Suffolk County Council have been found to have caused an injustice to a child, by not delivering parts of Section F of his EHCP. Parents, as part of the EHC process, can complain to the Ombudsman if they feel an injustice has been caused. What you need to look out for are the following: maladministration (which includes not meeting deadlines), breach of duty to deliver provision etc; all of which cause an impact on the child or family in a significant way.
Families are unfortunately left in a ‘no man’s land’ at many many points along the EHC journey. You may go to tribunal, be successful in your appeal, and then find that the local authority fails to put that provision in place. There is unfortunately no quick solution; which is completely ludicrous.
Families are forced to yet again enter the legal world and make threats (in most cases these amount to empty threats because the system has already rinsed the parents completely dry of any finances they had, during the tribunal stage - the thought of having to enlist a solicitor is beyond believe). When it comes to legal threats, however, family can threaten judicial review or complain to the ombudsman; both exceptionally lengthy processes.
For those that took it further; you can view their outcomes via the ombudsman website; they post weekly updates. The LGO services, as you can probably imagine, an absolute back log and an outcome can take months and months on end to get a decision; which amounts to further duress!
However, ultimately the Ombudsman does do a proper investigation and regularly (on a weekly basis) councils are found to be guilty of having caused injustice, and are directed to provide compensation.
Much of the time, the compensation does little to account for the true pain the child and family have endured, but at least it is some sort of recognition and accountability and ultimately clear evidence of a fragmented and ‘not for purpose’ system that fails families on a daily basis.
For that reason, I urge, if you have it in you, to register your complaint. This is key evidence that we need to be taking forward to the government. It results in stats, and fact; fact that eventually can not be ignored.
Getting back to the case we are focusing on today:
In this case, the child’s EHC plan states that he should receive “A structured language programme based upon advice from a SALT (speech and language therapist)”. It states this will be provided for a minimum of 30 minutes a week. In the section of the document that details who should provide this the document states “SALT”.
The SALT was not delivered after the SLT went on maternity leave. The council did not make any provisions for this.
The parent making the complaint said she struggled to find out who to speak to at the Council about the lack of provision after the SALT left and confirms that around May 2017 the Council considered approaching another SALT provider to deliver the programme, obtained costings for this but did not then pursue this. This was ongoing in nature for the whole of 2017 and beyond.
In response to the LGO enquires the Council has:
agreed to increase the payment to the family in line with LGO guidance on this from £750 to £1050 to recognise the injustice caused to the child by the failure to make the SALT provision detailed in his EHC plan for over a year;
stated the reason the interim provision was not put in place was confusion between the Council and health commissioners about who should take responsibility for this given that the SALT being provided prior to the therapist taking maternity leave was from a health commissioned provider. The Council says this confusion was compounded by staff changes which meant that the matter was not pursued as it should have been. It says this situation will not happen again as there is a review of SALT services underway that has clarified the respective responsibilities of all parties;
said that parents should contact the named Lead Case Co-ordinator for their locality should they have any issues with their child's EHC plan provision. It says these are published on the SEND local offer website; and
acknowledged that once it was clear that the parent wanted to escalate her complaint, the Council should have arranged for the complaint to move to the next stage of the procedure. It confirms further training has been provided to staff on this.
Bright Futures will be posting about decisions every week for the next few months, to drum up support and encouragement to families to register a complaint themselves. If you would like any help with your registration, please get in touch.
Factual information directly from LGO website