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Kent County Council failed to support children with learning difficulties

Date:27 MAY 2009

Kent County Council failed to assess and adequately meet the needs of a family with two children with learning difficulties, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Tony Redmond.

Mr and Mrs Carter (not their real names) have three children, two of whom have learning difficulties as a result of which they are 'children in need'. Mrs Carter complained that the Council failed to assess her family's needs properly, resulting in them not receiving the level of support they require.

Her complaint mainly related to her youngest son Michael who is severely autistic and has Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. It also concerned her middle son Peter, who has Asperger's Syndrome, her eldest son and her husband who has had to take periods of unpaid leave to look after the family.

In his report issued today, Mr Redmond said: "The failure to carry out regular reviews or to assess the needs of the family as a whole meant that, whilst Mrs Carter's individual requests for help were never ignored, the Council's response was piecemeal rather than comprehensive." He added that the failure appeared to be systemic rather than specific to this family.

The Ombudsman found that the Council failed in its statutory duty to make direct payments available for overnight respite care. The Council also failed to carry out regular reviews of children in need. Consequently there was a delay in assessing the needs of Mrs Carter's family which, coupled with the failure to make direct payments available for overnight respite care, meant her son Michael missed out on one night a week of overnight respite care for a period of eight months, and seven hours of daytime respite care a week for three months.

The Council is now taking steps to bring its policy on direct payments into line with its statutory duty. However the Ombudsman found that the faults identified amounted to maladministration.

In order to remedy the faults identified, the Ombudsman has recommended that the Council pay Mrs Carter the value of the direct payments she has missed. This is likely to be in the region of £12,000. The Council has also been ordered to apologise to Mrs Carter for the failure to support her family, and pay her a further £500 for the time and trouble she has been put to in pursuing her complaint.

Given that the failure to carry out regular reviews of children in need appears to be systemic, rather than specific to the Carter family, the Council has also been told to take steps to ensure that such reviews are carried out in line with the Council's procedures in future, and that monitoring is put in place to ensure that this continues to be done.