National Ombudsmen
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Lambeth and Surrey Councils criticised for failure to provide services for disabled girl

London Borough of Lambeth failed to act as ‘corporate parent’ to a girl with multiple disabilities and complex needs, and Surrey County Council failed to arrange therapy services for her, finds Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin.

The girl’s statement of special educational needs included regular one-to-one physiotherapy and hydrotherapy but there were significant gaps in providing the physiotherapy, totalling 24 months. This meant it was not possible to align the mutually beneficial therapies as was intended, leaving the father uncertain whether his daughter would now be able to walk if they had been provided consistently.

Both Councils have agreed to the Ombudsman’s recommended remedy to pay compensation – London Borough of Lambeth of £10,450, and Surrey County Council £900 – to reflect the loss of provision and the uncertainty as to whether the possibility of independent mobility for the girl may have been lost, as her father contends.

‘Alice’ (not her real name for legal reasons), a 12-year-old girl from Lambeth, has complex needs and severe learning difficulties, as well as epilepsy, visual impairment and mobility difficulties. She is dependent on others for all aspects of daily living. A tribunal ruled that her statement of special educational needs SEN entitled Alice to “regular and frequent direct therapy from a qualified physiotherapist for one hour a week … to address her mobility and gross motor skills”, and also “one hour a week hydrotherapy”.

There was a delay of five months after the tribunal ruling before the London Borough of Lambeth provided the specified physiotherapy. There was then a further gap in provision of four months. when the therapist left. In addition, there was a question as to how much hydrotherapy Alice was receiving over this time and concerns that this was not linked to the physiotherapy provision.

Two years later, Alice moved into voluntary foster care in Surrey. The London Borough of Lambeth sent Alice’s statement of SEN to Surrey County Council in preparation for the move. Surrey County Council then had the responsibility to identify a school that could meet Alice’s needs as it became responsible for maintaining her statement of SEN. Although Surrey County Council found a school that said it could meet her needs, the Council did not ensure that regular therapy (in accordance with the requirements in her statement of SEN) was carried out. Instead, it assumed that “weekly hydrotherapy and daily physiotherapy” met that requirement even though this was specified in her statement of SEN as being additional to the one-to-one provision. The result was a further gap of provision of over a year. There were also problems with equipment provision and with money given to Alice’s parents for contact arrangements over this period.

The Ombudsman found that the London Borough of Lambeth failed to properly implement the physiotherapy requirement in Alice’s statement of SEN, which meant that it was not possible to align the physiotherapy with the hydrotherapy requirement, as was intended.

The Ombudsman also found that there was confusion about responsibilities between the London Borough of Lambeth and Surrey County Council when Alice moved into foster care, and a lack of equity in travel arrangements to facilitate contact between Alice and her father and mother.

As a result, Alice was disadvantaged by the spasmodic delivery of the mutually beneficial treatments. Her father suffered a great deal of distress and outrage, had to take time and trouble pursuing this complaint and is uncertain whether, had the treatment been delivered consistently and coherently, his daughter would now be able to walk.

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