LGO finds ‘significant problems’ with care for special needs children

The LGO has criticised the “disproportionate burden” put on the families of children with special educational needs (SEN).

In its first 100 investigations into the 2014 Education Health and Care Plans (EHCP), the complaints watchdog found that the transition from the SEN Statement system to the new policy saw some families fall through the cracks.

An LGO report released today points to significant delays in the new process as well as a shortage of parent and young people involvement in decision-making and a lack of forward planning for educational changes.

Although the Ombudsman has received a relatively small number of complaints so far, it expects these to increase because of the time it takes for people to get through the council complaints process before reaching the LGO.

“When councils get things wrong it places a disproportionate burden on families already struggling with caring and support: some families have to go well beyond the call of duty to confirm the type of support their children should receive,” commented Michael King, Local Government Ombudsman.

“We issued a report in March 2014, highlighting the shortcomings which needed to be addressed with the new EHCP system. Regrettably, our first 100 investigations show this has not happened.

“The system is not failing universally,” he continued. “But for those people who come to us, we are finding significant problems – sometimes suffering long delays in getting the right support and children ultimately failing to reach their potential.”

Responding to the report, councils have said that the new system has added complexities and will take some time for authorities and other public bodies to navigate.

In addition, the LGA pointed to the relatively small number of investigations (100) completed so far as evidence that the ombudsman has not fully understood the problem.

Cllr Richard Watts, chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, explained: “Councils are working hard to ensure all children with SEND are getting the support that they need. However, this is a new and complex system which councils and other agencies, including health partners and schools, are trying to navigate.

“With transitional funding set to end in March 2018, there is increasing concern among councils that at a time of rising demand, they will be unable to meet the needs of children and families in their areas.

“Councils are clear that the government should provide additional and ongoing funding to meet this need, otherwise councils may not be able to meet their statutory duties and children with high needs or disabilities could miss out on a mainstream education.”

The local authority organisation also said that more cooperation was needed with other government departments, schools and the councils themselves in order to ensure each child and their families were fairly dealt with.

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