A local authority was at fault after leaving a man with severe learning disabilities living in short-term respite accommodation for almost two years, the local government and social care ombudsman has found.
The 20-year-old, identified only as Y, moved into Lancashire council’s Short Breaks service in January 2016 because his family members were struggling to cope and were concerned about the impact of his behaviour on a younger sibling.
By the time the ombudsman’s report was completed in early November 2017, the council had still not found Y a long-term home, after apparent confusion as to what sharing and support arrangements would be most appropriate. A learning disability nurse said the Short Breaks service “does not meet his sensory or emotional needs”.
In the interim Y’s behaviour had “deteriorated”, the report found, likely due to his unsuitable housing. He had been excluded from college and had difficulties attending a day centre, with no review carried out to ensure his special educational needs were met.
Michael King, the local government and social care ombudsman, said Y had been “left in limbo” by Lancashire council.
“He has missed out on vital support and development opportunities while his life has been on hold for some two years,” King said, adding that his circumstances also meant other families had been blocked from accessing respite care.
After Y’s family decided he could not return to the family home, a Lancashire social worker liaised with two care providers with a view to arranging long-term accommodation, to be reviewed in late March 2016.
It was not until August 2016 that the preferred provider supplied a care plan, based on him sharing accommodation with one other person. The ombudsman acknowledged that Lancashire council could not be held responsible for the provider’s slowness but commented that it had “allowed the situation to drift”.
A best interests meeting held at the end of September concluded it was in Y’s best interests for the provider to accommodate him. But the council reassessed Y’s needs in October and in December decided not to approve the placement. The authority felt, based on Y’s experience in the Short Break service, that he was “much more able to share with others” than previously thought.
By this time Y’s mother, Mrs X, had already complained about the delay in finding a long-term solution and the council’s failure to keep her updated.
“In its response the council accepted communication could have been better,” the ombudsman’s report said. “A senior officer advised they would meet with the social worker to ensure actions were progressed and regular communication maintained.”
With Y’s initial placement proposal having been rejected, the council proposed exploring a “flexible approach through a mini-tendering process”. When Mrs X and the care provider contacted the council about a possible vacancy, based on a two-person share, the social worker did not support pursuing it.
“The social worker considered Y could share with at least four others, similar to the care provided at Short Breaks,” the ombudsman’s report said.
While the social worker’s view was that the increased supervision in a larger unit would enable Y’s behaviour to be better managed, Mrs X was concerned that having more people around him made Y more unsettled.
Throughout 2016 Y had been involved in incidents where he had become upset, or assaulted, or threatened to assault other guests or staff. Workers had noticed him becoming more withdrawn and Mrs X had contacted the social worker in December 2016 to express concern about his low mood.
Incidents continued during 2017, during which time the mini-tender was conducted but came to nothing because of Mrs X’s concerns about the suitability of accommodation subsequently offered. As a result, Y remained at the Short Breaks service.
‘Confusion and inconsistency’
The ombudsman found Lancashire at fault for the delay in finding Y suitable long-term housing. While the October 2016 needs assessment supported a two-person shared living arrangement, the mini-tender advertised a flexible approach based on three or four others sharing accommodation.
“There was also confusion over the level of supervision Y required,” the ombudsman’s report said. “The lack of consistency and failure to adhere to Y’s needs assessment is fault.” The report noted that the council was again pursuing an option of Y sharing with only one other person.
“It has not considered all the relevant issues as a whole in deciding what type of property would meet Y’s needs,” the report said. “It should weigh up all the key factors including the risk of Y behaving inappropriately, the extent to which Y needed supervision, the triggers for Y’s behaviour and concerns about compatibility with other residents.”
The watchdog also criticised the local authority for failing to update Y’s education and healthcare (EHC) plan after he was excluded from college in March 2016. While Y was placed at a day centre as a “short-term fix”, this service was not told of Y’s support needs and the council made no subsequent arrangement to ensure these were met.
“Y should have received support to develop literacy, numeracy and ICT skills; develop socially acceptable behaviour; develop an awareness of his sensory sensitivities; develop speech and language skills; and develop self-help independence and life skills,” the ombudsman said. “There is clear evidence of problems with Y’s behaviour that may have been prevented or reduced if Y had received the support he was entitled to, as set out in his EHC plan.”
‘Detailed action plan’
In a series of recommendations, the ombudsman said that Lancashire council should prioritise finding Y suitable long-term accommodation – something it said was now in process.
The ombudsman also said the authority should adapt provision at the Short Breaks service to make it more suitable in the interim, fully review Y’s EHC plan, and pay Mrs X £2,500 towards supporting Y’s needs and £500 for time and trouble. The report asked that a “detailed action plan” be produced explaining how it intended to comply with the recommendations.
Graham Gooch, Lancashire’s cabinet member for adult services, said: “We are very sorry for the distress our failings have caused and we have apologised fully to the person involved and their family.
“We accept the actions recommended by the ombudsman and have drawn up an action plan to address the shortcomings identified in the report.”
Community Care has asked the council for more detail as to what action it is taking to address the failures identified, and whether Y has now been rehoused.