Council fails for a second time to provide therapy for Somerset boy with special educational needs

Somerset County Council has for the second time left a vulnerable boy with disabilities without the speech and language and occupational therapy support he needs, because officers did not know how to find him a therapist.

The Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) has published a report censuring the council after the boy’s parents were forced to complain to it for a second time.This is despite the council promising to provide services in 2015 and not repeat its mistake.

The boy, who has severe and complex speech, language, communication, sensory and physical needs had spent five terms without a support package when the family first complained to the LGO in 2015. Following that investigation the council agreed to provide the services the boy needed.

After a Tribunal in 2016 ordered the boy should get even more support, the council did not get him the therapists he needed. His annual review said the lack of support was having an impact not only on his learning and education but also on his ability to make friends.

The family complained to the council again. It explained it had changed the way it commissioned services and did not have arrangements or therapists in place. It had difficulties in finding therapists in the area. The council could not suggest any alternative, but asked the family if they could find their own.

The family found two therapists but by then the boy had missed out on support for a term and a half.

The family were forced to complain to the LGO for a second time. Its report heavily criticised the council’s Children’s Services department, stating it showed “a level of ineptitude in funding, commissioning and delivering a statutory service” which led to “vulnerable and disabled children missing out on the support they require”.

During the investigation, the council revealed that two further families of children with special educational needs were similarly affected by delays in finding therapists, but for different reasons.

The Ombudsman believes the level of funding the council set aside for the therapy services could indicate more people have been affected and should come forward.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said:

“At the heart of this case is a vulnerable young disabled boy who has been left without the support he needs to help him make friends and get on with his lessons.

“Somerset council agreed to the recommendations following an earlier complaint, but did not make swift enough progress to ensure the damage to the boy’s education was not compounded. It is important it learns from complaints to improve services for people.

“While I am encouraged that Somerset council has accepted the findings of this report, it now needs to act promptly and implement the remedies I have recommended in good time.”

To remedy the situation, Somerset County Council has agreed to apologise to the family.

It will also pay them £300 for the time and trouble of bringing the complaint to the Ombudsman again when they could reasonably have expected the matters to have been resolved by their previous complaint to us, and a further £1,000 for them to use for their son’s educational benefit.

It will also keep a clear record of the number of sessions the boy has missed with the Speech and Language Therapist and the Occupational Therapist from February to July 2016 and record the number of additional sessions he has since received to make up for that loss.

It has also agreed to a number of procedural changes and to develop and implement specific action plans to ensure this situation will not happen again.

Article date: 08 December 2016