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(UK) Bexley: Family get $4,900; autistic boy out of school for 10 months

Oct 16, 2023, News Shopper: Bexley Council pays parents of autistic boy who wasn't educated £4k [$4,900]

London Borough

A South London council has been ordered to pay the parents of an autistic child over £4,000 for failing to provide their child with adequate education for 10 months.

Bexley Council has been told by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to apologise to an autistic child’s parents after they claimed the authority dismissed the anxiety their son was experiencing while not attending school.

The parents’ son, named G in the report, was said to have autism and was observed by a council officer after his school referred him to the authority’s autism advisory service (AAS) in December 2021.

The student reportedly stopped going to school in January 2022 as he felt distressed and anxious and was given work to do at home by the school.

A council officer then gave G’s parents, named Mr and Mrs F in the report, advice on how to deal with his anxiety and stress.

The parents said they were worried this advice would not work with their son’s high level of anxiety and felt he was showing signs of pathological demand avoidance (PDA), but the officer said G’s behaviour was typical for children with autism.

G’s parents claimed the officer was dismissive of G’s apparent anxiety, but the ombudsman was unable to confirm whether the officer’s tone was appropriate or not.

The council reportedly spoke to G’s school in February and made a referral to its education welfare service after learning he had not gone to school in three weeks.

The report added: “Mr and Mrs F wrote to the council on February 22. They said G was too unwell to attend school and he had not received any education for over a month. They asked how it would meet its statutory requirements to provide him with education.”

The authority responded to the parents the next month by saying it was worried about G’s low attendance, claiming it was unauthorised and threatened legal action.

Two officers reportedly made an unannounced visit to the parent’s house in the following days and said that G should be in school.

They added that if the parents were unhappy with the school, they could ask for an emergency annual review.

The ombudsman continued: “Mr and Mrs F complained to the council at the end of March.

"They said it failed to respond to their communication on February 22 and provide any education. They said the approach from the education welfare service was heavy handed and the home learning sent from the school was not personalised for G’s needs.

"They raised further concerns in a follow up email and said the officer from the AAS was dismissive of their reports of G’s anxiety at school and that he was showing signs of PDA. They said a private specialist psychiatrist had recently diagnosed G with PDA.”

Bexley Council responded to the parents’ complaint in April and apologised for not responding to their initial concerns quickly enough.

They said the officer from the AAS had a vast knowledge of autism and it was not up to the council to assess the quality of work provided by the school.

The parents asked to escalate their complaint the following month, stating the council had still failed to provide appropriate educational provision for G.

The council agreed to amend G’s education plan, with the student receiving one to two hours of tutoring a week from mid-June.

The parents had a meeting with the council at the beginning of August and asked for G to receive education outside of school.

The council said it felt G needed a structured school environment and contacted several schools in September, but all of them claimed they could not meet the student’s needs.

G reportedly started receiving two hours of animal therapy and two hours of tutoring a week in September, which increased in the following months.

Bexley Council responded to the parents’ escalated complaint in October, claiming their AAS officer was suitably qualified and apologised for the distress caused by the letter sent by its education welfare service.

They admitted G should have been recorded as being absent for medical reasons from January to June 2022 and that the parents would be reimbursed for the costs of providing tuition to G during this time.

The ombudsman said in their report: “The council’s faults have caused G a significant injustice. Children have a right to an effective education and any time they miss is difficult to replace later. G received disruption to his education… The council’s faults have also caused Mr and Mrs F distress, upset and frustration.

"They have had to constantly raise these issues with the Council, and it has been distressing that G did not receive the education and provision he was entitled to.”

The report added that the delay in finalised G’s education plan was “excessive”, with the plan not being finalised until nearly seven months later.

They said the delay in dealing with the parent’s complaint from May also caused them frustration as they didn’t receive a response until October.

The authority later agreed to the parent’s request for G to be taught outside of a school environment.

The ombudsman instructed the council to apologise to the parents and pay them £4,450 in recognition of the distress and frustration caused as well as for the education G lost between February and December 2022.

A Bexley Council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “We have apologised to Mr and Mrs F for the errors that were made and the delay in dealing with their complaint.

"We have taken on board the ombudsman’s findings and decision. There are a number of recommendations that were made by the ombudsman and we have reviewed service provision in line with this.”

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