Kent County Council (18 006 789)

Category : Children's care services > Disabled children

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 08 Jan 2019

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Miss X complained the Council had not properly assessed or met her needs as carer to her son Z. The Council has assessed Miss X’s needs as a carer without fault. It has also offered to reassess her needs to see if they have changed since the last assessment.

The complaint

  1. Miss X complains the Council has failed to properly assess or meet her needs as carer to her son Z. She said it had not offered her appropriate support and respite care. As a result she says she has no quality of life and she and her son are completely isolated.
  2. Miss X wants the Council to help with support from an appropriately disability trained social worker that understands her son’s needs.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We cannot investigate late complaints unless we decide there are good reasons. Late complaints are when someone takes more than 12 months to complain to us about something a council has done. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26B and 34D, as amended). I have decided to investigate events dating from Miss X’s request to the Council for a parent carer assessment in April 2017.
  2. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word ‘fault’ to refer to these. 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)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Miss X about her complaint.
  2. I asked the Council about the complaint and considered records it provided including child and family assessments and case notes.
  3. I considered the Children and Family Act 2014 and Government guidance on short break care – Short breaks for carers of disabled children.
  4. I considered the Council’s Short Break Statement and eligibility criteria.
  5. I gave the Council and Miss X the opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered comments by Miss X before making my final decision.

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What I found

  1. The Children and Families Act 2014 says a council must carry out a parent carers’ needs assessment if it thinks a parent caring for a child may have support needs or the parent asks the council for an assessment. The Council must also be satisfied the child, and its family are persons that are eligible for services under Section 17 of the Children Act (child in need).
  2. The assessment must consider the parent carer’s well-being and the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the disabled child. The assessment must involve the parent carer and the child.
  3. The council must decide whether the parent carer has support needs, whether they could be met by services which the council provides under section 17 of the Children Act and whether it should provide them.
  4. The council must then send a written record of the assessment to the parent carer.
  5. Under the Children Act 1989 and Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011 councils must provide breaks from caring for carers of disabled children. They must publish a short breaks service statement, detailing the range of available breaks and any eligibility criteria attached to them.
  6. This Council’s disabled children and young people’s service publish eligibility criteria for support. These explain that referral to the service may be made for any disabled child whose disability is permanent or long term and meets one of the severe or profound categories set out.
  7. The criteria explain that if an assessment finds the child meets a number of mild or moderate categories then it will refer the family to the early help service or other local support organisations. It says all assessments will make decisions by considering the family capacity, environment and support networks.

