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Council agrees to pay £3,600+ over failure to secure significant part of SEN support for autistic boy

A county council has agreed to pay more than £3,600 following a Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman (LGSCO) investigation into how a teenager on the autism spectrum was left without a significant proportion of his agreed special educational needs (SEN) support for up to three years.

The Ombudsman said the teenager, who attends a mainstream secondary school, should have received a range of support according to his Education, Health and Care (EHC) plan. This included four hours of academic support every half term.

However, between September 2020 and July 2021 he received less than three hours in total.

The boy also needed help with his social skills but this was not provided at all over the same time, or during an earlier period between September 2018 and April 2019, the LGSCO said.

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Hertfordshire also failed to provide the assessed support for his emotional wellbeing, resulting in nothing being in place between May 2019 and March 2020, and it not being fully provided until March 2021.

Following the investigation the council has agreed to:

  • apologise to the boy and his family;
  • pay them £500 to recognise their frustration and distress;
  • pay the teenager £2,900 for the special education provision he lost and a further £250 for the uncertainty of what provision he might have further been entitled to between May and July 2020;
  • arrange for the boy to receive an extra 24 hours of one-to-one support with a subject specialist in each of his four core subject areas to account for the time he missed;
  • arrange for a senior officer to review the provision now in place for the boy to ensure it continues to be delivered properly.

Hertfordshire has also agreed to remind officers of their duties and the requirements placed upon them when working with children and young people who have EHC Plans.

Michael King, Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, said: “For many children and young people with autism spectrum conditions, emotional and social help can be just as important to their wellbeing as the academic assistance they should receive.

“In this case, the boy’s mother has told us this loss of support has left her son distressed, with low self-esteem and feeling socially isolated. He struggles to access learning in the classroom as he approaches a key point in his education.

“I am pleased the council has accepted the faults I have found during my investigation, and hope the lengthy recommendations it will comply with should help this boy and others like him in the county.”

A spokesperson for Hertfordshire County Council said: “We take the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s findings very seriously and where they find we have been at fault, as in this case, we work hard to understand why it happened, how we can put it right and how we can prevent it happening again.

“As a direct result of the investigation the departments involved have acted upon its recommendations and reviewed their working practices as a matter of urgency, to ensure that all children with SEND and EHCPs in Hertfordshire receive the support they need and deserve. We are committed to working in partnership with young people, parents, carers and schools to achieve that end.

“We know how important this is to our families - we share their vision and are working hard to ensure that every child can achieve their potential in all areas of life.”

The spokesperson added: ““While this in no way excuses our failure to provide adequate EHCP provision in this case, the county council, in common with many local authorities, experienced an unprecedented level of demand for specialist SEND provision during the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges of securing EHCPs during a time of great disruption were recognised in the Ombudsman’s report. Hertfordshire has seen a 47% increase in pupils with Education and Health Care Plans (EHCPs) since 2019 and is one of the largest local authority areas in England, having the sixth highest number of children and young people requiring Education Health and Care Plans.

“In recognition of this gap in specialist provision, we have taken on considerable work to identify how best to meet the increasing needs of our children and young people, and ensure we have the best provision to meet those needs.”

The spokesperson said this had included significantly increasing its investment into SEND funding in mainstream schools across the county from £9.5m to £17.5m this year.

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