Record levels of SEND families send complaints to ombudsman

As reported by The Guardian, services for SEND children are in crisis, with the Ombudsman finding families face delays of up to 90 weeks

Services for SEND children are in crisis, with families experiencing delays of up to 90 weeks and complaints at record levels, according to the local government and social care ombudsman.

Ombudsman Michael King said the number of complaints from parents had gone up by 45% over a two-year period to 2019. Most concerning, he said, was that nine out of 10 complaints (87%) were upheld in the families’ favour, with councils criticised for failing to meet their statutory duties to support children with SEND.

King’s report focuses on the experiences of families who have made complaints to the ombudsman about securing an education, health, and care plan (EHCP) for their child and the delivery of services promised in it. An EHCP is a legal document which outlines a child’s special needs and provision required.

He warns that councils are putting up barriers to services in an effort to ration resources. As a result, children with special needs are missing out on their education and parents are left to pick up the pieces.

“We are now upholding almost nine in 10 investigations we carry out about EHCPs. This is exceptional and unprecedented in our work,” said King. “Two years ago when the new system of support for children and young people with SEND was still bedding in after sweeping changes under the Children and Families Act 2014, the ombudsman upheld around 80% of investigations.

“That we are investigating and upholding significantly more complaints two years later suggests a system in crisis.”

He continued: “I am now particularly concerned some authorities may be putting in place extra barriers to ration scarce resources, rather than basing support on children’s needs.

“While I can empathise with the difficulties authorities face, there can never be an excuse for failing to meet the statutory rights of children.”

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The Local Government Association (LGA) acknowledged that the councils it represents are in danger of being unable to meet their statutory duties for children with SEND.

Judith Blake, the chair of the LGA’s children and young people board, said: “While we are pleased the government has announced an additional £700m for children with SEND, without certainty over funding for the future the situation will get worse as the number of children who need support continues to increase.”

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