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Staffordshire council missed multiple deadlines reviewing girl’s special needs plans

Staffordshire council’s consistently poor administration of a county teen’s special educational needs plan left her college unable to properly support her, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has found.

The girl, who has autism spectrum disorder and physical disabilities, moved to a new college from her special school in September 2019. However, because the council had not finalised her Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) by then, the college had out-of-date information about her support needs and how it could meet them. Instead of being available before her transition to college, her new plan was not finalised until May 2021.

The delay in providing the girl with an up-to-date EHC Plan was not a one-off incident. EHC Plans should be reviewed every year, but the girl’s review for 2017 was made 32 weeks late – it should have made a decision by March 2018 and this was not made till October. And a final decision for the following year was not issued because the council decided instead to review the girl’s provision when she moved to her new college.

The frequent delays meant the girl’s family lost the opportunity to appeal the contents of the plans to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal (SENDIST).

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

“Without the opportunity to appeal the council’s plans, the family have been left with the uncertainty that their daughter might have been able to receive extra support had an appeal gone their way. They missed the chance, over several years, to ask the council to reinstate the Occupational Therapy review into the plan.

“The mother says a large part of her daughter’s worsening health is due to the lack of therapies, and, while I cannot say how much this and other circumstances experienced by the family has contributed, it must have caused them stress and frustration.

“I am pleased the council has agreed to my recommendations to put things right for the family, and the wider changes the council has put in place following a critical Ofsted review during this period should remedy the systemic issued raised by this complaint.”

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 should apologise to the girl and her mother, and pay them £750 each for the uncertainty, missed opportunities, stress and frustration the delays and missed decisions led to.

It will also pay the mother £300 for her time and trouble in repeatedly having to raise the issues and refund her £450 for the costs of the Occupational Therapy report she commissioned.

Article date: 17 November 2021