A “catalogue of unacceptable failings” by social services left a woman to care for her disabled grandson without any respite for two years, the social care ombudsman has found.
An investigation by the watchdog found Croydon council had failed to provide adequate support to the woman since 2015. The authority also took too long to complete a transitions assessment for the boy, who has autism and Fragile X syndrome, before he moved into adults’ services.
The failings put the grandmother under “exceptional strain” and left her to cope alone at “considerable cost to her wellbeing”, the ombudsman said.
The council apologised and agreed to pay the family a total of £11,250 in recognition of the harm caused. It also agreed to revise its transitions assessment policy.
‘Calls for help’
The woman began caring for her grandson in 2004 after the boy’s mother died unexpectedly. She first asked for respite support in 2011 because she was struggling to manage the boy’s behaviour as he grew older.
The council provided a package of respite care in May 2012. This included three days of respite a month, a seven day holiday break provided by the boy’s specialist school and a payment of £1,000 towards the cost of a summer holiday for the family.
The grandson was in year nine of school at the time. The ombudsman said the council should have started preparing for his transition to adult’s services at this time but this didn’t happen.
Despite the respite package, the grandmother told the council she was still struggling to cope and made “repeated calls for help”. But the support remained unchanged until February 2015 and then was ended unexpectedly after the care provider said it could no longer meet her grandson’s needs.
Three months later the boy was hospitalised after suffering a major epileptic fit and the stress saw his grandmother becoming ill.
The ombudsman said the incident showed the “urgent” need for a transitions assessment for the grandson. However at the time of issuing the report no assessment of the boy, now 19, had been completed.
The ombudsman recognised the care provider’s withdrawal of support had left the council in a “difficult position” and limited resources had impacted its actions. However, he said the council still had a duty to replace this support and had failed to do so, which is fault.
The council had offered alternative respite options to the grandmother, but she turned them down on the grounds they did not take account of her grandson’s needs or wishes because he had not been properly assessed.
The ombudsman said her response was “understandable” given the absence of a transition assessment or plan “in which she has played a full part or each element of which has been discussed with her fully”.
‘Left to cope alone’
The grandmother also complained to the ombudsman that she had to “battle each year” to get the £1,000 summer holiday payment from the council and this was usually paid after the holiday. This caused her “further considerable uncertainty and worry each year and some financial difficulties”, the report said.
The investigation found the council could not explain or evidence how it considered this holiday payment each year and whether it met the criteria for the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act 1970, which places a duty on councils to provide support, including taking a holiday, where that is an assessed need.
It concluded that the council had failed to properly assess the grandson’s need for a family holiday and meet any resultant duty under the legislation.
Michael King, local government and social care ombudsman, said: “Even before the respite package came to an end, this family was struggling. The grandmother made repeated calls for extra help and yet she was left to cope alone with her teenage grandson where ordinarily he would have had one-to-one specialist support at school.
“I hope the changes Croydon council now makes following my report will ensure no other families are left in a similar position.”
A spokesperson for Croydon council said: “We are extremely sorry for the distress caused to the family. We have accepted and acted upon the ombudsman’s findings.
“Our disability care services have been reorganised so there is a much more structured transition in place when children move into adulthood. This will ensure that no one slips through the net and all families are able to get the help they need.”
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