Families in South Gloucestershire being denied the respite support they need - Ombudsman

Nearly a third of families of children with special needs in South Gloucestershire have not been receiving the respite care they need, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman has discovered.

South Gloucestershire Council admitted to the Ombudsman during an earlier investigation that it struggled to find respite care for children in its area. The Ombudsman opened a fresh enquiry and when pushed the council admitted a further 29 families who were entitled to respite care were either not receiving some of their entitlement - or none at all.

The families affected have agreed support packages ranging from a few hours a week with more in school holidays to several hours two-to-one support a week. Some include weekly or several overnight stays each month at a respite centre, and there is also one child who has been assessed as needing a 52-week residential placement, but was instead living at home with limited support.

Respite care allows families of children and young people with specific needs the chance to take a break from their caring responsibilities. The failure to provide the agreed support packages in full has the potential to cause significant difficulties and distress to the children and young people and their families who are likely to struggle to cope without it.

Paul Najsarek, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said:

“For too long families in South Gloucestershire have been struggling without the vital respite support they need, and the indications we have from the council suggest for many there is no sign of this improving in the near future.

“While we recognise the difficulties the council is having finding appropriate support locally, it should not have taken a complaint to us to spur them into more effective action. Statutory guidance is clear – if a council is satisfied it is necessary to provide support services, then it must provide them, and have the provision in place to do so.

“I am pleased the council is working towards improving its breadth of provision and hope the rigorous local oversight it has now agreed to implement will ensure this work is not allowed to drift.”

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman remedies injustice and shares learning from investigations to help improve public, and adult social care, services. In this case the council has agreed to apologise to all the families affected.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve processes for the wider public. In this case the council has agreed to provide quarterly reports on its progress to improve the situation to a relevant committee to ensure it holds the council to account if timescales are missed or actions not completed. These actions should also be published on its website so those affected can monitor and track this.

Article date: 07 November 2023

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