Parents of man with special educational needs slam council over his care

Alex Busk with parents Mary and Chris.

Alex Busk with parents Mary and Chris. - Credit: Busk family

The parents of a man with special educational needs have spoken out about the "trauma" they say has been inflicted on their family after years of issues with Redbridge Council over his care.

Last week, the Recorder reported that the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman found that the council had repeatedly failed the family of a man with special educational needs.

Now Chris and Mary Busk, parents of 21-year-old Alex, have told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the council "continues to make our lives really difficult" and that it has made no progress over the past 15 years.

During that time, the Busks have successfully complained to the ombudsman six times and won three tribunals on behalf of Alex.

Alex cannot speak or understand language but his parents said the council’s reluctance to pay for specialist care meant they spent “tens of thousands” to keep him in school.

The Busks, both in their 50s, say the council “fought (them) over pounds and pennies”, even over the cost of puzzles for him to use in lessons.

While he now attends a special college near Cheltenham, they fear there has been “no learning or change of culture” at the council and that “faceless bureaucrats” still decide his future.

The South Woodford couple said: “It has never been about the money, it is inconsequential compared to the level of trauma this has caused our family. 

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“There’s the trauma it has caused us and the time it’s taken away from our other children but it’s also caused him to deteriorate and we are still living with the consequences. 

“There’s been no progress for the last 15 years, no learning or change of culture despite all the ombudsman decisions. The council continues to make our lives really difficult.

“Faceless bureaucrats make decisions about Alex when they know nothing about him. None of these people have ever actually met Alex, they don’t come to his annual reviews.”

Annual reviews of the health and education support for children with special needs are a legal requirement and are supposed to be the only time when changes to their care are made.

Mary said these reviews – attended by school staff and “quite low-ranking” council staff – were their only chance to argue for Alex to have a lot of his support.

She added: “I think we are seen as difficult and tiresome by the council… but we are very civil, we are not people who lose our temper or anything.

“Everything we do is about making sure our son has good quality care and a good life in the community."

Alex Busk when he was a young boy.

Alex Busk when he was a young boy. - Credit: Busk family

When he was younger, Alex was able to attend a mainstream primary school, Our Lady of Lourdes in Wanstead, with his siblings.

But while he was there, his parents had to take the council to three separate tribunals to get him vital support, such as an hour and a half a week with a specialist therapist.

Mary said: “He got a lot from being in school with his peers, just being a part of a social group. Although his learning is very different to theirs, he was developing life skills."

Responding to the Busks’ concerns, a council spokesperson insisted decisions about support are made by “a multi-disciplinary team of committed staff” who “have regular contact and extensive knowledge of” the 2,400 children and young people with special needs in Redbridge.

They added: “Parents are an intrinsic part of the decision making process and their views are sought by decision makers to supplement the knowledge and understanding of our staff in schools, the NHS and other services.”

In the two most recent upheld complaints, published on June 15, ombudsman Michael King recommended the council pay the Busk family £1,700 in compensation.

The ombudsman criticised the council for failing to carry out a previously agreed remedy following an earlier complaint and said it removed aspects of Alex’s health provision from his Education Health and Care plan. 

Mr King said it was “incredibly disappointing” that the council was “still failing” the Busk family after the watchdog had been investigating issues in the case since 2010.

He said: “The council has had plenty of time to get things right for the family. I urge it to accept the improvements I have recommended to the services it provides.”

A council spokesperson told the Recorder it disputed the ombudsman's findings and that a judgement was made "based on their perception of the role of local authorities” rather than what its “duties and responsibilities actually are”.

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