Council at fault for moving autistic teenager

Good guidance practice issued care providers
Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman

An investigation has found significant faults with the way a council moved an autistic teenager from her residential special school midway through her studies.

The teenager had been attending the out-of-county independent school for five years when Suffolk County Council moved her in July 2016.

The council planned to educate the girl at a local mainstream school following her move, but could not provide the correct level of support as it was unaware of the provision available in the area. She was left without full-time education for five months – until another independent special school was found for her.

A Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman investigation found it took 14 months to issue the teenager’s education, health and care (EHC) plan, which had initially been produced without any assessment of her social care needs.

The council made the decision to end the girl’s placement at her school without any evidence her needs had changed, and failed to consider transition planning when she was in Year 9, and instead waited until she was in Year 11.

Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman Michael King said: ‘It had taken a long time for this girl – who has significant needs – to settle at her school, and yet Suffolk County Council moved this girl despite the evidence supplied by the school and her educational psychologist.

‘A lack of resources should never be the primary factor in deciding the best provision for a child with educational needs. This has been compounded by the council’s poor planning throughout the 14 months, and its admission it was unaware of the provision it had within its own boundaries.’

The council agreed to apologise to the mother and daughter and pay them and their family £4,700.

It has also conducted a review of its policies and procedures.

Councillor Gordon Jones, Suffolk County Council’s cabinet member for children’s services, education and skills, apologised to the family before adding: ‘The council completely accepts the findings and judgement of the Local Government Ombudsman in this matter.

‘This case took place in July 2016, prior to the SEND service inspection at the end of 2016. It predates many of the positive changes made since to improve the support we provide to children and young people with SEND. We are pleased that the Local Government Ombudsman recognises the council has conducted a thorough review of its processes to support young people with EHC plans whose placements were moved from out-of-county to in-county before their plans were issued.

‘We are certainly not complacent and accept there is more work to do.’