A mum has highlighted issues in Childcare department of Bracknell Forest Council after winning a £250 compensation payout.

Her criticisms of the council’s Childcare department come after she officially complained about the handling of her son’s Education, Health, and Care Plan (EHCP).

These plans are drawn up to assess a child’s educational needs for those who need more support than what a mainstream school can provide.

Ultimately, the mum was successful in her complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO) which she has called an ‘exhausting and difficult experience’.

The ombudsman in her case advised Bracknell Forest Council to apologise, pays £250 in compensation, and undertake staff training courses, after an investigation found that the Childcare department had not followed statutory guidelines in an early review of her son’s EHCP.

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Now the Mum – known as Ms G – has spoken out, saying there are other parents in Bracknell Forest who are facing similar problems.

She said: “I was pleased with the outcome of the LGO investigation.  However, during the complaint process, I became aware of at least three other Bracknell Forest children who had also had early reviews and not received their right of appeal.

“Other families reported similar issues with standard annual reviews. One child waited six months for their draft plan, another had not received any paperwork at all following a review conducted in the first lockdown, and another had no annual review altogether last year.

“Obviously, I am concerned that this points to a systemic problem for the council when it comes to maintaining effective EHCPs.  Not every parent has the capacity to go through the formal complaint process, which is an exhausting and difficult experience.

“The SEND code of practice details the statutory requirements to which local authorities must adhere when maintaining EHCPs.  The annual review process is there to ensure the best outcomes for some of the council’s most vulnerable children.  It is not for the council to pick and choose which bits of the SEND code of practice they will follow.”

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She went on to explain that annual reviews are important to ensure an EHC plan remains relevant as the child ages, and failure to conducted reviews means the child can end up with outdated plans which lead to poorer outcomes.

Ms G added: “It can be very hard to communicate with the SEN team at the council.  Many families do not know who their SEN coordinator is – I know I do not.  Many families report repeatedly trying to contact the team, and getting no response for long periods of time.  I am aware that the Bracknell Parent Carer Forum met with Kashif Nawaz, the outgoing Head of Children’s Support Services, Education & Learning, in July this year to discuss some of the issues parents are facing. 

“It was explained that the council was having difficulties with staffing levels and plans were shared to hire three SEN officers for one term.  It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to allow the council to comply with the statutory requirements of these processes.

“For me, it was disappointing to have to go through all three stages of the complaint process, which only extended the amount of time that my child’s EHCP was not fit for purpose (my right of appeal was delayed by 26 weeks).  The arguments I made to the council in the three stages of the complaints procedure, were the same arguments I made to the LGO.

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“The local authority remained adamant throughout that the annual review we had taken part in was not a formal annual review.  I did point out to the council that the two-tier process they were describing, where some reviews did not have to conform to the statutory guidance, was not lawful, but they doubled down on their position, worryingly stating it was their standard practice to allow reviews to take place outside of the statutory process.

“I was pleased to see in the decision that the council has agreed to consider lessons that can be learned from this case. I hope that the actions recommended by the LGO actually do take place.”

In response, a Bracknell Forest Council spokesperson  said: “The council has been fully compliant in its response and has adhered to all of the recommendations laid out by the judgement. A letter of apology, dated 8 July, was sent to the complainant, which complied with the requirements of the LGO.”

A further response to Ms G’s allegations about staffing issues and the problems with others EHC plans has been requested.