CROYDON COMMENTARY: In the past couple of weeks, Croydon Council’s press office has issued releases about a £1million grant for families of looked after children and a “virtual reality roadshow to let shoppers experience how autistic people can feel”.
Yet the council has issued no statement whatsoever about a Local Government Ombudsman ruling after a complaint from one child’s carer which found “a catalogue of unacceptable failings by London Borough of Croydon, which has left a family stretched to breaking point”.
As the following account from another Croydon mother shows, all that many families caring for teens with special education needs or disabilities really want is proper support and access to the services which they entitled to under the law
When EHCPs – education, health and care plans – were introduced in 2014, the Croydon Council department that deals with SEND (special educational needs and disability) quite rightly agreed to issue one for our son. After all, such plans are supposed to be there to detail the agreed services which are supposed, by law, to be provided for the care and education for young people up to the age of 25.
Our son had had a statement of special needs since he was seven.
This was a young person who had very little access to any education, despite our efforts.
When a child does not access education, it places a tremendous strain on the family and also, more importantly, can leave a child socially isolated.
In the three years since, Croydon Council’s failure to maintain our son’s EHCP, rather than supporting us, has just added to our problems.
The code of practice is quite clear and despite us regularly quoting this document to caseworkers, managers and more recently council department directors, it seems Croydon has little regard for it.
No educational psychologist report was sought for the transfer to the EHCP system, despite the last one being done some seven years previously. The local authority was aware that with our son not being in school meant that it was their duty to arrange this.
Of course, families can commission independent reports. Unfortunately, families in these situations rarely have any spare cash to pay for such reports, as they are unable to hold down employment due to having to care for their child 24 hours a day.
When we were eight months into our son’s plan, there was an amendment made to it. The new plan did not state that it was an amended version, but it had changed the review date to the following year.
We then entered months of complaints, trying to get an “annual” review. The incompetency of the council’s SEND department left our son with no review. But it was up to us to raise complaints and subsequently instruct solicitors. It took us 20 months to get a review date.
During this time we were also trying to get an education for our son, to which he has a statutory entitlement. But we learned that we should never assume that just because it is the 21st century and we live in a developed country that a child is entitled to a full-time education.
On instruction of the solicitor, timetables were produced. All these showed was that few people in the council’s SEND department have great numeracy skills.
A full-time education for a child of our son’s age should be 25 hours each week.
The “annual” review was conducted. There was no one from the council’s post-16 team in attendance. As he was about to go into year 11 (only technically because there was still no school place or tuition arranged for him), this is something that any reasonable person might expect to happen.
The then head of Croydon’s SEND department said that she would ask the post-16 team to get in touch. When, after five months waiting for them to “get in touch”, I called them. They eventually arranged for us to have a meeting – another two months later.
As this time past, our son was not getting the education which he is entitled to, which he deserves and which he wants. Indeed, three years since we started this wretched struggle to get Croydon Council to give our son what he is legally entitled to, he recently received a full-time education for the first time. This lasted for a whole four weeks.
The “annual” review suggested “travel training” to help increase our son’s independence. We’re still waiting, but it’s only been just over a year.
Much needed therapy, which according to the agreed EHCP was supposed to have been provided, has never been delivered by the council. Their solution suggested at this year’s review was to remove it.
Despite many referrals, social care have never attended the review or transfer meeting. The sole input from Croydon’s social care in our case has been that we were sent a sheet of details about a respite organisation. Based in Manchester.
I’ve lost count of the number of requests we’ve made for a carer’s assessment. We’ve never had one. But recently I was asked by a council official if this “remains a priority” for me.
This year has been spent trying to get a review for our son, who should be entering post-16 in September.
The code of practice is once again quite clear that all plans should be updated by March 31. More battles, more emails, more phone calls. We finally got our review meeting (which should have been done by the end of March) in July. To be fair, there had been one booked for April, but the head of SEND was off sick, so I was just left sitting in the council’s offices for half an hour before anyone bothered to tell me.
There’s a reason why these reviews are supposed to be completed by the end of March. By July, most Sixth Forms have allocated all their places for the following September and all apprenticeships have been filled.
So for our son, his post-16 education looks like being very post-16.
I’ve long since given up hope of getting support from the Children with Disabilities team or indeed any social services in Croydon.
The council is letting down the very people that they are supposed to be supporting.
In recent weeks, Ofsted have been conducting an inspection of the SEND department at the council. Perhaps now that that is over, some of the council’s staff that I have contacted will have time to address these issues.
Maybe we might even get our next annual review before March 31 next year.
- This first-hand account is from Croydon resident Mrs G, who has asked that neither she nor her son’s identities be revealed
- Council’s ‘Rottweiler behaviour’ sent carer to brink of suicide
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