Essex County Council (20 002 897)

Category : Children's care services > Friends and family carers

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 17 Feb 2021

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Ms X complained the Council failed to complete a Parent Carers Needs Assessment after she asked it for support with her son, Y. We found the Council was at fault. That has caused Ms X avoidable frustration. The Council has agreed to assess Ms X and Y and apologise for not completing the assessment when she initially asked for support. It will also pay her £150 to remedy any injustice caused.

The complaint

  1. Ms X complained the Council failed to complete a Parent Carers Needs Assessment after she asked it for support with her son, Y in 2019. She said the Council’s lack of support meant her mental health and physical health needs have deteriorated and affected her ability to care for Y.
  2. Ms X wants the Council to apologise; to pay her direct payments to access the gym and mental health services and to provide her respite during school holidays.

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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. 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)
  3. 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:
    • Ms X’s complaint to the Council and its response to her.
    • Ms X’s previous social care assessments and case records.
    • The Council’s information and policies on support for families with disabled children.
  2. Ms X and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Disabled children and parent carers needs assessments

  1. The Children Act 1989 (the Act) imposes a duty on councils to safeguard and promote the welfare of children within their area who are in need, and promote their upbringing by their families, by providing a range and level of services appropriate to those children’s needs.
  2. Any service provided by a council in the exercise of their Section 17 functions may be provided for the family of a particular child in need, or for any member of their family who lives with them if, it is provided with a view to safeguarding or promoting the child’s welfare.
  3. Section 17 of the Act defines a child as a child in need if:
    • He/she is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development without the provision for him/her of services by a local authority;
    • His/her health or development is likely to be significantly impaired, or further impaired, without the provision for him/her of such services; or
    • He/she is disabled.
  4. Councils can complete either an early help assessment or child in need assessment when assessing a disabled child’s needs. However, Working together to safeguard children (2018) states assessments should be holistic in approach, addressing the child’s needs within their family and assessing the capacity of parents or carers to respond to those needs.
  5. Section 17ZD of the Act states a local authority must carry out a Parent Carers Needs Assessment (PCNA) on a parent carer of a disabled child when:
    • it appears the parent carer may have needs for support; or
    • where they receive a request from the parent carer to assess; and
    • where the local authority is satisfied that the disabled child is eligible for support under section 17 itself.
  6. The only exception to not complete a parent carer needs assessment where the above criteria are met is if a ‘care-related assessment’ has already been completed and the needs have not changed.
  7. At the Council, the Children with Disabilities team complete the PCNA. These are incorporated into the Children and Families assessment. The assessment identifies whether the young person or parent carer has needs that cannot be met in the community, and whether additional services are required to meet the identified need.

How families with disabled children access services in Essex

  1. Referrals for support are made to the Council’s Children and Families Hub. The Hub screens the referral and provides guidance and signposting to the support available.
  2. The Council has four levels of support it offers to families and children in its area.
    • Level 1 – Universal services. This provision is available to all children and families who have core needs such as parenting, health and education.
    • Level 2 – Additional support. For children and families who would benefit from or require extra help to improve parenting and / or behaviour or to meet specific health needs.
    • Level 3 – Intensive support. For vulnerable children and their families with multiple needs or who have a disability resulting in complex needs and where families need substantial support to care for their disabled child.
    • Level 4 – Specialist services. For children with significant impairment of function / learning or whose parents are unable to care for them; or, with profound and enduring disability and children are likely to suffer significant harm without the intervention of specialist services.
  3. If a child is assessed as needing support at Level 3, the Hub passes the referral to the Family Solutions team. Family Solutions contacts the family to discuss its need and screen the referral. Following that it either provides advice and guidance (a mini-plan) or completes a Triage or Shared Family Assessment.
  4. Referrals meeting the threshold for Level 4 are passed to the Children with Disabilities team (CWD team).

Disabled provision for children in Essex

  1. The Light Touch service provides 28 hours of support in a six-month period for families who do not qualify for social care support (Level 3 and Level 4). Examples of how families can use Light Touch includes for support at home and helping take a child out on activities.
  2. The Council also provides short break services, that includes extensive clubs and activities for children with a disability. Access to short break services is dependent on the level of need of the child and the amount of support needed. Families can access clubs and activities directly, whereas specialist support needs are arranged after an assessment by the CWD team.

Background

  1. Y has a genetic condition as well as developmental conditions and learning difficulties. He is identified as having a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act.
  2. In 2017, Ms X complained to the Ombudsman about the Council’s refusal to carry out a PCNA. We found fault with the Council and it subsequently assessed Ms X and Y. It did not assess Y as needing support under section 17 of the Children Act; it stated that Y’s needs were fully met by his parents, education and the use of universal services.
  3. The assessor noted Ms X experienced difficulties getting Y ready for school in the morning, but Y had started at a specialist school and would-be getting school transport. The assessor and Miss Y felt the additional support from the new school placement would make a difference to the difficulties Ms X experienced. The assessor noted ‘it is evident that mum’s health is a need for support as she finds it difficult physically in the mornings and we would recommend that she refers self to adult social care for an assessment in her own right’.

