£3.5k payout for parents of child with autism who was 'failed by council'

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Generic image of female child - Credit: Archant

A child with autism besieged by crippling anxiety spent years in and out of school before her parents decided to withdraw her - because the council repeatedly failed to accommodate her complex needs.

The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman ruled on March 17, 2021 that Norfolk County Council was at fault over the care of "G", a nine-year-old child officially diagnosed with Autistic Spectrum Condition in April 2019 but who didn't receive a special school place until September 2020.

It ordered the council pay her parents £3,500 as a result.

The council has apologised and says it regrets the "disruption to G's education and the resulting anxiety caused to both G and her family", adding that it was blighted by "increasing demand".

G's parents - Mrs and Mr X - knew their daughter had special educational needs as long ago as 2017. But they claim the council took too long to act on this, meaning she struggled through mainstream school until 2019.

The couple complained to the Ombudsman that there was an unacceptable delay in the council's issuing of their daughter's Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP).

They also state the council failed to give her this provision, did not make alternative arrangements when she was unable to attend school due to extreme anxiety and took too long to arrange her transfer to a special school.

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One of the reasons for this was because the council faced a shortage of staff in its Educational Psychology Service - a fact it says is slowly being reversed due to more investment in SEND services.

In the 2017/18 school year, when problems first arose and G's attendance became patchy, Mrs and Mr X were threatened with prosecution by that school: a situation they found "stressful, hurtful and unhelpful". 

Children in school

The child spent more than a year out of school while waiting for a place at a special educational needs school - Credit: Archant

Even in 2019, her school was recording G's absences as "unauthorised", causing Mrs X to worry she would be threatened with prosecution again.

A council spokesperson said: "G now has a special school place which meets her needs and her EHCP has been reviewed and updated.

"Like other local authorities across the country, we've found it difficult to keep up with increasing demand.

"However, since 2018 when these issues arose, we've increased capacity in our specialist teams and this is starting to make a real difference to children and their families."