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Local authority criticised by Ombudsman for withdrawing support for child with mental health difficulties

Isle of Wight Council wrongly withdrew social services support from a child in need

Isle of Wight Council wrongly withdrew social services support from a child in need, leading to cancellation of a residential school placement, the Local Government Ombudsman, Dr Jane Martin, has found.

In her report, she says:

"Given the view of the child's consultant psychiatrist, I do not consider there is any doubt that proper and timely review of her residential placement would have confirmed the need for it to continue. So she was wrongly deprived of the continuity of care and security that is so vital to her wellbeing … And her parents and siblings had significantly less relief from her challenging and at times frightening behaviour."

A couple's daughter was sectioned under the Mental Health Act in 2006 at the age of 13. Her diagnoses were complex, but included autistic spectrum disorder, reactive attachment disorder and bipolar disorder.

The Council acknowledged, in response to a complaint the father made to the Council about subsequent events in 2006, that lack of clarity about ownership and co-ordination had resulted in children's services wrongly withdrawing its involvement in the daughter's case. In 2007, in consultation with other agencies, the Council funded a residential school placement for her. The Council then discontinued its social services involvement with the family in 2008. It was wrong to do this, because the girl remained a child in need under the Children Act, and was a looked-after child being accommodated by the Council.

In 2009 the Council took the view that, because social services were no longer involved with the family, it should discontinue the residential element of the school placement. When the parents objected, the Council failed to explain that their daughter had been a looked-after child since the residential element of the placement began, and wrongly told them that her legal status would need to change for the weekly residential placement to continue. From September 2010, her residential placement was limited to two nights a week. The placement broke down in the summer of 2011. The father complained to the Ombudsman in September 2010.

The effect of the Council's failures was serious. The girl lost the structure and security provided by the weekly boarding placement, her family had significantly less respite from her difficult and sometimes frightening behaviour, and the father had to take the time and trouble to bring a complaint to the Ombudsman which should not have been necessary.

The Ombudsman finds maladministration causing injustice and the Council has agreed to her recommendations that it should: