Autistic teen forced to move schools because of lack of resources

An autistic teenager was moved from her residential special school midway through her studies because of poor planning by Suffolk County Council, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The teenager had been attending the out-of-county independent school for five years when the council moved her in July 2016.

The council had intended to educate the girl at a local mainstream school following her move, but could not put in place the correct level of support as it was unaware of the provision available in the area. She was left without full-time education for five months – until another independent special school was found for her.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found significant faults with the council’s handling of the situation. It took 14 months to issue the teenager’s Education, Health and Care Plan, which had initially been issued without any assessment of her social care needs.

The council made the decision to end the girl’s placement at her school without any evidence her needs had changed, and failed to consider transition planning when she was in Year 9, and instead waited till she was in Year 11.

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

“It had taken a long time for this girl – who has significant needs – to settle at her school, and yet Suffolk County Council moved this girl despite the evidence supplied by the school and her educational psychologist.

“A lack of resources should never be the primary factor in deciding the best provision for a child with educational needs. This has been compounded by the council’s poor planning throughout the 14 months, and its admission it was unaware of the provision it had within its own boundaries.

“We welcome the steps the council has already taken to improve its services to children with special educational needs and hope this report, along with others from Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission, will help inform the changes the council needs to make to ensure other children are not affected in the same way.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s role is to remedy injustice and share learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to the mother and daughter for the delay in arranging full-time education.

It will also pay the daughter £1,200 for the loss of one term of education, and a further £1,000 for the 14 months of uncertainty and distress she was faced with while the council was trying to find a suitable alternative placement.

It will pay the mother £1,000 for the disruption to her working arrangements caused by her daughter’s unplanned return from residential school and a further £500 for the time and trouble she spent pursuing the complaint.

The council has also agreed to pay the family £1,000 for the 14 months of uncertainty caused by its actions.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public.

The council has already conducted a review of the young people with EHC Plans whose placements were moved from out-of-county to in-county before their Plans were issued (from 1 January 2015) as a result of inspections by Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission. It has confirmed that those potentially affected were provided with the opportunity to exercise their right of appeal to the Tribunal.

The council has also agreed to review its policies and procedures to ensure EHC Plans are completed within the statutory time limits, needs are identified, provision is met and ensure decisions are based on the assessed needs of each young person;

It will also take relevant action to ensure it is aware of the provision available in its area and surrounding areas, revise its Local Offer to ensure it properly reflects the provision available in the local area and outside of the area; and take relevant action to ensure transition planning work has begun when a young person with an EHC Plan is in Year 9.

Article date: 28 February 2019