Background

  1. Miss X is the carer for her son Z. The Council carried out two child and family assessments of Miss X and Z’s social care needs in 2016. These decided Z was a child in need due to his disability. The first assessment signposted Miss X to locally available support to meet Z’s needs. It said Z had been referred for assessment for an Education, Health and Care plan. The second assessment said the Council could not offer the help that Miss X was seeking. Miss X says the assessments were done by three different social workers because of lack of availability. She says there were problems with messages not being passed between workers who had changed teams.
  2. In April 2017, Miss X contacted the Council again, asking it for help caring for her son. She said she wanted to use direct payments to pay for a support worker to help her out when she needed a break from caring.
  3. The Council carried out a child and family assessment in May 2017, considering Miss X’s needs as a carer. Its case record shows the Council considered:
    • Z and Miss X’s health and Z’s care needs.
    • Miss X’s report of Z’s behaviour at school and at home and the extreme difficulties this caused her at times.
    • Z’s school’s reports of his behaviour while he was there.
    • Miss X’s lack of local family support. Her concerns that she did not trust Z’s estranged father to be able to look after him.
    • That Miss X said Z could not go to local clubs as the Council had suggested because of problems there with his behaviour.
    • Miss X’s request for a support worker to be available to help her from time to time when she needed it, so she could have a break from caring.
  4. The Council decided Miss X was struggling to manage Z’s behaviour but had not used previous advice or support from its early help team with this.
  5. It said the Council did not offer an ‘on-call’ floating support worker but Miss X could use part of Z’s disability living allowance (DLA) to pay for some help. It decided Z’s needs did not meet the criteria for direct payment. It decided Miss X’s needs as a carer could be met using local support groups and by considering using Z’s DLA.
  6. Miss X and the Council discussed the outcome of the assessment by phone in July 2017. The Council confirmed Z did not meet the criteria for direct payments and that Ms X did not want help from early years. Miss X asked the Council to send her a copy of its assessment.
  7. The Council wrote to Miss X in July 2017 enclosing a copy of the assessment that she had requested. It confirmed its decision Z did not meet the criteria for direct payments. The Council recommended Miss X use the support offered by its early help team. It included information about support available in the local area.
  8. Miss X contacted the Ombudsman. In January 2018 the Ombudsman asked the Council to consider Miss X’s complaint.
  9. The Council wrote to Miss X in February, responding to her complaint. It said that it was Council policy that unless a child meets a certain criteria they would not be eligible for help from the children’s disability service. It said it should have shared Z’s assessment through discussion with her rather than by post. It had discussed this with social workers.
  10. It referred to the findings of its child and family assessment advising Miss X to use DLA payments to buy any additional support. If offered Miss X the opportunity to ask for her complaint to be considered at stage two.
  11. In April Miss X called the Council to discuss the situation. In early May 2018 Miss X called the Council again to ask for a meeting with a manager. She said the most recent assessment had not recognised the extent of Z’s disabilities. It did not properly consider his full range of problems and had been selective. She said any assessment of her as a carer should be without Z being there as she needed to be open about her needs.
  12. The Council service manager met with Miss X in May 2018. Its record of the meeting shows:
    • The Council explained its threshold for short breaks support was high and normally only available for carers of profoundly disabled children.
    • Miss X explained that her family was in crisis and wanted help
  13. After the meeting the Council wrote to Miss X in June 2018 to explain:
    • It had carried out several assessments of Z’s needs as well as the carers assessment of Miss X’s in 2017.
    • It understood the difficulties of caring for Z. It noted he was now in full time education at a specialist school giving Z time away from caring.
    • After the meeting in May 2018, the service manager had spoken with the child disability service. It confirmed that Z was not eligible for direct payments to pay for short breaks or respite.
    • The Council did not provide a male adult mentor service but Miss X could consider using a suitable contact centre so Z could meet with his father.
    • It provided information on other support from local voluntary sector organisations.
    • It referred Miss X to the Ombudsman.
  14. Miss X then complained again to the Ombudsman. She explained she was unable to get help from the Council. She said the carer’s assessment had happened when Z was there so she could not freely answer all the questions. She said she had not been able to properly explain how the situation was affecting her. Miss X said Z’s father was a risk and did not want contact with Z.
  15. When I spoke with Miss X she said Z’s needs were very complex and the Council was not properly considering this. She felt the Council was blocking him accessing help from its disabilities team because it was selectively choosing parts of his diagnosis. Miss X told me that the because of Z’s needs she had been unable to sleep for any length of time over the past nine years despite support from the children’s hospital and advanced sleep management courses. She said that the Council have only acknowledged some of his needs. She said she keeps getting referred between primary and secondary mental health services for her own mental health issues. She wants the Council to help with respite because she is unable to function without sleep. She feels the Council refuses to accept that Z has complex needs not meeting the criteria for its disabilities team.
  16. Miss X told me she was very surprised the Council reported not seeing evidence of Z’s behavioural problems. He has been excluded from school several times and has had a meltdown after assessment by a social worker.
  17. Miss X also said the Council knew Z’s father was a risk and could not have unsupervised contact with him. She told me that he was not willing to work with professionals and refused to meet with Z unless she was there. She was not prepared to put herself in this situation. She had contacted several contact centres to support and feels the Council is unfairly saying its up to her to facilitate.
  18. In response to my enquiries the Council said it had assessed Miss X and Z three times since 2015. This included a joint assessment with a social worker from the disabled children’s service. It said the third assessment in May 2017 fully considered Miss X’s needs as a carer.
  19. The Council said its assessments found that Z did not meet the criteria for help from the disabled children’s service.
  20. It said Miss X had been able to discuss her needs throughout its assessments, by phone and in person. Z had been present at the last carer’s assessment because this was to consider his needs for respite.
  21. The Council said it had made appropriate enquiries about Z’s father and had removed certain references from its assessment about him at Miss X’s request. It had recommended supervised contact.
  22. The Council said that, having reviewed Z’s case file there seemed to be a discrepancy between the severity of need as described by Miss X and the repots from others in regular contact with Z. It therefore offered to carry out a fresh assessment of the situation regarding Miss X’s needs as a carer if she wanted.

My findings

  1. The Council responded to Miss X’s request for a carers assessment and considered her situation appropriately. It assessed Z’s needs and Miss X’s situation as his carer. It considered Z’s needs against its published criteria. It considered Miss X’s wellbeing and the need to promote Z’s welfare. It had regard to the lack of available family support and to information about Z’s behaviour out of the home.
  2. Its decision to meet jointly with Miss X and Z follows the process recommended by guidance. Miss X was also able to discuss matters by phone and in person with the service manager.
  3. The Council’s stage one complaint reply states it is Council policy that unless a child meets certain criteria they are not eligible for support from its disability service. Whilst councils can use criteria to make decisions, they should always be prepared to consider the circumstances of each case and whether to make an exception to its normal policy. Councils should not adopt blanket policies which restrict this discretion. In this case the Council considered Z and Miss X’s circumstances and made its decision based on that assessment.
  4. Miss X strongly disagrees with the Council’s assessment of Z’s needs and their impact on her ability to care for him. Because the Council followed the procedure set out in legislation and guidance and appropriately considered the circumstances of Miss X and Z’s situation, I cannot question its decision regarding eligibility for support no matter how strongly Miss X disagrees.
  5. The Council has some concerns, having reviewed the case files, about the difference between Miss X’s description of the impact of Z’s behaviour on her ability to care, and what others have witnessed. Its offer to carry out a fresh assessment if Miss X requests this is appropriate.

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Final decision

  1. I have completed my investigation. I have not found fault by the Council.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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