Mother left with no respite or protection from disabled son by Somerset County Council

Three young children were left without any protection from their violent older brother after Somerset County Council failed to help their family, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The older brother, whose Special Educational Needs and condition means he is prone to sudden, unpredictable and violent outbursts, was significantly bigger and heavier than his mother and younger siblings. Because the mother struggled to cope with her son’s condition and also protect her younger children, she asked the council to consider placing him in a residential school.

Between 2015 and 2018, specialists working with the family witnessed the brother hitting and kicking his siblings and throwing and using objects against them. The siblings suffered physical injuries and were afraid of their older brother, often hiding to avoid him. Reports to the council from his school showed the boy had punched a child in the face and attempted to strangle a fellow pupil. A specialist nurse reported the school had recorded 36 separate incidents of violence involving the boy.

In another incident, a specialist nurse visiting the family had to intervene to rescue the mother when the older boy sat on her, pinning her down. The same nurse witnessed an unprovoked attack on the boy’s sister where he struck her with an object. She said the level of support provided at the time was not sufficient to protect the siblings from further harm.

The boy was finally provided with a 52-week residential placement in May 2018.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found the council failed to provide the respite it had assessed the family as needing for nearly three years. It also found the council did not do enough to assess the risk the brother posed to the younger siblings, despite several reports from professionals and repeated calls from their mother that they were suffering both physical and psychological harm while their mother was unable to protect them.

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

“Throughout the three years the council had a wealth of evidence both the mother, and the boy’s school, struggled to cope with the boy’s violent and unpredictable outbursts. Despite this, it sought to blame the mother’s parenting style rather than provide the respite the council itself assessed the family as needing.

“This left the family suffering both physical and psychological distress: the children have had to unlearn three years of coping behaviours, and the family was unable to enjoy quality time together.

“I am pleased the council has now agreed to my recommendations and hope the changes they have agreed to make will ensure disabled children and their families are safeguarded appropriately in future.”

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 pay her £8,250. This is made up of £2,000 for her injustice and £2,000 each for the younger children’s injustice and £250 for the older boy, each to benefit the children.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to remind all social care staff that children have the right to be protected and that that section47 of the Children Act 1989 should not be ruled out and could be appropriate in exceptional circumstances when providing support to disabled children and their families. It will also remind those responsible for the conduct of placement panels that there must always be a record of what information they consider and their rationale for those decisions.

Article date: 19 January 2021

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