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Couple accuse Ombudsman of letting down their autistic son

10 Jun 2024 9 minute read
County Hall, Mold. Source – Google Street View.

Martin Shipton

A couple whose autistic son has complex needs and exhibits challenging behaviour believe the Welsh Ombudsman has let him down by failing to investigate serious shortcomings in his treatment by their local council.

The Public Services Ombudsman for Wales (PSOW) has come under intense scrutiny after its chief investigator resigned earlier this year following NationCymru’s disclosure that she had posted offensive messages on social media including one that said “F*** the Tories”.

The revelations about Sinead Cook’s internet activity have called into question the impartiality of PSOW when investigating complaints about councillors, with Secretary of State for Wales David TC Davies calling for the body to be disbanded and replaced.

Now the couple, from Flintshire, have backed such calls, describing PSOW’s response to their complaint on behalf of their 15-year-old son as “wholly inadequate and a complete insult”.

We are not naming the couple to protect their son from victimisation.

Failures

They accused Flintshire County Council of a string of failures, including:

* Allocating their son to a generic “child in need” team rather than a specialist team that took account of his registered disability with complex needs and challenging behaviour. There is no expert provision for autistic disabled children who are autistic in Flintshire.

* There was no assessment or support plan put in place for their son in January 2020, when he was assessed as having eligible needs, in contravention of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act 2014.

* A senior practitioner was very rude and unhelpful and refused to advocate for the boy, claiming that it was the responsibility of the parents to contact support agencies. The boy’s mother, herself a qualified child care social worker of 30 years standing, maintains it is the role of the social worker to work with other agencies and advocate for services when they are needed.

* When an assessment was carried out, it was of a poor standard, with no references, names, dates, professional input, bad grammar, no research references to autism behaviour and incorrect information. No advice of a multi-agency support plan to follow was given. A support plan should have been put into place immediately after an assessment with all relevant agencies involved. But there was no multi agency support plan, just one based on local authority recommendations. This was inadequate because “social workers have no understanding of autism to understand recommended needs”.

* Despite having flagged their son’s challenging behaviour, no “safe care risk plan” was put in place, despite it being a legal requirement.. Doing so would have entailed a multi agency meeting with a care risk plan in place looking at how to minimise risk.

* When the boy expressed great concern about the bullying of a teaching assistant and pupils, a social worker was advised by his senior manager not to speak to him about his worries. He was not listened to and this resulted in his anxieties increasing.

* No health professional expert was made available to advise on the creative use of equipment for autistic people. Equipment that had been approved was suddenly rejected after the parents complained. This included books on managing autism behaviour for the boy to write in, a hammock to decompress in the garden, and Lego for fine motor skills and focus, as advised by a senior occupational therapist. No health professional was involved in decision making on this issue. The head of children’s services reported that the senior occupational therapist’s assessment and recommendation was irrelevant to their son’s care plan.

* Huge delays in implementing a care plan, leading to the boy’s behaviour getting much worse, with six police referrals made by the parents due to his extreme violent behaviour. After she complained, the mother was repeatedly told that the council would not provide support until the complaint investigation was completed. This included a threat to illegally remove their son’s support services. The parents said: “No investigation should result in support being put on hold for a child who was in a crisis.”

* The parents say they were made to feel like criminals after the father accidentally caused a bruise to the son due to restraining him following a violent breakdown. No safeguarding lead was designated following this incident.

* A senior manager stated incorrectly that it was not the role of the social worker to contact health agencies and that the mother had to do this.

* There was no response from the social work team when the boy had very serious meltdowns, resulting in police referrals made to the council. One resulted in him having a meltdown for 45 minutes and complaining about his breathing. The parents said this should have been responded to by the duty team immediately in a 24-hour social work allocation and followed up with a visit.

‘Unsafe’

The mother stated: “Safeguarding practice in the council is very unsafe and needs addressing as my son has been left at risk with no interventions. This raises concerns about the protection of vulnerable children.

“We have had the most harrowing time over the past four years and feel the council has failed our son. We do hope no other family has to experience such a hostile and oppressive response from the council regarding a request to support our son.

