WEST SUSSEX COUNCIL “FAILING IN ITS DUTY TO PROVIDE SUITABLE EDUCATION PROVISION” TO A BOY SUFFERING FROM PHOETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROM BECAUSE HE HAS THE “WRONG TYPE OF DISABILITIES”

WEST SUSSEX COUNCIL “FAILING IN ITS DUTY TO PROVIDE SUITABLE EDUCATION PROVISION” TO A BOY SUFFERING FROM PHOETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROM BECAUSE HE HAS THE “WRONG TYPE OF DISABILITIES”

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman finds That A Disabled Boy with the “wrong type of disabilities” missed out on crucial education and Support.

What Just Happened?

On 24th June 2021, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman published a report concerning a young West Sussex boy with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Due to his medical condition, he is highly likely to experience volatile outbursts.He has complex and challenging health needs making his behaviour unpredictable and aggressive.

What Does it Mean?

Since February 2020 he has effectively been lockout out of the education system after his school made the ludicrous decision to exclude him from school which cruelly isolated him from his teachers and friends.

In the interests of balance, he was home-schooled. However, this does nothing to bridge the vast gap in the boy’s loss of education and put a colossal strain on his parents’ relationship who were at the end of their tether and desperate for a small bit of respite.

The boy’s parents complained to the West Sussex Council on the grounds that it had refused to assess the family for respite care, direct payments or a personal budget. This help and support was the bare minimum the family needed to cope with the situation they found themselves in.

The investigation by the Health and Social Ombudsman found there to be a delay in providing a suitable alternative school for the boy. This meant that his education and life chances were dealt an enormous blow as he was not only left without a suitable school to attend for 18 months but he was also callously deprived of full-time education for 15 months.

The investigation also found the West Sussex Council at fault for failing to assess the needs of the boy promptly at the time of his exclusion from school. It took an extraordinary 23 weeks to assess his situation.

However, instead of providing the equivalent crucial support to the boy at a time when he really needed it the West Sussex Council made the miserly decision to only backdate this crucial support by a measly month.

The Ombudsman were stingingly critical of the West Sussex Council over this debacle. When the family complained to them about what they had experienced it refused to allow them to complain through all three stages of the Children’s Statutory Complaints Process. After the first stage of its investigation, the Council signposted the family to the Ombudsman Service.

After the investigation, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman expressed his concern about the Council’s behaviour. Michael King said, “I am concerned the council appears to be gatekeeping access to its services. By applying criteria to people requesting assessments for their children it is placing barriers in front of them.”

“Throughout the time the boy was out of school, it appears the burden of finding a school placement has rested on the boy’s mother.”

“The council has a duty to ensure there is sufficient educational provision available in its area to meet demand. The lack of suitable placements for the boy in the council’s SEN schools suggests it is not meeting this duty.”

Accepting their fault, the Council apologised to the family for what they had experienced and agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommendations to improve its services and complaints handling procedures. They also agreed to review their assessment process to ensure it is meeting its duties for all children who need this urgent service and not just those who fall under specific criteria. The Council will also complete an audit or review of the educational provision available in West Sussex for children and young people who have complex Special Educational Needs to ensure there are enough places available to meet demand.

However, this is not the end of the story. The positivity of the findings quickly ebbed away when the Council agreed to pay the family a pathetic £3,050 to apparently compensate them. To the Ombudsman the plight of this young man and his family, who had suffered so much at the hands of the West Sussex Council, was not even the equivalent value of a small track claim.

The breakdown of the compensation was as follows. Firstly, for the gatekeeping of its assessment process and the delays, this subsequently caused, along with delays in its complaint handling and the provision of respite care. Secondly, the Ombudsman reassessed the current respite provided to the boy’s long-suffering family to see if this was appropriate and paid them an additional £1,800 to take account of the education provision the boy had missed due to this debacle.

What is the impact on the Legal Sector?

The Ombudsman’s findings could be a unique insight into the way children of alcoholics and mothers who consume alcohol during pregnancy are treated. Thousands of families throughout the United Kingdom are being left frustrated at being denied education due to having the “wrong disability” and so not in the opinion of the Council assessors worthy of vital life chances. It will be interesting to see if any more Councils are failing in their duties to provide children with suitable school places to meet demand.

With public finances being in dire straits due to the health crisis, councils need to allocate funds to ensure these vulnerable children receive vital education and other related services.

 

The Legists Content Team

Written by Adam Green

Watching Firms: #Clifford Chance, #Linklaters, #Slaughter & May, #Hogan Lovells, #Latham Watkins, #RPC and #Human Rights Watch.

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