What happened

  1. In May 2019, a mental health worker supporting Ms X referred her to the Council for additional support with Y. The referral said Ms X had multiple health issues, that she felt were impacting on her ability to do activities with Y.
  2. The case records show the Hub contacted Ms X who reported struggling to cope with Y because of her own health issues. She told the Council that amongst Y’s existing difficulties, he had a recent diagnosis of pathological demand avoidance autism; and she had additional health issues. She wanted support taking Y to clubs and said she was unable to deal with Y’s disabilities alone.
  3. The Hub discussed the referral with the Children with Disability (CWD) team to consider an assessment. The case records state the referral did not ‘meet the threshold’ for that service, and it was passed to the Family Solutions team.
  4. The Family Solutions team visited Ms X. It did not complete a written assessment but developed a mini-plan that signposted Ms X to universal services she could access for support, such as Parent Aid. The ‘screening worker highlighted there are relevant and appropriate services in place’ and that Ms X could not identify a role for the service. The Family Solutions team closed the case after it agreed with Ms X her needs could be better met in other ways.
  5. Ms X complained to the Council in March 2020. She said it refused to complete an assessment the previous year. She said the Council had directed her to adult services but that service had directed her back to Children’s Social Care. She said she was ‘going round in circles’. She asked for respite care during school holidays and additional support to help her manage her own needs so she could continue her carer role for Y.
  6. The Council considered Ms X’s request for support but decided the need for further assessment was not necessary because there was no change in circumstances from 2017. The Council wrote to Ms X and said:
    • There were health professionals involved with Y and as he was in a specialist school placement- a Team Around the Family Plan could be coordinated around that as an appropriate early intervention;
    • Family Solutions Service could provide support;
    • She could refer herself to adult social care for an assessment of her own support needs; and
    • It offered ‘light touch support hours’ that she could access without an assessment for Children’s Social Care.
  7. Ms X was unhappy with the Council’s response and complained to the Ombudsman. She said she had tried to access ‘light touch support hours’ but had been told there were no carers in her area.

The Council’s response to enquiries

  1. During my investigation the Council agreed to complete a Children and Families assessment for Ms X and Y. It said it had not contacted her for further information after her request for help in 2020 and that should have happened before determining the threshold in its decision making. It is also looking into the availability of ‘light touch’ support within her area.
  2. It said that when Family Solutions visited Ms X to explore the family’s needs, Ms X said she wanted support with debt issues and emotional wellbeing. The Council said the worker explored the needs of Y but Ms X reported his behaviour had improved.

My findings

  1. Following the referral for Ms X and Y in 2019, the Council’s Family Solutions team screened Ms X’s needs and completed a mini-plan. Although the Council state Ms X did not ask for support with Y when she met Family Solutions, the case records for the Family Solutions team do not show that discussion. The mini plan includes information for Parent Aid, indicating Ms X was still struggling with Y. Ms X had specifically requested support with Y in the community at clubs and activities and I have seen no evidence the Council discussed how those support needs could be met or any reference to Light Touch service and short breaks.
  2. Without completing a holistic assessment of Ms X and Y’s family needs, I am unclear how the Council assessed whether she had any unmet needs as a parent carer and whether she was accessing all the support she was entitled to. The information provided by Ms X to the Hub indicated there was a change in circumstances and it is evident she was struggling in her capacity as a parent to meet Y’s needs. The Council should have completed either a Shared Family assessment or Children and Families assessment before determining whether she was accessing all the support to which she was entitled. It failed to do either. The Council was at fault.
  3. After Ms X complained to the Council in 2020 about its decision not to complete a PCNA in 2019, it sent a letter stating there was no change in what was identified within the 2017 assessment. It said it would not complete a PCNA.
  4. Ms X had highlighted new issues to the Council about Y’s diagnosis in 2019 that it had not considered as part of a parent carers needs assessment in 2017. In addition, the Council last assessed Ms X and Y in 2017. Given the time between the 2017 assessment and new referral, it was unlikely the Council could be confident there was no change in Y’s or Ms X’s circumstances. In response to enquiries, the Council accepted it should have contacted Ms X before deciding not to complete a PCNA assessment. The Council was at fault.
  5. The Council’s fault has delayed Ms X’s access to an assessment of her needs as a parent carer. That has caused avoidable distress and frustration.
  6. The Council has started an assessment of Ms X’s and Y’s needs. Until it completes an assessment that takes into account Ms X’s ability to care, or continue to provide care to Y, and whether she needs support to provide that care, we will not know if she has missed out on services.

Agreed action

  1. Within one month of my final decision the Council has agreed to:
    • Apologise to Ms X and pay her £150 for the avoidable distress and frustration caused by not completing an assessment in 2019 and 2020 after she asked for support.
    • Confirm it has completed a Parent Carers Needs Assessment for Ms X and if she is eligible for support, begin that support without delay.
    • Confirm the provision of light-touch services in Ms X’s area and if there are any gaps in provision, how these will be met.

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Final decision

  1. The Council was at fault for not completing a Parent Carers Needs Assessment after Ms X asked for help. The Council has agreed to complete and assessment apologise. and financial remedy. Therefore, I have completed my investigation.

Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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