CROYDON COMMENTARY: Last week, we reported how the Local Government Ombudsman had found “a catalogue of unacceptable failings by London Borough of Croydon, which has left a family stretched to breaking point”.
Here, in a shocking criticism of the way her family’s case has been handled, leaving them in “utter despair”, the grandmother who brought the complaint against the council alleges “orchestrated bullying” by officials and “Rottweiler behaviour” to deny her and her grandson the help to which they are legally entitled. The Croydon resident, who has asked to be referred to as MRS A, says that her treatment drove to the brink of suicide
I am the complainant in this case.
My experience is that Croydon is a council with an orchestrated bullying culture.
Its special educational needs and disability – SEND – officials and social workers appear to specialise in gatekeeping funds, they do not acknowledge the needs of disabled people and their carers by way of meaningful engagement. All to keep us at bay.
Not to mention the Rottweiler behaviour of housing, Council Tax, benefits and environmental officials and others. SEND and social services caseworkers seemed to be trying to drive me to the edge of suicide over and over again, rather than acknowledge the needs of my grandson and myself.
Week on week, year on year, our advocates and I gave full, candid accounts of the challenges and the despair faced by me and my grandson, whose needs are immense.
We spend every school holiday as prisoners in our own home because he can’t cope without the structure and stimulation of school, and so goes into confusion, frustration and meltdown.
We’ve never had the support that I’ve been asking for all these years for him to have social experience outside of family and school that would also have enabled me to maintain my career path. He needs a specialist support team for any transition activity, but with it, he has potential for development and a decent quality of life.
Croydon Council has never listened, never mind responded to his needs. None of the decisions of the SEND and disability teams make are needs-based.
They claim they are. But I want them to prove it. I know they can’t.
In Croydon there are hundreds of kids like my grandson who were refused transfer of statement to EHCP (an Education, Health and Care Plan) and refused the funding required for their college placements in Croydon this year.
Not one of those refusals was needs-based.
Our case is just one which has shown the very serious issues of dereliction of statutory duty of care by Croydon Council towards its most vulnerable citizens, especially children.
Predictably, press articles zoomed in on the issue of respite because it was the focus of the ombudsman’s ruling. It’s frustrating to see the topic of respite tossed out there by the press, as if depriving a grandmother of a break is the key issue, while offering barely a mention of my grandson’ desperate experience, and neglecting to stress the wide-ranging value of thoughtful, adequate assessment, tailored and planned support packages for safeguarding the continuation and stability of a family caring arrangement. These are the relevant issues of service failure that impact directly on a disabled young person’s experience and future outcomes.
Despite the sustained pressure of our advocates from the carers’ centre and The Fragile X Society, my candid, persistent written accounts, shared week-on-week, year-on-year with social services’ children’s and adult teams, they all fell on deaf ears.
Except, that is, for the period between March 2012 and October 2014. A brave and highly engaging student caseworker took our case temporarily after our key advocate had campaigned for months for an allocated caseworker for us. With very limited time available to her, this student caseworker wrote the one and only ever completed care support needs assessment for my grandson.
She pushed relentlessly against her line management to have her proposed care package submitted to the funding panel. Her short but effective body of work on our case is what led to two and half years of my grandson enjoying a well-planned, structured, care package agreed by the panel. It transformed both our lives, until the respite facility was withdrawn by the school in February 2015. By this time, I was back to persistent petitioning and spelling out what was needed time and again to no avail, until the impending reality of the ombudsman’s investigation finally struck home at the leadership within Croydon’s ivory towers at the end of April this year.
Then there’s the devastation and unnecessary stress caused when the council’s SEND team refused the transfer of statement to EHCP and funding for my grandson’s college place this September. He’s been fully SEN statemented since he was six years old. There were absolutely no grounds for refusal, his college application and transfer to EHCP was fully supported in writing by educators, psychology, epilepsy and neurology specialist teams.
The very worst of this dreadful outcome was compounded by depressing feedback from local support groups and families which revealed that this devastation to my grandson’s future had been unleashed en masse in Croydon for some months.
The following well rehearsed lines that the council’s spokesperson gave will no doubt raise more than a few snorts of incredulity in disability family homes across Croydon: “Each request for an EHCP was reviewed and treated on its own merits in close liaison with families and providers.
“We always plan for the best possible outcomes for each young person, with a focus on employment and independence in or near the young person’s local community.
“The council followed the relevant codes of practice to ensure that there has been due regard to young people’s and parental preferences where possible and that education provision is suitable and an efficient use of public resources.”
Nothing could be further from the truth.
There has never been meaningful engagement with family carers from council SEND and social services teams. There is no attention whatsoever to the experience of the family carer in regards to the cared for person’s needs and capacity. Therefore, there has been no vehicle for adequate, fully engaged assessment and therefore no scope nor semblance whatsoever of planning for a young person’s future in place. The ombudsman’s investigation has served so very well to underpin these specific, devastating failures in human terms.
Among the families affected by the council’s conduct in these matters, it’s common knowledge that there is no investment of time, vision or money whatsoever in improving the life experience of kids who need specialist, dedicated support teams and facilities to access any quality of life in Croydon. There is no choice of specialist play or youth centres, no dedicated school holiday activity facilities, nor specialist school breakfast or supper clubs to help working family carers maintain their chosen careers and social lives. What charitable facilities that did once exist to try and fill the ever yawning gaps have long since disappeared for want of funding support.
Yet when a family proposes appropriately equipped provision for their cared-for person’s special needs outside of the borough, they encounter an uphill, protracted and often futile battle to procure support and funding from social services.
Like so many of his peers, my grandson has high support needs and immense obstacles to accessing any quality of life. Nevertheless, when he is availed of the right level of family or specialist team support, he blossoms into his true potential. He demonstrates a very strong character, a sense of humour, sophisticated physical and observational skills, sensitivity, engagement and joy for life. What a waste of a young life, nay hundreds of young lives, for want of visionary, inspired leadership for these kids’ progressive development at Croydon Council.
There is utter despair in families like mine in this town, while the council builds its ivory towers higher and higher in its attempt to keep reality at bay.
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