Suffolk County Council has been ordered to pay compensation worth more than £9,000 to the mum of two disabled children for failing to provide them with alternative education when they were too anxious to attend school.

Emma Eveleigh, 40, lives in Needham Market with her husband Chris and three children – two of which have special educational needs (SEND).

In the space of eight months, between July 2021 and March 2022, four of her complaints into council blunders were upheld by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman, with investigators stressing the actions of the council amounted to “injustice” towards Ms Eveleigh and her son and daughter – and that it should pay her £9,135.

East Anglian Daily Times: Emma and her husband ChrisEmma and her husband Chris (Image: Emma Eveleigh)

County-wide, the council has admitted paying out £67,183 to SEND families since 2018, with the ombudsman upholding 32 complaints during that time.

In Ms Eveleigh’s case, the ombudsman found the council failed to provide alternative learning for both her children when they were unable to attend school, and delayed arranging an educational psychologist assessment for her son to determine the support he would need.

Our last report revealed the council has not been monitoring which disabled children are failing to show up to class – but that staff were “improving the council’s ability to respond to part-time timetables” for students with education, health and care plans (EHCP).

In the most recent ombudsman ruling, finalised last month, investigators found that when Ms Eveleigh’s son did return to school in September 2020, having been at home since March 2019, the council had not secured the speech and language therapy (SALT) and occupational therapy (OT) he was supposed to receive as per the terms in his legally-binding EHCP.

In fact, the council did not start looking for an OT provider until November 2020 and a SALT provider in December, and the support wasn’t fully in place until almost an entire year later, in October 2021.

“The problem is that Suffolk County Council doesn’t seem to understand that the requirement to provide for children with EHCPs is actually the law", Ms Eveleigh said. “They think they can do it on their own time.

“My children have suffered because they've been failed by the council, and I’ve had to spend hours and hours simply chasing them for answers.

“It’s not fair on any of us.”

Suffolk County Council said it fully accepted the findings of the ombudsman, and has acted on the recommendations with “urgency”.

These were to ensure it has a policy in place for providing alternative education to children out of school and to make sure they source provision for SEND children in good time: both of which the council said it was currently working towards as part of a “huge overhaul” of SEND services.

The Department for Education confirmed on Tuesday the council has made “good progress” in the last six months by recruiting more staff, reducing autism and ADHD diagnosis waiting times by 40% and creating new special school placements.

However, it noted that significant change “could take up to 18 months”.

Rachel Hood, cabinet member for education and SEND at the council, said: “Clearly failings were made in [Ms Eveleigh’s] cases and it is not good enough.

“We have said sorry to the family involved in person and by letter, and on behalf of Suffolk County Council extend that apology today.”

A spokeswoman for the county council confirmed compensation payments to families are funded and managed from the overall budget allocated to inclusion services.

Because the ombudsman suspended its activity from March 2020 until June 2020, the amount of compensation Suffolk County Council has so far been ordered to pay families across 2021-2022 totals £42,983, skyrocketing from £2,900 the year before.

A spokeswoman for the ombudsman said the number of cases it has investigated about SEND in the past decade has “steadily risen” – but that 89% of those are upheld in favour of families.

East Anglian Daily Times: Emma said the council had 'failed her children'Emma said the council had 'failed her children' (Image: Emma Eveleigh)

‘I hope things get better for disabled children in 2022’

Adam Robertson, now 30, was diagnosed with Asperger's aged four.

Growing up in Beccles, he said his education within the Suffolk state school system in the late 1990s saw him locked in toilets by teachers who did not know how to cope with his meltdowns and excluded on a regular basis.

At one point, he spent more than a year being home-schooled in the local library.

“It’s absolutely heart-breaking when I hear children are still suffering today. It shouldn’t be this way, not in 2022", he said.

East Anglian Daily Times: Adam Robertson was diagnosed with Asperger's at the age of fourAdam Robertson was diagnosed with Asperger's at the age of four (Image: Adam Robertson)

On Tuesday, the Department for Education published a green paper on SEND that has been two years in the making.

It said the DfE plans to establish a “new national standard across education, health and care”, reform dispute resolution and make sure mainstream schools have enough funding and support to educate pupils with learning difficulties.

Mr Robertson, who now works in local government himself, said: “This has been long overdue.

"I only hope it leads to a better future for disabled children than the one my generation faced.”

East Anglian Daily Times: Adam Robertson, who grew up in Beccles and now works in local governmentAdam Robertson, who grew up in Beccles and now works in local government (Image: Adam Robertson)

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