Croydon Council has agreed to pay £20,000 to a family whose needs it failed to meet due to a lack of joint working between education and social services.
A report today by local government ombudsman Jerry White found that Mr and Mrs Oakham (not their real name) contacted Croydon social services three times from June 2004 to December 2005 asking for help with their teenage son, William, who has Asperger’s Syndrome and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The family needed help managing his behaviour, which had become increasingly aggressive towards his younger sister, Alice, who was found to be self-harming, and towards his parents, who needed respite care.
In July 2005, social services decided to accommodate William, then 15 and attending a mainstream school with a statement of special educational needs.
But the council closed the case in October after recording that the family had decided to put the placement on hold and the situation had improved.
Residential placement proposed
The Oakhams then decided that William’s needs would best be met by a residential college placement, a view backed by a child and adolescent mental health services consultant who was handling Alice’s care. The parents then identified a placement at Hambleton College, which is outside London, in March 2006.
But, the education and social services departments were unable to agree funding for the placement, as the former decided his education needs could be met locally and the latter felt his social care needs were insufficient to justify a residential placement on those grounds alone.
Child protection registration
However, in April 2006, Alice and William were both placed on the child protection register after a case conference decided they placed a risk to each other or to themselves.
Though William was eventually placed in another residential school, Morcott Hall School, for an assessment in August 2006, he did not settle at the school, got involved with alcohol and drugs and assaulted a member of staff, prompting the Oakhams to take him out of the school.
After 2006, William did not return to full-time education and was regularly in trouble with the police. He was placed in supported housing in February 2008 in Croydon, but the family said this did not succeed as his mental health needs were not met. The Oakhams and Alice moved out of Croydon in March 2008, and William subsequently moved nearer to them.
The ombudsman found the council guilty of maladministration for failing to assess and meet the Oakhams’ needs as a whole, and particularly criticised the lack of joint working between education and social services.
Joint working ineffective
He said: “It seems to me that education and social care professionals did not work together effectively, either with one another or with health care officials…, to ensure that not only William’s needs but those of his parents and siblings were met.”
White said if not for the council’s “service failure”, the children may never have been placed on the at risk register, and William is likely to have have been supported in the residential school of his family’s choice.
The council agreed to White’s proposed remedy to pay the family £20,000 and review its administrative arrangements to ensure that the same thing does not happen again.
A council spokesperson said that since the key events of the case the council had created an integrated children’s services department, merging social care and education, in line with the Children Act 2004, and procedures had been reviewed to prevent a recurrence of what happened.
Children’s services director Dave Hill said: “This unfortunate case stands out as an isolated instance where, some time ago, we got it wrong. It was a failure of joined up actions which caused the family concern and distress.
“The process has now been addressed. We have apologised directly and given a high level assurance that not only have lessons been learned but we also have an entirely new structure in place that would prevent similar faults from happening again.”
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