“I have grave concerns regarding the safeguarding practice and welcome an independent investigation into such unsafe practice at a senior managerial level. I was not allowed to communicate with anyone in the council once I had made a complaint, including my social worker. I forwarded my concerns to Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW) who strongly advised us to pursue this with the Ombudsman for serious neglect of a vulnerable child.” CIW has echoed the parents’ concerns in a report dated February 2024.

The Ombudsman, however, decided not to launch an investigation into the issues raised. PSOW advised the parents to desist from sending it crucial evidence from the police and parents.

Angered by the decision, the parents submitted a freedom of information request aimed at pinpointing what work had been done to evaluate their complaint.

‘Negligent’

After getting the response, the mother said: “There is no information whatsoever to evidence any work the Ombudsman has undertaken to assess and investigate serious concerns about safeguarding practice in Flintshire County Council. Where are the records of any work carried out by Ombudsman employees? Where are the assessment decision action records to not investigate that would be signed by Michelle Morris (the Ombudsman)?

“There is no information from Ms Morris about the alleged social worker the Ombudsman sought advice from who recommended no further action. Any experienced social worker would have advised to investigate these concerns with a safeguarding timescale of a month. We are lucky our son is alive following very negligent practice by the council.”

The mother added: “Due to no records ever being made by senior management regarding equipment for our son, the council is demanding £12k of his funds back. Managers have attempted to undermine me by stating that I’d abused my son’s funds by £4,500 for a ‘home improvement plan’. The home improvement plan was for a shower room for my son that had been approved by the head of service who hadn’t bothered to record this.

“The head of service also demanded £5k back from a charity that supported my son when I pulled him out of school. He had not only approved the support but had supported this work. Unfortunately, he’d either forgotten (as he’d not recorded the information) or it was a deliberate attempt to illegally claw back money.

“A ‘Stage 2’ investigation was carried out into my complaints by someone with no professional qualification to understand social work practice. The council advised the investigator what he was permitted to report. The report therefore was a complete shambles that the Ombudsman relied on to state there was no further action required..

“Also, the direct payments team manager has no professional social work/ healthcare qualification but is relied on by the council to make decisions about equipment for my son. This worker failed to record anything over a period of four and a half years regarding purchased items that had all been approved by a senior occupational therapist, and then questioned what we’d been spending the money on. I have all the records.

“It was agreed by managers at a meeting with Mark Isherwood MS in attendance that a Direct Payment Review would take place. Unfortunately they reneged on their decision. There has never been a Direct Payment Review in four and a half years, which is required by law. One should occur every six months

“As I’m a target, the management team has demanded all the funds back. Yet everything has been approved by senior health professionals.

“This is the level these council parasites resort to.”

‘Fully assessed’

A spokesperson for PSOW said: “While we are sorry that the complainants are unhappy with the outcome of their complaint, we should make clear that their complaint was fully assessed in accordance with our procedures. As part of that process, we took advice from a qualified social worker. As can be seen from the summary of the outcome of the complaint (which is available on our website: Complaint summary Flintshire CC ), we did identify some concerns about the council’s consideration of their complaint and asked the council to take action accordingly.

“The Ombudsman is not obliged to investigate every complaint that is made to us, and we would not have the resources to do so. In reaching decisions on whether to investigate complaints, we consider factors such as whether an investigation is likely to achieve more and whether we are likely to be able to achieve the outcomes sought by the complainant.”

A spokesperson for Flintshire County Council said: “Flintshire County Council does not comment on individual cases. We have a concerns and complaints policy in place and encourage anyone who is dissatisfied with our service to follow the appropriate process.”


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Stephen Owen
Stephen Owen
9 days ago

Sadly , this family’s story is echoed throughout North Wales, and made even more acute when the child transits to the adult service, ie if a person is diagnosed with autism and Ld/pld , the learning disabillty social services team take the lead but both the north wales intergrated autism service and LA autism social services team refuse to provide any service as the person is on the ‘ learning disability’ register. It is now apparent that LA social services are only following the social model of disability and are failing to provide meaningful interventions for families in these circumstances,

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