Family feel ‘ignored’ after vulnerable son left without education during Covid
- Credit: Archant
A family has said they feel “ignored” by a council after their clinically vulnerable son was left without education or support during the Covid pandemic.
Cambridgeshire County Council (CCC) has been criticised by the local government and social care Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman also said CCC should apologise to the family and pay compensation.
CCC said its chief executive has personally apologised to the family, adding that it knows it “could and should have done better.”
The family, who have not been named in the Ombudsman’s report, complained that the council had failed to provide their nine-year-old son with an updated education, health and care (EHC) plan.
The Ombudsman said CCC had last issued the boy’s EHC plan in 2016, and last amended it in 2018.
It said it should have been reviewed annually, but that this had not happened, and that the plan therefore did not reflect the current needs of the boy and the support needed to meet them.
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The family also complained that the council had failed to provide their son with an education, adding that he had been out of school since March 2020, on the advice of his GP, due to being clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid-19.
The boy has complex special educational needs, including severe neuro-disabilities and speech language delay.
The report states that he struggled to engage with remote learning when this was offered by the school as he could not tolerate the noise and was distressed. The family were sent some printed resources by the school.
In September 2020, the boy’s family asked CCC to provide alternative provision for him and identified a tutor who was familiar to him.
The report said that discussions were had between CCC, the boy’s school and a community paediatrician as to whether the boy could attend school.
It explained that there had been difference of opinion between the paediatrician and the GP as to whether the boy could attend school.
The report said the paediatrician did highlight, however, that a patient could only be removed from the shielding list by their GP or specialist following a consultation with the child and their family.
The Ombudsman’s report said CCC wrote to the family that it considered the school to be meeting the requirements for remote education.
It added that in a final letter to the family in May 2021, CCC said on remote learning that it had tried to find solutions in partnership with the school, and that the council believed it had met its statutory duty to provide adequate education by naming and funding a place at a special school.
The Ombudsman told CCC it should apologise to the family and arrange alternative provision for the boy until he can return to school.
The council was also told it should issue an amended EHC plan and secure the provision for the amended plan.
The Ombudsman also said that the council should pay the family £7,000 to recognise the lack of education and special education needs provision from September 2020 to February 2022, and a further £1,000 to recognise the stress, frustration and time and trouble caused to the family.
Michael King, local government and social care Ombudsman, said: “The family tell me they have been ignored and misled by the council.
“Nobody from the council has checked on their son’s wellbeing, or their own, and its poor handling of their case continues to cause them significant distress."
He added: "I am concerned that throughout my investigation the council has demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of its role in the SEND process and of its legal obligations and duties towards children in the county.
“Additionally, the council’s poor response to my investigation is also a major concern.
“It is an issue highlighted in my recent report about complaints handling during the pandemic, where we saw some councils abandoning high-quality complaint handling."
He continued: "I now call upon CCC, and their councillors who scrutinise its actions, to reflect upon my report and consider whether this is the way they want services for their most vulnerable residents to run in future.”
A spokesperson for the CCC said: “We understand and accept the judgement, and our Chief Executive Stephen Moir has made a personal apology to the family.
“We know we could and should have done better; the compensation suggested by the Local Government Ombudsman is being made."
They added: "There is much more that needs to be done to support children with special educational needs and disabilities in Cambridgeshire, which is why it has been made a priority by our Joint Administration.
“A full plan looking at our progress in addressing the actions identified by the Ombudsman in this case will be discussed by the Children’s and Young People’s Committee in July.”