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Watchdog raps Norfolk County Council after disabled boy’s social care needs were not met for 18 months

PUBLISHED: 12:51 15 September 2018 | UPDATED: 13:06 15 September 2018

County Hall, the headquarters of Norfolk County Council. Pic: David Hannant.

County Hall, the headquarters of Norfolk County Council. Pic: David Hannant.

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A disabled boy went 18 months without having their social care needs met because of mistakes made by Norfolk County Council, a watchdog has said.

Penny Carpenter, chair of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee. Pic: Norfolk County Council.Penny Carpenter, chair of Norfolk County Council's children's services committee. Pic: Norfolk County Council.

Children’s services bosses apologised after the mother of the boy, who has not been identified, complained to the Local Government Ombudsman about his case - and the watchdog found the council was at fault.

The case started in 2016 after the mother of the boy asked for a social care assessment for her son, when he moved from having a statement of special educational needs to an education health and care plan (EHC).

The boy had high anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyspraxia and autism and his mother was struggling to manage his behaviour, which could be challenging and aggressive.

The council was supposed to carry out an assessment over the boy’s needs, which as well as his educational needs, should have included an assessment of his social care needs.

But the council initially failed to seek advice from social care. The mother approached them directly about that and in October, children’s services agreed to carry out an assessment, although they later apologised for that being 13 days late.

The social worker who did the assessment referred the boy to the NHS Starfish team - a mental health service for children and adolescents but, as had happened before, the referral was rejected as the boy did not meet the criteria of having a learning disability.

The council closed the case in December 2016, but the ombudsman found the social care assessment document was not sent to the boy’s mother. It was eventually sent in August 2017, when the ombudsman was investigating.

The ombudsman said: “The delay by the social worker was not 13 days, but (to date) 18 months. This is unacceptable delay and has caused injustice.”

The ombudsman said there was fault in closing the assessment prematurely without full communication with the family, which meant identified social care needs were not met.

And they said the social worker should not have assumed the NHS Starfish team would make the final judgement on what services were required, as the statutory duty rested with the council. They said when that referral was rejected, the council should have re-opened the case.

They ordered the council to apologise, to pay £2,700 into an account for the boy - to be used for educational, social or recreational benefit - and £2,700 to his mother as his carer.

The council was also told to carry out an assessment and pay £150 a month until a care plan and services were in place.

A spokeswoman for Norfolk County Council said: “We accept the findings and have acted on the ombudsman’s recommendations.

“We are sorry for the delays in this case and have now carried out the assessments. The child is in a special school place and is getting the education support that they need.”

Targets are being missed

Hundreds of children with special educational needs in Norfolk are having to wait longer than they should to get support.

Young people with special educational needs are supposed to get help through an education health and care plan (EHCP), drawn up by Norfolk County Council.

The target is for those plans to be issued no more than 20 weeks after an assessment is requested, but in Norfolk only about 14pc are being completed on time. The national average is 55pc.

The council says staff had been under pressure because of a need to transfer statements of special needs to EHCPs and 99pc of those had been converted within the timescale.

Those staff are now able to focus on the EHCPs, where the number of referrals has increased to more than 1,000 a year.

And Penny Carpenter, who chairs the council’s children’s services committee, said the authority was determined to get the assessments right.

She said: “We really work hard through the assessment process because we have to get it right. It’s not a tick box exercise. It’s a highly specialised quality assessment.”

Demand for places at special schools has soared in recent years and the number of EHCPs issued increased from 501 in 2016 to 726 in 2017.

That has put pressure on places at the county’s 13 special schools, with the county council looking to create four new special schools and more specialist resource bases within mainstream schools.

Mrs Carpenter said the council had brought in two experienced headteachers to provide extra support to schools where children could be educated, without needing to remove them from mainstream education.

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