Autistic boy denied a proper education for a year due to council failings

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A Cornish boy with special educational needs, who was excluded from his primary school because of behavioural problems, missed out on full-time education for 12 months, a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation has found.

The Ombudsman’s investigation found Cornwall Council did not provide him with the right support sooner because teams within the council did not communicate with one another.

The boy’s family and experts – including the council’s own social worker, autism needs advisor, and educational psychologist – asked the council to carry out an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan assessment as early as 2015, but the council’s educational panel decided there was not enough evidence that the boy met the threshold.

It took more than a year, and two further requests for assessment, for the council to decide the boy needed to be assessed. When the final EHC Plan was issued it set out a significant amount of help was needed to allow the boy to receive an education and manage his emotions and behaviour.

The investigation found Cornwall’s children’s services department became involved with the boy and his family in 2015, but the education department told the Ombudsman it first knew the boy was not receiving a full-time education in November 2016.

The Ombudsman decided the boy would have had his EHC Plan earlier and received full-time education sooner if support had been in place.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “This case highlights the importance of council departments working together, communicating properly and sharing information to ensure the correct support is provided in a timely way.

“The council also applied too high a threshold for deciding whether or not to assess the boy for an EHC Plan. The threshold for deciding an assessment is low – a council only needs to be satisfied a child may have special educational needs and may require provision. In this case there was ample evidence the boy met this.

“I welcome the changes the council has agreed to make to ensure its EHC Plan assessments are in line with legislation, guidance and case law. These recommendations aim to stop other children having to wait so long to receive the support they need.”

photo credit: Honza Soukup via photopin cc

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 family for its failure to assess the boy for an EHC Plan in 2015 and August 2016.

It will also pay the family £2,500 to recognise the injustice caused as a result of missed education, distress and time and trouble caused to the mother.

The council will also pay the mother £1,000 to fund additional activities for the boy to suit his needs.

The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations to improve a council’s processes for the wider public.

In this case, the council has agreed to produce guidance for its children’s services and education departments about information sharing and responsibilities around children with SEN who are either out of education or not receiving full-time education.

It will also amend its guidance on children eligible for an EHCP assessment to ensure these are lawful and in-line with legislation, guidance and case law.

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