Cambridgeshire County Council has refused to apologise to a family after it left their clinically vulnerable son without any education or support during the COVID-19 crisis.
The nine-year-old, who has complex Special Educational Needs including severe neuro-disabilities and speech and language delay, could not attend his school throughout the pandemic on the advice of his GP. He has had no formal schooling since September 2020 and has only in the last month been provided with some education at home.
The council issued the boy’s Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan in 2016, and last amended it in 2018. It should have reviewed this annually but has failed to do so. This means the boy’s plan does not reflect his current needs and the support he requires to meet them.
Despite the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigating the complaint and finding the council at fault, Cambridgeshire has so far refused to agree to any of the Ombudsman’s recommendations to put things right for the family.
Councillors are now obliged to review the investigation report at a top-level decision-making meeting and share their formal response with the Ombudsman.
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:
“The family tell me they have been ignored and misled by the council. Nobody from the council has checked on their son’s wellbeing, or their own, and its poor handling of their case continues to cause them significant distress.
“I am concerned that throughout my investigation the council has demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of its role in the SEND process and of its legal obligations and duties towards children in the county.
“Additionally, the council’s poor response to my investigation is also a major concern. It is an issue highlighted in my recent report about complaints handling during the pandemic, where we saw some councils abandoning high-quality complaint handling.
“I now call upon Cambridgeshire County Council – and the councillors who scrutinise its actions – to reflect upon my report and consider whether this is the way they want services for their most vulnerable residents run 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 should apologise to the family and arrange alternative provision for the son until he can return to school.
It should also issue an amended his EHC plan and advise the parents of their right to appeal to the SEND tribunal, secure the provision in this amended final EHC plan and explain to them how this will be delivered as part of or alongside their son’s alternative education provision, and set a date for an annual review following the issue of this amended final EHC plan.
Cambridgeshire should also pay the family £7,000 to recognise the lack of education and special educational needs provision from September 2020 to February 2022, and a further £1,000 to recognise the stress, frustration and time and trouble caused to the family.
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council should remind officers of their duties both around Special Educational Needs services, and complaint handling.
Article date: 28 April 2022