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(UK) Somerset: Autistic children on endless waitlists

Nov 25, 2023, BBC News: Somerset families 'exhausted' by SEND access 'fight'

SW England

Children with special educational needs (SEND) in Somerset are being kept at home because there are no suitable school placements, families claim.
Over the past year Somerset Council has been fined more than £6,000 [$7.6K] for its poor performance in providing SEND schooling, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

One parent said the council "seems to fight you at every single point".

The council said it was consulting on how it could change the system.

In the last year, the Local Government Ombudsman investigated 22 complaints against Somerset Council and upheld all of them…

.Gemma who has three autistic children was recently awarded more than £3,000 [$3.7K] by the ombudsman
Gemma, from Highbridge, was recently awarded more than £3,000 after it took nearly 90 weeks for the council to issue her eldest child with an Education Health and Care Plan - a process that was supposed to be done within 20 weeks.

"To navigate having three SEN children, to manage the admin, and to deal with a local authority that seems to want to fight you at every single point you come to, it's absolutely exhausting," she said.

Julie, from Highbridge, has had three complaints upheld by the ombudsman in recent years. She said each time the council "apologises - and then does the same things again"….

Ellie, from Compton Dundon, has two autistic children. She said her daughter has been out of school for a year getting just two hours a week of alternative provision at a farm. She was recently awarded £4,000 [$5K] by the ombudsman.

"Because of their [the council's] failures and me having to have her at home with me for the last year I've not been able to manage my chronic health conditions which has resulted in me now having to become a wheelchair user," she said.

"I've been referred for a major spinal operation and there's no way I'm going to be able to have it because my child is still not in a suitable school and there's no prospect of that placement until at least September next year now."

'Months just screaming'

Andrea, from Bridgwater, has an eight-year-old son who is autistic, non verbal and has PICA which means he "will eat anything non edible, which is quite a big health and safety concern".

He attends a specialist base in a mainstream school but Andrea has been trying for 11 months to get the council to agree to move him to a special school, for his safety.

She has not complained to the ombudsman but had to escalate her concerns within the council.

"To say it's been infuriating, frustrating, stressful is a complete understatement," she said. "I literally feel like I have spent the last I don't know how many months just screaming at everybody I can, to try and be heard for my son."

'Got it wrong'

Liberal Democrat councillor Tessa Munt is the lead member for children families and education at Somerset Council.

She said the authority had "lots of ideas" it wanted to trial in a bid to use funding "in a better way".

"Traditionally we have not done so well in our special educational needs and disabilities, there's no question about that," she said.

"I have apologised and I mean it: I'm sorry we've got it wrong for so many families."

Assistant Local Government Ombudsman Sharon Chappell said there had been a rise in complaints about SEND nationally.

"At the heart of every single one of these complaints there's a child or young person who isn't getting or might not be getting the provision that they are legally entitled to," she said.

"Parents are understandably very, very frustrated by that,"

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