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Council to pay out after LGO report on girl "lost to system" for four years

A city council has agreed to pay out £5,000 plus further compensation after it lost contact with a disabled child for more than four years.

Birmingham City Council had identified the girl (X) as having severe learning difficulties and autism in January 2004. It provided ten hours a month in direct payments, although the assessment of the girl had not been completed.

According to a Local Government Ombudsman report, the local authority “lost sight” of X between November 2006 and March 2011.

“There was no assessment of X’s needs, or consideration given to whether the 10 hours a month was adequate to meet her needs, and the needs of Ms B, her mother,” the report said.

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The council contacted the mother in 2011 and assessed X’s needs later that year. According to the LGO, that assessment contained errors and was not discussed with Ms B.

“This assessment was said by the Head of Service to be inadequate, but was used by the Resource Panel to decide the 10 hours of direct payments continued to meet X’s needs,” the report said.

When Ms B complained, Birmingham took nearly two years to progress her complaint through its complaints officer and to comply with recommendations made by the investigating officer and the Ombudsman.

The LGO claimed that the new assessment completed as a result of the complaint contained errors and still did not fully consider X’s needs and the needs of Ms B as her carer. It had not been discussed with Ms B.

“The council therefore cannot say with any certainty that the current level of support meets X’s needs,” the Ombudsman report said.

“There is no care plan to say what need the 10 hours of direct payments is to address, and what outcome is expected from providing this support.”

By July 2013, X was 15 and her difficulties had increased, according to the LGO.

Recording a finding of maladministration causing injustice, the Ombudsman recommended that Birmingham should:

  • Pay Ms B £4,000 for the injustice caused by its failure to properly assess Ms B and her care of X to establish their support needs from November 2006 to August 2011;
  • Pay Ms B a remedy of £1,000 “for the injustice of stress and anxiety caused due to the council’s significant delay in completing the core assessment when it agreed to do so and for her time and trouble in bringing the complaint”;
  • Appoint an independent social worker – within 28 days of the LGO report – to assess X’s needs, and Ms B’s needs as her carer. The social worker should then complete the assessment, and discuss the assessment with Ms B and add her views, within 45 days of appointment. The independent social worker should also produce a proposed care plan, if s/he identifies needs which require support, for the Resource Panel to consider;
  • Reimburse Ms B for up to three days’ unpaid leave from work to enable her to fully engage with the independent social worker to complete the assessments within the time scale allowed;
  • Provide the Ombudsman with copies of the independent assessment, the proposed care plan and the outcome of the consideration by the Resources Panel within four months of publication of the LGO’s report;
  • Make a further payment to Ms B, “at a level the Ombudsman will decide”, following the independent assessment of X’s needs. “This is for any shortall in services received from August 2011 onwards”;
  • Review the way it assesses children with disabilities and their families and how these assessments relate to its Short Break Statement and Eligibility Criteria.

Birmingham has agreed to implement the recommendations.

Dr Jane Martin, Local Government Ombudsman, said: “For much of this girl’s life, her mother has been left to bring up her child alone and without much help from the council.

“Birmingham City Council has had no idea what her needs were or those of her mother. And when they made attempts to assess her, the council admits its service was poor, unsupportive and not focused on an outcome for the girl.”

She added: “The council has failed to provide me with evidence that it knows what this girl’s needs are, what her mother’s needs are as a carer and how those needs can be met in the future.  It has singularly failed to assess the family’s needs and cannot possibly say that the direct payments it has offered to the family are sufficient.”

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