West Sussex boy denied support because he had ‘wrong’ type of disability

West Sussex County Council has apologised after a boy missed out on social care because he had the ‘wrong’ type of disability.

A report from the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman said the boy, who has foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, was prone to volatile outbursts due to his condition.

He was excluded from school in February 2020, and although he was provided with home tuition, he has been out of full-time education since.

When his adoptive parents asked the council to assess him for respite care and financial help, they were told he wasn’t eligible as he did not have a severe learning disability or autism alongside a moderate learning disability.

West Sussex County Council has admitted it made mistakes in this case

Lucy Butler, the council’s executive director of children, young people’s and learning services, said: “I am truly very sorry for the standard of service we provided to the young boy and his family, which was not the level of care and support we should have provided.

“We accept we should have undertaken an assessment on this occasion.”

Following a complaint from the family, the ombudsman launched an investigation.

While this was being conducted, the council started to provide six hours of respite care per week and gave the parents £1,188 to reimburse them for the care they had already paid for.

The boy is due to start at a specialist school in September.

The investigation found there had been a delay in finding a suitable school, meaning he was without full-time education for 13 months.

The council was found to be at fault for not assessing his needs promptly.

There was also criticism of the way the council handled the parents’ complaint, referring them to the ombudsman at stage one rather than completing all three stages of the  statutory complaints procedure.

Ombudsman Michael King said: “I am concerned the council appears to be gate-keeping access to its services.

“By applying criteria to people requesting assessments for their children it is placing barriers in front of them.

“Throughout the time the boy was out of school, it appears the burden of finding a school placement has rested on the boy’s mother.

“The council has a duty to ensure there is sufficient educational provision available in its area to meet demand. The lack of suitable placements for the boy in the council’s SEN schools suggests it is not meeting this duty.

“I welcome that the council has agreed to my recommendations to improve its services and complaints handling.”

The council agreed to pay a total of £3,050 to the parents to compensate for the delays, the lack of assessment and the boy’s missed education.

Ms Butler said: “Since this case, our Children, Young People and Learning Services has been on a rigorous improvement journey and we have made significant progress.

“This is not how we practice now, and a child in similar circumstances will receive an assessment.

“Our Children and Disabilities service has been a high priority focus of our improvement work, and a key part of our commitment to keeping all children and young people safe from vulnerable situations.

“We accept and have already actioned the findings and recommendations of the Ombudsman’s report, including a review of our safeguarding processes.

“I am confident we are clear as a service of our responsibilities to ensuring children in need are appropriately referred.

“Once again I apologise to the family for the standard of service we provided and the impact it has had on their lives.