Croydon Council has been ordered to pay £11,250 in compensation and has been sharply criticised by the Local Government Ombudsman for abandoning a grandmother with no help in caring for her disabled grandson for two years.
The Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found “a catalogue of unacceptable failings by London Borough of Croydon, which has left a family stretched to breaking point”.
The complaint had been brought by a woman had been struggling to care for her grandson, who has autism and Fragile X Syndrome, a genetic condition that causes a range of developmental problems including learning disabilities and cognitive impairment.
The grandmother had been trying to cope on her own since her daughter died in 2004, leaving the child in her care. The grandson is now 19.
The boy’s conditions mean he struggles to cope with changes to his routine. He has significant behavioural issues when his routines are altered, so any changes need to be carefully managed.
The grandmother contacted the London Borough of Croydon in 2011 to ask for support with respite care as she was struggling to manage his behaviour as he grew older and stronger.
In May 2012, the council awarded her a package of respite which provided flexible use of three days a month and a seven-day holiday break taken at his specialist school’s residential facility. The council also agreed to pay £1,000 towards the cost of a summer holiday with the grandson’s extended family.
This care package ended suddenly in February 2015 when the school said it could no longer meet the grandson’s complex needs. The grandmother has had no respite since this date.
At one point after the respite care ended, the grandson was hospitalised following a severe epileptic episode. The grandmother became emotionally unwell and was unable to look after the teenager, and the council had to find a temporary placement for him.
She complained to the Ombudsman about the lack of respite care, the council’s transition planning and also about his Education, Health and Care Plan (EHCP) not being completed in time.
Croydon Council’s failure to properly implement EHCPs has been the cause of numerous complaints in recent years from several concerned parents.
While the council has often failed to meet its statutory duties and deadlines to provide education plans for children and young adults with autism and other learning issues, it continued to spend tens of thousands of pounds every month hiring a legal firm, Baker Small, notorious for its tough tactics deployed to block parents’ claims for the help to which their children are legally entitled.
After one set of particularly troubling reports, the council leader, Tony Newman, intervened to state that Baker Small would not longer be used by Croydon Council. But council officials continued to brief lawyers from Baker Small in cases involving SEND residents.
It may just be coincidence, but after protracted spells of absence, the senior council official responsible for Special Educational Needs left her job at the end of June.
“I don’t think she came in to collect her leaving presents,” one Mint Walk insider told Inside Croydon.
In this later Ombudsman case, the council was found at fault for not ensuring the transition assessment was started at the appropriate time and to complete it. This means the family have not been able to prepare for the teenager’s move to adult life.
The investigation also found the council’s failure to provide suitable alternative respite provision since 2015 meant the grandmother missed out on 43 days flexible respite and a seven-day break for each of the two years. This has placed an “exceptional strain” on her as she has had to cope alone with her grandson’s sometimes violent behaviour, without a break.
The Ombudsman’s report also states that the grandson has lost the opportunity to gain some degree of independence living away, and he has missed time spent with his peers.
The Ombudsman also found fault with the council for not ensuring the annual holiday payment, based on their assessed need, was paid in a timely way causing the grandmother additional stress and anxiety.
The council was also at fault because it did not complete the transfer process to an EHCP within the statutory timescales. This has left the boy with an unacceptably short time to prepare for his September placement, if any placement can be arranged at all.
Michael King, the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “This case involves a catalogue of unacceptable failings by London Borough of Croydon, which has left a family stretched to breaking point.
“Even before the respite package came to an end, this family was struggling. The grandmother made repeated calls for extra help and yet she was left to cope alone with her teenage grandson where ordinarily he would have had one-to-one specialist support at school.
“I hope the changes Croydon council now makes following my report will ensure no other families are left in a similar position.”
Croydon has agreed to apologise to the family for the failures identified in the report. It will pay the grandmother and the grandson £5,000 each for the harm caused by not having suitable respite for two years. It will also pay the grandmother £1,250 to recognise the distress caused for having to pursue these matters over two years.
The report states: “The council will complete a transition plan for the boy and if it has not already done so, it should issue the boy’s EHCP as soon as possible.
“The council will urgently review its policies and procedures and draft a new transition policy document to provide staff with clear timelines and procedures to follow.”
The Ombudsman’s report was published on July 4 – two weeks ago.
Croydon Council’s propaganda department has issued no public statement on the matter since, presumably because it has been busy with what the council considers to be more important matters.
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