Council penalised for Special Needs Failures


Serious failures in education and care services in Leeds have led to substantial injustice for vulnerable children and their parents, according to a Local Government Ombudsman report.

In each of 3 separate complaints against Leeds City Council and schools for children with special educational needs, the ombudsman recommended that the council take specific action and pay compensation.

In one complaint, teachers and carers looking after a severely disabled girl were unable to communicate with her as none was competent in sign language.

Unable to use the toilet due to lack of staff, the girl went home in wet trousers, developed blisters and broken skin and suffered infections of her urinary tract.

In the second complaint, the council failed to provide for the special educational needs of a boy who had spent most of his life in council care.

The authority had placed him in an unsuitable school after ignoring professional advice about the aggregate effects of learning difficulties, psychological diagnosis and behaviour.

In the third case, the ombudsman found that the council had not sought legal advice for a boy facing a serious criminal charge, a failure that could have serious implications for his future.

Acknowledging that the council had since reorganised its education and children's services, the ombudsman Anne Seex did not recommend further review, stating: "I recognise that the council has taken significant steps to improve the personal education plans for looked-after children and statements of special education needs."

Ms Seex added that by bringing together education and children's services in a single management structure by the end of 2011, an integrated service would be available for the most challenged families.

According to Leeds' director of children's services Nigel Richardson, the cases were isolated incidents and not a common reflection of the special schools within his remit. "They all happened several years ago. Since then we have made significant changes and improvements across our services for children and young people.

"The impact of these improvements is reflected in the ombudsman's comments. However, we want to keep improving, so we will build on the changes we've already made to ensure that all lessons are learned from these reports and are used to improve practice."

One of our expert solicitors said: "The ombudsman's findings and the positive response by the local authority demonstrate the importance of vigilance for bodies who oversee community care, particularly in the cases of children with special needs."

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