Council rapped after 'misleading' family over child's education

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. Pic: Norfolk County Coun

John Fisher, Norfolk County Council cabinet member for children's services. - Credit: Norfolk County Council

Norfolk County Council provided a family with "misleading information" over their autistic child's education and failed to offer the specialist support they required, an Ombudsman has said.

An investigation carried out by the Local Government Ombudsman found that the parent, known as Mrs X, had sought advice from the council on obtaining speech and language therapy (SALT) and occupational therapy (OT) for the child, who lives with an autistic spectrum disorder.

But she was told at the time, in March 2018, that the council did not make referrals for OT assessments and that SALT advice would take time - which the Ombudsman ruled was misleading information.

And this saw delays in the boy receiving the specialist support he needed, also holding up his education plan (EHC) from being issued.

The ordeal also saw Mrs X twice apply to the council for a personal budget to cover the costs of this support, in October 2018 and June 2019 - which the council refused, leaving the family to go through a tribunal.

An Ombudsman investigator wrote: "I found fault by the council. It provided misleading information, delayed in issuing a final EHC and failed to respond to a request for a personal budget. 

"It also failed to provide occupational and speech and language therapy for three months."

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Following a ruling, the council agreed to apologise in writing to the family, cover the costs of OT and SALT privately commissioned by the mother and pay the family £2,300 - which included the cost of the provision and £500 in compensation.

John Fisher, cabinet member for children’s services, said: “We accept the findings of the Ombudsman and we have apologised and paid compensation to Mrs X.

“We regret the time, trouble and frustration these delays and lack of provision have caused. We have now issued a final EHCP, we have agreed an annual personal budget for speech and language therapy and occupational therapy and this provision has been running for some months now.

“Since this case, we have improved communication with parents via a dedicated EHCP phone line and we have improved training for our teams.

“We have also increased capacity in our specialist teams and we continue to be committed to improving our services further.”

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