Children’s services director responded to parents with threats

Ian Lewis, the council director for children’s services who left his job just before the publication of the critical Ofsted report into his department’s performance, has been accused of threatening worried parents who had turned to Croydon Council for help with their autistic child’s education.

Who are council officials working in Fisher’s Folly supposed to be serving: themselves or residents?

Since the Ofsted report into Croydon’s children’s services was published a fortnight ago, Inside Croydon has been contacted by a number of parents, carers and council whistle-blowers, all worried at the way aspects of social work is being mismanaged at Croydon Council.

Some are calling for urgent Ofsted inspections into the council’s other work with children, such as the provision of education to teenagers with special educational needs.

As Inside Croydon reported earlier this year, Ofsted is not the first inspectorate to criticise the council’s services for vulnerable children and young adults, and their carers. The Local Government Ombudsman ruled against Croydon Council in the case of a grandmother, the sole carer for a teen with autism, who had been abandoned by the council’s social services for more than two years.

The grandmother, a Croydon resident, said that she had been driven to the brink of suicide after “orchestrated bullying” by officials and “Rottweiler behaviour” to deny her and her grandson the help to which they are legally entitled.

Now, another family has come forward with a letter sent to them by Lewis, who until August was Croydon’s “director of children and family early intervention and children’s social care”. This family, too, had encountered massive difficulties in ensuring that their teenager receives the education and support that they need.

They claim that the council has failed for more than three years to respond to their pleas.

Lewis’s response, in a formal, warning letter, was to blame the parents for the council’s failings.

In his letter, from May last year, Lewis wrote: “The council is committed to engaging constructively with you in its attempts to secure the appropriate support for [Child’s name]. However, your actions, and the level and nature of your contact to the local authority are becoming a barrier to this. The council has taken reasonable steps to provide [Child’s name] with appropriate education, unfortunately for varying reasons, this is being frustrated by your actions.”

Parents claim that there could be hundreds of families in Croydon who are being failed by their council

Rather than actually provide the teenager with the schooling and support that they might reasonably expect, and which they had been seeking since 2014, Lewis invoked the council’s “persistent and vexatious complaints policy” against the parents.

The council director accused the parents of being “continuously disruptive” by daring to contact council officials to seek answers to their requests. The parents calling the responsible council department to seek a resolution to a child’s education, Lewis claimed, “is both unrealistic and not sustainable”. Lewis also criticised the parents for having the audacity to complain about their child’s treatment to their MP, councillors and ombudsman.

Lewis accused the parents of harassing officers, and of being aggressive and abusive.

The parents deny this.

They claim that Lewis triggered the vexatious complainant process to try to block all contact with the family for six months – a period when a vital year’s education should have been organised by the council in liaison with the family for their autistic teen. The teenager is still without any settled education plan.

Inside Croydon’s research has discovered a number of families with troubling issues over the poor quality, or even complete absence, of educational support from the council for their SEND children. The council has complained about its austerity-reduced resources for delivering education for these residents. But under Lewis, his department nonetheless continued to spend thousands of pounds a month on lawyers’ fees to represent the local authority at tribunals to attempt to avoid providing education for these teens.

In his letter, Lewis claimed that his decision to act against the parent seeking an education for their teenager had been taken “in consultation and agreement with senior management”.

“Only where there is a statutory need to manage any request that you have submitted will the council respond to you,” Lewis wrote. “The council has been left with no option.”

Croydon Council has failed to issue any statement regarding Lewis’s abrupt departure from its staff. Lewis had been in the post since March 2014.

He left his fourth-floor office in Fisher’s Folly just weeks after the Ofsted inspectors had been examining his department’s children’s services work. One of the inspectors’ recommendations was that the council should, “Strengthen training and work on complaints and embed a culture of feedback.”

Parents of SEND children, desperate for better care and support from their council, are now pinning their hopes on a second Ofsted inspection, to examine this area of the council’s work in order to demand the kind of improvements which the government commissioner will be expecting in children’s services.

More on this story:

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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