christmas and then each school holiday after that. Social worker B emphasised the need to properly prepare for F’s post-18 future. Mrs X expressed her happiness at the plan outlined by Social worker B.
- Email records show an officer from School 1 asked Social Worker B for clarity around School 2’s residential offer for F. The officer was under the impression from the annual review it was a day placement offer. Further case records showed confusion between adult services and education services about exactly what F’s placement arrangements were. Social worker B asked for some clarification from School 2.
- At the end of June, School 2 confirmed its position was that F’s arrangements would be a respite service only, based on capacity at the school during weekends and holidays. School 2 said it could not guarantee F would have the same room each time. Mrs X expressed her frustration to Social Worker B. She said she was not happy to continue transitioning F until her residential arrangements were confirmed. Mrs X said the Council had left everything until the last minute allowing no time for transition.
- School 2 confirmed it could not offer arrangements for F to stay weekends and school holidays only and apologised it did not make this clear earlier. School 2 said it could offer F weekend stays but school holidays would be on a respite basis. School 2 said other students who stay during these times are not an appropriate peer group for F however and it also could not guarantee consistent staffing.
- Mrs X expressed her dissatisfaction that the plan for F was now unravelling. Records show the Council made some more efforts with School 2 to come to an arrangement however Mrs X felt the structure of the placement had changed too much and was now not the right placement. She told the Council she did not want F to go to School 2.
- At the time of writing F has remained at School 1 for the 2021/22 academic year and remains without a post-18 placement. Records show the Council is continuing to look for suitable post-18 education and residential placements for F. The Council has not yet reviewed F’s EHC Plan which currently names school 2.
- Unhappy with the Council’s handling of F’s case, Mrs X complained to us.
- In response to our enquiry letter the Council agreed it did not properly plan for F’s transition to adult services. It also accepted it failed to issue F’s amended EHC Plan in line with statutory timescales prior to her starting post-18 education. It said it was sorry for the distress this caused. The Council said it has carried out a programme of webinars and training to ensure its staff is aware of relevant guidance around transition and that lessons are learnt from this complaint.
- The Council has accepted that it did not properly plan for F’s transition from children to adult services. F has an EHC Plan and therefore the Council should have started planning for her transition to adult services when she was in year 9, There is no evidence it did so. The lack of planning for F’s transition to adult services was not in line with statutory guidance and was fault.
- The Council had a statutory duty to issue F’s amended EHC Plan by the 31 March 2021, naming her post-18 placement. It delayed doing so until June 2021 which was fault.
- F’s records clearly outline and explain the importance of proper planning for transition. F does not transition well and is heavily reliant on routine. Although the Council eventually named School 2, it was late in the summer and meant there was no time to prepare F, sort out the issues which arose about F’s residential status there or find an alternative placement. This in turn led to Mrs X declining the placement. I cannot say whether the outcome around School 2 would have been different, had negotiations continued. However, had the Council properly planned in line with statutory guidance it would have been in a better position to resolve the issues at School 2 or name an alternative placement in time for September 2021. F remained at School 1 and continued to receive her social care and educational provision however, the delay has caused F uncertainty and she remains to date without a suitable post-18 placement.
- The Council’s faults caused Mrs X distress, uncertainty and time and trouble. The delay in preparing for F’s transition to adult services was caused in part by a lack of communication between various Council departments which meant nobody took control of the situation. The initial social worker The Council let the matter drift, despite regular contact from Mrs X asking for updates and despite carrying out regular annual reviews.
- Records show the Council are continuing to consult with post-18 placements with a view to F starting at one in the next academic year.
- The Council agreed within one month of the final decision to:
- write to Mrs X to apologise and pay her a total of £600 to recognise the distress, uncertainty and time and trouble caused to her and F by the delay in planning for F’s transition from children to adult services.
- carry out an annual review of F’s EHC Plan if it has not done so already in preparation for planning and naming a post-18 placement for her by 31 March 2022.
- provide us with evidence of the webinars and training it carried out with its staff as a lessons learnt exercise for this complaint.
- I completed my investigation. I found fault and the Council agreed to my recommendations to remedy the injustice caused by the fault.
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman