Grandmother left without respite for two years by London Borough of Croydon

A grandmother who was ‘stretched beyond maximum capacity’ after Croydon Children’s Services left her to look after her disabled grandson for two years without any respite, has had her complaints upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman.

The woman had been struggling to care for her grandson, who has Autism and Fragile X Syndrome, on her own since her daughter died unexpectedly in 2004. The grandson is now 19.

The boy’s conditions mean he struggles to cope with changes to his routine. He has significant behavioural issues when his routines are altered, so any changes need to be carefully managed.

The grandmother contacted the London Borough of Croydon in 2011 to ask for support with respite care as she was struggling to manage his behaviour as he grew older and stronger.

In May 2012 the council awarded her a package of respite which provided flexible use of three days a month and a seven day holiday break taken at his specialist school’s residential facility.  The council also agreed to pay £1,000 towards the cost of a summer holiday with the grandson’s extended family. By 2012 the grandmother was struggling and made repeated calls for help, but her package remained the same. 

This care package ended suddenly in February 2015 when the school said it could no longer meet the grandson’s complex needs. The grandmother has had no respite since this date. 

At one point after the respite care ended, the grandson was hospitalised following a severe epileptic episode, the grandmother became emotionally unwell and was unable to look after the teenager, and the council had to find a temporary placement for him.

She complained to the Ombudsman about the lack of respite care, the council’s transition planning and also about his Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) not being completed in time.

The Ombudsman found fault with the council for not ensuring the transition assessment was started at the appropriate time and to complete it. This means the family have not been able to prepare for the teenager’s move to adult life.

The investigation also found the council’s failure to provide suitable alternative respite provision since 2015 meant the grandmother missed out on 43 days flexible respite and a seven day break for each of the  two years. This has placed an ‘exceptional strain’ on her as she has had to cope alone with her grandson’s sometimes violent behaviour, without a break.

The grandson has also lost the opportunity to gain some degree of independence living away, and he has missed time spent with his peers.

The Ombudsman has also found fault with the council for not ensuring the annual holiday payment, based on their assessed need, was paid in a timely way causing the grandmother additional stress and anxiety. 

The council was also at fault becauseit did not complete the transfer process to an EHCP within the statutory timescales. This has left the boy with an unacceptably short time to prepare for his September placement.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“This case involves a catalogue of unacceptable failings by London Borough of Croydon, which has left a family stretched to breaking point.

“Even before the respite package came to an end, this family was struggling. The grandmother made repeated calls for extra help and yet she was left to cope alone with her teenage grandson where ordinarily he would have had one-to-one specialist support at school.

“I hope the changes Croydon council now makes following my report will ensure no other families are left in a similar position.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to improve local public, and adult social care, services. 

In this case, London Borough of Croydon has agreed to apologise to the family for the failures identified in the report.

It will pay the grandmother and the grandson £5,000 each for the harm caused by not having suitable respite for two years. It will also pay the grandmother £1,250 to recognise the distress caused for having to pursue these matters over two years.

The council will complete a transition plan for the boy and if it has not already done so, it should issue the boy’s EHCP as soon as possible.

The council will urgently review its policies and procedures and draft a new transition policy document to provide staff with clear timelines and procedures to follow. 

Article date: 13 July 2017

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