Council fails children with special needs, report says

ALMOST a third of families of children with special needs in South Gloucestershire who need respite care have been failed by the council, a damning report has found.

The Local Government Ombudsman has published a public interest report – indicating a high level of serious failings – after the local authority admitted 30 families were not receiving some or any of their entitlement to a break from looking after their child.

The watchdog launched a fresh inquiry after upholding a complaint in August, from the parents of a disabled girl, that the council had not provided respite care for 13 years.

In that case, the LGO ordered the authority to pay £6,000 compensation after concluding the failings had caused “significant physical and emotional consequences” for the child and her family, who have not been identified.

South Gloucestershire Council has apologised and said it is taking urgent action.

The ombudsman’s investigation found one youngster assessed as needing a year-long residential placement was instead living at home with limited support.

Respite care allows families of children and young people with specific needs the chance to take a break from caring responsibilities.

The failure to provide the agreed support packages can cause huge difficulties and distress.

Ombudsman Paul Najsarek said: “For too long families in South Gloucestershire have been struggling without the vital respite support they need, and the indications we have from the council suggest for many there is no sign of this improving in the near future.

“While we recognise the difficulties the council is having finding appropriate support locally, it should not have taken a complaint to us to spur them into more effective action.

“Statutory guidance is clear – if a council is satisfied it is necessary to provide support services then it must provide them and have the provision in place to do so.

“I am pleased the council is working towards improving its breadth of provision and hope the rigorous local oversight it has now agreed to implement will ensure this work is not allowed to drift.”

A council spokesperson said: “We sincerely apologise for the shortcomings in the service we’ve been able to provide to these young people and their families. We also fully accept the findings and recommendations of the ombudsman.

“Since the ombudsman carried out its investigation, we have been able to provide support to more families, to either fully or partially deliver the respite care and positive experiences needed for their children.

“We are not yet able to fully deliver for all of our families, however, and we have an action plan in place that will be discussed at Cabinet level, to help to address the outstanding issues and enable us to meet our commitments.

“Like councils across the country, we are facing a major challenge in accessing the support packages to suit each family’s individual needs. This is often far less a matter of cost and more that the services simply do not currently exist on the scale required.”

By Adam Postans, Local Democracy Reporting Service