The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has strongly criticised Richmond council’s children’s service provider, Achieving for Children, for not effectively supporting children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
The Ombudsman has uncovered evidence of children missing out on support and education in three separate cases it has recently investigated, giving cause for concern about systemic failures between the council and its provider.
In one case, a sixth former with mental health issues was repeatedly let down and missed out on her education because the council took too long to make the appropriate provision.
In another case, a primary school child with disabilities missed out on the support he needed because the council took nearly a year to complete his Education, Health and Care Plan.
In the third case, a teenager with SEN who was about to sit her GCSEs, missed out on a year’s education at a private special school, because the council failed to tell her parents it had agreed to fund it.
When the Ombudsman’s investigators visited the council to inspect case files, they found documents often named or filed incorrectly. Additionally, the investigation found the council had three separate IT systems for managing information, one of which could only be accessed by a single member of staff. And in one of the cases, the Ombudsman’s investigation was only able to discover what had happened because the family had kept thorough records.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“The three cases highlighted in my report give rise to serious concerns that there may be systemic failures within the processes operated by the London Borough of Richmond and Achieving for Children. I have published this report in part because other families may very well be affected by issues similar to those I have raised.
“I have now asked the council to undertake a full audit of its education provision and report back to me about what it finds. If the council finds other children have been affected, it should take steps to ensure they do not miss out on the services they are entitled to receive by law.”
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 all three families.
It will also pay the parents of the first child £1,500 for the delay and lost education provision, along with £500 for distress and a further £250 for their time and trouble in bringing the complaint.
In the second case, the council has already apologised and offered the family £4,400 to reimburse the cost of a psychology report the family had commissioned. It has also agreed to pay them a further £1,500 for the loss of SEN provision and £250 for their time and trouble.
The council has agreed to pay the third family £8,600 to make up for the loss of education provision and for distress, along with a further £500 for the time and trouble caused.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to carry out an audit of all the children for whom Achieving for Children is responsible, to identify if others have been affected in the same way. If it finds similar issues with delay, children out of education, or inadequate record-keeping, it should put in place action plans to address these.
Article date: 14 January 2020